Monday, October 1, 2012

When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate

My Mind - commentary [When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate]

You can divorce an abusive spouse. You can call it quits if your lover mistreats you. But what can you do if the source of your misery is your own parent?
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Craig Frazier
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Granted, no parent is perfect. And whining about parental failure, real or not, is practically an American pastime that keeps the therapeutic community dutifully employed.
But just as there are ordinary good-enough parents who mysteriously produce a difficult child, there are some decent people who have the misfortune of having a truly toxic parent.
A patient of mine, a lovely woman in her 60s whom I treated for depression, recently asked my advice about how to deal with her aging mother.
�She�s always been extremely abusive of me and my siblings,� she said, as I recall. �Once, on my birthday, she left me a message wishing that I get a disease. Can you believe it?�
Over the years, she had tried to have a relationship with her mother, but the encounters were always painful and upsetting; her mother remained harshly critical and demeaning.
Whether her mother was mentally ill, just plain mean or both was unclear, but there was no question that my patient had decided long ago that the only way to deal with her mother was to avoid her at all costs.
Now that her mother was approaching death, she was torn about yet another effort at reconciliation. �I feel I should try,� my patient told me, �but I know she�ll be awful to me.�
Should she visit and perhaps forgive her mother, or protect herself and live with a sense of guilt, however unjustified? Tough call, and clearly not mine to make.
But it did make me wonder about how therapists deal with adult patients who have toxic parents.
The topic gets little, if any, attention in standard textbooks or in the psychiatric literature, perhaps reflecting the common and mistaken notion that adults, unlike children and the elderly, are not vulnerable to such emotional abuse.
All too often, I think, therapists have a bias to salvage relationships, even those that might be harmful to a patient. Instead, it is crucial to be open-minded and to consider whether maintaining the relationship is really healthy and desirable.
Likewise, the assumption that parents are predisposed to love their children unconditionally and protect them from harm is not universally true. I remember one patient, a man in his mid-20s, who came to me for depression and rock-bottom self-esteem.
It didn�t take long to find out why. He had recently come out as gay to his devoutly religious parents, who responded by disowning him. It gets worse: at a subsequent family dinner, his father took him aside and told him it would have been better if he, rather than his younger brother, had died in a car accident several years earlier.
Though terribly hurt and angry, this young man still hoped he could get his parents to accept his sexuality and asked me to meet with the three of them.
The session did not go well. The parents insisted that his �lifestyle� was a grave sin, incompatible with their deeply held religious beliefs. When I tried to explain that the scientific consensus was that he had no more choice about his sexual orientation than the color of his eyes, they were unmoved. They simply could not accept him as he was.
I was stunned by their implacable hostility and convinced that they were a psychological menace to my patient. As such, I had to do something I have never contemplated before in treatment.
At the next session I suggested that for his psychological well-being he might consider, at least for now, forgoing a relationship with his parents.
I felt this was a drastic measure, akin to amputating a gangrenous limb to save a patient�s life. My patient could not escape all the negative feelings and thoughts about himself that he had internalized from his parents. But at least I could protect him from even more psychological harm.
Easier said than done. He accepted my suggestion with sad resignation, though he did make a few efforts to contact them over the next year. They never responded.
Of course, relationships are rarely all good or bad; even the most abusive parents can sometimes be loving, which is why severing a bond should be a tough, and rare, decision.
Dr. Judith Lewis Herman, a trauma expert who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said she tried to empower patients to take action to protect themselves without giving direct advice.
�Sometimes we consider a paradoxical intervention and say to a patient, �I really admire your loyalty to your parents � even at the expense of failing to protect yourself in any way from harm,� � Dr. Herman told me in an interview.
The hope is that patients come to see the psychological cost of a harmful relationship and act to change it.
Eventually, my patient made a full recovery from his depression and started dating, though his parents� absence in his life was never far from his thoughts.
No wonder. Research on early attachment, both in humans and in nonhuman primates, shows that we are hard-wired for bonding � even to those who aren�t very nice to us.
We also know that although prolonged childhood trauma can be toxic to the brain, adults retain the ability later in life to rewire their brains by new experience, including therapy and psychotropic medication.
For example, prolonged stress can kill cells in the hippocampus, a brain area critical for memory. The good news is that adults are able to grow new neurons in this area in the course of normal development. Also, antidepressants encourage the development of new cells in the hippocampus.
It is no stretch, then, to say that having a toxic parent may be harmful to a child�s brain, let alone his feelings. But that damage need not be written in stone.
Of course, we cannot undo history with therapy. But we can help mend brains and minds by removing or reducing stress.
Sometimes, as drastic as it sounds, that means letting go of a toxic parent.
Dr. Richard A. Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.
More Articles in Health � A version of this article appeared in print on October 20, 2009, on page D5 of the New York edition.
this ~IS~ personal, but it one of the things that disturbs me the most.

