10 Ways to Deal with Toxic Parents

It’s easy to distance yourself when you’re dealing with toxic people, but what if those toxic people are your parents? It’s hard getting any kind of break when you see them every day. Boundaries almost don’t even exist, because it’s the word “family” that ties you together, even though the word feels foreign as it rolls limply off your tongue as you say it. You may not have had a choice being born and brought up by the people you call your mom and dad, but you do have a choice in how you choose to react towards them. Psych2Go shares with you 10 ways to deal with toxic parents:

1. Become self-sufficient and independent.

If you still live with your parents, figure out how to establish financial independence and work towards that goal. These things take time, and it certainly won’t happen overnight, but learn to budget your money and find a job that you are good at that will help to sustain you when you are eventually on your own. If you have parents who don’t respect the boundaries that you set, they will use money as a weapon to keep you under their control because they still provide for you.

Recognize and understand that trick. Learn to take care of yourself and be self-sufficient. Work towards the goal of moving out, because once you’re out, there’s not much they can do to keep you wrapped under their control. Physical space can do wonders. With freedom comes more responsibility, but with freedom, a new life can also begin.

2. Know that you are your own person.

Although you may share a few similar personality traits, habits, or quirks with your parents, know that you are still very much your own person and not 100% the people who have raised you. If you recognize that your parents are being toxic, understand that you don’t have to follow those same behavioral patterns. Instead, you can break out of them and remember how not to be the source of hurt you’ve been exposed to. It’s great to have role models we can look up to in life, but learning what not to become can influence us even greater to grow into better people.

3. Create space for your own emotions.

Just because your parents may not respect your boundaries, it doesn’t mean you can’t create a safe space for your emotions. Even though you may come from a household that didn’t foster and nurture the habit of talking things out, doesn’t mean your emotions have to be locked away forever. In fact, that will only hurt you more in the long run by denying an essential aspect of who you are. If your parents don’t see your emotions as valid, let them out elsewhere. You can do this by journaling or blogging. Just because your parents failed you in this sense, doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to continue denying what you feel.

4. Find support elsewhere.

If your parents are the last people you want to talk to when you run into problems, rely on others instead who you can trust and lean on in times of trouble. You can seek help from your friends, a teacher, counselor, or co-worker. When you face stress and difficulties, your body releases the chemical oxytocin that prepares you to reach out to others, so that you don’t have to go through hardships alone. Build a support system you can depend on and create a list of contacts you can call when you find yourself at a breaking point. Just because your parents aren’t the most approachable people, doesn’t mean there aren’t any others you can talk to in this world.

5. Set your expectations low for your conversations.

Understandings seem impossible to reach and it feels like you and you parents are constantly operating on two different pages. As much as you want to have deep, meaningful or light-hearted, fun conversations, it seems like neither can be achieved when everything gets discolored through toxic words. I just want to let you know that your thoughts are valid and important. Remember that you can still be the bigger person anyway by doing your best to keep in touch with your parents, but know that you might not necessarily get the connection you want from them.

6. Use conversation diversion tactics.

If you feel as though your parents are dominating the conversation by asking you uncomfortable questions, making jabbing comments that put you down, or giving you unwanted advice on how they want you to do something, you can steer the direction of the conversation away from a potential argument by standing your ground and changing the topic. For instance, if one of your parents say, “You should find a better apartment,” instead of picking a fight, you can say, “Thanks for letting me know what you think, but I’m happy with where I am,” and then change the topic by asking them what they are up to for the day. This can help you gain some control when you’re feeling attacked.

7. Recognize the traits that make you easy prey.

If your parents choose to often lash out on you, ask yourself what makes you such an easy prey? Is it your fear of speaking up for yourself that may cause conflict or the fact that you have difficulty saying no and soften up from their suffering? Learn to stand your ground firmly and that it doesn’t make you any less of a person when you establish that you are also deserving of respect.

8. Don’t fall into the trap of intermittent reinforcement.

Research shows that people are generally optimistic. Therefore, a close loss may look like a close win for us. When challenges are thrown our way, we get through them by staying motivated by the one thing we desire most. We are also more likely to hold on when we are given what we want every once in a while.

This is called intermittent reinforcement, and it works in human relationships, too. If your toxic parent decides to be nice to you again, you might be optimistic and think, Wow, things are finally turning around. But the reality is that it’s only a perpetual cycle that lures you into thinking it’s different when the pattern is still very much there and nothing has changed.

I’ve fallen into this trap many times myself. And it was especially hard for me to admit that it was happening, because my friends all see me as this overly optimistic person. How can I not be when it’s the only way out of misery? But it was only recently that I finally dropped it. Not optimism itself, but my expectations. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know if things will eventually necessarily get any better. But, I’m not going to stand here anymore and think that the few occasional good days I have will ever be enough. Instead, I’m going to strive and look for consistency elsewhere.

