How to Forgive Your Parents to Heal Yourself (2022)

How to Forgive Your Parents to Heal Yourself (1)

Even as an adult, time with my father felt edgy. You see, to the end of his life he had a volatile anger and, as a child, I was emotionally, verbally, and physically abused by him. Yet, through therapy, I had progressed from dealing with my own lack of anger management to resentment to curiosity. My therapist had said, “You give yourself the gift of healing your childhood when you let go of resentment and forgive your parents.”

I held some resentment towards my mother for not confronting my father’s tirades, for watching helplessly with streaming tears. Yet, my primary issue was with Dad. Whether I was in his space or across the country in our own home, his booming voice yelling at me, “Shut up, you stupid. . .” sometimes followed by an assault, would be triggered in my head.

Reasons to Forgive Your Parents

For many it is a leap to consider that our parents did the best they could with their past, available resources, beliefs, and abilities. Yet to move out of the blame game and see ourselves as victims may require exploring our parents’ reality and giving up resentment and judgement. I feel blessed that my children appear to have done that for me.

This quotation by the psychologist and family counselor, Dr. David Stoop, summarizes why you might want to consider engaging in a process to forgive your parents or caregivers.

(Video) How to Forgive Your Parents

“Forgiveness, I have learned, is the key to resolving the pain of the past and breaking generational patterns. Without it, nothing is ever laid to rest. The past still operates in the present.”

My therapist had explained that it didn’t matter if I did the internal work of transforming the father in my head or felt courageous enough to experiment with transforming the actual relationship itself. I was blessed to be able to do both.

The Internal Journey

If you are ready to do some personal exploration of your relationship with a parent or caregiver, here are some initial steps.

  1. Write down how you feel. You might feel hurt that you were seldom seen and heard. You might feel angry for living in a state of fear or that your parents abandoned you or refused to get their addictions under control.
  2. Write a process letter to yourself. Write out these beginning sentences a number of times until you run out of responses.
  • I resent you (parent/caregiver) for . . .
  • As an adult I regret participating in this by. . .
  • From now on, for my own self-care, I will . . .
  1. Have realistic expectations. The chances of your caregivers healing their past is less likely than your ability to accept them as they were and are. Believe they did the best they could. Accept that we are all flawed.
  2. Put a spotlight on their positive characteristics and deeds. This is not denying your pain. It is a reality check. Every day has a dark night and daylight. Don’t get lost in the dark.
  3. Imagine a healed mother, father, or caregiver. Visualize a different childhood for them with loving care, wise guidance, and abundant resources. Who might they have been?
  4. Find a substitute parent. Some people choose to ask an inspiring role model to be their substitute or fill-in parent. I feel honoured to have been asked by two amazing, younger women to fill that role.
  5. Develop a loving and affirming parent voice and presence for yourself. This part of yourself can give your wounded childhood parts what they need. Many of us need a process to help us grow up again, whole and perfect.
  6. If these healing activities seem overwhelming or simply difficult, please seek a trustworthy and experienced therapist.

The In-Person Journey

If your parent or parents continue to be toxic, please establish:

(Video) How to forgive your parents - HEAL YOUR INNER CHILD

  • Physical boundaries: Decide how much time, if any, you will spend with them. Perhaps if you live a distance away, use a hotel for accommodation when visiting.
  • Emotional boundaries. Make clear what topics are acceptable. “We will not discuss how my partner’s parent declared bankruptcy.” Make clear that name calling, swearing or other disrespectful behaviour is unacceptable, especially if children are involved. “We will immediately leave, if you call your grandchild a brat.”

My opportunity came when Katie, our 13-year-old daughter and I traveled to Ontario to spend a week’s holiday with my parents. By this time, I knew that the only person I could change was me. I decided to explore my father from two different angles:

  1. Notice and acknowledge any of his positive attributes and behaviors.
  2. Seek to understand. Subtly ask about his history of abuse, neglect, danger, and distress. During the week I would sprinkle interview-type questions into the conversation. I wanted to avoid triggering his nervous system. It would be enough work to keep mine calm.

