How to Mend Broken Relationships With Parents

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "It Didn't Start With You" by Mark Wolynn. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have a strained relationship with your parents? How can you move past familial grievances?

For adults who grew up in dysfunctional families, it can be hard to reconcile their relationships with their parents. However, mending broken relationships with parents is a necessary prerequisite for overcoming grudges and moving past trauma.

Here’s how to fix your relationship with your parents, according to Mark Wolynn.

Fixing Relationships With Parents

Wolynn recommends that you use insights about past grievances to know how to fix tense relationships with parents. You can do this even if your family members are deceased or if you don’t know where they are. Here are some options to do this:

  • Have a conversation—either in your head or out loud—with your family member addressing their particular trauma: “I know you went through great pain when your husband died suddenly of a heart attack. I have been holding that pain, which has caused me to be needy and clingy in my relationship with my husband. I am surrendering this pain back to you now. Whenever I feel insecure in my relationship, I will breathe in your love and support.”
  • Express gratitude toward a parent at a level that feels authentic to you, either privately or in conversation with them—whatever you can muster. For example, you could say, “I am grateful to you for giving me life,” or “I have rejected you and blamed you for a long time. Now I am choosing to be at peace.”
  • Imagine your parent saying something loving to you: “I did things to hurt you and I am sorry. Please accept the love I have for you.”

Wolynn clarifies that healing these relationships doesn’t mean excusing a parent’s behavior or even necessarily resuming any kind of ongoing connection with a parent. Rather, he says, healing requires dropping the anger-filled, accusatory stories we have about our parents. Releasing those stories isn’t about giving up or giving in for the benefit of our parents. It’s about freeing ourselves so we can move forward.

Conflicting Views on Reconciling With Parents

Whereas Wolynn is emphatic that we must repair broken relationships with our parents to achieve true healing and to live fully empowered lives, others disagree. 

Some say that children of parents who inflicted trauma and abuse should not initiate efforts to repair those relationships—that any healing needs to start with those who caused the suffering. Their view is that children who take it upon themselves to repair these broken relationships put themselves in the position of being the parent, which is likely the unhealthy dynamic they were forced into when they were growing up. Consequently, reengaging with the parent now can expose them to further trauma and abuse.

Still, others assert that forgiving abusive parents can do more harm than good, and cutting ties is the better option. From this viewpoint, forgiveness is a two-way street. It requires a heartfelt acknowledgment by the abusive parent that they have done something horrible. Mending the broken relationship won’t be worth it if a parent isn’t willing to acknowledge their harmful behavior.

How to Mend Broken Relationships With Parents

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  • A look into the causes of persistent anxiety, depression, and illness
  • How the traumas of your past are stopping you from being truly happy and free
  • How to resolve deeply-rooted trauma by applying a unique therapeutic approach

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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