Confronting elderly parents about childhood trauma

I stopped speaking to my father 5 years ago, when it got too tense and difficult for me to deal with him. Two Christmases ago, tired of feeling awkward visiting my siblings and uncle for the holidays but not him, I wrote him an email describing the main things I was unhappy about in my upbringing, my family background, and our relationship, and explaining what I thought he had done wrong and why I felt that way. I heard nothing until six months later, the weekend of Father’s Day, when he responded with an email that was totally defensive and accusatory. No apologies, no conciliation, no “I guess I can see why you might feel that way even if I don’t agree”–it was all about how I’m wrong, he’s the victim, and how I don’t appreciate all he did for me.

So my experience is that, as others have said, dredging up the past doesn’t work. I suppose if you’re still having difficulties dealing with someone, you need to just set strict boundaries and enforce them from this point on.

The excluded middle here is to talk to someone else about the feelings, rather than to the parent. You did talk to your wife, and so it sounds like you were able to get the feelings out.

I think most people can’t handle being confronted with the bad things they did in life. That takes a lot of maturity and people with that much maturity would be more likely to have not caused the trauma in the first place. There are some people who develop a healthier sense of self awareness later in life, but I think most people who abuse or neglect kids don’t.

I don’t know. There’s something to be said about making someone smell and eat their own shit even if it happened long ago. Calling someone out on the rug has therapeutic benefits.

One day myself, my brother and our younger sister confronted both our parents about the cult we were raised in. How it almost ruined an otherwise great childhood in a perfect Anytown, USA. How getting screwed out of every major holiday day was miserable and almost made us outcasts among our peers. How we always knew the entire thing was all bullshit and Herb was a delusional conman. How the weird Jewish type festivals we were forced to attend made use unbelievably uncomfortable except that there were always opportunities to get drugs and alcohol from other kids forced to be there. How we would not allow them to expose our children to anything even remotely related to their beliefs and if they even tried they’d be cut off. My brother and I took great delight in telling my Mother the names of all the “nice girls” in the church that we banged the living shit out of.
Fuck you and fuck the god you worship!

It was immensely satisfying. Especially after the founder died and the church disintegrated, the true sign of a cult.

Eventually my Mother agreed it was fucked up and apologized. My old man went to his grave with an “I’ll see you at the resurrection and we’ll see who’s right” attitude.

I don’t think abusers have any right not to be confronted with their past acts, whether or not they remember. But I agree that if you go in hoping for an apology, an admission, or anything along those lines, you’re likely to be disappointed. Assume they will react badly, and ask yourself if it’ll still give you peace to speak your truth. If so, have at it.

Ironically, it’s the fundamentally good parents who made forgivable mistakes who are most likely to react the way you’re hoping. And with them, you might think less in terms of confrontation than conversation. Maybe you’ll both come out of it with a greater appreciation for what the other went through.

Either way, I think Dan Savage had it right when he said that closure isn’t something you get from someone; it’s something you give yourself. I don’t think you need to forgive, but eventually, for your own sake, you want to find a way to let go of your anger and hurt. What you say to the other person, or what kind of relationship you choose to have with them, is kind of beside the point.

In every child, young or grown, hope springs eternal that their shitty parents aren’t, in fact, shitty people. We all want to believe, need to believe, there’s more there than what we saw manifest as children.

But, in reality, what they lacked then, that made them shitty parents, they STILL 100% lack now. Given time and distance from events, it’s only natural to develop less judging, more forgiving attitudes toward past mistreatment. A very natural and healthy part of healing from that trauma.

The kindness of your forgiving heart and the softening of your anger has not changed that they are shitty people. If you really need another dose until you fully understand that then I guess nothing will stop you.

But if you look closer, you might see that the child you were, is watching and hoping that, just maybe, this is the time the ‘self‘ will act protectively, sparing them another serving (as unnecessary ‘proof’ yet again!), of the same old betrayal, and, of course, being retraumatized.

I’ve been going through a tough spot lately and have been seeing a therapist for the last few months. He’s asked several times if I’ve ever experienced trauma or abuse from my parents, as he feels the root of my depression and anxiety issues seems to always circle around them. I finally shared some things that my parents had did (mainly my mom) when I was a teenager. I never thought of these situations as abusive per se back then, but he feels she certainly crossed the line (and in retrospect, if I had done those things to my teenage kids, I certainly recognize them as being abusive behavior).

At any rate, things came to a head recently. I recently lost my job, and my brother, who has never been financially independent and has received ongoing financial support from my parents since leaving the house 20 years ago, quit his. My parents continue to support him, even though he continues to take trips Vegas and buy expensive cars, the third of which my parents just paid off when he could not make the payments. I was pretty livid when I heard he quit his job, and their reaction was “well, you can’t tell him anything”. Aside from the abuse and emotional neglect, its been a double standard all my life in terms of how they’ve treated him vs. me in terms of expectations, support and (now) personal demands of our time to visit them and help them around the house). Any, I digress….

After a particularly rough talk therapy session, I had a few drinks, then called my parents and unloaded on them. Not a particularly good thing to do when not sober, but I’m glad I did it. However, it’s driven a bit of a wedge between us. They still want to remain close and my Dad (particularly) has remained supportive. My Mom is acting hurt that I spoke of things she claims to no longer remember and does not believe ever happened. I honestly don’t know how some of these situations could have imprinted on me so significantly yet she has no recollection, even though I once left the house (only for a day, but I missed my Grandfather’s (her Dad’s) last birthday party before he died because I could not be around my mother any longer because of something she did, and had once physically restrained her from beating my younger brother with the buckle end of a belt, which she was swinging wildly at him, including at his face.

I can’t tell you what is right for you, but I felt I had to confront them in order to even begin thinking about forgiveness. I was hoping my mother would at least acknowledge some of this, but she has not and won’t. My therapist has suggested I still need to move forward and let go of the anger as it’s only hurting me, but it’s hard because this is not all left in the past (at least from my perspective, in how they have always and continue to treat myself and brother is disparate ways).

Hi - I am interested in reading this, but cannot find the exact title. Do you have a link?