Living with toxic parents

10 Tips for Coping with Toxic Parents I Psych Central

Identifying toxic behaviors in your parents may not be easy. It might be more helpful to first acknowledge how interacting with them might make you feel.

Your parents may have toxic traits if interactions with them leave you feeling:

  • confused and unsure of yourself
  • bad about yourself in some way
  • continually judged
  • guilty for saying “no”
  • drained, angry, or overwhelmed
  • like you’re not being respected
  • like you’re being manipulated
  • the need to change your behavior
  • like you’re constantly “walking on eggshells” around them

Noting how your parents make you feel is a good first step. But there are also some toxic traits you can look out for, such as:

  • They may be manipulative and controlling.
  • They may be critical of you, your choices, and your lifestyle.
  • It may be difficult to emotionally separate yourself from them and make your own choices or set your own goals.
  • They may constantly judge you and those in your life, such as friends or romantic partners.
  • They may seem overly needy.
  • They may not see themselves as the problem. They may say it’s you or the other people in your life who are the problem.

If you recognize some of these toxic traits in your parents, there are ways to cope with these behaviors.

Consider trying the following strategies:

1. Stop trying to please them

It’s natural to want your parents’ approval, but it can seem impossible to please parents with toxic behaviors. Remember that this is your life, and you’re allowed to make your own choices and do what makes you feel good.

Living your life according to someone else’s values and goals can leave you feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.

You may find yourself frequently seeking validation from your parents and others — relying on them to determine and validate your self-worth.

Reflection questions:

  • What do you do to please your parents, even though it doesn’t work well for you?
  • What do you need to do for yourself even if your parents disapprove?


Set and enforce boundaries

Boundaries help us set clear expectations and limits for how others can treat us. They can help create emotional and physical space between you and your parents.

This may not have been something you had as a child, so it may feel uncomfortable to set boundaries and start telling your parents how you want to be treated.

Setting boundaries with people who have toxic behaviors can be difficult. They may not respect limits. But try not to let that deter you.

Boundaries are essential to building and maintaining healthy relationships. Remember that it’s OK to limit contact with your parents, tell them no, come late, or leave early.

It’s even OK to have no contact with your parents. You don’t owe them anything. Healthy relationships are built on respect, and it can be hard to respect someone when they repeatedly treat you poorly.

Reflection questions:

  • What boundaries do you need with your parents?
  • What’s one step you can take toward setting those boundaries?


Don’t try to change them

Trying to change people who don’t want to change can leave you frustrated and overwhelmed. Instead, try to focus on what you can control, such as how you respond to your parents, your choices, and your behavior.

Reflection questions:

  • How do you try to change or fix your parents?
  • How do you feel when you can’t change them?
  • With regard to your relationship with your parents, what’s in your control?

4. Be mindful of what you share with them

Trust is a crucial element of healthy relationships, so consider only sharing personal information with those who have proven themselves trustworthy.

Your parents may not fall into this category if they:

  • gossip about you
  • criticize you
  • share things about you without your permission
  • use what you tell them against you

You’re not obligated to tell them everything (or anything) that’s going on in your life or answer their questions. Consider sharing only what feels comfortable and safe.

Reflection questions:

  • What feels safe to share with your parents?
  • What doesn’t feel safe to share?

5. Know your parents’ limitations and work around them — but only if you want to

If you know that your parents become forgetful, aggressive, or otherwise difficult after a certain time of day, try to plan your phone calls, visits, and family get-togethers earlier in the day to avoid the worst of their behavior.

This can be an effective coping strategy for some, but you don’t have to plan your life around your parents.

You can work around their limitations if that works for you. It’s OK to have your birthday party in the evening and not invite your parents because you don’t want them to ruin it.

Reflection questions:

  • Are there ways you work around your parents’ limitations?
  • Do these compromises truly work for you? If not, what changes do you need to make?


Have an exit strategy

When things start deteriorating, take that as your cue to leave, or ask your parents to leave. Staying may only escalate the situation and make it worse.

