One of the most overused platitudes I hear in response to toxic parents is that they must have meant well, or they were only doing the best they could. This is a terrible thing to say to a survivor of child abuse. It’s false and damaging to the victim, because it implies a false projection that their toxic parent had good intentions.
Some people are not doing the best they can. Some, because of personality disorders, choose to harm and destroy their victims. Some people lack empathy, and have no intention of improving their behavior. They would prefer to make scapegoats out of others than take responsibility for their actions.
I am a mom, and I get why people say it. I too would like to believe that I am always trying to do my best. But here’s the thing. Sometimes, I’m not. Sometimes, I can do better. As someone recovering from complex childhood trauma, I can be distracted. I can be upset about things that aren’t in my present environment. I can be on edge, and a little bit of kid chaos is often what pushes me over, and makes me scream at them to stop. It sucks for me, and sometimes, it sucks even more for my kids.
However, there is one major distinction between me and my abusive parents. In spite of how I sometimes feel and react, I never intend to harm my kids. Although my reactions are often triggered by something they do, I never make my own overblown reaction their fault. Even if I explode in frustration, I don’t beat my kids up with words. I own my reactions, and when we are all calm, I apologize and talk it over with them. As part of owning my own shit, I make a daily effort to heal, grow, and do better.
My parents lack empathy. My parents intend to harm. My father is a malignant narcissist, among other things. He not only made his bad behavior my fault, he sought out opportunities to hurt me. My mother is a covert narcissist, among other things. She knew how to put on a good face to the public while she abused and neglected me behind closed doors. Both of them knew what they were doing. Neither of them had any intention of changing their behavior. Both of them continue to project their abuse as my fault. Both of them are furious at me for not going along with any of it. And of course, if you asked them, they would tell you that as parents, they did the best they could, and aren’t I a stinker for holding a grudge? And the thing is, if you weren’t watching closely, you’d probably believe them. They are experts at manipulating people, because they’ve been doing it for a long, long time.
Would you fall for it if you heard an estranged parent say it?