Notice and Acknowledge

When he opened the car door for me, I said, “Ah, thank you, Dad.” When he carried a dish to the dinner table, I said, “No wonder I chose a hubby who joins in kitchen duty.” When he introduced me to a neighbor, I said, “I like the way you enthusiastically introduced me.”

Seek to Understand

For too long I grumbled to my therapist and friends about my father’s abusiveness and what I considered my miserable childhood. But I had never sought to understand his. To my surprise he was glad someone took an interest in his past. I discovered:

  • My grandpa’s form of discipline was to take the boy to the barn for a fight to see who was right. No wonder he had next to no parenting skills.
  • Because of his rebellious nature, his one room school teacher, Old Dougy Barton, used to whip his back. No wonder, regardless of his impeccable spelling and ability to fix any farm machinery, he did not finish Grade 8.
  • He worked as a farm hand until he joined the military. In his three years serving in World War II, he saw many atrocities.
  • He spent a night hiding under a dead donkey. Another time he thought he buried all the body parts of his dead army friend, only to wake in the morning and pick up an ear. No wonder he screamed with night terrors.
  • He and my mother had met before he was dispatched. They married a month after his return and he was supposed to live happily ever after.
  • His failure to make a decent living as a farmer was shaming.

A Shifted Perspective

These shared experiences shifted my perspective. I thought, “He only passed on a fraction of his distress to us, his kids.” When Katie and I were on the cusp of leaving in our rental car, I ran back to my parents’ front door and said, “Dad, I’ve never felt so loved.” He began to cry and pushed away my hug. I drove around the block, stopped, and had my own good cry. You see, my father had never told me and my siblings, “I love you.”

(Video) Finding Happiness: How Forgiving my Mother Radically Changed My Life | Sonia Weyers | TEDxFHNW

The compassion that was stirred in me for Dad has lasted a lifetime. The task of forgive your parents was complete for me.

Dad died at age seventy-two with unresolved trauma. Trauma that is passed down from one generation to the next can be thought of as secondary trauma, vicarious trauma or generational trauma. The trauma my father carried did not start with him.

It is now well known that children of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) commonly develop trauma.

Definition of Trauma

The Canadian Association of Mental Health defines trauma as:

(Video) Why You Must Forgive Your Parents (This will heal all relationships)

“The lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Long after the traumatic (distress) event occurs, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness, and intense fear.”

Should you want to experiment with curiosity questions here are some suggestions.

Curiosity Questions to Ask Your Parents

  • Consider starting some of the following questions with, “I feel curious.”
  • After you hear the initial answer, say something like, “Please, tell me more about that?” and “Do you mean to say. . .?”
  • Add “Thank you for sharing.”
  1. What is the story behind . . . (this teapot, your ring, degree, house, hobby, career, or decision)?
  2. As a child how were you disciplined?
  3. As a child, what was a treat for you?
  4. What was school (church, money, sports,) like for you?
  5. As a child, who was there for you, listened and supported you?
  6. Please tell me about your relationship with your parents (grandparents, uncles, aunts).
  7. What were some of your most challenging moments?
  8. When you faced challenges how did you cope?
  9. What person has influenced you the most?
  10. If you could have done anything what would it have been?
  11. If you were to do your life over, what might you do differently?
  12. When and where have you been the happiest?
  13. What excites you right now or you are looking forward to?
  14. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you today (this week, this month, this year)?
  15. As your adult child, what do you want for me?


  1. After a family cut-off of several years, one of my clients made a date to see his father in a restaurant. Decide the environment that is best for you to have an exploratory conversation.
  2. Another client, with deceased parents, sought out relatives and previous neighbours in her quest to better understand and forgive.


Your biological parents cannot be switched. Your past cannot be changed. However, your perspective can change. We can forgive our parents for being human, for making mistakes, and not giving us all that our minds, emotions and spirits wanted. We can start the journey to change our generational story, acknowledge our own mistakes, and step up to the plate to embrace full-out living.

