Grieving a Toxic Parent This Holiday Season

Grieving When a Family Member is Alive and Well. 

Grief is painful. Grief is a journey. Grief is complicated. Grief….. Ebb’s and Flows. 

The holidays can be difficult for most. However, for those experiencing the loss of a parent — due to a toxic relationship, the holidays can be complicated with feelings of grief and loss. It may bring up feelings of trauma, anxiety or depression

It may feel as though you are standing in a crowd full of people all experiencing the same event, during the same time, on the same day yet, still feeling like your experience is different. You may experience intense feelings of loneliness and disconnect from those around you. 

For those who are coping with a loss — estrangement — of a family member, particularly a toxic parent, during the holidays can bring up similar feelings of grief such as:

  • Loneliness
  • Confusion
  • Longing
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Love
  • Sadness
  • Acceptance
  • and other feelings. 

What makes grieving a family member who is available to us — complicated grief … is the knowing the parent or family member is available and despite how painful it is —  either or both of you haven chosen to cut ties, disconnect or limit contact. 

This time of the year can be especially challenging for those grieving a toxic parent. Naturally, the holidays bring up both positive memories and also reminders of the very fact we don’t have that ‘hallmark’ — ‘picture perfect’ family to celebrate with. 

With that being said, we may be presented with several internal thoughts or questions from other’s this holiday such as: 

‘They are your parent, despite your differences, you should reach out to them, it’s the holidays’ 

‘I should reach out, what if they have changed, what if it can be better’ 

‘I do miss them, why do I miss them if they hurt me so badly’ 

‘Why am I not even over this whole thing still, why do I still care so much’ 

Some of the feelings we may experience may consist of: 

  • Shame – Whether it be shame from the relationship disconnect, or shame from continuing a no-contact plan, shame can come up stronger during the holidays. 
  • Guilt – Other’s may not understand why you’ve chosen to disconnect from a parent, when they may not be able to imagine disconnecting from theirs. You may be presented with feelings of guilt, as if it’s your fault the relationship is disconnected. You may second guess your decision. 
  • Loneliness – When other’s do not understand your decision or choice, you may feel alone in your experience. When you see other’s enjoying the holidays with their parents and you know that your’s choose to pretend that you do not exist or vice versa, it can bring up feelings of loneliness. 
  • Sadness – The reminders of family, connection, traditions, maybe of a happier time when your family was connected or the desire that your family could experience those things, can bring up sadness. That’s ok. You are allowed to feel sad. 
  • Anxiety – You may experience anxiety as well. Many individual experience anxiety when the holidays, birthdays, celebrations or big events come up and they are reminded of the fact that their parent cannot be there. Simply because the relationship is emotionally unsafe for them.
    • There may be fear mixed with desire that the parent will ACTUALLY reach out this year. That things can finally be better and ‘healed’. This feeling may be mixed with shame, disgust and discomfort for having positive feelings for someone who has hurt you. 

All feelings are valid. Grieving a family member or friend is never easy. Grief is not a destination it’s a feeling that comes and goes just like happiness, anger, boredom and hunger even.

Grieving a parent that is available, accessible and alive, is confusing and we may even deny our feelings of grief out of shame and guilt. 

Yes, we are grieving. It’s ok to grieve the loss of a parent. Even when they are available to reach out to. Even when it hurts to do so.

“I wonder if others feel the tremendous amount of loss and sadness I feel at not having the ‘healthy’ parent experience.” — One writer from the Invisible Scar wrote. 

Here are a few things we grieve with the loss of a toxic parent.

  • The love we lost. 
  • The ideal parent that never was and never will be. 
  • A childhood that never was. 
  • The memories that will not be made. 
  • The loss of the future that will not be experienced in the same way with a supportive parent. 

Grief is not forever, but it will come back. 

It may be confusing to love someone and miss them even when it hurt’s to be connected. Know that your experience is valid. Your feelings are real. It’s ok to grieve a parent who is unavailable, detached, estranged. It’s ok to stay protected, to continue the no-contact. It’s also ok to miss them and want to be connected. It’s ok to choose not to. 

3 Ways to Cope With an Estranged Relationship with a Parent 

  1. Allow Space for Grief — Allow yourself to be sad. To grieve the loss you are experiencing. Write letter’s to them and let them know how it feels. — Not to be sent or given to them but, to assist with allowing feelings out. 
  2. Share Your Grief – Share your feelings with a safe friend or family member. Not someone who will judge you for loving someone who hurt you so badly. Ask for acceptance and support in a nonjudgmental way. Let them know you aren’t seeking advice just validation that it’s painful. 
  3. Seek Therapy – Therapy can assist with healing childhood trauma attachments. It’s ok to reach out for support. Our therapist understand and are here to help. 

If you are someone you know are experiencing complicated grief and loss from a toxic parent this holiday season, know that you are not allow. Our therapist, at The Center of Life Mental Health Counseling, are here to help. We understand that no two people experience grieve and loss the same and healing from childhood wounds is painful. Call us today 407-476-1432, we look forward to supporting you throughout your experience. 

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