Replete with short case studies to make its points, therapist Dr. Susan Forward's book explains well the behavior of toxic parents. It almost seems that not being able to meet one's child's needs goes with the job of parenthood. The emotional baggage carried over from the parent's own childhood influences and molds one's parental techniques. Various chapters in the book study the parents whose intentions were good, those who were controllers, for oh, the very best of reasons, or who rationalized their behavior in a manner reminiscent of the title of one of Alice Miller's books, because it was all done "for your own good.''
And then there is the family with one or more alcoholics where everyone cooperates in a conspiracy of silence and denial that alcoholics are present in one's family. Discussions include the legacy of verbal abuse, the sexual abusers, and how family attitudes can have pernicious effects. These rigid doctrines or life scripts which often are passed on from one generation to the next, include the beliefs that there is no room for a dissenting opinion, or that a woman cannot survive without a man to take care of her.
After having described what overt and subtle toxic parents are like, the author in the second half of the book, discusses what persons who grew up in a toxic family unit can do to help themselves. In an excellent chapter entitled, "You Don't Have to Forgive,'' Dr. Forward argues that forgiving is not only nonessential for recovery but can actually impede recovery.
She says that forgiveness is a trap which undercuts one's ability to let go of one's repressed feelings. Forgiveness covers up one's unfelt feelings and she believes that one can't get better until feelings are confronted. Perhaps forgiveness can be made at the conclusion of therapy, she writes, but never at the beginning. You've got to feel the hurt and the anger first, she says. Still, forgiveness is only an option. She explains that it is not a necessary step.
But then, seemingly contradicting herself, in a chapter entitled "Confrontation: The Road to Independence," Dr. Forward suggests that one discuss with his parents the negative memories of his childhood. I believe that this will enable people who like to argue and confront a further opportunity or reason to continue their acting outs. Those who have been brow-beaten by their parents will be further harassed. Most parents have done their best in rearing their children. I fail to see how confrontation in the here and now can result in anything except bad feelings for both parent and offspring.
The problem is not one of facing one's parents in the present but instead is one of confronting one's repressed memories within oneself. Arthur Janov writes that neurosis is not between people, but is inside one's brain. The author believes that "what you don't hand back, you pass on.'' While that may be a clever truism, I don't feel that it is true or useful.
She also recommends that a parent apologize to his children for any hurts which may have been imposed. She feels such an apology is healing. Again, I disagree. Maybe the parent will feel better after giving the apology, but what does the child do with the apology? It places him further in denial and can make him feel more guilty for being angry and resentful toward his newly insightful and apologetic parent. I've got to confess, however that this position is not original with me. I first read it in one of Alice Miller's books.
In the epilogue, the author writes that in the end one must let go of the struggle to win one's parents love, to get them to change and to find out what they really want. Sounds like she recommends that you become your parent's therapist In other words, you've got to move on with your life and let go the emotional baggage by freeing yourself from your destructive behaviors. Easier said than done.
I enjoyed reading and highly recommend Susan Forward's Toxic Parents.