What Ariel Winter’s Instagram 'Rant' Can Teach Us About Having Boundaries With an Abusive Parent
Last week, Ariel Winter made headlines because her estranged mother, Crystal Workman, criticized the dress she wore to the Emmys. Workman’s interview highlights that sometimes, comments that look like “parenting” on the surface can actually be emotional abuse.
But perhaps the more important part of this story is how Winter continues to respond in the wake of incidents like these. In an Instagram post she captioned #Rant, the “Modern Family” star addressed the backlash about her Hollywood Reporter interview and asserted her identity as an autonomous adult.
In her four photo Instagram post she wrote, “As a child, you do what you’re told regardless of what is good for you. I’m an ADULT now and can make my own choices and have my own identity.”
Though Workman’s decision to give an interview criticizing Winter showed a lack of respect for her estranged daughter’s no-contact boundary, Winter’s response highlights the importance of continuing to state your boundaries as an adult when you’ve experienced childhood emotional abuse.
If you’ve experienced childhood emotional abuse at the hands of a parent, the decision about whether or not to have your parent in your life can be a difficult one. Some may wonder, Is it possible to keep my abusive parent in my life? If yes, how do I assert boundaries for myself? What if they don’t respect my boundaries?
To open up this discussion, The Mighty spoke with Anna Lindberg Cedar, a licensed clinical social worker who works with clients navigating toxic relationships.
When navigating boundaries with a parent who was emotionally abusive to you growing up, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
1. Remind yourself how much contact you want with your parent is up to you.
The decision on whether or not to keep an abusive parent in your life is a very personal one. Some may opt to have no contact, like Winter, and others may pursue contact based on negotiated terms.
There is no “right” answer to this decision. As Cedar points out, “Your friends may have an opinion, your partner may have an opinion, your family may have an opinion about what you should do about that relationship, but you are the only one who can decide whether that relationship serves you and whether it’s healthy or not.”
2. Decide what role — if any — your parent will play in your life as an adult.
If you’re struggling with deciding how much space you want to give an abusive parent in your life, you’re not alone.
“When my clients are making a difficult decision, I encourage them to pair it with their breathing. So when you take a deep inhale, ask yourself what question you are dealing with and if it’s whether or not to maintain a relationship with someone, you can breathe that question in and on the slow exhale, you wait for an answer. Sometimes that voice inside of you is loud and the answer is really obvious and sometimes that voice is very quiet and you need to pay very close attention,” Cedar told The Mighty.
3. Make an ‘Emotional Safety Plan’
If you’re walking into a family dinner where your abusive parent will be present, “having an emotional safety plan can definitely help,” Cedar said.
Things to include on your safety plan are people you can call or things you can do to prepare yourself for an emotionally stressful encounter. Cedar recommends having a list of strategies that may include: talking to your best friend beforehand, practicing paced belly breathing, writing down your motivation for the family event or calling a crisis line.
When you find yourself in an emotionally stressful situation when your abusive parent is present, “all of those external supports are going to help you in a moment of stress to know, no you’re not ‘crazy,’ you’re not inventing that feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you something’s not right,” she said.
4. Practice self-care on difficult holidays and anniversaries.
When you grew up experiencing childhood emotional abuse, you may have painful emotions on holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or anniversaries and birthdays.
Cedar noted that while some may not want to celebrate holidays like Mother’s Day at all, others may want to participate. Her advice to people who want to participate? Take the good and leave the bad.
“If you want to participate in Mother’s Day and you have a difficult relationship with your mother, take the good from the holiday. Maybe that means looking for another maternal figure in your life — whether that was a grandmother or teacher or best friend — or looking for mothering qualities within yourself. Are you someone who cares about animals, children or gardening? You can still appreciate that feeling of mothering or being mothered, and for you getting your needs met in the way that makes sense.”
5. Think about where you can get your needs met.
Cedar pointed out that knowing what your basic needs are and knowing where to get them met is vital for life as an adult after childhood emotional abuse — particularly if you choose to still have your abusive parent as part of your life. “Maybe there is room in your life for that difficult person, and it may be at a distance or it may be on negotiated terms, but you need to be making sure you are getting your basic needs met in other areas of your life.”
Perhaps you can find support from other members of your biological family, or from your chosen family of friends. No matter where you choose to get support, it’s important to do what’s best for you and learn where to get your emotional needs met if parental support isn’t there.
Winter makes an important point about the necessity of continually asserting boundaries as an adult in her Instagram post. While children of emotionally abusive parents may not be able to control the actions of their parent, exercising control over boundaries can be a great way to protect yourself.
Cedar had one last message for adults who may be struggling with the effects of childhood emotional abuse: “To them I would just say there is definitely support available, and just because you’ve been through difficult experiences doesn’t mean that you can’t turn that into a strength.”
If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Photo via Ariel Winter Instagram