How To Forgive Your Parents For The Harm They Caused: 8 Effective Tips

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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you forgive your parents and move on from what they did. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

Forgiveness is a complicated word in the context of self-help and recovery. When a person hears the word “forgiveness,” their mind commonly jumps to the context of a traditional apology: the offender issues an apology, the victim accepts it, they both try to move on.

But in the context of self-help and recovery, forgiveness is a much more complicated word because the person that harmed you may not care at all that they harmed you.

They may not be willing or able to take responsibility for their actions. They may be drowning so hard in their own problems that they can’t even deal with their own life, let alone how their life affected yours.

And that’s even more complicated when it’s a parent.

Now, before we really dive into this, let’s be clear about something: You are not required to forgive anyone for anything. There is such a thing as “toxic forgiveness.” And toxic forgiveness, much like toxic positivity, strips away a survivor’s right to feel the emotions that they feel for the sake of other peoples’ comfort.

No, it’s not okay if your parent abused you or enabled your abuse. It’s not okay if they turned a blind eye and failed to protect you. It’s not okay if they chose to do wrong, easy things instead of right, difficult things.

But hey, that’s just the way it goes sometimes, isn’t it? Many people think they’ll do the right thing when it comes down to it, but they don’t, for whatever reason. Doing the right thing is not always pleasant, and many people flinch when it’s finally in their face.

That being said: you have every right to not force forgiveness for someone that wronged you. Forcing forgiveness usually means that you haven’t given adequate time to process your emotions about the situation. Forgiveness is more a process of dealing with the emotions around the event to allow them to resolve, rather than an apology.

But do understand that holding on to that anger and continuing to feed it will negatively affect your mental and emotional health in the long term. It’ll bleed into your relationships. It’ll affect the way you parent your own kids. It’ll disturb your ability to cultivate your own peace and happiness.

So, what can you do if you’re ready to forgive your parents for the harm they caused?

1. Examine the context. Were your parents malicious or just ignorant?

Sometimes people do wrong things because they just don’t know any better. That is entirely different from someone who actively seeks to cause harm because they enjoy watching others suffer for their own pride or ego.

At face value, that may sound superficial. Like, how can a person not possibly know that they are doing the wrong thing? Here’s an example:

Fiona may not be a great mother. She may have been verbally and emotionally abusive to her own children. Still, she feels she is a much better parent than her parents, who whipped her with a coat-hanger when she did wrong. She thinks she’s making a better decision because, in her mind, she’s not being anywhere near as cruel to her children as her parents were to her.

What hope did Fiona really have to come out of her life experiences as a loving, caring parent in an era when no one talked or cared about mental health and trauma?

Does that excuse Fiona’s behavior? No. It’s still wrong. But it’s a much different wrong than a parent who hurts their child for their own pleasure. Fiona probably wouldn’t have turned out that way if she had any kind of meaningful support or intervention in her life.

2. Accept your parents for who they are.

We, as a society, love to chop things up into simple binaries – love and hate, right and wrong, good and bad.

The truth is that there is a massive gray area between all of those extremes. And it is within that gray area that a majority of people fall.

Not every love is some brilliant romantic story. Not every hate is entirely unreasonable or unjustified. Sometimes people who do right also do wrong, and sometimes people who do wrong can do right.

Good and bad? Well, it isn’t that most people are good or bad. It’s more that some people just aren’t that good. They may not be bad people, but they aren’t very good people either.

If your parents aren’t good people, it’s not reasonable to expect them to be anything other than what they are.

Sure, people can change. Most don’t, though. Change is difficult. It requires changing one’s mindset toward the world, unmaking old bad habits, and replacing them with new ones. Most people could do that if they really committed to it, but they don’t because it’s hard and they have stuff to do. They have to go to work, raise their family, or whatever it is they are filling their day with.

Make sure your expectations are reasonable.

3. Don’t allow your past to define your future.

A common problem people run into during their healing process is feeling as though they are doomed to a particular path. Just because they experienced something in their past, they must hold on to the dysfunction or problems that arose from it.

As a result, they trap themselves in an area where they cannot progress because they tell themselves that they can’t do better or be better because they experienced a particular thing.

At some point, that kind of thinking needs to be released. Yes, no one really has a choice in the traumas they’ve suffered or problems they’ve encountered. These things will inevitably come just from the natural flow of life. But if you cling to them, then they continue to harm you for as long you’re holding tight to it.