JOURNAL ENTRY 4/6/2010:   April 22, 2010. this i have no doubt in my mind that this will generate more questions since llegal aid and even people i thought were my "friends" have refused to accept one simple fact... that everyone is asing the WRONG question.

it does not matter WHO breaks the law. most people are murded or abused by some they knew... a family friend or relative. so i have aceepted the fact that i will go in a lone, as usual, an that any decision will ultimately be reversed within days... that record will likely "disappear" like all the rest. so yeah... parents can be toxic.

and if they can be toxic their own children, what does that say when they are in a position to be toxic to our culture, our history, our society.

so, yes, i'm prepared. i am prepared only because i have expections that anything sustancial change. because history and recent events and knowledge have shown me otherwise.

so i will be living on less than $600 per month for the rest of my life. and i can be at peace with that if i couldd trust that things would remain stable. but they change day to day {'myseriously" and no matter what i say or how loud i scream, nobody has stepped up to the plate legally to say, "this" [meaning, me, Elyssa] is a human being that is entitled to one basic human right. The right to be seen as human being rather than a human doing.

yes, i am sad. but i am resolved, and i resigned.

but my friends are virtual because aparently i inherited the toxicity from my parents so my life  exists exclusively within these four walls. i have NO ineraction with anyone except from the occasional stranger or the neighbor i pass on my way to the store tweeting the whole way... for some eason,, the Twitter keeps me safe.  The "community" remains silent.. My world is silent. 

I am trapped.

i am very much in prison. and my tears are natural, and my anger justified. so please, give me this much... don't ask how i feel if you don't want to know the answer.

goodbye for now... my pain is physical, and i am hoping my tears may heal for just a few minutes and soothe my soul.   [FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH, I WAS CORRECT]

VIDEO: Suspect's sister, lawyer say Trenton 7-year-old 'lied' and wasn't raped - The Trentonian News: Serving Trenton and surrounding communities. (

Thursday, April 08, 2010, 2:25:48 PM (Elyssa D'Educrat)


Trenton, NJ. I had to cross the Delaware to go Hebew School. There were only two other times I had to go. To get a letter from a Rabbi to prove that I was a Jew before I could apply at the local Federation for Jewish whatever... it took six months before they would even mail me the appilcation. The second was when I was an editor of the school newspaper and I attended wrote a story about legislation pending regarding pro-choice for women unnder the age of 18. I was 16. So medical records? I recently had seven blood tests before they could find a "receiving hospital" patient dumping much? Tennessee? Jim Blumstein just gave a statement on federal law in Tennessee. He's an asshole. He cancelled class the same day HCA got busted for Medicare fraud. #WTF

Now, I need assistance from my Congressman to determine eligibility status for my "benefits" and he claims he has no oversight. I do believe US Rep Jim Cooper could take five minutes to set the record straight. I did after all pay $9000 [borrowed] just to meet with hiim once a week at Owen to learn all about this twisted system of care the are "buying into."

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