By Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT
I was talking with a girlfriend the other day and she asked me how does she know if she’s the one who’s toxic or if it’s the other person. She gave me a moment to pause and think. How do I answer her? This question is heavy.
The reality of the situation was that my friend grew up in a very toxic household with parents who didn’t display healthy coping, relationships, and took everything out on the kids (i.e. blaming everyone else and not making amends). Does that mean my friend is toxic? Heck no!
Does that mean that my friend has a few social skills to learn so she can:
A) Learn how not to accept undue blame.
B) Learn how to take ownership for what’s hers when she’s in the wrong.
C) Learn how to reach out and make amends.
D) Learn how to accept an apology gracefully.
E) Learn how to identify toxic behaviors from others (because she’s used to certain ones, they feel normal to her).
E) Learn how to love herself when she implements healthy boundaries and then toxic people fight her on them.
All of the above.
Our parents do the best they can with what they have. I firmly believe (and maybe because I’m a mom, myself) that parents truly try to do what’s right for their kids – yes, even selfish or abusive ones. Parents don’t have it on their radar that now that they have children they have little slaves or the perfect excuses to keep engaging in unhealthy thinking and behaviors – those are just a part of their own wounding that usually they either don’t see or think they’re powerless over.
We can’t go back and change our childhoods. We can’t prevent the pain that we’re still healing from.
But what we CAN do is look into “where am I hurting and what do I need to learn in order to be the kind of person I want to become?” A little bit of exploring our childhoods allows us to give ourselves grace and to disallow the illusion of perfection from creeping into our self-expectations. But beyond that, it really becomes about what messages are my reality and are those messages really true for me or for the world at large? How can I grow and learn from my patterns or my thinking so I can be freer and more comfortable/confident in my life and in myself?
That’s my favorite part about being a therapist. I have grown, healed, and am always a work-in-progress so I can be the best mom, wife, friend, and SELF that I can be, so when I’m working with someone in that space I fully understand how taxing and draining it can be, but I also know how liberating and beautiful it is to get to the other side.
You’ve got this! Like my friend, keep asking those questions.
Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT 104464 is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. She provides in-person sessions in her offices in Chico, CA and in Redding, CA. She also provides online sessions to anyone located in California. Jessica is the owner of Inspired Life Counseling and she’s also the clinical supervisor for the associate therapists who are working toward their licensure hours.
Jessica’s philosophy is usually that even if her client “is the toxic one” they are still a person who has been hurt and who has learned ways of engaging with others and with the world that are doing them a disservice. She understands that this came from somewhere in their past and that they don’t like or want to engage with people from a place of fear or defensiveness. They WANT to walk through this world feeling safe and being able to have healthy responses to big emotions or to other toxic people. She genuinely wants to guide people to learn new scripts and ways of thinking and behaving so they can live a peaceful and happy life.