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, PsyD, 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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

  • Tbrok

    Tbrok

    September 21st, 2017 at 6:09 AM

    How I know this. My father was/is a white collar workaholic, as the eldest son I got the sharp end of his rage and frustration- some nasty physical abuse but only a handful of instances that I remember. Far worse is the mind games, bullying and ego smashing. Classically trying to isolate you, belittle you, make you doubt yourself. I am left with a sea of rage towards them. I hate them. I felt like such a **** up growing up and half or more was the way those nasty psychopaths treated me. Every single friend I ever had instinctively knew something was wrong with them, didn’t want to be in the same room as them, they could smell what nasty pieces of work they were. There’s no consistency, there’s no “soul”- there’s no feeling. It’s like dealing with a pair of psychopaths. You never know what the game is they are going to try and play today, and by god I’ll never forget the instances where my father got me on my own, threatened and psychologically abused me, threatening to kick me on the street – I will never forget the way he smirked at me when I offered to pay rent, he smirked and said “I don’t need your money”. He’s a monster and I feel myself die any time I speak cordially to them. They’re animals. They don’t deserve my presence let alone do they deserve to be spoken to kindly. I hate them with all my heart. I would never seek any confrontation with them that would risk any more damage to my life. They aren’t worth it.

  • Walter S.

    Walter S.

    October 12th, 2017 at 2:44 PM

    Seth and Aiden, I hope one day you stumble upon this and read it, and realize that what you are going through is not your fault. You were always both good kids, and you are both growing into strong and intelligent young men with good hearts,and I am very proud of you. Your sister Haley misses you both very much, and she hopes very much that she can be reunited with you one day.
    As for me, I am broken. I can’t fight anymore. Every day my heart and mind is consumed by my grief and longing for our relationship to be restored, but after five years, I can’t go on like this. I have to put it away and focus on other things. Should you ever decide to look me up, I will be in Orlando, like always, and not hard to find. My door and my heart will always be open to both of you. Please believe that I don’t blame you for any of this, and I’m so sorry for what you’ve had to go through. I am also sorry for the mistakes I have made along the way, and I hope you can forgive me for them.
    Remember to be kind and forgiving to each other. The turmoil and strife between you two is not because of who you are, but because you have been played against each other. Don’t let the fact that you were treated differently drive a wedge between you. You are brothers, no matter what. I love you both, yesterday, today, and always.
    Walter S., Dad

  • Jane

    Jane

    November 12th, 2017 at 1:38 PM

    I’m in my early 30s and I hate my parents too, except unlike you, I was never abused as a kid and I don’t really feel bad at all for hating them. I used to be closed to my father until maybe a couple of years ago. It got worse the last year or so. My grandparents died recently within a month of each other, as did his best friend. I know it affected him, but he took all his anger or whatever out on me. Whether I gave support or did nothing, made no difference. I think he is also cheating on my mother. They are both retired and he is always out of the house. Since he retired he became this social butterfly trying to act all “hip” with people that he meets. It’s really sad and embarrassing to see. Even his ring tone on his cell phone is too much. My mother and I have always had an on again, off again relationship. She is the most neurotic, selfish, and self absorbed person that I have ever met. Since childhood, she has never apologized for anything wrong that she might have done (to anyone..not just to me). I admit though me and father are often the ones who end up being the ones to apologize just in order to get her to stop talking, screaming, and honestly just to get her to leave the room. Everything with my mother has a catch as well even if something since well intentioned. I should mentioned for the first time in years guess who my roommates are? Mom and dad…. As stupid as this sounds, I am doing it for my dog who has access to a nice big backyard and my mom is always in the house and he loves her. Had it not been for that, I would have gotten my own place.

  • Jeanne

    Jeanne

    January 19th, 2018 at 1:11 PM

    Thank you for this. It really helped me understand. My mother always talk bad about my friends and a close cousin, and I always wondered why she did that. But she is also lonely, no friends. And it all really makes sense now!
    My father is the classical home-terrorist, who would yell and shout for misplacing shoes or leaving homework at the table. I remember him as always yelling, always angry, always telling us we weren’t good enough, smart enough ect. He still does this. My mother would to protect herself, by just shutting down mentally, and not react to all the name calling and mental abuse, unable to give any love but the superficial.
    I hit a rough patch a couple of years ago, feeling myself getting more and more depressed. I tried talking to my mother about it, and she couldn’t handle it and just told me that I must be bored and suggested that I read a book… It was really tough, having to realise that when I needed my parents the most, they weren’t able to and wouldn’t help me at all.
    I have really had trouble accepting that I don’t like my parents. I try to protect myself, by not visiting them, not answering the phone and not seeing them except when I absolutely have to (birthdays and such). And your article made that okay. I feel so much better about myself. Thank you so much!

  • Darren Haber

    Darren Haber

    January 19th, 2018 at 2:08 PM

    You’re quite welcome! Thanks for the nice feedback!

  • Bama

    Bama

    February 1st, 2018 at 9:56 PM

    @ . —No Love Lost You sound like we are kin the way our parents beat us kids for no reason at all with belts. tree branch’s base ball bats, fishing poles, pots and pans, cigarette burns go days with out eating kicking us stepping on our face my dad was nuts he would undo the bed post and beat us with it and his tools when he was close enough to grab them they would set us in the front yard in front of our friends and cut off all our hair off and talking about being bullied at school was bad enough from the scars and welps. what ever was in reach is what we got a beaten with ,am like you my mom calls I hang up on her I do not wish to talk to her she downs her our grand daughter and i will never under stand as to why to this date as even as today 2/1/18 on voice mail trying to get under my skin to get me to anwser the phone. .. but as kids she would stand around and let dad beat us until we could not even walk or crawl mom & dad would degrade us kids so bad around our friends but to us kids we thought we was good kids never in trouble at school our any where else. I hate to say it but am glad my father is dead after watching him beat our sister and brother and stepping in and trying to stop it and we get more of the beatings just was bad . he would call us names that you could never under stand as to why . dad always said it was because it was the way he was raised and left it as that .. Mom always said because her dad was a moonshine runner and a drinker and a drunk . I always ask them but why us and got the same anwsers . Now that i have 1 kid that i love with all my heart i have never as i told my self from childhood i will never in my life touch my kid or kids and she has never been hit or touched in her life . Only thing that bothers me when i look in the mirror and see all the scars on my face whice is alot and my parents always lied how we got them. and taking my clothes off and seeing all the scars on my legs arms stomach looking in the morror seeing part my ear gone omg. scars on my back i hate it but am strong and i live one day at a time knowing what i didnt do with my kid and am SO PROUD OF MY SELF . as my parents did to us.. just letting out steam lol. P.S yes i talk to my brother and sister to this date and they hate them just as bad. @ Darren thanks for having a site for us to Vent.. @ . —No Love Lost Hugs Bama

  • Sweet H

    Sweet H

    February 2nd, 2018 at 8:21 AM

    I’m in my mid-twenties and all i can say is i hate both my parents fron the bottom of my heart. My father has always been abusive in his words and gestures towards both my mother and my brothers. But worst was that my mother always did everything that my father asked her to do. She even told my brother and i that it was our fault if my father was abusive to all of us. How could a mother not protect her child? I’ll never understand that… That situation has caused me so much pain that i’m unable to have real connections with other people, specially boys. I have been constantly attracted to boys who never liked me, or wanted to be with me. I feel so lost right now and i don’t know how to deal with all that. Its too much of a burden!

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