In essence the practice is always the same: instead of falling prey to a chain reaction of revenge or self-hatred, we gradually learn to catch the emotional reaction and drop the story lines. Then we feel the bodily sensation completely. One way of doing this is to breathe it into our heart. By acknowledging the emotion, dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves about it, and feeling the energy of the moment, we cultivate compassion for ourselves. Then we could take this a step further. We could recognize that there are millions who are feeling the way we are and breathe in the emotion for all of us with the wish that we could all be free of confusion and limiting habitual reactions. When we can recognize our own confusion with compassion, we can extend that compassion to others who are equally confused. This step of widening the circle of compassion is where the magic of bodhichitta training lies.
People can forgive toxic parents, but they should do it at the conclusion—not at the beginning—of their emotional housecleaning. People need to get angry about what happened to them. They need to grieve over the fact that they never had the parental love they yearned for. They need to stop diminishing or discounting the damage that was done to them. Too often, “forgive and forget” means “pretend it didn’t happen.”
I also believe that forgiveness is appropriate only when parents do something to earn it. Toxic parents, especially the more abusive ones, need to acknowledge what happened, take responsibility, and show a willingness to make amends. If you unilaterally absolve parents who continue to treat you badly, who deny much of your reality and feelings, and who continue to project blame onto you, you may seriously impede the emotional work you need to do. If one or both parents are dead, you can still heal the damage, by forgiving yourself and releasing much of the hold that they had over your emotional well-being.
At this point, you may be wondering, understandably, if you will remain bitter and angry for the rest of your life if you don’t forgive your parents. In fact, quite the opposite is true. What I have seen over the years is that emotional and mental peace comes as a result of releasing yourself from your toxic parents’ control, without necessarily having to forgive them. And that release can come only after you’ve worked through your intense feelings of outrage and grief and after you’ve put the responsibility on their shoulders, where it belongs.
Susan Forward, Toxic Parents, ch 9
I have never made it to the anger stage with my dad and I don’t feel like I ever will. That’s not to say I still allow him to impact me because I do not have a relationship with him at all. But I don’t feel anger towards him or what he did.
I did have a ton of anger towards my mom but I tried to drop it all when she got sick. It was more forced that honest though and I do hope to one day find a way to forgive and let go. It’s so weird that I find my mom’s lack of action so much more unforgiveable than my dad’s actions. But I guess we don’t choose how we respond as children and once it’s embedded, it’s so difficult to move past it.(via creatingaquietmind)