9. Expect anger, but don’t give in to it.

The thing about anger is that it is often used as a weapon to remain in control. When you try to set boundaries and carve space for yourself, your toxic parents will start seeing it as a threat and will use anger to pull you back where you so desperately tried getting away from in the first place. Don’t ever expect the anger to go away when you try to establish healthy boundaries, but don’t let it leave you feeling paralyzed. The truth is that you can still do things. It just won’t create the kind of reactions you hoped for from your parents, that’s all. Do it anyway. Just because your parents are angry with your choice to grow, doesn’t mean you should let it hold you back.

10. Do not normalize abusive behavior.

We all say and do things we don’t mean when we’re upset. But, letting that be an excuse all the time to justify the toxic behaviors your parents exhibit means accepting the poor treatment you are given. And that should be never be done. That should never be okay. Remember that you are more than all of it. Every night you never thought you’d get through —every hurtful argument —every moment you blinked back tears when you felt mistreated or misunderstood —you are more than these bad memories. Have the guts to look ahead anyway. Your upbringing doesn’t determine who you can become.

How do you deal with toxic parents? Leave a comment down below!

 

References:

Chen, C. (2015, February 25). What to Do When the Toxic People in Your Life Are (Unfortunately) Your Parents. The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 4, 2017.

Streep, P. (2016, December 14). 8 Strategies for Dealing With the Toxic People in Your Life. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 4, 2017.

Thorpe, J. (2015, September 18). 7 Tips For Dealing With Toxic Parents. Bustle. Retrieved October 4, 2017.

12 Comments

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  1. The topic of toxic parenting is a very sensitive issue, however this article dealt with the subject with a lot of care and consideration, and all of these points were developed well with a strong understanding of what it is like to grow up with toxic parents. Although in number two, I think it is also important to consider those who have already begun to spot behavioural patterns e.g. trouble containing anger, and perhaps some tips on dealing with this may be useful to those affected, for example seeking guidance from a professional, taking a few seconds to check yourself. Aside from that, there were a few grammatical errors:
    -The sentence in the intro paragraph reading from ‘it’s hard getting any kind of break’ to ‘as you say it’ is a little convoluted to follow and it would make smoother reading to break the sentence down into smaller sentences.
    -in number 1, ‘help to sustain you when you will eventually be on your own’ would read smoother as ‘help to sustain you when you are eventually on your own.’ Also, ‘parents who don’t respect your boundaries when you try to make them’ would also read smoother as ‘parents who don’t respect the boundaries that you set.’ There should also be no comma between ‘control’ and ‘because’.
    – In number 3, there should be ‘it’ between ‘boundaries’ and ‘doesn’t’ .
    -In number 4, the opening sentence would run better as ‘If your parents are the last people you want to talk to when you run into problems, instead rely on others.’
    -Finally, in number 9, within the sentence beginning with ‘the truth is’, you have accidentally repeated ‘is’.
    Ultimately I enjoyed this article and I found it to be engaging and also helpful to me on a personal level too 🙂

    • Hi Rosie, thanks so much for reading. =) Those are some great catches! I fixed the grammatical errors, thank you for your help! I’m glad you were also able to find it to be of some help. I definitely strive to make difficult topics like this approachable. Sometimes, it’s challenging, but I don’t want that to hold me back from trying anyway. Everyone has their own battles, and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do like providing advice and helpful tips based on the careful research I conduct as well as what has worked for me in my own past experiences. Thank you again for all of your help! I hope you have a great day!

    • Hi Mastermind, thanks so much for reading. It sounds like you’re choosing to fight and stick it out during tough times with the fight-or-flight response. It’s very admirable and I only wish you well despite the hardships you are going through. I hope things will turn around soon for you, really and truly. You are incredibly brave, just remember that on the bad days.

  2. Thiswas very helpful to me ! I’ve always struggled in dealing with my father and this is very sound and well-thought out advice. I’ve managed to move out on my own ,but conversations with my father often go south quickly,so the conversational tactics helped a lot! Someday I hope to have a father that doesn’t gaslight me at every opportunity, a father that listens to and respects me, but the way he is now doesn’t give much hope to that dream. The saddest part of my relationship with him is that he WASN’T always terrible to me. Before my mom died, he was a good dad to me. After she died, he changed his behaviour toward me. But only towards me, and not my siblings. Now that I’ve moved out and my sister is in college, he’s taking out his anger on my brother ( who is autistic and still living at home). Fortunately my dad’s not physically violent ,but his verbal abuse is just as vicious. At the moment a huge reason I refuse to visit home ( despite wanting to see my brother) is because my father adamantly refuses to let me move my brother in with me . I’m doing everything I can to legally gain custody of my brother ,and I’m afraid it will not only shatter the tenuous relationship I have with my father,but it will also ruin the relationship I have with other family members that are on my father’s side. Regardless ,I HAVE to do what’s best for my brother . It’s hard sometimes to remember that I’m not the bad person in my situation,but this really helped.

