SOURCE: Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick
Question: How does someone who realizes THEY are the critical/toxic person in the family/relationship begin to heal? I don’t like who I am & struggle against it, but it gets the best of me SO often!!
Answer: First of all let me applaud you for acknowledging that you are not the person you want to be and you want to heal and change. That takes a huge step of courage. Most destructive individuals fail in this very first step of change, which is admitting the truth. Usually they remain blind to their problem. Instead, they blame others, make excuses, minimize the pain they cause, or flat out deny the reality of their behaviors.
Now that you’re aware that the way you treat people is toxic and critical, your next step is to confess, out loud to God and the people you’ve hurt, that you are aware that your behaviors and attitudes are destructive and you want to heal, grow, and change. A public confession commits you to a course of action and a posture of humility which is absolutely crucial if any real change is going to happen. You can’t do it alone. You need God’s help as well as the help of wise and trusted others.
At the very least you will need some good friends who will encourage you toward wholeness and hold you accountable. In addition, you may want to speak with your pastor, hire a coach and/or seek a professional counselor who has expertise in this area.
Ideally you would give these people permission to speak with your family members so that they can hear from more than you on how you are doing.
When we invite trusted people to walk along with us in our journey, it is much more likely that we will gain the self-awareness, skills and support necessary to make significant personal changes.
It is also crucial that you invite those you have deeply wounded to give you feedback whenever they experience your critical attitudes or toxicity. When my children were little and I became aware of how much I yelled at them, I invited them to give me feedback anytime they felt scared or I raised my voice. It was humbling to hear them say again and again, “Mommy I’m scared, or you’re yelling at me”.
When they did speak up I would stop, remind myself that this was not the person I wanted to be and then apologize and do what I needed to do to calm down and be the mother I wanted to be. If I didn’t’ know how to do that, then that became the next thing I had to learn. My children’s feedback was good for me because self-control (one of the fruit of the Spirit) is absolutely critical to one’s mental and emotional health. Second, inviting their feedback helped my children trust that I meant business that I really wanted to change. Even when I blew it in the moment, they saw that I would receive their feedback and humbly self-correct or call a time out on myself.
Receiving feedback from others is difficult because it wounds our ego. Plus, in the heat of our anger we are often self-deceived and blind to the log in our own eye. When we’re enraged, it’s much easier to see the flaws in everybody else. Allowing those who love you most to become a mirror to you is immensely helpful in your growth and change.
For healing, it’s also important to explore some things in your own childhood that may be negatively impacting you now. There is a saying “hurt people, hurt people”. In other words, we often lash out at others when we are in pain ourselves. When that pain is outside our conscious awareness, our negative reactions to life seem automatic and outside our ability to change or control.
Below are some questions you need to ask yourself. Pray and ask God to shed the light of truth on some things from your past.
What are some of the events from your past that have significantly shaped your life – good and bad?
After you’ve identified an incident or event ask yourself these questions. What happened? Why did it happen? How did I feel? What did it do to me? What did it mean to me? What decisions or vows did I make? How and where has this old feeling or experience reared itself in my present life?
Remember, self-awareness leads to self-reflection (Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel the way I feel?) Self-reflection leads to greater self-awareness and self-correction.
When that fails, the feedback from others can lead us to greater self-awareness and self-correction.
Awareness can lead to new choices and healing, and self-correction leads to new habits and ways of being.