You can make better choices than your parents did if you allow yourself the freedom to do so. You know how not to treat your kids, what kind of behavior is unacceptable, and how to better navigate the kinds of problems that you’ve faced. This is valuable because it’s a much different world for mental health than even 20 years ago. There are so many more resources available to people willing to use them.

Instead of clinging to that past, instead focus on improving your present, which will lead to a better future.

4. Create healthy boundaries.

Healthy boundaries are an essential part of any healthy relationship. Boundaries help inform other people how to treat you and treat others.

For example, suppose you’ve had a bad relationship with your parents. In that case, it may be time to set up and enforce some healthier boundaries so they can no longer harm or interfere with your life.

A parent who’s unapologetic may not feel that their actions were severe enough for you to have a problem with. An abusive parent who denies their actions may not ever give you appropriate space to heal.

So, the solution is to create that space for yourself. That may mean going No Contact with a particularly harmful parent. But, sometimes going No Contact is too much or not viable. Instead, you’d limit the connection you have and their ability to be in your life.

Creating that space will give you room to deal with your own emotions and let those wounds heal. It’s much harder when you have the offending parent constantly sticking their nose in and poking your wounds with their fingertips.

5. Look for the good.

Bad parents aren’t always bad people. Some people are just bad at being parents. Sure, some people are toxic or abusive. But sometimes, a parent is a much better friend than a parent.

Now, suppose you can look at your situation and find something positive or good. It may be worth holding on to that to help contextualize your parent. Your parent is, after all, just a person. And people are usually a complicated mess of good and bad things.

You may find that you can have a much better adult relationship with your parent as a friend rather than their child. After all, as an adult, it’s your life to live. You can choose how you want to conduct it, what you want out of it, and how to go about getting it.

That being said, you may not be able to find any good in your parent or how they treated you. That’s okay too. Some hurts and traumas are too great for any positives to be found.

6. Do seek professional help.

Listen, if you went through some ugly things in your childhood, chances are pretty good that you’re not going to be able to fix it yourself through self-help.

It’s just too complicated to figure out on your own without just struggling your way through it constantly, not knowing how to progress, making the wrong decisions, getting off-track, trying to find a way to get back on track.

You can spend years stumbling your way along before you find your footing, the ability to let go, forgive, and allow yourself to heal those wounds as much as you can.

We would encourage you not to try to go it alone. Trauma does not just resolve and heal itself. A good therapist will provide you with the guidance and tools you need to make real progress.

We recommend the online therapy service from BetterHelp.com where you’ll be able to speak to a certified professional to get the help you need, all from the comfort of your own home.

Click here if you’d like to learn more.

7. Accept the journey ahead of you.

Finding forgiveness for your parents or anyone that wronged you is not something that will happen overnight. It’s going to take time to see the journey through to its end.

So let yourself feel what you feel and keep moving forward along your path. You’ll get to the end sooner or later.

People will regularly tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. For example: “You should forgive them because they’re your parent.” You shouldn’t. You should feel what you feel. Nothing more, nothing less.

By allowing yourself the freedom to progress on your own path, you will be allowing your brain to process the emotions that it needs to process to move forward.

8. Realize that forgiveness is for you, not for your parents.

To forgive does not mean that you must forget or put yourself in a position to be harmed again.

In situations like this, it would often be better to use the word “accept.” We accept that our parents might not have been good people so that we can stop being angry about it, let it go, and get on with building a happy life that we can be proud of.

It’s not about letting your parents off the hook for bad behavior or forgetting that they did questionable or awful things.

No. It’s about you choosing to no longer carry the weight of their wrongs around your neck.

Frankly, if your parents aren’t good people, they’re probably not going to care that these things still hurt you. And the only person that you’ll end up hurting is yourself by continuing to carry that weight.

“But I need closure!”

This ain’t some made-for-TV movie where everyone apologizes, gets a big hug in, and tearfully mends their fences. Sometimes closure is a not-so-good person confirming that they are, in fact, not-so-good of a person. And then you realize, “Oh hey, my parent just isn’t a good person. Why am I expecting them to do the right thing?”

But hey, maybe you’ll get lucky, and they do realize that what they did was wrong. Maybe you will get an actual apology. Sometimes people can surprise you. Still, don’t hinge your healing and personal journey on it.

Still not sure how to forgive your parents for the pain they have caused you? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.

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