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LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Will I ever forgive my parents for setting me up to fail?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (5674points) September 4th, 2015

Growing up my parents were very unhappy and very negative. They hated their jobs, hated their lives, and had a bad marriage. My father had severe rage and personality disorders and my mother was also sometimes volatile, especially when she drank too much or was stressed in her career. Sometimes she could be sweet and compassionate and I think she genuinely did love me, but I have painful memories of emotional and physical abuse from her as well.

Honestly, they probably never should have gotten married or had children but they had three of them and we bore the brunt of their misery.

My father never wanted kids in the first place but especially did not want a daughter. He never let me forget this and actively tried to destroy my self-esteem from early childhood. He would tell me I was stupid, ugly, pathetic, a bitch, and would never amount to anything in life. My mother in her own way, would contribute to this by building me up and then viciously knocking me down.

Whenever I wanted to try something new or learn something, they would often tell me not to bother because I was too stupid and wouldn’t be any good at it. Looking back, it’s not surprising I struggled with academic problems from an early age, not because I couldn’t learn, but because my confidence was already shot by the time I was six or seven. I was “bad”, “lazy”, “a burden” and a “pain in the ass”, even though I was a sweet kid and almost overly eager to please.

I’ll never forget when I was about 11 years old and I told my parents I would be a professional writer someday, travel the world, and live in NYC. They laughed at me and told me I was crazy to think that someone like me could do something like that. After all, I was too stupid and lazy and, at that point, FAT to boot! (I was going through a prepubescent chubby stage that my mother relentlessly tormented me about.)

As a high school student, I admittedly didn’t do myself any favors.. Instead of using their discouragement as motivation to do my best, I fell into a deep depression and my grades and school attendance slipped dramatically. I would spend days on end in my bedroom sobbing and unable to move. In retrospect, I want to kick myself for being so weak but I was just a kid and dealing with constant drama between my parents horrible marriage and their constant bullying.

I ended up having to attend community college while living at home for two years. Luckily, I had some more freedom and spent most of my time in the library so I earned a 4.0 GPA and was able to transfer to a 4-year college, where I graduated with honors.

Since then, I have done mostly everything I dreamed of as a little girl. I’ve lived in NYC for 5 years, get to write for a living, have worked as a commercial print model, traveled the world and have more travel plans on the horizon. It’s been a lot of hard work and a little luck, but my childhood almost seems surreal now compared to my current life. I also have a wonderful partner who is as much of a friend as he is a lover and a great circle of childhood friends I’m in touch with.

My mother passed away a few years ago and I no longer speak to my father, who remains unrepentant for his abuse. In the years leading up to my mother’s death, she and I had a much better relationship and she was proud of my achievements. She believed that the way she raised me had a hand in my success, and I never had the heart to tell her that I’d made it out in spite of her actions rather than because of them. After she died, it was kind of bittersweet to hear from people that she was always bragging about and showing pictures of me whenever she ran into people. I was her “golden child” after so many years of being fat, lazy, unlovable etc.

Now, as I prepare to enter my 27th year and I take stock of the first 3rd of my life, I’m trying to make sense of it all. I’m effectively an orphan and have survived what genuinely felt like Hell to achieve a life I’m comfortable with but for some reason, peace still evades me. I still look back on my parent’s actions and feel intense rejection, despair, and betrayal. Will I ever be able to forgive them or at least make peace with this part of my past?

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14 Answers

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Dutchess_III's avatar

My childhood wasn’t nearly as traumatic as yours, but my parents really did nothing to help me succeed in life. After I had kids, it really became much clearer how little they did do. In fact, my father actively sabotaged my graduating from college by pulling the financing out from under me, with the excuse that I was a girl. All I needed was a man to take care of me. I didn’t need a degree.
But, as the years go on I finally came to grips with it is what it is. If I were you, just hang on to what you’ve got, reach for more and focus on that. Try not to even think about the past.

janbb's avatar

The good news is that you don’t have to forgive them. You can stay as angry at them as you like. The important thing for yourself is not to focus on it overmuch or have it make you feel it entitles you to anything special now from the world. My parents did some shitty things to me too and I got some good things from them. They’re dead now and I remember both the good and the bad. But my life is my life and I am now fully responsible for it.

You seem to often have a lot of deep issues to resolve; if you haven’t had some good therapy, you might want to consider it. Mine has helped me greatly.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have resentments toward my parents, though I did not go through anything like you did. I find that with time my feelings toward my parents tend more toward pity than anger. They had some major defects which made my life unpleasant, but they were who they were and there is no point in maintaining anger.

zenvelo's avatar

The toughest part of growing up is when one accepts responsibility for the rest of their life.

