Toxic Parents (Susan Forward & Craig Buck) - Book Summary

Maybe the title "Toxic Parents" makes you think that this is a book written with the purpose of accusing, blaming parents when their children misbehave. But no, this is essentially an awakening and healing book.

Awaken fathers and mothers so that they understand how their every word/action/emotion strongly influences the formation of a child's personality, beliefs, and outlook on life. .

Heal the children, so that they understand that the hurt they have been suffering from their family is not their fault because they do not have the right to choose. That those wounds can be completely healed, as long as you have the courage and determination to build a better life in the future.

Psychotherapist Susan Forward - the author of the book has shared many cases of patients suffering from psychological trauma due to the wrong upbringing of the family, such as excessive control of children, lack of responsibility in understanding. understand and respect your child's "me", use force or words that affect their self-esteem when they accidentally make mistakes, compare them with others, etc. to the most painful thing is sexual abuse. At the same time, she also offers methods to help heal the wounds that seem to be "deeply rooted" in the souls of those who have to endure that pain.

A "must-read" book for those who are preparing/having been/are fathers, mothers and those who are facing psychological difficulties in life.

PART I: Awakening Toxic Parents

1. It is very normal for children of teaching age to want to be independent, to escape from their parents, to be rebellious, to be curious & to make mistakes.

Psychological parents, they will know how to accompany that development. They understand that children always need to make mistakes & realize that mistakes are not the end of the world. That's how they build their confidence to try new things in life. They don't place their big goals/expectations on the small shoulders of children.

Toxic parents, they forbid, they use force to oppress, they verbally attack their children's dignity & self-esteem when they accidentally make mistakes (e.g. sarcasm, disparagement about their parents) shape, intelligence, capacity).

This, 1 is to make the rebellious children grow stronger because they think that I am not bad anyway, I am a bad person. 2 is to make children feel helpless, self-deprecating, shy and isolated from others. From there, they tend to constantly blame themselves, self-destructing because they think they only deserve bad things. This belief, if not changed in time, then as an adult, that child tends to be attracted only to the bad people in society.

Children can be destroyed by insults from teachers, friends or outsiders, but they are weakest when standing in front of their parents who raise them and are closest to them. Children will think, “They must be right,” and then gradually translate those comments into beliefs in their own worth.

2. True parents are not only physically raised, but also have the ability to stabilize their own emotions/psychology & know how to understand their children's psychology. They are the ones who respond to the children's need for love, care, attention & desire to express their feelings, protect / comfort them from psychological harm & provide moral guidance. & rule.

Toxic parents, they do not meet the above minimum needs because they are too focused on their own feelings and needs. Children since then have no role models to follow, do not know how to give & receive love, do not know how to open their hearts to share. A young soul floating in the midst of a chaotic sea of ​​emotions with no direction.

3. Parents who are always erratic (when happy, they love, when they are tired, they scold) to treat their children will lead to the following 2 situations when their children grow up:

First: Children will be afraid to get close to others because their loved ones become unpredictable and double-sided, one day they say they love them, but the next day they can do actions that hurt them.

Second: I will actively hurt others before they can harm me to avoid rejection. Fear of rejection and hurt can lead to loneliness for the rest of a child's life.

Conversely, if the relationship with their parents is mostly loving, nurturing & respectful, then they will grow up thinking that others treat them the same. This allows them to open up in relationships & not be afraid of getting hurt.

4. When children are robbed of their childhood, having to take on roles beyond their age like having to make their parents happy/satisfied, they tend to feel guilty all the time if they don't achieve it. desired results.

Parents who cannot control their emotions when facing their children, focusing only on their own feelings transmit an energy "Children's feelings don't matter, parents' feelings need to be taken care of. ". Children then feel like they are invisible and unimportant if they can't help others. Later, they will tend to underestimate their own needs and always yearn for the approval of others.

5. Parents who control their children (always make them do what they want) but deprive them of the right to explore, be free, and face failure will make children become anxious and afraid people. scared & unable to be independent . Besides, too much attention will make the child's psyche feel secretive, cramped to the point of suffocation.

6. 1 sentence "I'm useless / I don't do anything good", you will push your child to become one of the following two types of people:

First: Low self-esteem, shyness & lack of confidence in yourself. From there, you can lose many opportunities that come to them in life.

Second: Always live under pressure to prove yourself, always strive to be a perfect role model in the eyes of others (especially parents) & always live in a smoldering anger no matter how hard you try. recognize. My friend, a person who always lives to find confidence from external factors will always be the one who runs out of energy in life.

7. Comparing children with others is the simplest way to turn the relationship between children and people into a relationship of victory, defeat, and competition. Children will always have to live in the pressure of overcoming others without having a moment to relax for themselves.

8. When parents inject negative thoughts into their children's thoughts, like this life is full of deception, exploitation, and not trusting anyone. The child will grow up with a mindset that is always on guard & does not trust anyone – that is the great misfortune of a human being.

