No matter how long it’s been since you moved away from your parents’ home and started living independently, you still crave love and approval from the adults who raised you. Unfortunately, some parents deliberately exploit that, which can make your relationship lopsided. Here’s how to recognize and deal with toxic parents.
Signs of Toxic Parents
How can you tell if one or both parents are toxic?
- They’re self-centered: They don’t think about your needs or feelings.
- They’re emotionally immature: You never know how they might respond to different details.
- They parentify you: They share too much information with you, such as details about their intimate life. Or, they have used you as their primary source of emotional support since you were too young to understand what was going on.
- They are manipulative: They might guilt-trip you or deny you things to get you to do what they want.
- They’re overly critical: Nothing you do is ever good enough for them. They don’t respect your positive qualities or achievements, or they may critique your appearance or life choices.
- They don’t respect your boundaries: They might repeatedly show up at your house uninvited, even if you’ve asked them to call or text first.
Dealing With Toxic Parents
Most young children normalize the adults around them because they have no other examples to go by. That’s why it can take years of perspective to realize your family dynamic is dysfunctional. If one or both your parents has a history of being self-centered, narcissistic, controlling, neglectful or overly critical, you can’t heal overnight – and the behavior won’t stop even if you are an adult.
The chronic stress associated with growing up in an unhealthy household is an adverse childhood experience that you can pass on to your children as generational trauma. However, you can take steps to break the cycle.
1. Don’t Try to Change Them
It’s natural to want to please your parents, but it’s also important to recognize that they have flaws just like everyone else. Especially if your parents are older, they may have become set in their patterns and insist on doing things the same way they have always done. When you step back and consider the mental and emotional cost of your efforts to change toxic parents, you may realize it’s not worth your time and energy.
2. Enforce Your Boundaries
Effective boundaries help build trust and strengthen relationships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lack of boundaries is a defining characteristic of many dysfunctional families. You cannot dictate your parents’ behavior, but you also shouldn’t give them a free pass to mistreat you merely because they are your family members.
When creating and enforcing boundaries with your toxic parents, you can determine the consequences for any behavior you define as unacceptable. For example, if your mother and father are emotionally abusive and being around them makes you stressed and anxious, you can choose to limit the time you spend with them.
3. Practice Self-Care
Children of toxic parents might be used to ignoring their own wants and needs because their families are so demanding. Remind yourself that self-care isn’t selfish, and that you are an adult who has the right to make the best choices for yourself.
4. Have Support
Now is the time to get the care, support and validation you didn’t receive as a child. Seek group or individual therapy guided by a counselor who specializes in emotional abuse, trauma, enmeshment or codependency. Through therapy, you can change your expectations of your parents and learn skills to respond to their dysfunction.
Women’s-Only Treatment in Prescott, Arizona
Toxic parents can affect every facet of your life. If you find it difficult to talk about your dysfunctional family and how they make you feel, a women’s-only treatment environment can help you begin healing.
At Canyon Crossing, we have developed a treatment program dedicated to helping women recover from substance use disorders and other mental health challenges. Reach out to learn more about how to regain control of your life.