It may be safer to end your time together at the first sign of trouble. You don’t have to stick around just to be polite or to make your parents happy.

Reflection questions:

  • How can you get out of a difficult situation with your parents?
  • Do you and your spouse, partner, or sibling have a signal to let each other know when it’s time to leave? If not, would one be helpful?

7. Don’t try to reason with them

It can be hard to reason with someone who exhibits toxic behavior.

Try to be assertive about issues that matter to you, but acknowledge that your parents may not understand your point of view. Try not to get dragged into arguments that degrade into bouts of name-calling and other disrespectful behaviors.

Remember that you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. You can choose to disengage instead.

Reflection questions:

  • How can you take care of yourself or disengage when your parents can’t see your point of view or aren’t interested in your perspective?

8. You don’t have to be available to your parents

People with toxic behaviors may be overly needy. You can help them if it’s feasible and appreciated.

But you’re not obligated to be their chauffeur, maid, gardener, or therapist — particularly if they treat you poorly the entire time.

You don’t have to be on-call for them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you’re busy or don’t have time at the moment, you can choose to respond to phone calls or reply to their texts later.

Reflection questions:

  • How do your parents exploit your kindness by expecting you to meet their demands 24/7?
  • How does it feel to recognize that you’re not obligated to do things for them?
  • Can you release some guilt by remembering that you’re setting healthy boundaries and taking care of yourself?


You don’t have to spend the holidays with your parents

That’s right! You deserve to enjoy the holidays. That might mean spending them away from your parents.

There’s a lot of pressure to maintain family traditions in some cases, but this often comes at the expense of your own mental health and well-being.

It might be a good idea to consider starting your own holiday traditions or being creative about how you spend the holidays. Perhaps you’d like to celebrate Friendsgiving or go on vacation over the holidays.

Reflection questions:

  • What holiday traditions would you like to change or stop because they lead to stress or family conflict?
  • How can you create holidays that are enjoyable to you and reflect what’s important to you?

10. Take care of yourself

Dealing with toxic parents can be stressful. That stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health.

It’s crucial that you make self-care a priority. Start today with the basics, such as:

  • eating a balanced diet
  • getting quality sleep
  • exercising regularly
  • connecting with positive people
  • acknowledging your feelings and giving them a healthy outlet
  • finding support

It may be easier to set boundaries and choose to respond differently or detach when you’re at your best physically and emotionally.

Reflection questions:

  • How do you feel?
  • What do you need right now?
  • How can you give yourself more of what you need?

Changing the ways you relate to your toxic parents can be scary because it can upset the status quo. But you can make this change.

It’s natural for your parents to resist the changes you try to make.

Transitions are difficult and stressful, but setting boundaries with your parents can help build and maintain a more healthy relationship.

You’re the only one who can change your relationship with your parents, and you can start today.

If you’re not sure whether your parent is behaving in a toxic way, consider speaking with a mental health professional. They may help you get the clarity you need and provide you with tools to help you cope.

Remember that you have choices. You can decide how and when to relate to your parents. You can choose what type of relationship you want to have with your parents, and what’s best for you and your lifestyle.

Got Toxic Parents? How To Cope When You Can’t Simply Avoid

To be fair, wanting to avoid those awkward talks with your uncle and that cousin whose name you can’t quite remember, that’s normal stuff. It’s right up there along with, “I’d really rather not spend the holidays with the fam,” chat.

But there are other situations where the mere thought of heading home can stir up the kid of emotions in you that fill you with dread. It’s because you know, as difficult as it is to admit, that certain individuals are so toxic, so manipulative and so, so, so draining, you’d rather stay away. Worst of all, is when you realize those “individuals” are none other than your parents.

Yep—you, my dear, have toxic parents. So, how do you cope? Is there such a thing as interacting in ways that preserve your sanity? Is cutting off all contact too dramatic a response? To find out how you can cope with toxic parents, we reached out to two mental health professionals for their advice: Justin Shubert, clinical psychologist and founder of Silver Lake Psychotherapy and Rebekah Tayebi, a clinical therapist and family coach. Here’s what they had to say.

