4 Ways to Release Anger Towards Your Parents
Tired of holding on to resentment?
Posted July 24, 2019 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
The relationship between a child and a parent is one of the most instinctively protective, loving, and nurturing things humans experience. But for some, the connection with parents is marred by feelings of deep hurt and resentment. Such psychological wounds often follow people beyond childhood and adolescence into adulthood.
There is no comprehensive list of the possible ways in which a child can be left emotionally scarred. The causes of lifelong anger that some hold against a parent could be due to any of the following:
- Physical or emotional neglect from parents. They may not be intentionally abusive but were affected by their own vulnerabilities or limited emotional capacity.
- Physical, mental, or sexual abuse
- Failure of a parent to protect/defend a child from bullying or abuse
- The lack of attention, affirmation, and reassurance to make a child feel worthy or even wanted
- Parents expected too much from a child or were excessively controlling.
- The family scapegoated a child—the emotionally sensitive child—as the "problematic one."
- Parents were continually critical of a child.
- Lack of support from parents for the pursuit of a romantic relationship or for a lifestyle or career choice
For those who experience such pain and carry it into their adult life, the consequences can be devastating. Consciously or unconsciously, they may:
- Be unable to move on from the past and fail to build a happy present for themselves
- Be emotionally unavailable as adults and therefore unable to sustain intimate relationships
- Harbor insecurities into adulthood about whether they deserve to be loved or nurtured, and sabotage opportunities they get
- Find themselves at times responding similarly as parents to their own children, and therefore perpetuating the cycle of emotional pain
- Feel suicidal regardless of how much they have achieved in adult life
How can you break free from the shackles of a troubling emotional past, especially when the triggers (the parents) are still part of your present life?
The following strategies are aimed at helping you let go of resentment and reclaim your lives. However, there is no one-size-fits-all, prescribed way. Each relationship is different and involves myriad complex factors. Please take away what might be useful and discard the rest.
1. Acknowledge your anger.
“I need to move on; it’s been too long.”
“Remembering the past doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“Nothing can be gained confronting them.”
Does any of this sound familiar? Perhaps at some point in life, denial and minimizing were the only ways for you. Perhaps without hiding your pain—both to the outside world and to yourself—you couldn’t have moved forward with your daily life.
Ultimately, we need to reconcile with the deep disappointment of not having our desired relationship with a parent. However, the first step to liberate oneself from the past is to acknowledge the tragic nature of events and understand that there is a place for legitimate anger. Just because we recognize we have been failed and have a natural emotional reaction does not mean we unproductively point the finger or blame anyone.
In most cases, what happened was a result of trans-generational trauma. Perhaps our parents faced similar conditions themselves as kids, and for them, the behavior was the only thing they know.
You are releasing the past for your own good, not for anyone’s sake. You own your story. You have the right to tell it. The more you are able to share your story—including your anger and resentment—with trusted family members and friends, or therapists and spiritual teachers, the more you will be able to let go, release, and move on.
2. Talk about the hurt
Jeannine Mai, co-host of the popular talk show The Real Daytime, recently posted a YouTube video about sexual abuse at a young age by a trusted member of her extended family. As a result of the recurring abuse, Jeannine did not speak to her mother for eight years. She was wounded by her mother’s failure to defend her child or even acknowledge what had happened. In the YouTube video, when Jeannine’s mother reveals that she had in fact confronted the assailant, Jeannine had an emotional breakdown, as she realized (for the first time) that her mother had believed her about the abuse.
Talking to your parents about aspects of your childhood that have caused lingering emotional hurt can prove to be one of the most powerful and healing conversations to have. Perhaps as adults, you can begin to see the children inside your parents and see that they were once young and helpless.
This strategy is not always possible. Some parents are more defensive and might never acknowledge what they have done. On some level, they know they had failed you and that the feeling of guilt probably makes them more defensive.
There is no point in trying to find explanations for their behavior, nor in convincing them that they have done wrong. Sometimes, justice can never be sought, and you need to find other ways to reconcile your past. You may have to grieve the childhood you never have, and stop comparing what you had with other people’s childhoods.
3. Set boundaries with your parents.
You can exercise assertiveness and set firm boundaries with your parents. As a child, you could not escape the family home or build a wall to defend yourself. But as an independent adult, you have the ability to say no, walk away, and minimize contact.
At first, doing so feels uncomfortable. Your parents are likely to resist the change by criticizing or guilt-tripping you. But you can find a way to tell them you need to be treated with respect, and they can no longer influence important decisions in your life.
More importantly, you need to believe in your ability to stand on your own two feet. Once you have set boundaries, you must keep all parties accountable. When others cross the line, you say no. If they cannot respect your need for space and autonomy, you can limit interaction with them.
While this seems harsh at first, it is for the greater good. It also does not have to be forever; sometimes, just by limiting contact for a period of time, you give yourself the time and space to regain clarity and confidence.
4. Love yourself and believe in your worthiness.
At the end of the day, you want to be able to cross over the bridge of resentment and move to a place of peace. But however cliche this sounds, you need first to love yourself, embracing both the good and the bad, your ability to love and your rage towards others. You must forgive yourself for your inability to forgive. You are a survivor for being here today. You deserve to live without emotional baggage.
When you open your heart to the possibilities of tomorrow, you will gradually find that you are no longer weighed down by experiences of the past. With a conscious approach to handling the anger you feel towards your parents, you can finally start to repair your relationship with them and hopefully build the foundation for mutual respect and understanding.
If what you do grows into a deep sense of love for your parents, then the journey would have been worth it. If not, you know that you tried, and you will have no regrets.