9. Children who do not receive enough love and do not feel peace in their own family will tend to want to get out of there as soon as possible, thereby easily leading to wrong decisions in life. their life.

10. Parents who still hold the opinion of "love for a spanking", hitting a child makes the child KNOW it's wrong, then look again. True love is an emotion that will create a feeling of warmth, joy, safety, stability & peace in the human soul, not a feeling of fear or anxiety.

Using force only TEMPORARILY stops a child's misbehavior, but creates intense feelings of anger & self-hatred. The anger a child receives can take the form of the following:

  • Resentment towards the person who caused them physical pain.
  • Anger at others.
  • Symptoms of depression (due to not expressing anger towards anyone).
  • Physical pain such as stomach pain, headache.

Children who are abused, in the future, will become an abuser like their parents (because they think that can protect themselves) or a person who is too weak, easy, and loose in teaching their children. because they understand how painful it is for the senses to be mistreated.

11. True parents are always aware that it is extremely important to care / respect the feelings & needs of family members. They promote individual development, allowing all members to freely express themselves and be independent.

The balance of the family does not depend on dependence, but on each member's interaction, closeness, love & trust. Living in such a family, the child will develop into an individual with personality, self-esteem, respect for himself and others, dare to speak his own thoughts, believe in himself. does not need the approval of others.

Toxic parents always forbid children from expressing their personalities. They use their power to regulate the way children perceive/behave, so that it conforms to their own standards. They erase individual boundaries, infringe upon the freedom and right to express each individual's distinct "me".

They make their children a parasite of the family system. Living in such a situation, children will form a dependent, dependent character, lacking a personal voice, exalting the aspirations of others and lowering their own standards.


According to author - therapist Susan Forward, past trauma, if not healed, can be passed on for many generations. For example, people with abusive or heartless parents, when they can't deal with the person who is supposed to be responsible, tend to live in frustration & subconsciously behave the same way towards their wives. / my child. That's because they don't have an example to follow, don't know what it's like to be a parent, a proper wife/husband.

If you are one of them, be the one to sever this connection by healing yourself. That's a way not only to help you improve your current relationships, but also to help the next generation have a better life.

Here are the most basic perceptions that people with psychological trauma from family upbringing need to understand:

1. If you are hurting because of your parents, do not rush to forgive. People need to learn how to express their anger to be able to calm it down. Forgive & forget means pretending you're okay. When you don't accept that you're hurting, you can't heal. Forgive when your soul is healed and when your parents show signs that they deserve it. If not, just put the responsibility where it belongs.

2. The hurt you have received, let it return to the person who caused it. The important thing is not to blame, but to know how to release the burden that you have to carry. Learn to clearly identify what is their fault and yours, do not arbitrarily take it all on yourself.

However, don't just blame your parents, see clearly your mistake and the task you have to do to live a happier life in the future. For example, building the courage to say no to what you don't want, being assertive when they over-intervene your personal choices, seeking therapy to help you regain your confidence. lost… Remember, only you can be responsible for the rest of your life.

3. You are not responsible for anyone's feelings at all. Choose the path you want. If someone truly loves you sincerely, they will know how to get used to that choice, whether it's their intention or not.

Stop feeling guilty when your decisions upset or disappoint your parents, so you live for them, not you. Living based on the wishes or approval of others, that is when you yourself have allowed others to control your life.

When living completely for others without personal response, your true feelings will become more and more repressed & you will become depressed yourself.

4. My friend, the starting point of independence is not in proving that we live without anyone, how can anyone be successful & happy when living alone without tolerance or help from others. Independence is when we build beliefs, feelings, and thoughts separately from everyone (including parents) and know how to balance our emotions with them.

Don't downplay the impact your behaviors/choices have on them, but don't allow them to disregard your feelings either. Live focused on what you really WANT & NEED, instead of relying on the needs of others. If you consider someone important, learn how to express and share so that they can understand your decision. But it all just stops at sharing, not asking for permission.

5. Here are 2 useful tips to help you communicate with your parents when there are conflicting views in life.

  • Learn to respond defensively (without trying to build walls to defend your point of view) to keep conflicts from escalating. Don't argue, don't explain, don't refute or try to get them to change their mind. Please respect their point of view. For example: I understand your point of view, I'm sorry you don't agree, or instead of saying you're wrong - say I don't think so.
  • Position & Boundary Statements: clearly define your position, what you are willing or unable to do, and what is negotiable or impossible. Make this clear to them in good faith.

=> To make your parents respect your point of view, learn to FEEDBACK instead of REACTIVE. Accept their point of view, but at the same time know how to make a clear statement about your views & limitations. At that time, you don't need to do anything more to change your parents, they will know how to change themselves to fit you.