First, determine whether your parents are *actually* toxic

Remember, your relationship with your parents isn’t rosy 100 percent of the time. “All parents and children … come from different places and annoy each other and make mistakes with each other,” Shubert said. “So if Mom says something critical and it really gets under your skin, if Mom questions you, Mom doesn’t like what you’re wearing, Mom tells you not to be too upset when you are, and it’s like this thing has happened a million times and it makes you want to punch a hole through the wall, it’s actually just kind of bad, not toxic,” he added.

What could be toxic, on the other hand, is when a parent’s needs overtake the child’s for an extended period of time. Where there’s extreme difficulty regulating emotions, Tayebi said. There might be difficult communicating those emotions so conversations can quickly flare up. “Things can turn on a dime and it is to the point where it just feels unpredictable and there’s this whole system of walking on eggshells,” she said.

One question to ask yourself, is how “Do you feel like you can breathe when you’re around your parents?” Consider whether you feel constantly suffocated when you’re around them, and whether that’s because you can’t be yourself or you feel like you’re twisting yourself into a pretzel to please them.

Understand that typical boundaries are disrupted when dealing with toxic parents

“When I look at toxic family systems, one thing that’s also really evident is seeing that the children are more attuned to the needs of the parents,” Tayebi said. That is, the typical parent-child relationship is inverted and there’s confusion about what appropriate boundaries should be in place.

For example, Tayebi explained, a parent might have a really toxic relationship with their co-parent or spouse and argue in front of the kids instead of taking it behind closed doors. As a result, “that starts to involve kids in the parental discourse, which is really inappropriate and that’s where kids again start to take on more parental side roles,” Tayebi said.

Remember, toxic parents are often so self-absorbed in their own dramas, emotional roller coasters or addictions that their child doesn’t ever learn how to be themselves. They’re constantly looking to prop their parents up.

So, how do you deal? Try having a go-to phrase to redirect the conversation

“The hard part for children in these environments is that which is like so many of us, is that we might start to mirror the dysfunction that we’re seeing,” Tayebi said. That’s why it’s really important to start to catch negative patterns in the moment and, whenever possible, redirect the conversation. You can do this by modeling the type of behavior and boundaries you’d like in place.

For instance, Tayebi explained, you can do some emotional validating like, “Okay Mom, I see it, this is really hard for you. I’m feeling pretty escalated right now.”

“And so you validate their feelings and then you would kind of target what your experience is,” Tayebi said. In this way, you communicate that you’re feeling escalated, anxious, and that you need break from the conversation. Practice your responses ahead of time so that you repeat them almost as a mantra to yourself.

“Even if the parent isn’t respecting the boundary, it’s much healthier for you as the child to use the broken record mantra then to follow them into their dysfunction,” she added.

Have a plan of action and a support system you can rely on

If just the thought of being around your parents is making your head spin, consider staying with friends instead of with family. Give yourself the distance you need so you can retreat into a safe space. Try having an itinerary that’s full, so you can limit your time with any toxic parent. In doing so, you’ll place boundaries on the amount of time you spend, what you give emotionally, and what you give physically with time.

“It’s really important to be intentional about how much you want to give,” Shubert said. He advises asking yourself: How many days do you want to be there? Do you want to stay with them or not? If you’re going to stay with them, do you want to bring someone? How many hours a day do you want to spend with them. Do you have a plan of escape in case things go awry?

Thinking about these sorts of questions ahead of time will help prevent you from falling into an old routine you might regret.

Tayebi also suggests being clear with your support system about how you wan to receive support. It’s very easy to contact a close friend and vent about the situation you’re going through. But that might not be constructive. Instead, Tayebi suggests preparing your friends for what may be coming down the line when you are in the presence of toxic parents. Be clear about what you need from them.

“Ranting to [your friends] and having them fan the flames, that’s probably not going to be constructive, but can I have like a 10 minute venting session with them and then ask them to just encourage me at the end?” Tayebi said. “You do have to be thoughtful around it for it to like actually meet a need.”

