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My parents were physically and mentally abusive to me as a child. As an adult, they have never recognized what they have done to me and even try to guilt me into having a relationship with them that I do not want. I practice often, but I can’t make myself feel a forgiveness that I do not feel at this time. In the buddhist view, am I wrong if I choose not to have a relationship with them?

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I wrote an extensive answer for the question: How should a Buddhist approach honoring parents who abused them?

In summary, you are not wrong if you choose to not to have a relationship with them. Love is something earned. Core on-going relationships require the maintenance of on-going wholesome qualities from both sides. In Buddhism, parents have the duty of being compassionate towards their children & protecting their children from harm.

Naturally, it is up to your judgment, but if your parents insist you have relationship with them, you can honestly communicate to them your reasons for your reluctance. Note: this may be very hurtful to them; even though such hurt is self-made by them.

Buddhism teaches family relationships have four necessary qualities: (i) honest straightforward communication; (ii) training in self-improvement; (iii) patience/forbearance; and (iv) unselfishness.

Therefore, the 1st step is honest straightforward communication. The 2nd step is self-improvement, that is, your parents' willingness to recognize what they have done (which may be difficult for them).

Most of all, keep in mind, your parents acted as they did due to ignorance/not-knowing. Their minds were controlled by ignorance. Buddhism teaches ignorance an element in nature; like a disease, sickness or blindness people can have.

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A little personal background: my mom is Filipino, and my dad is Sinhalese (he professes to be Buddhist but is verbally, physically, and psychologically abusive). My mom is not a Buddhist but her life insights have enriched my Dhamma practice.

I see toxic people as bottles of poison or pesticide: you know they’re harmful if in contact with but you don’t have any hatred or animosity. Because that’s just what they are: bottles of poison, nothing to hate there. You just avoid any contact with it. Same approach with toxic parents: I don’t interact with them. Occasionally I get angry when I recall dad did but I counter that by:

  1. Calming myself and acknowledging that the thought of hatred arose. I know aversion (dosa/dvesha) has arisen and that I shouldn’t act on it. A mind engulfed in raga, dosa/dvesha, and moha is like a murky glass of water stirred with dust: you can only see the water clearly when the dust has settled.

  2. Acknowledging the thought is impermanent. I don’t reject the thought as it arises because it adds to the stress. I merely observe it BUT don’t act on it. The thought arose, sustains, and will eventually die.

  3. Radiate metta (friendliness, not necessarily compassion) to the person because they:

(a) have unresolved issues and are victims of previous abuse and weren’t aware of that when they did those same things to me;

(b) there is no person as such to ‘hate’ because the so-called person is a constantly-changing entity composed of constantly-changing matter (rupa) and non-matter (vedana, sanna, sankhara, vinnana). There is nothing to like or dislike in something that is constantly changing. The hatred doesn’t go overnight but if you practice, it will erode over time.

So if at first I was hateful of the toxic parent, now I acknowledge they’re toxic but with less aversion. Its not good to harbor thoughts of hatred because they harm you, in the short and long run. I can acknowledge that a person is abusive but at the same time have metta for them because they’re harming themselves. And it also does not mean I have to embrace them again, unless they’ve genuinely changed; and if they haven’t changed, they’ll just hurt/harm you again and you become an enabler for their bad actions. “Loving the tiger from a distance”

Forgiving toxic people does not mean rekindling a relationship with them: it’s about you healing from the past and rewiring how you perceive them and what they did. Knowing they’re toxic doesn’t mean you’re hating them: you’re just acknowledging they’re toxic and that they aren’t helpful to you. Bottles of poison

Dosa/dvesa (aversion) doesn’t go away overnight and takes diligent practice. Its not easy to practice these but its not impossible (if Buddhas and Arahats uprooted their aversion, why not I too). As much as possible, I don’t intellectualize my practice because it hinders the practice. Over time I understand the deeper meanings of some Pali terms because of my practice, so I know I’ll be fine as long as I keep steadfast on this Dhamma path. The point of Dhamma practice is to avoid and uproot raga, dosa/dvesha, moha. The Buddha laid out the path/practice but everyone treads it according to their own capacity.

Hope this helps, fellow wayfarers

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(I write this without knowing the specific circumstances in your life, so i hope my answer don't come across as too blunt).

How honorable it may be to forgive those who hurt us, it is also a matter of allowing it to take time. We can't force a tree to grow, and beating ourselves up for not having a specific desirable emotion such as being forgiving will likely add insult to injury.

It may seem like a tough pill to swallow, but accepting pain first hand fosters non-attachment and allows emotions to subside. At best, acceptance will help in developing an equanimous perspective on things. Acceptance and equanimity can in turn be preparations for forgiving, in case you choose to do so in the future.

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