The holidays can be complicated for adult children from dysfunctional families.
When parents abuse, neglect, or otherwise injure their children through exposure to conflict and parental misbehavior, and force children to protect the “family secrets,” those children develop a host of disorders. Bulimia, anorexia, fire setting, self-destructive behaviors, personality disorders, substance abuse, anger issues, criminal activity, phobias, PTSD, depression–the list is long and exhausting.
Recovery from those conditions is also a long, exhausting, and frequently painful ordeal. Encounters with toxic birth families can cause setbacks and slow the process even more.
Toxic families of origin pose very real dangers to survivors of child abuse, whatever age they might be. Well-meaning people, even therapists (who should know better), may be oblivious to those dangers. Adult survivors of child abuse may be urged to “make amends” with their abusers, to “reconcile,” to “clear the air” with these people who injured them so badly.
Logically, of course, it doesn’t make sense. The kind of person who would harm an innocent child, a sweet, helpless, adorable little person who only wants to love and be loved, is definitely the kind of person who will, given the opportunity, abuse an adult. The parents, and various other toxic family members, know the former child so well that they have no trouble selecting his or her vulnerable spots. They will be able to inflict severe mental, emotional and/or physical pain.
The holidays can be particularly rough, with their emphasis on families. Conflicted survivors may find themselves lured into horrific situations by their former abusers and family members. It is normal to long for the love and respect denied you as a child. It is normal to desperately want a family to love, and to know they love you in return. But if you are still in contact with your toxic family members and live in hope of a future that never materializes, why not do something nice this year for someone who will actually appreciate it? Why not do something nice for YOU, for a change?
You deserve to be treated with love and respect. Searching for love and respect in a toxic family, though, is like searching for a delicious holiday meal in a dumpster.
This year, instead of reaching out to toxic family members and re-experiencing the abuse you suffered as a child, why not cut yourself free? Why not celebrate with those who truly care about you? Even if the only friend you have in the world is a goldfish, it is 100% certain that goldfish will be kinder, more pleasant, and vastly better company during the holidays than a toxic family. And good news for those who are frowning at the screen because they don’t even have a goldfish–the pet stores are running holiday sales right now on aquariums and supplies.