Remember to give yourself permission to say “no”

“I think the hardest part for kids who grow up in toxic with toxic parenting is that you learn to abandon yourself to be there for your parents,” Tayebi said. To change that behavior, you’ll have to do some work on your inner self. Commit to yourself that you’re not in the wrong for deciding to make space for yourself.

Tayebi suggests telling yourself: “I’m not bailing on myself. If I’m feeling triggered, if I’m upset, maybe I’ll steal away and hang out in the backyard or in my bedroom and just take care of my feelings.”

As cheesy as it sounds, do the self-talk that will help you keep perspective on the situation. It’s okay, after all, to fell all the ~feels~ when you’re with your parents. Remind yourself that your feelings are just as valid as theirs and that it makes sense to give yourself the space you need.

“Take care of your feelings in those moments and then get back to get back to family life,” Tayebi said. “That makes getting through the holidays with difficult families much more doable.”

Toxic parents: what to do if life at home is like a nightmare -


Parents are not chosen, but we must admit: living with toxic parents is not so easy. They are often selfish people who manipulate you and put pressure on sore points. And it doesn’t matter if you live together or if you managed to move out from them: relationships with toxic parents are always tense. We tell you what to do to reduce the degree.

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Stage 1 : pull away

The main task here is to abstract emotionally. As the saying goes, if you can't change the situation, change your attitude towards it. How to do it?

Stop feeling guilty

Don't do anything just to please them: toxic people simply don't notice such victims.

  • Example: if your mother goes crazy because she is not paid attention, give her the attention, but tell her in advance that you are very limited in time. nine0003

Stop trying to change them

Parents are adults, it is simply impossible to re-educate them. But you can unobtrusively show them that they are wrong.

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Don't take it personally

When your father says, "I can't believe I grew up to be such a lazy person!" don't think about it negatively. After all, you regularly clean your room, attend extra classes and, if possible, sit with your younger brother. What kind of laziness are we talking about? nine0003

  • By the way, there is one good exercise : try to reproduce an unpleasant phrase in your head in a funny voice, for example, very squeaky. Sometimes it works - you stop focusing on the negative.

Limit the amount of personal information

A toxic parent can use your personal information against you. Why give him this opportunity?

  • Example: in no case do we encourage you to lie, but we advise you to tell less. Provide the necessary information - where you are, with whom you are and what you are doing. But do not trust your secrets to a person who will put pressure on your guilt. nine0003

Plan your escape route in advance

You should have a plan in case another scandal happens.

  • Example: you can say that you need to stay in your room for a few hours because you want to finish a study project. If a scandal is still inevitable, do not give up and do not turn to raised voices. Your calmness can affect your parents, and they themselves will not scream.

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Stage 2 : Set Boundaries

Parents need to be clear about what can and cannot be done. To do this, we propose the following plan:

Set boundaries

Think about what you are ready to endure, and what - under no circumstances. Be sure to tell your parents about this, not forgetting to mention what sanctions may follow.

  • Example: if you live with your parents, you can say: "If you yell at me, then I lock myself in my room for 3 hours." If you already live separately, the wording may be different: "I urge you not to insult me, otherwise I will hang up or ask you to leave my new home." nine0003

Tell parents about cause and effect

Before taking any action, it is important to explain why you are doing it.

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Do what you promised

We doubt very much that immediately after the warning the parents will suddenly behave differently. Therefore, when the moment comes that you warned them about, be sure to do everything you said. After all, we do not throw words to the wind! nine0003

Call on more authority figures for help

It is important to understand how far conflicts with parents go. Maybe there is a place for violence - verbal or physical? Then it is worth telling about it to someone who enjoys their authority: a relative or a school teacher. It is possible that the first person you turn to for help does not realize the importance of the problem. But you will definitely find someone who will help you.

