Honoring Dishonorable Parents
Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
How and whether to honor dishonorable parents is a dilemma for those of us who have suffered childhood abuse.
Society and religion teach us that we must obey and respect our parents, no matter the circumstance. That expectation is a source of tremendous conflict and guilt, especially for childhood emotional abuse survivors who have no visible scars.
Emotional abuse is subtle. As children we do not understand what is happening to us while it is happening. Our parents' treatment of us is the only treatment we know. We find ways, mostly unhealthy ones, to adapt to it. It isn't until adulthood, when our lives do not function in healthy ways, when our happiness and relationships are impeded, that the awareness of what we endured in childhood becomes heightened. The realization that our parents failed us may make honoring them a confusing, difficult, sometimes impossible thing to do.
When parents fail to take responsibility for what they did, seek help, and/or make amends; when they continue to manipulate or be abusive, the moral dilemma of honoring dishonorable parents is compounded even more. It is even more difficult when they have abandoned us, live amoral lives, have substance abuse issues, or do evil things.
The word honor is not synonymous with the word obedience. To honor our parents does not mean being subordinate to them or submitting to any form of abuse from them. We do not have to listen to put downs, insults, or guilt trips. We do not have to stay in a relationship with anyone who hurts us, violates our trust and dignity, or steals our hopes, dreams, and potential.
It is not your fault if you had parents that never helped you build your self-esteem or whose actions destroyed whatever self-esteem you had. It is not your fault if you must take a hiatus from honoring your dishonorable parents or isolate yourself from them while you learn to honor yourself and rise above the adversity.
Acceptance and forgiveness must come first, and it cannot come about while you are tearing yourself apart with guilt. Until you fully accept your situation for what it is without any delusions or fantasies of it ever being different, the concept of honoring your parents must be put on the back burner.
Honor does not involve bowing at your parents’ feet. It is essentially about valuing them for being the vessels that brought you here. Because they gave you the gift of life, you are able to make your unique contributions to the world you live in. For that, they are very valuable.
Honor is about respecting the position your parents hold in your life and upholding their dignity as human beings. We can respect other people’s positions in life and dignify them without agreeing with their choices and decisions.
If after all consideration you decide you would like to in some way honor your dishonorable parents, here are some ways you can do it:
You can honor your parents by being polite if and when you interact with them, and by being respectful and tolerant in word and action.
You can honor your parents by staying off the defensive: remaining quiet rather than erupting whenever they push your buttons—taking the high road, even when you feel disrespected—setting a standard for yourself of acting mature even when your parents don’t—being the bigger person.
You can honor your parents by talking kindly about them to others, by refraining from making disparaging remarks about them.
You can honor your parents by praying that their hearts will be softened and that they may heal. If they have already passed, pray for their souls.
You can honor your parents by establishing or restoring honor to your family and all the generations that follow.
When all else fails and you must sever your relationships with them, you can honor your parents by accepting them for who they are, not expecting them to change, and not trying to save them; letting them live their lives in peace however or wherever that may be, and embracing your right to live your life in peace.
Honoring your parents does not include blindly following their advice or their lead. It does not mean condoning, enabling,or catering to their destructive behavior. Honor may include love but it does not have to. Not all parents deserve the love of their children. We are not required to tell our parents they are wonderful or that we love them when we don’t feel those sentiments or if they haven’t earned them. You are not required to submit to a persistent pattern of abuse or be a glutton for punishment in the name of honoring your parents. You are entitled to take back your power and if you wish, honor them from afar.
The way in which you are comfortable honoring your parents is entirely your choice, as is the choice whether or not to honor them at all.
Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery Second Edition, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of the official companion workbook Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: A Comprehensive Workbook for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse. Randi Fine is the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.