    • I’m so sorry the relationship took a turn for the worse. I’m the youngest and have a toxic relationship with my mother; just the thought of being the only one left terrifies me. You are so brave to keep moving forward and taking custody of your brother is the right thing, even if it sours other relationships.

      • Hi Manon, thanks so much for reading. I’m so sorry to hear that you have a toxic relationship with your mother. Being the youngest is hard, because they are often left with the baggage of family problems and can’t escape them faster than older siblings can when they can gain financial independence more readily. I applaud you for being brave and being able to put up with your toxic parent. I’m the oldest in my family, but I think regardless of what birth order you fall into, toxicity in family matters is just downright brutal and difficult to work through. It’s also hard when we also choose to still love our toxic parents. And when they still choose to love us back. It makes it so incredibly painful, because they don’t always project it in a healthy manner. If there’s any content you wish to see more of to help you cope with your difficulties, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m always willing to help readers like you as much as possible. I wish you well, really and truly. You are incredibly brave.

    • Hi Aubrey, thanks so much for reading. It’s readers like you who make the work that I do meaningful. I love being able to help others every chance I get when they go through struggles like this. In regards to your family situation, I just want to say that I am sorry to hear that your father has decided to gaslight and take his anger out on you and now your brother as well. I’m also sorry that your mother passed away. It’s extremely noble and incredibly brave of you that despite everything you have been through, you are still willing to try to make things right. I’m glad the communication tactics will come in handy for you. It’s so easy to just walk away from toxic people, but when they’re your family and people you have to deal with on a habitual basis, it makes things hard, so the best way to cope is to protect ourselves as much as possible. Communication is one of the things to look out for, monitor, steer, and control when we don’t want to trigger or instigate certain reactions from the other person. I wish you well, really and truly. Your brother is an incredibly lucky person for having a sister like you watch out for him like that. If possible, please let us know what other content you would like to see that can help you as much as possible. I’m always willing to help and research effective ways that can assist readers like you. Thank you for being brave and for sharing your story with us. You’re an inspiration and I hope things turn around for you, really and truly.

  3. Suddenly the pieces fit together. I never could reconcile the fact that I seemingly had the perfect childhood, well taken care of… why did things go downhill when I started to really taste freedom and yearn to be independent from my 20s? Why was I turning into a perpetual liar, why was I choosing to excuse myself from having meals with them?

    I was always hesitant to talk to both my parents, because I tried once and was sneered in public . It scarred me deeply and I never knew what to do excepf to build up my independence quick, and set up my own support group. I love them, but I need to be away from their toxic ways. To heal, I was finding that SPACE. Your article resonates with me so deeply, and it makes sense why I was reacting that way, and I should stop blaming myself.

    • Hi Dee, thanks so much for reading. I’m glad that you were able to take away something valuable from this article. The thing about having toxic parents is that there’s just so much manipulation and dismissal of allowing yourself to be who you are. When you aren’t allowed to be your true self, whether that means you want to talk about something that is bothering you or the fact that you aren’t allowed to be emotional, it can be deeply scarring. You start to blame yourself. I’ve been through the same thing. It’s especially awful when you love your parents, too, because it’s like holding onto that last strand of hope each time, believing that one day, things will turn around and get better. I really hope you’re in a better place now. Just know that you aren’t at fault and I think it’s great that you found your own support system. I hope you have a great day! =) You’re strong just having been able to survive that; that’s inspiring!

  4. Thank you for this essay. I also have a narcistic mother and after many years of emotional abuse, I have found a way to deal with her without cutting the contact. Even there are still some dark days, I feel better with it. At first I put my expectations on the lowest and if the days are to rough and the stress is rising before we meet, I cancel the meetings with her (on random causes). It helps me a lot! I can choose if and when I will get to see her.
    (Sorry for my English!)
    Best wishes Anne

    • Hi Anne, thanks so much for reading. =) I think those are very smart, effective ways of dealing with your mother. I’m sorry that you had to go through a lot growing up with her, but you are incredibly resourceful and it’s great that you recognize what is good and bad for you. It means she no longer has power over you, which is important for your happiness and well-being ultimately. It’s amazing that you are able to find a way to deal with her without cutting all contacts with her completely. I wish you the best, really and truly. <3 And I hope you have a great day!

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Written by Catherine Huang

Catherine Huang graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a BA in English. She has a penchant for storytelling, ramen, and psychology. Catherine is a writer for Psych2Go and looks forward to reaching out to its growing community, hoping to encourage others to tap into self-examination and confront life's challenges head on with the most difficult questions.

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