Please check out these related posts:

Reach Out For Help: How to Find a Therapist
Book Summary: Getting Past Your Past
How to Begin Healing Your Inner Child

(Video) How forgiving my father liberated me | Agon Hare | TEDxNTU

Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe toWOWcall 403.242.7796 oremail a request.

How to Forgive Your Parents to Heal Yourself (2)

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How do you heal from your parents? ›

How to Heal from the Effects of Toxic Parenting
  1. Claim Your Voice. If your parents didn't teach you to express your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, it's easy to get lost in the strongest voice around you. ...
  2. Anchor Your Worth. ...
  3. Discover Your Individuality. ...
  4. Establish a Sense of Security. ...
  5. Receive Care from Others.
29 Apr 2020

How do you forgive yourself for parenting mistakes? ›

When you get that nagging feeling that you have failed your child in some way, take these points into consideration.
  1. Assess the Situation. ...
  2. Allow Yourself to Feel Guilty, But Don't Get Stuck There. ...
  3. Admit Your Faults and Own Your Mistakes. ...
  4. Sincere Apologies. ...
  5. Forgive Yourself. ...
  6. Let Experience Teach You. ...
  7. Make Time for Yourself.
7 Dec 2019

How do you forgive for healing? ›

Acknowledge your emotions about the harm done to you and how they affect your behavior, and work to release them. Choose to forgive the person who's offended you. Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life.

How do I accept my parents mistakes? ›

Narrate your own story

If you don't like how your parents raised you, there is little you can do to go back in time to change it. It also won't get you very far to look back on it with shame or disappointment or resentment. Ask yourself what did I learn, gain, strengthen, grow from these experiences.

What does the Bible say about forgiving your parents? ›

Christ has redeemed you to forgive your parents.

As followers of Jesus, however, we are called to forgive our parents as Christ forgave us — freely and without limit (Ephesians 4:32).

How do you heal yourself from a toxic parent? ›

Working with a gifted therapist is the best route, of course, but there are things you can do to help yourself.
  1. Recognize that it's not your fault. ...
  2. Don't normalize abusive behavior. ...
  3. Set boundaries. ...
  4. Build your emotional skill set. ...
  5. Manage your thoughts.
16 Jan 2018

How do you heal when family hurts you? ›

Relationships: When Family (or Any Relationship) Hurts
  1. Don't let anyone else's behaviour change who you are. Be dignified. ...
  2. Make it clear this isn't personal. ...
  3. Now remind yourself not to take it personally. ...
  4. Find compassion. ...
  5. Hold the space. ...
  6. Accept what is. ...
  7. You don't need to convince anyone. ...
  8. It's okay not to be with them.

How do you treat toxic parents? ›

8 Ways to Heal From Toxic Parents
  1. Stop trying to please them. ...
  2. Rebuild your opinions. ...
  3. Stop criticizing yourself. ...
  4. Set boundaries and enforce them. ...
  5. Try not to be around other toxic people. ...
  6. Understand that it's okay to let go. ...
  7. Don't share everything with them. ...
  8. Control where you meet.

Is it too late to fix parenting mistakes? ›

No matter how old your children are or how far you feel from becoming the parent you want to be, it's not too late to change. Start over.

How do I deal with my mom's guilt? ›

Next time you're experiencing mom guilt, try these ten strategies to help you overcome it.
  1. Take a deep breath. ...
  2. Identify the source. ...
  3. Show some self-compassion. ...
  4. Challenge negative beliefs. ...
  5. Prioritize self-care. ...
  6. Listen to your intuition. ...
  7. Surround yourself with supportive people. ...
  8. Take some time off.
10 Jan 2022

What is guilty parent syndrome? ›

Guilty parent syndrome (GPS) is a condition characterized by feelings of guilt and anxiety that interfere with a parent's ability to care for their child. This guilt can be the result of many different things, such as: Making decisions that the parent believes are not in the best interest of their child.

