Sunday, May 21, 2023

Love Burns Out: What to Do When Your Parents Don't Like You


This feels odd to write about, although it's not exactly a secret. I am sharing some personal history and thoughts that might be useful if you struggle with family relationships.

I am an oops baby. In the 60s, premarital sex was considered a sin, and people who were caught in a pregnancy "did the right thing."

My parents married because they got pregnant with me. They said they loved me, but they made it clear, loudly and often, that they would not have tied the knot if they had a choice.

In childhood, I felt guilty. I also felt responsible.

My parents didn't do this on purpose. They thought treating kids like adults was empowering. Messed up, right? But that was a different time. Back then people didn't know a lot about mental health.

As it was, my parents worked hard. We had excellent schools, birthday parties, and books galore. Everything we needed and more.

But they were not a good match. They had different needs, values, cultures, and languages. Over time, they became angry and deeply resentful. They drank too much.

Abuse image

My mum would work herself into a rage and say the most awful nasty things she could think of.  A barrage of emotional abuse. My dad would shrug and act the martyr. The next day, they'd pretend nothing had happened.

I tried to talk about it. It did no good. My dad would moan and complain he was only there for the good of the family. My mum used rage, cold silence, and denial.  

When I was younger this went on behind closed doors. By my late teens, this went on in public too. 

I built my own life and moved away. Back then, people didn't talk about low contact, but that's what it was.

In the late 90s, my parents' marriage imploded. There was lots of drama.

My father went off with a mistress. That's a whole other story that I won't get into. My mother and I started talking.

It was tricky; she would blow up often, but we got to know each other better.

By the time my father died, my mum and I were talking several times a week. I visited regularly.

But the last year or so has been difficult. The rage came back. And the silent treatment.

When I visited last summer, I walked on eggshells. I worried about her health, especially dementia, but her memory is fine, and she knows what she's doing. She has regular excellent medical care. This time, it's not booze.

In January, she instigated a fight, not with me, but with someone else. Then she screamed at me.

It took me straight back to the awful years where she'd rip me to shreds and I had no choice but to take it. This time I told her I would no longer accept this. She cut me off.

Four months of silent treatment, but on her birthday, she picked up the phone and acted as if nothing had happened.

I didn't want to call again. But family, you know?

When I rang a week later, I got a tirade of abuse. She told me I was to stay out of her life forever. This time I just said, "OK."

So, where's the message?
I'm fine. Actually, better than fine. I have good friends, I'm married to my best friend, and I have a thriving business. I am very happy with my life.

If you're from a difficult family, you can be happy too. Here are some thoughts.

Families are messy

Many people are stuck in relationships they don't want, with kids they didn't want either. It sours them. They take out their anger on everyone around them.

Kids take it when they're small, they have no choice, but they leave when they're adult.

In Malaysia, 1 out of 3 older people are not supported by or are abandoned by their kids. (read here and here). In the UK, 1 out of 5 families are affected by estrangement. (read here) In the USA, it's 1 family in 4. (read here)

Being disliked or resented by your parents and deciding you want some distance is common.

You can build a happy life for yourself

Learn a skill, earn money, and move out. You need not go far. Just have your own life with people who love you.

There is no formula

Life is rarely black and white, and there are seldom easy choices. There are no rules and no simple fixes.

Most of us with difficult families go through times when we connect and times when we don't. And that's okay.

You will have regrets

Kids yearn for their parents to love them. When that love is not there, or conditional, or coloured by resentment, most of us bend over backwards, hoping to fix our relationships.

Some of the things we do work. Some of them hurt or cost us, but we're willing to pay the price. And sometimes we look back and say, "doh!"

I don't regret trying to connect, but I do regret those annual visits. I wish I'd spent that time with people who love me.

Love burns out

Once you've been through a few abuse cycles, emotions change. The sadness, anger, and other feelings are overwhelming when you're young. But as you mature, they fade. Eventually, you stop caring.

It's a form of self-protection. Why embrace people who hurt you repeatedly?

So if you're worried about this, please know it's a common reaction.

Estrangement is not always permanent

We tend to think in absolutes. While estrangement can be permanent, it can also be temporary, lasting months or years.


I don't plan to reach out. But I'm not saying never. I'm moving country this year, and so I'm busy.

For now I'm okay with zero contact for the foreseeable future.

People will judge

Those from happy families won't get it. They have no idea what it's like to grow up with toxic parents.

There will also be people who know they are a problem in their own families and who seek to normalize abuse.

When you feel judged, maybe you want to engage. Or maybe not.

I suggest this: other people aren't living your life. You are! Think and do what suits you best.

I should also mention silence, but that's for the next post. This one is long enough!

Get help

Toxic Parents by Susan Forward
Back in the 80s and 90s, abuse and estrangement were taboo. The first book I ever read about it blew me away and gave me hope: "Toxic Parents" by Susan Forward.  

There are lots of insightful helpful books out there these days.

I suggest you read widely, lean in with friends, and use therapy as a safe space to sort out an approach that works for you.

It worked for me.

If you want some support, you know how to find me.

Image by John Hain on Pixabay