👉 You can contact special centers that provide emergency assistance to victims of violence, or call the helpline. nine0003

Find places where you can take a break from them

Your own room, bathroom, friend's apartment, whatever it is. The main thing is that in this place you can exhale and think about what to do next.

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Stage 3 : Work through feelings

It is very important to deal with your feelings, accept them and leave the negative in the past. What you need to do for this:

Allow yourself to regret those relationships that never existed between you

Everyone dreams of a good relationship with their parents, but, unfortunately, very few manage to achieve this harmony.

Forgive your parents

It is not they who need this forgiveness, but you yourself — in order to let go of all the pain. You need to do this when you are exactly ready. You can say: “I sincerely forgive you for what happened. I hope things will be different in the future."

Work with a specialist

There is no shame in going to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Injuries received in childhood and adolescence remain with a person for life. So it is better to work them out right away to minimize the negative consequences. nine0003

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Step 4 : Take care of yourself

It is very important to think about your needs, show love and accept yourself no matter what. How to do it:

Practice self-care

We are not talking about expensive procedures, but about daily self-care. For example, a shower with your favorite gel, delicious coffee or watching a series. Yes, at least not doing what you don’t want to do is already a success!

Manage your stress

Relationships with toxic people are always a problem for the body. You can effectively remove it with the help of meditation.

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Live the way you want

Everyone has their own life, and parents can't always control you. You have your path, so follow it.

Talking to someone who has been through this

It's very difficult to convey your feelings to someone who has never been in your situation. But talking to someone who understands perfectly what you are talking about is extremely useful. In this regard, the Internet is very much your main ally: on the relevant forums you will always find like-minded people. nine0215

How do you know if your parents are toxic?

Toxic parents are people who feel bad around them and feel bad themselves. They are unable to cope with their pain and dump it on the child in the form of threats, manipulation, devaluation. In essence, toxic communication is an attempt to address your pain to another person, but since feelings are not recognized, the message is ambiguous. Young children do not understand the subtext, but they read the emotional charge of the phrase very well. nine0003

Most often, toxic parents themselves were victims of psychological abuse in childhood and “through the chain” transmit distorted ideas about what care, support and love look like. Unfortunately, they do not know how to do otherwise and are rarely ready to change something.

The way parents interact with their children reveals their own psychological history. Traumas, defenses, distorted attitudes and internal conflicts of the parents themselves are always hidden behind toxic phrases.

1. Adults do not allow the child to make decisions and choices. They do not respect his boundaries: they enter without knocking, check correspondence, forbid making friends with “inappropriate” children.

How does an adult feel? Fear of losing control. Such a person feels confidence and own value only by suppressing those who are weaker. Any manifestation of independence is perceived as a threat to authority.

What happens to the child? He lives with the feeling that his opinions and desires do not matter. Often such people grow up weak-willed, not ready to be responsible for their own choice. They do not know how to hear their desires, do not trust themselves. nine0003

2. A parent always knows best.

How does an adult feel? Fear of loneliness and desire to control at least one area of ​​your life. Such an adult does not feel his own boundaries and is often in a co-dependent relationship. It seems to the mother that she knows better what the child wants, she seeks to please and anticipate his desires. The consequences of such treatment are best described in the anecdote “Mom, am I cold or hungry?”

What happens to the child? nine0215 A child's own self is stolen. He does not seem to have a psychic space in which at least some kind of aspiration could arise. He can not always distinguish his own desires from his parents. He does not need to overcome difficulties in order to achieve something. A person grows up with the awareness of his own helplessness, and at the same time there is a lot of rage in him against his overprotective parents.

3. Adults openly criticize the appearance of the child or his habits, shame him for his actions, impose invented norms. nine0219

How does an adult feel? Shame and, as a result, fear of condemnation and rejection. The encounter with one's own shame is so painful that the parent looks for the source of shame anywhere but in himself.

What happens to the child? A child who is often shamed considers himself unworthy of attention. He either tries to earn parental love, or withdraws into himself, believing in his own uselessness.

