I Hate My Parents—and I Hate Myself Because of It

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I’ll just say it: I hate my parents with every fiber of my being. I’m pretty sure they hate me, too. My dad beat me almost every day when I was little, and never had anything nice to say when I was growing up. He was always on drugs, burned me with his cigarettes, told me I was garbage. Which is exactly what I felt like. My mom stood by and let it happen. He hit her too. I watched it happen. She took it out on me. She wouldn’t even let me eat some nights. I wish I had reported them, but I never did. I was too afraid of what would happen to me.

I am 27 now, and until last week I had not talked to either of my parents in years. Then, out of the blue, my mom calls me. I hung up right away. She’s called me twice since, leaving messages saying she hopes I’m happy. She said she thinks I should forgive them and doesn’t understand why I won’t talk to her. I’m like, “Really?”

I don’t know why she’s suddenly interested in my life, but I don’t care. I’m not one of those people who thinks just because you accidentally got pregnant and had a kid, your kid owes you something. I had terrible parents. I had the worst childhood you can imagine. I don’t want to be my parents’ son anymore. I don’t want anything to do with them. I don’t see that ever changing, either.

I know hate is an ugly word. Article after article says it’s “unhealthy” to hate and that it’s “healthy” to forgive. But I hate my parents. I can’t forgive them. And what’s worse is I hate that I hate my parents, which makes me hate myself. I don’t know what to do with that except what I’ve always done: nothing. —No Love Lost

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Dear NLL,

I’m sorry to hear about what sounds like an awful childhood. In some ways, the blaming and emotional abuse you experienced may be even more impactful than the physical abuse; scars that remain invisible often take the longest to acknowledge and heal.

You mention reading about how it’s “healthy” forgive one’s parents, let go of the past, etc. Whenever I’ve talked with people about some of their overwhelmingly toxic parents (yours appear to fit in that category, I’m afraid), I’ve had cause to doubt this maxim profoundly. In some cases, we may be unable to forgive until there has been some parental or caregiver recognition of the abuse and suffering inflicted upon us. Furthermore, an ongoing lack of recognition of abuse or neglect indicates the toxicity persists. Setting a boundary, as you have, is reasonable and may in fact be the safest way forward.

Whatever your mother’s reasons for wanting to connect with you, she cannot reasonably expect to set the terms of any relationship with you. The terms are yours to define, and she needs to respect them, even if it means no contact.

Emotional experience is subtle and complex. It’s possible—through therapy and other avenues— to simultaneously heal wounds of the past and set boundaries with toxic others. It is vital to acknowledge your emotional authenticity and experience, however painful or awkward. Otherwise, your psychological agency is in danger of becoming fractured, dissociated, or radically undermined.

This brings to mind a person I worked with many years ago whose mother actively intervened (starting in elementary school) to ruin her son’s friendships with others because she felt no one was “good” or “pure” enough. The way she “protected” him was to gossip behind his back to teachers and his friends’ parents about what a untrustworthy and generally nasty kid he was, going so far as to whisper in the ear of the local pastor to keep an eye on her “wayward” son. This awful behavior had the desired effect: the friends he wanted were told by their parents to stay away from him, and he grew up with insecurity issues that led to drug addiction.

When he grew older and entered therapy, the son fiercely resented his mother’s behavior (while struggling with guilt over “hating” her) and refused to comply with her demands that he write and call her regularly. He came to recognize her chief aim was to isolate him—a classic abuse technique—so he might become a surrogate “friend” and stop trying to have his own life. Her alcohol-addicted husband worked long hours, and when home he remained locked in his den watching television, sipping booze. Unable to address her husband, she directed her rage at her son and essentially held him hostage with her manipulations and subterfuge.

A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune of studying with a longtime psychoanalyst and mentor. I asked about forgiveness of one’s parents as a “must.” You see, I had inadvertently caused some controversy in one of my doctoral seminars after reading an article by a psychoanalyst who felt that forgiving one’s parents was a sign of maturity; I disagreed, as I felt there could be no global rule about forgiveness as it pertains to one’s parents, and clashed with my fellow students and instructors.

