Books for Healing Childhood Trauma and Dealing with Toxic Parents


If you’re recovering from a traumatic past, it can be difficult to know where to start and to find helpful resources that validate your experience. Some well-meaning people will tell you to move on, forgive, exercise, etc. without realizing that they are dismissing, minimizing, and invalidating the victim, which can easily re-traumatize a person. It took me over 4 years to find the proper resources that helped me to see my childhood and adulthood with more objectivity and understanding.

Below are a few books that can shed some light on childhood trauma, abusive parenting (this includes verbal, emotional, and physical abuse), emotional incest, family enmeshment, neglect, people-pleasing, trauma bonding, and real healing.

The truth is even though we have a lot of nature shows about animals tending to their young, a large percentage of human beings have no idea how to raise their children. Parents pass on abuse from one generation to another, teaching them that hitting, spanking, and breaking a child’s agency is the only way to teach them to be good human beings. It’s been my experience that what we don’t heal and confront comes back through repetition compulsion, addiction, depression, and can even cause disease in the body.

We pass on misguided beliefs about human life to others. And if Covid-19 and quarantine have taught us anything, it is to become more responsible and aware of our own emotions. These books help to end the cycle of abuse. If you grew up in a toxic family, it can be difficult to distinguish whether you were abused or not. I hope these books are helpful to you.

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  • Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse by Jackson MacKenzie. Many people from toxic families come out of their families of origin or negative relationships feeling empty, hollow, broken, shattered, and alone. There’s this sense that something is always missing within oneself. They’ve been depressed for so long that it’s the only thing they know. They believe that there’s something intrinsically wrong with them and nothing can fix them. This book helps you to see yourself in a new way and to see the light within you. Children are not born good or bad. Their environment can shape the way that they see themselves. If you’re a woman, when you become of marrying age, society begins to tell you that you’re only a half or a part of a person without realizing the detrimental effects of this thought process. This book helped me to see myself as a person again and as a whole person on my own, with or without a family and with or without a partner.

  • The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes. This book is extremely helpful because if you grow up with parents or primary caretakers who mistreat you, you can come to equate love with hatred and mistreatment. Instead of seeing your parent for the abuser or bully that they are, the victim can come to see the parent as a savior or a god because children rely on their primary caretakers for survival. They can’t understand why their parents would hurt them so they begin to only look at the little crumbs that they get every once in awhile. This book helps to explain the trauma bond or the betrayal bond where you feel grateful and attached to your abuser. Those familiar with hostage situations understand this kind of bond as Stockholm Syndrome wherein hostages are actually grateful and become attached to their captors. It’s why you some women form romantic relationships with men on death row or chase after unavailable or dysfunctional men hoping to save them. A child growing up in a toxic family is a hostage situation but they can’t see it until they do the hard work with a therapist when they grow older. Some people don’t ever see it and they seek out abusive people as adults over and over again, a phenomenon known as repetition compulsion.

  • When Pleasing You is Killing Me by Les Carter. Dr. Carter breaks down the mindset of people pleasing and shows another way of looking at people and situations. People pleasers fear that if they stand up for themselves, they will be punished. That’s why they people please. It’s a protective mechanism. He also has a YouTube Channel called Surviving Narcissism that’s also helpful.

  • Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt by Peg Streep. This was one of the first books that I read. I think it’s helpful to read several books on one topic and see how it fits into your life and your upbringing. I had a very negative relationship with my mother and that has affected every relationship I have had and the way that I perceive women.

  • Safe People: How to Find Relationships that are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Henry Cloud. Cloud also writes extensively about boundaries in relationships. I was always taught that boundaries were bad. Entrenchment is good. I was also taught that saying no is not allowed. While this way of thinking allowed my parents to rule my life, it set me up to be taken advantage of as an adult. When you can’t say no, you don’t have a way out. Reading Cloud’s books helped me to begin to learn and to practice saying no to things and people that are not healthy for me. He also writes on relationships, dating, and marriage. I would highly recommend anyone beginning to date to read his books rather than the Five Love Languages because his books are more concrete and teach you how to confront conflicts in healthy ways such as fighting fairly. When I started dating, I didn’t realize that my boyfriend was fighting to win. I felt it but I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what was happening. He didn’t fight to understand or to come to a compromise. He fought to get his way and that way of thinking is terrible for relationships. It creates resentment and destroys the trust that a relationship needs to survive. Cloud’s colleague, John Townsend, also writes extensively about boundaries. I highly recommend his books as well. What’s more, people who grow up in dysfunctional families don’t know the difference between safe people and unsafe people. After all, they’ve had to rely on people who chronically hurt them. It’s important to understand what mental, emotional, and physical safety is and to find people who can provide that for you.

  • Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. I have been a codependent my whole life without knowing that I was one. When I came to the term, my life and my choices began to make sense, and I began to see how I was hurting myself while believing that I was protecting myself or being a good person. She also wrote Stop Being Mean To Yourself: A Story About Finding the True Meaning of Self-Love, which I highly recommend. People who come from punitive or “tough love” families or relationships believe that being mean to themselves will help them to achieve their goals or be a better person. While this might work in the short term, in the long term, you will be creating an abusive relationship with yourself and reinforcing the link between abuse and reward in your body and brain. NEVER be mean to yourself. It doesn’t make you a better or stronger person.

  • I recently read the book Covert Emotional Incest by Adena Bank Lees. When a child becomes a parent’s confidant, they become a spouse and a parentified child. After reading this book, I cried. If I had read this book 10 years ago, my life would have been completely different, and it would have saved me from hurting myself in many ways. If you might have suffered from covert emotional incest, this book is almost a roadmap for all the confusion and all the harmful choices you might make as a result as a teenager and as an adult. I found this book to be incredibly brave, and I think that it can prevent a lot of people from getting into detrimental relationships or hurting themselves after they leave a dysfunctional family. This book outlines the long-term effects that CEI might cause if you don’t confront it. It is preventative, and I believe that it can help people to save themselves. CEI is not something that we talk about or acknowledge in society. By keeping silent, "moving on," or turning a blind eye to it, we allow it to continue.

These are a few books that I’ve read. Since 2016, I’ve read hundreds of books and I feel like the scholarship is growing or one book will lead me to another and help me to express what I experienced or how I felt. If there are other books that you recommend, drop them in the comments.

There are also books on CBT and DBT, which I didn’t write about. But if you want to recover from trauma, it’s important to take recovery into your own hands and to work alongside your therapist towards your growth. Wishing all of you the best on your journey.

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Hello! I'm a narrative filmmaker in NYC. These are my private diaries. I write about mental health, childhood trauma & dysfunctional family systems. Come along on my journey as I grow as a person, heal, and pursue my dreams of being a storyteller. I'd appreciate your support!


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