6. When angry at your parents or anyone, don't learn to control it, learn to express it consciously through the steps below:

Step 1: Let the anger happen, don't judge or deny it. It tells you that you need to be taken care of and that there are things in your life that need to change. Anger also helps you reshape yourself, making you understand what you can and cannot accept. At this point, take a deep breath or go for a walk alone for about 10-15 minutes to regain your composure.

Step 2: Release the anger: you can choose to punch or kick the pillow or scream out loud. Then, look for an opportunity to speak politely (not loudly, not hurt) to the person who caused the anger. Remember, you MUST let your anger out before you can handle it.

Step 3 (Optional): Increase outdoor physical activity such as cycling, jogging. After a workout, the human brain produces endorphins that make us happier.


  • Don't use anger to reinforce your negative situation. You are NOT BAD ONLY BECAUSE YOU'RE ANGRY, it's a natural human response to being mistreated.
  • Always be ready to face/express grief. If you keep dodging & acting strong, it will always be with you & will strike back when you least expect it. This can make you depressed even because of 1 small thing. If you're a man, don't be afraid of being seen as weak and don't dare to express your feelings, because only showing will keep you from getting stuck & allow you to heal your own feelings.
  • To regain your energy, allow yourself time off to do everything that makes you feel good & relax: share with others, watch a movie, take a bath or play a sport, etc.

7. Confrontation – the way to liberation.

Confronting parents about their painful past and negative childhood experiences is not easy. But if you do, you will gain complete control over your life. The purpose of confrontation is not to retaliate, to demean or punish them, but to speak the truth, to treat your vulnerability, to return negative energy to the right place & to establish a pattern. relationship between you and them later.

Confrontation method

Choose 1 of 2 ways: face-to-face or write a letter (if you and they are too far apart). If face-to-face contact makes you too shaken to say a word, write down the main idea on paper and then read it aloud to them – in person. Before confronting, ask them not to interrupt & listen to everything you have to say. If they do not agree, leave it for another opportunity to confront or choose to write a letter.

Confrontation structure

  • What parents did to their children
  • How does the child feel when the parents do it?
  • What impact does it have on your child's life?
  • How do you expect your parents to behave from now on?

4 requirements before confrontation:

  • Strong enough to face rejection
  • Practice saying what to say first & practice responding defensively
  • No longer feel responsible for what you have suffered in the past. Return it to where it belongs.
  • Think about their responses & how you should respond.


After a confrontation, it's not their reaction that matters, but how you respond to them. Trying to change your parents to your liking will drain your energy. So, pay attention to your reaction, let them know (1 firmly and clearly) your thinking & limits, that's enough.

If you stand firm/calm in the face of their fury, you've affected them more than you think. The results, although unsuccessful (not causing the parents to admit fault), will certainly be able to influence them to some extent & most importantly, you have the courage to face your deepest fears. Dare to speak out and face it can give you a lot more confidence & inner peace. Therefore, no confrontation is a failure.

Decide what kind of relationship you should have with your parents so you can take control of your life

  • If they have a positive response & desire to change -> guide parents to work with them to improve the relationship. Always give them a chance to change.
  • If they listen to one ear and the other, they don't want to change -> show a neutral attitude, don't show/confide/close. Limit communication to common topics.
  • If they strongly object/attack: step away for a while so they can reflect on their behavior, or give up (as the case may be).

8. Heal the pain of abuse

This is the biggest pain that a child has to bear from his family, but not without a cure. If you experience this situation, it is best to participate in therapy with the support of a psychologist if possible. If not, apply the steps below:

Step 1:  Dare to share your story with people you trust/who can sympathize with you, or speak alone in front of a mirror, as many times as possible. This will help relieve your guilt.

Step 2:  Apply 2 main techniques: letter writing & role-playing.

  • Write letters: Write letters to the people below & send them out.

The abuser: release all the anger that has been suppressed for so long. You pay the right person to blame & stop blaming yourself.

To the silent: voice outrage because they lack protection & responsibility to you.

For your wounded baby: write words that nurture, trust, and make her feel valued, gifted, and deserving of happiness.

To the other half (lover/husband): Use sincere words to tell about what happened to you, explaining to them how childhood traumas affect your relationship. Let go of your shame by openly sharing to build empathy between the two of you.

Write your own fairy tale: tell your story, but not in the 1st person but in the 3rd person. No matter how dark reality may be at first, end with hope – fantasizing about bright future you want to have. When you have a goal in life, you will always stay inspired.

  • Role Playing

Do some scenes with someone you trust/who can sympathize with your pain to solve some of the problems in the letter. This way will help you release your weakest side, you don't need to hide them anymore. At the same time, it helps you to build confidence when facing the person who wronged you directly.

When you decide to confront your abuser face-to-face, keep the following in mind:

  • Should have support from a psychologist
  • Practice "role-playing" many times so that you no longer feel shy
  • Changing beliefs about who is to blame
  • Clearly define what you want from them (responsibility, apology, commitment to change)
  • Mentally prepare for a big disturbance in the family