Numerous people have had shitty childhoods, awful families of origin, abusive parents, deplorable situations. But you are now 27, and have worked hard to get comfortable. You cannot change the past; and there may be no reason to ever “get okay” with it. But now is the time to work towards being at peace with it, for your own sake.

Time to find a good therapist that can help you work to the point where your own relationships are not bound by your past, and you can find a new freedom and a new happiness.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Think of it this way….as children they were probably treated the same way they treated you. Does that thought, that they were belittled and abused when they were little and helpless, allow you to have a little less anger and a little more sympathy?

Judi's avatar

I remember when you first came to fluther shortly after or around the time your mom died. It seems to me that you’ve come a long way since then, and I have no reason to believe that as time goes on you won’t continue to grow and learn and find more peace in yourself and with your past. I can’t tell you what that road will look like for you, but if you are seeking peace with your past, I have a feeling you will find your way. After all, look at all the obstacles you’ve overcome to get where you are today!

jca's avatar

You ask “Will I ever forgive my parents for setting me up to fail?” Nobody knows what the future holds. Even you cannot predict whether you will or will not ever forgive them. I look at it like this: It takes more energy to hold on to grudges and anger than it does to let it go and move on. It’s not good for you physically or mentally to harp on negativity.

Try to think of the good things they’ve done, and try not to frustrate yourself with things that cannot be changed. What’s occurred is now water under the bridge.

If I were you, I’d also consider taking this question out of “General” and move it into “Social,” as the mods are likely to delete anything not directly related to the question, and many answers are more like a conversation then a “General” type of topic. Just a thought.

BosM's avatar

I encourage you to write a letter to your parents, one that you may never send. Describe your experiences growing up, how their actions made you feel, and how you would have preferred them to treat you. Use this as a learning experience – as a roadmap and constant reminder for how you will treat your children and others who are important to you.

It’s your life – you can break the cycle of emotional trauma. You cannot change the past, but you can define your future. Yes, forgive them and use this process of reflecting on your life’s experience to take the good forward and leave the bad behind you. Choose to be the supportive, positive, compassionate person that you want in your life.

You’ve described a mom who started to show you how a person can grow and change. Embrace that and continue to evolve into the person you want to be. If after all this healing you want to share the letter with your dad then do so to create closure. Good luck

kevbo's avatar

The force that placed you in this family and moved the pieces just so to get you where you are today in spite of the adversity you experienced is also your parent, and the sense to be made lies in seeing how it carried or guided you the entire time. If you live in that space, the actions of your biological family will diminish in importance and may even seem trivial. And it takes almost no effort to forgive the trivial.

Love_my_doggie's avatar

From the cradle, we’re told to love and honor our parents. Motherhood and fatherhood are held as sacrosanct. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were worthy of such reverence?

Unfortunately, bad people have children. Becoming a parent doesn’t magically make someone good. To the contrary, the responsibilities of raising a child can overwhelm someone with a mental illness or personality disorder and exacerbate the problems.

Despite what many people will say, you don’t need to forgive your parents. You can’t change the past, and you certainly can’t change your father. What you can do is build a life that makes you proud and happy. It must have taken a great deal of resolve to break away. But, very often, estrangement is the only sane, healthy choice.

Your father sounds toxic. Would you willingly put your hand in a fire and keep it there, merely because someone expects you to do so? Would you let a venomous snake bite you repeatedly, simply because you have a sense of guilt and duty? I admire you for making some painful choices, moving forward, and saving yourself.

By the way, I chose not to see my abusive, self-absorbed mother for 20 years. I won’t tell my own story, however, because this thread is about you, not me.

SmashTheState's avatar

Forgiveness isn’t something you do for someone else, it’s a gift you give yourself. The anger and resentment you carry around isn’t hurting your parents. They don’t give a flying fuck at a tumbling bagel. The only person being hurt by your resentment is you. If you enjoy knocking 15 years off your estimated lifespan from chronic stress, then by all means continue to keep a mental tally of every rotten thing ever done to you. Otherwise, grow up, move on, and learn how to take responsibility for your own life.

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zander101's avatar

One thing I’ve learned in this journey called life is that people can be the product of their environment and prisoners of their own negative thought processes. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How is always the question, and most of the time when those questions are not answered it becomes internal anger and/or depression to the observing or opposite party. Your parents learned and adapted to these type of approaches from the various circumstances in their own individual lives and unfortunately it has made it’s way to contribute to your upbringing and your life experiences, it’s a negative paradigm and with the understanding of it in the present tense, will have you be a strong and stable parent to your young ones when the time arrives. With your question, I feel you should re-frame it in your thoughts and realise that your parents as negative as they were in your childhood are massive contributors to your independence and strength in the current time. They made you realise what you didn’t want to be and you made that choice to go against their beliefs and perception, so as such with time and age, you will be able make that choice to forgive them as you will realise by forgiving them you will be allowing yourself to heal and become whole.

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