How do you forgive and heal yourself? ›

How to Forgive Yourself
  1. Focus on your emotions. ...
  2. Acknowledge the mistake out loud. ...
  3. Think of each mistake as a learning experience. ...
  4. Give yourself permission to put this process on hold. ...
  5. Have a conversation with your inner critic. ...
  6. Notice when you are being self-critical. ...
  7. Quiet the negative messages of your inner critic.

Why is forgiveness important to healing? ›

The Benefits

The researchers have found that individuals who truly forgive experience increased hopefulness, decreased anger, improved spiritual connection, increased self-confidence, improved relationships and reduced stress – with corresponding enhancements to physical and mental health.

What are the 7 Steps to forgiveness? ›

7 Steps to True Forgiveness
  1. Step 1: Acknowledge. Acknowledge the hurt. ...
  2. Step 2: Consider. Consider how the hurt and pain has affected you. ...
  3. Step 3: Accept. Accept that you cannot change the past. ...
  4. Step 4: Determine. Determine whether or not you will forgive. ...
  5. Step 5: Repair. ...
  6. Step 6: Learn. ...
  7. Step 7: Forgive.
10 Dec 2013

What are the biggest mistakes parents make? ›

A therapist shares the 7 biggest parenting mistakes that destroy kids' mental strength
  • Minimizing your kid's feelings. ...
  • Always saving them from failure. ...
  • Overindulging your kids. ...
  • Expecting perfection. ...
  • Making sure they always feel comfortable. ...
  • Not setting parent-child boundaries. ...
  • Not taking care of yourself.
25 May 2020

What are signs of toxic parents? ›

Signs you might have a toxic parent include:
  • They're self-centered. They don't think about your needs or feelings.
  • They're emotional loose cannons. They overreact, or create drama.
  • They overshare. ...
  • They seek control. ...
  • They're harshly critical. ...
  • They lack boundaries.

Should you forgive your parents? ›

Two benefits of either forgiving your parents to their faces or releasing feelings of resentment privately are inner peace and acceptance. These are the things that allow a person to move past anger, bitterness, regret and blame.

How do you forgive a parent who isn't sorry? ›

How to forgive someone
  1. Peace into the present. Whether you realize it or not, if you hold on to resentment, you're living in the past, where all of the hurt unfolded. ...
  2. Flip your focus from others to yourself. ...
  3. Take responsibility for your feelings. ...
  4. Own your part. ...
  5. Stop looking to feel slighted. ...
  6. Apply a loving lens.

Is it okay to not forgive your parents? ›

You might not be able to forgive your parent,s or even want to. even so, it's in your best interests to move on. Healing can only make you a better person. It helps to talk about these issues with friends or professionals who aren't directly in the situation with you.

Can I forgive my father? ›

Forgiveness is not for your dad. It is a gift to yourself, it is Self-Care. Forgiveness lets you distance yourself, free yourself from the anger, hurt and disappointment that you are currently feeling towards your dad so that those feelings no longer have a negative impact on your life.

How do I apologize to my parents? ›

The following statements are simple ways to apologize:
  1. I'm sorry I hurt you by... I was wrong.
  2. I should have…/I shouldn't have…
  3. I'm sorry for hurting your feelings.
  4. I regret the way I acted.
  5. I'm ashamed that I lied.
  6. I'm sorry, I made a mistake.

How can I heal without an apology? ›

Below are a few things you should absolutely do in your forgiveness process.
  1. Release. Allow yourself to feel the emotional response of the wrong doing. ...
  2. Reflect. Try to understand the other perspective. ...
  3. Remove Your Own Fantasies. ...
  4. Consider Your Health.

How do you forgive someone who hurts you emotionally? ›

Here are eight ways to work on that.
  1. Get mad, feel hurt and grieve. ...
  2. Ask yourself whether your anger is constructive or destructive. ...
  3. Don't worry—you aren't saying the offense was OK. ...
  4. Practice stress-reduction techniques. ...
  5. Remind yourself why you want this person in your life. ...
  6. Set boundaries.
12 Dec 2019


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