It sounds wrong, doesn’t it? How could toxic parents genuinely love their kids? Is the love too much, too little, or somewhere in between?
I’ll attempt to break those down in this post.
To you, this might be a question you’ve been attempting to crack all your life. You might be seeking answers about your childhood, which played a huge role in who you are today.
What does real love look like?
Merely telling someone “I love you” does not mean you indeed love them. Why? Because it’s criminally easy to say that.
When a parent tells his kid he loves him but does not show it through his actions, then “I love you’s” lose their meaning. The kid may not realize this while he’s young, but he likely will in his adolescence way up to adulthood.
Therefore, real love is made up of three things: feeling it, saying it, and showing it through actions—the last part being the biggest.
I would even argue that real love through actions only can be enough (even without saying it). And that is why love should be a verb in everyday life.
A parent can be the most “(wo)man of few words” and be the most loving of all.
Another proof of genuine love is when the parent challenges the status quo—the culture or religion—they’ve grown to know.
For example, a parent may only embrace the idea of corporal punishment whenever their kid makes a mistake.
Real love will question this—when a display of pain is right in your face. Real love will make him search for what is currently unknown. And then he makes adjustments.
The willingness to accept research- and science-based evidence can trump a decades-long belief, for instance.
Do toxic parents love you?
Yes, your toxic parents may indeed love you, but because of their nature, they behave and do things that show otherwise. They have particular behaviors that are more dominant than showing you their love through actions.
- The screwed-up parent, who is incapable of love because of the abuse and trauma he had experienced in his childhood
- The clinically depressed parent, who cannot process emotions and therefore is in a constant state of feeling empty
- The angry parent, who treats everything and everyone with nothing but unjustified anger
- The narcissistic parent, who treats his kid as an extension of himself, suppressing his kid’s budding identity
- The controlling parent, who has at least one area of his life that’s out of control, say, his day job, and takes it out on his poor kid
- The preferential parent, who derives joy from his kids’ sibling conflict
Parental love is mostly shown through actions, and it is only logical to follow that when the parent is ruled by any of the above dominant behaviors, it’s highly unlikely for them to show real parental love.
As a result, the show of love becomes erratic and is marred by sudden outbursts. Instability governs the parent-child relationship.
Making mistakes as a parent is normal. He could say or do nasty things a child should not be subjected to, but that’s okay when it rarely happens and apologies follow. Mistakes are normal.
But with a toxic parent, the child suffers from maltreatment and abuse in all his waking hours—this is different.
The loving parent truly loves. The toxic parent loves only when it’s convenient for him.
How about parents who had a terrible start in life?
Of course, toxic parents most likely were also abused, grew up under great financial stress, and as a result, could have developed an undiagnosed mental illness.
Seek fairness. After all, you want to make sense of how everything fell into place.
And this may be where they need or needed help. Your toxic parents just didn’t have the resources to figure this out.
On the other hand, you are not discounting all the toxicity they’ve brought upon you, especially when you were little.
Sure, you need to move on, but it’s equally important to understand your history—your parents’ history—for why they’ve acted the way they did.
Because most probably they knew they loved you, they thought they’ve done it all for the best, but they just had no idea. And worse, they did not even try!
Society may celebrate them for their achievements as individuals, but your parents just treated you (or your family) as an afterthought, something to come home to because it’s just there.
Their idea of love is almost nothing like that found in healthy families.
If you could, talk to them about your dysfunctional relationship with them. If you could not talk, email them. Do not ask them to change. You’re doing this for yourself.
How to know your toxic parents are trying to make amends
1. They acknowledge that they’ve grown toxic and they apologize.
Believe it or not, not all toxic parents are that bad. Some were just caught in a likewise toxic upbringing. They know that, acknowledge that, and are open about it.
They know they’re pretty clueless about what healthy relationships are like and they apologize whenever they screw up.
2. They work on improving themselves.
They come out of their way to actually do some research. They may even ask you for input and inform you about their journey of getting better. Now that is actual love in action! They are well aware of the past and they are doing something about it!
3. Loving themselves means loving you.
They are becoming more aware of their triggers, those they’ve learned from their own toxic upbringing. And they ask you to participate or help them whenever those triggers come up.
They set their boundaries to protect themselves because they learn that it is only by this that they can extend their love to you.
A tip for you: If you have or plan to have kids, prioritize your healing from your childhood trauma!
This is the ultimate act of love an aware toxic parent can do for his kids.
We cannot change the past, and the only thing anyone can do for their own sake is to do the right thing—to muster all the strength and courage to seek the help they need, and achieve a life of healing for the welfare of everybody else as well!
Is it OK to stay away from toxic parents?
As long as you are ready, it is perfectly OK to stay away from toxic parents. If your relationship with them is doing you mostly harm, then take that as the first sign. This is for yourself after all, and you can only genuinely help them if you are free from the toxic relationship you’re entangled in.
One common confusion children of toxic parents have is the “love” they have for their parents—they’re confusing love with trauma bonding, something the abused feel towards their abuser (which is similar to Stockholm syndrome).
Toxic parents may shower their kids with displays of love and affection after the regular acts of abuse or maltreatment. The kids would then think that this is the normal representation of real love. It is not. The cycle would continue and from it emerges the trauma bond, the bond that disguises itself as that of love.
Beware of trauma bonding, alongside the many other subtle red flags, which you can only learn through research in this age of information.
Know that it is perfectly fine to go your own way—without toxic parents. In fact, you should exert good effort to cut off people that only bring negativity into your life, which unfortunately your toxic parents only became a part of.
Being the action word that love is, I guess you can now answer that question for yourself: Do your toxic parents love you?
Image Credits: Photo by Chris Hardy on Unsplash