It may take years or decades to recognize a toxic parent and the dysfunctional relationship you share. You may be well into your adulthood when you stumble upon the fact that you’re living with abusive parents.
All this while, you may have considered their behavior normal, mostly because that is all you have ever seen. Even if you have come across loving and caring parents of your friends, you may have thought of this as a temporary phase. Maybe they are going through personal troubles and they will change.
Even healthy relationships go through troubles, but they always manage to bounce back. However, when trouble is all that you have ever experienced in your relationship with your parents, that is not normal.
As adults, when children make decisions that differ from their parents, conflict and friction in the relationship are inevitable. While in a healthy relationship, these conflicts are resolved amicably, in a toxic parent-child relationship, it becomes ugly.
This article delves into the dynamics of a parent-child relationship, especially the toxic one. Here you will find suggestions for dealing with toxic parents in adulthood and how you can make living with toxic parents better for all concerned.
How to identify toxic parents as an adult?
Toxic behavior in a parent-child relationship doesn’t appear overnight. The parents must have deep-rooted behavioral problems, to begin with. They must have a history of controlling, self-centered, overly critical, blame-shifting, and/or neglectful behavior.
Unlike a temporary rift in a healthy relationship, a toxic parent-child relationship exists almost from the beginning of the relationship. That is right after the birth of the child or thereabouts.
A parent suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder is a perfect fit for such a toxic relationship. They are both controlling and combative. Irrespective of the age of their children, they will continue their controlling and combative ways, even if the child has turned into an adult.
These signs will help you to identify toxic behavior in a parent.
- They take advantage of your love to get what they want.
- They disapprove and mock your feelings and accuse you of being overly sensitive.
- They manipulate and gaslight you.
- They called it disrespectful when you disagree with their opinion.
- They criticize you as a person and your character besides attacking your decisions and actions.
- They hold you responsible for their emotions and troubles.
How to deal with toxic parents as adults?
Your toxic relationship with your parents began a long time back as a child. You may or may not have recognized the troubled relationship you have with your parents.
Now that you’re an adult, you can clearly see how the relationship played out all these years and how it affected you as a child and even as an adult. Now that you are old enough to take some action, let’s see what you can do to deal with the problem of toxic parents.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to deal with any toxic relationship is to cut off ties with the toxic person. However, this suggestion is hard to implement in a parent-child relationship, though it can be considered a last-ditch choice.
While considering other options to deal with such a parent, you need to realize one universal truth. If you want to see a change in your relationship with another person, your only option is to bring about a change in yourself. Trying to change the other person is a waste of time and effort. That will only lead to more tension, aggravating the situation further.
Here are some tips for living with toxic parents.
1. Set clear boundaries
This needs considerable effort and self-reflection on your part. You have always been dominated by your abusive parents all your life. Most probably, you have no experience with personal boundaries. So, you need to begin at the beginning.
As a first step, you need to understand what personal boundaries are and why it is important to have them in a healthy relationship. As the next step, you need to define the kind of boundaries you want to have in your relationship with your toxic parent.
Then, it is time to communicate this piece of information to your parents. After that, you need to consider its implementation. This is the hardest part of all. Your parents may reject or disregard your proposal of personal boundaries. If this is the case, you may not find it easy to execute your plan. Living with toxic parents is never simple.
However, you shouldn’t feel discouraged by the rejection and give up. Persistence is the key to making this a success. Be firm and emphatic with your demand. All the while, don’t stop loving them or caring for them. Even if your parents give in to your demand, you may have to keep up the pressure tactics throughout to ensure that the boundaries are intact.
2. Stop seeking approval from your abusive parents
As a child, you have been naturally inclined to please your parents and look for approval from them. There is nothing wrong with this as long as there are limits in place. When you are dealing with toxic parents in adulthood, with the limits absent, this will create trouble for you.
As an adult, your toxic parents will continue to expect the same from you and you will continue to give them what they demand. This is not right or healthy. You need to remember that you are an adult and old enough to make your own decisions. You are perfectly entitled to do what you think is right and what makes you happy.
When you continue to live your life based on someone else’s rules and devote your time and energy to satisfy their desires, you’re never going to feel happiness and contentment. You may find living with toxic parents too hard and taxing.
You need to realize that you no longer need approval or validation from your parents to feel confident and worthy. You should stop trying to please your parents.
3. Stop sharing everything with your parents
Now that you can see the frailties in the character of your toxic parent, you should be careful about what you share with them. Can you trust them with your most personal information?
As trust is lacking in a toxic relationship, it is better not to overshare. Depending on the personality trait of your parents, they may use your secret in ways you may not approve of. This can even end up harming your personal life. They may use the information to criticize you, gossip about you, or even use it against you.
Pick and choose what you want to share with your abusive parents. Share only information that will not harm you. You need to realize that you have no obligation to share everything with your parents.
4. Understand the personality trait of your parent
And work around it as far as you can. Do remember that this may not always be possible. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage this.
You can try to accommodate the difficult behavioral traits of your abusive parents in such a way that you can continue to have a friendly relationship with them. If they are aggressive, don’t take the bait and let them trigger your anger. If they are forgetful, take extra care to remind them again.
You can adopt this strategy as long as it doesn’t affect your personal life.
5. Think up a fallback plan
Having an exit strategy can make life easier for you. Despite your best efforts at coping with a toxic parent, things may deteriorate and get out of hand at times. If you know what to do in such a situation beforehand, you will be able to manage it well with the least disturbance to your life.
When you have no exit strategy in place, you may fall apart when things start getting out of hand. For instance, leaving the scene can be your exit strategy. When it turns ugly and unmanageable, your staying on is only going to worsen the situation. The best thing you can do is to leave.
Departing from the scene can be temporary or permanent. You decide this based on the situation you are facing. If you think your parents will cool down and see reason, later on, you can come back and continue your relationship with them. However, if you don’t see any scope for reconciliation, it is better to part ways.
Remember that you have no obligation to be nice to your parents by sacrificing your life.
Final thoughts on living with toxic parents
Don’t try to change them or try to argue or reason with them. You need not make yourself available to them 24×7. You’re perfectly within your rights to spend your holidays with anyone of your choice. Investing in self-care and self-love will help you deal with toxic parents in the best way possible.
You need to remind yourself time and again that your parents’ negative perspective of you doesn’t make you the villain of the story. If the going gets too tough, you should limit your contact with them. If need be, you may cut off ties with them in extreme cases. Dealing with toxic parents in adulthood is no easy matter.
Changing the status quo in the relationship with your parents can be a scary prospect. You may expect resistance from your parents to the change. Don’t let them guilt-trip you. You need to realize that this change is essential for your mental health and well-being.
You are entitled to make decisions about how you want to live your life and relate to others including your parents.