4. Parents devalue the achievements of the child, often comparing it with other children or with themselves in childhood. nine0219

How does an adult feel? Unsatisfied ambitions, shame for one's own failure, fear of exposure. The child is simultaneously broadcast two messages: “I didn’t succeed - so at least you succeed” and “You cannot be better than me.” The child in this case is not perceived as a separate person, but only as a narcissistic extension of the parent or, worse, his competitor.

What happens to the child? His needs and abilities are not taken into account. The child thinks that the parents do not like him the way he is. Its task is to reach the parent standard. He tries to prove to the parent that he is worthy of his love and approval. nine0003

5. Adults forbid a child to show certain feelings: get angry, cry, rejoice too much.

How does an adult feel? Fear of facing one's own vulnerability.

What happens to the child? The child feels uncomfortable, ashamed of his feelings. He learns to suppress aggression and other "inappropriate" behavior in order to conform to parental ideas of "normal".

6. A child is the meaning of life. Parents are overly helpful, they make themselves indispensable in the lives of children. nine0219

How does an adult feel? Fear of loneliness, despair and disappointment, loss of meaning. This is one of the most insidious types of psychological abuse: it masquerades as care, although its ultimate goal is to make the child completely dependent on the parent.

What happens to the child? The child is taught that he owes everything to his parents, he cannot take a step without them. Such a person grows up dependent, lost, not ready to make decisions. nine0003

7. Parents change emotional roles with the child, make him an ally in confrontation with other relatives.

How does an adult feel? Powerlessness, inability to resolve the conflict on their own. The child is made a kind of family diplomat, shifting the responsibility for resolving disputes to him.

What happens to the child? The child takes on the role of an adult, develops the ability to anticipate emotions, smooth them out, learns to deceive and use people. nine0003

8. Adults set conditions, manipulate with accusations, blackmail, money. The child is not allowed to object to the parents.

How does an adult feel? Despair, fear of losing control. Parents go to extremes from impotence. He abuses the affection and dependence of the child.

What happens to the child? He is afraid of being rejected, he feels powerless. He thinks that attachment is unreliable and can end at any moment. He wants to urgently make amends to get rid of this fear. nine0003

9. Adults place the responsibility for their well-being or mood on the child.

How does an adult feel? Lost. Such an adult does not know how to contain his own emotions - he places them in a child.

What happens to the child? Too much responsibility is placed on him, which he should not bear. He is essentially being deprived of the right to be a child.

10. Adults accuse the child of selfishness. nine0219

How does an adult feel? Fear of being ignored. Such parents believe that the child should think about their interests. Perhaps they were ignored in childhood, and they want to completely own the attention of the child.

What happens to the child? He is forced to push his needs to the background and build his whole life around the needs of his parents.

These cases are almost harmless if they happen once. But if a child is systematically neglected, it takes root in the child's psyche and affects the way he interacts with the world. Psychotherapist Nancy McWilliams describes these processes as follows: “If the primary source of knowledge for the child is a caregiver who is himself deeply disturbed and primitively defensive, who, leaving attempts to feel safe or meaningful, uses words not to express true feelings, but to manipulate, then the child's subsequent relationships with people cannot be undisturbed." nine0003

What to do? How to deal with toxic parents?

Adult children of toxic parents are always trying to find explanations for what is happening, trying to make it less painful. Blaming yourself is easier than realizing the horrific fact that you were neglected by your parents. It is hard to believe that the person you trust unconditionally is actually ignoring your feelings, competing with you, using you for selfish purposes. Accepting blame for abuse is a way for a child of toxic parents to survive. He is forced to play by the rules that adults impose on him. nine0003

In psychotherapy, it takes a client a lot of time to admit that the closest people treated him unfairly in childhood. The next task is to stop taking the phrases of toxic parents personally and learn to see what fears are behind these words. The relationship with the therapist gives the client a sense of secure attachment. The client gradually learns to trust his perception of reality, ceases to seek the approval of his parents and embarks on the path of separation.

Toxic Parents by Susan Forward has a great line: “You are not responsible for what your parents did to you as a child.

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