J8’s Book Review: Toxic Parents Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

by guest blogger Jade Miller, at thoughtsfromj8.com

Book Review: Toxic Parents

In keeping with recent events in my life, I picked up Toxic Parents Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, by Dr. Susan Forward, about a month ago.  The book was a quick and decent read, but I think it was a little lacking for me.  Probably what I really need is something more specifically focused on narcissistic parenting.  Anyhow, here is a quick synopsis on it, with some commentary.

Toxic Parents, as most books like these do, starts with Part 1, which is essentially an introduction of their take on the various types of toxic parents, with a brief description of each. They are labelled The Inadequate Parents, The Controllers, The Alcoholics, The Verbal Abusers, The Physical Abusers, and The Sexual Abusers.  The author expounds on the types of covert or overt manipulation employed by that type of toxic parent, and the physical and/or emotional wounds resultant not only of the offending parent, but of the role that the non-offending parent plays as well.  Often the passivity of the non-offending parent, and their failure to acknowledge or intervene in the situation, can create just as many wounds as the primary toxic parent’s actions.

Part 2 of the book is about various strategies for reclaiming your life.  It walks through the ethics involved with forgiveness vs. non-forgiveness (note: the author is not a Christian, and forgiveness is not promoted as essential in this text), and then moves on to dealing with the emotional fallout from being raised by the various types of toxic parents. It works through the factor of responsibility, since most adult children of toxic parents have been raised to feel overly responsible, even for things that are legitimately not their fault. It helps define who is now responsible for what, once you are physically independent from your parents and out on your own.

The big recommendation in this book, which didn’t really apply to me since I’m no longer in relationship with my parents, was a confrontation with them about how their behavior affected you as a child and continues to affect you, with the intent to let them know you will no longer engage with them when they do x, y, or z or behave in other ways that are detrimental to your relationship with them. The author suggested that the confrontation could be in person, ideally in a therapeutic setting with a counselor or therapist as a supporting person. Or it could be a written confrontation, since writing was a guaranteed way to be able to express all thoughts and feelings with no interruption, and with the ability to revise and edit until you are satisfied with the message you are sending.

Book cover of Toxic Parents Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr Susan Forward.

Toxic Parents Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr Susan Forward.

Beyond the confrontation, Toxic Parents discusses ways to respond neutrally to emotionally charged situations with parents, and break the cycle of dysfunction.

I know my analysis all sounds rather dry, but that’s mostly because that’s the effect the book had on me… neither here nor there, really.  It was helpful to read something that marginally confirmed that I’m not crazy, but I feel like perhaps one of the types of toxic parents that wasn’t included (but should have been) was The Narcissistic Parent. Perhaps I will email the author and suggest a future revision.

My parents don’t really fit most of the categories of toxic parents discussed in this book. They were at times inadequate, at times controlling, with a little bit of covert verbal and/or emotional abuse here, a dash of neglect there, and heaping amounts of chaos and unpredictability everywhere.  My parents knew how to say a lot of the right words. But they only meant them about 24.8% of the time. The rest of the time, it was just empty words. But along those lines, they were good at building a false image of normality and the illusion of a loving, healthy relationship so no one on the outside would suspect how unhealthy things really were inside our house.

In keeping with their narcissistic tendencies, they tended to praise and/or give attention to the things I said or did that made them feel good as people or as parents. If I did something that resulted in positive feedback from others about myself or my abilities in a certain area, my parents congratulated themselves for having birthed/raised such a talented person, even if they didn’t understand or have any interest in said ability outside any vicarious attention they could attain from it through me.  They basically rode on my coattails, and worked hard to channel my interest and energy into things that ultimately benefited them. Any interests or successes I had that did not directly relate to them were either ignored, downplayed, outright punished, or slyly undermined until I let go of them on my own.  My life became about my image, or more to the point, their image as reflected by my successes or failures or strengths or weaknesses. I’ll likely write more about narcissism as it relates to my upbringing in a future post on my own blog.

Anyway, I can neither strongly praise nor sharply criticize this book. It was a bit “blah” for me, but hopefully for the reasons I described above, that might be understandable.  I’m glad I read it (I guess?) but I can remember nothing particularly memorable or supremely helpful about it.  Cheers. ~J8

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2 thoughts on “J8’s Book Review: Toxic Parents Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

  1. I read this book also, and the situations didn’t include the toxic parents I grew up with either. I’m not disputing that these weren’t her clients, but she painted each case as so easy in the end to tackle, and didn’t take years of therapy to tackle it. This book in my eyes, is education, however doesn’t replace therapy. I believe the author backed off showing at least some gritty examples of real “toxic” parents such as mine, who ruined my life with damaging words, neglect when sexually abused, favoring one child over another and how to deal with a parent whom you can’t reconcile with no matter how hard you’ve tried. IMO I wouldn’t recommend this book.

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    • Thanks for commenting! I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with your fam. I can definitely relate. I tend to agree with your statement that the book is education, which is perhaps better than no education. But you’re right, therapy is needed, and things aren’t always so simple to resolve or move past. Best wishes on your journey. ~J8

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