My mentor waved off this “doctrine” in no uncertain terms. “Why do you have to forgive your parents?” he wondered aloud. “I’ve never been a fan of that idea. Especially if they were horrible to their kids. Am I going to tell a woman who experienced incest with her dad, with a mom who denied such things ever happened, ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’? Of course not. And anyway, do we really want requirements of the people we help? What do we do if they can’t or won’t forgive? Refuse to see them? Give them moral instruction? That’s repeating the very abuse they’re trying so hard to escape.”

All of this is a way of saying this: Do what feels safe and right to you. Keep your boundary. The fact you took the time to write means there’s some part of you that treasures your own preservation and well-being; trust your instincts! Also, the fact you have set a boundary and had such a human, understandable, and honest reaction to your mother’s recent contact tells me you’re probably the healthiest person in your family. The healthiest person is often the first to seek therapy, as it turns out.

I have discovered over time that the kind of harsh and unspeakably cruel treatment you received may impact a person in a way that can be hard to assess without empathic observation and support.

Speaking of which, I would encourage you to seek a counselor, preferably one who can address the psychodynamics of such pernicious abuse. The damage can be very subtle. I discovered over time that the kind of harsh and unspeakably cruel treatment you received may impact a person in a way that can be hard to assess without empathic observation and support.

You might say the vulnerable part of us, which we have to hide or “put away” in an abusive context, inevitably emerges as we try to fulfill our hopes and goals for an authentic life, especially in regard to relationships with others (sexual/romantic, friendships, even educationally or professionally). Sustaining hope means remaining vulnerable. Some people end up sabotaging their own hopes, or withdrawing from life, due to the savagery of past suffering. Finding a competent healer might be the most loving thing you could do for yourself.

Hating your parents is one thing. Hating yourself for hating them is quite another. You clearly don’t deserve that burden. A competent therapist can help you recognize and have compassion for the forces at work in your self-directed misgivings.

One final note: Are there are any other family members you can talk to who “get” your experience and can validate it? A cousin, aunt or uncle, even close family friend? The son I spoke of earlier had an aunt who was far more balanced than his own mother, and he and his aunt developed a fairly close rapport. The aunt validated his experience as real, which was an important aspect of his coming to terms with his experience and moving forward.

I hope this has been helpful. I further hope you are able to find the peace so unfairly denied to you by your parents.

Kind regards,

Darren Haber, MA, MFT

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, MA, MFT, is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • Lauren

    May 6th, 2017 at 7:45 AM

    This is all on them.
    Don’t let their actions from the past have to make you unhappy today.
    If you are happier in your life without them in it, then that is the path that you should pursue.
    Yes it would be great if everyone could have an awesome relationship with their parents, but those are not the cards that we have all been dealt.
    I say that you have a lot of crap from the past that you have to work through, and if that includes doing that without them, then so be it.

  • Darren Haber

    Darren Haber

    May 6th, 2017 at 11:39 AM

    Thx Lauren! 👍🏻

  • Frances

    May 8th, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    I understand the feeling of guilt, because after all these are your parents and you feel in some ways that you owe them love. But do you really? especially after the pain that they have caused you? I don’t think so. The guilt should definitely be felt by them, because why even become a parent if this is the best that you can do for someone?

  • Kristen

    May 9th, 2017 at 12:54 PM

    This was a helpful post. I am trying to learn that it is ok to not forgive my parents . Also, finding validation is very important, unfortunately my sister has been in total denial since our mother died. I can’t pretend.

  • susie

    May 10th, 2017 at 7:15 AM

    I grew up with a not so great relationship with my own parents and as a result I don’t think that I have the best one now with my own children.
    I am not trying to use this as an excuse but when you have never really been shown how that role should function one should understand that it is hard to know how to even behave when you become a parent yourself.
    I am trying to do the work that is needed to encourage some healing, but I know that it is going to take some ti,me and I am always afraid that my kids are one day just going to give up on me.

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