26 thoughts on “10 Tips for Dealing with your Toxic Parents

  • August 4, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    thank you Sharon for writing about toxic parents. I always thought that what had happenned to me was my fault. I tried so hard not to pass on the guilt and shame and anxiety to me sons.And I think I got that wrong too. Because they have ended up taking me thoroughly for granted and we have little of the equal relationshop that I had hoped we would have, Howver I am not dead yet. juliannasong

  • August 5, 2018 at 9:42 am

    wonderful article again.
    im beginning to realize the ways to get detangled are all rather similar….
    & boundaries are indeed the FOUNDATION…..

    • August 5, 2018 at 12:58 pm

      Yes – boundaries are the path to freedom from toxic/abusive people. And in order to set and enforce them, we need to feel it’s completely normal and healthy to do so!

      • August 5, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        Yes – and I love how, judging from the comments, this post has helped to validate people’s experience of the toxicity!

  • August 5, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Love the signs and strategies. A great compilation.
    One thing that is strikingly absent… Is an attempt at giving parents a choice to get help, before one withdraws from the relationship. One must be careful to not label denial, or one’s inability to be vulnerable (for good reasons with toxic people!) From the powerful place of giving choices:
    Maybe this oversight is because of your stated underlying assumption is rooted in what I would call a false belief that personality disorders do not change. Though true for the majority of personality disorders, (unless forced to engage in long-term treatment due to legal issues), and an important part of crafting realistic expectations, it is far from black-and-white, and there are exceptions..
    A corollary, taught too many in graduate school since the 80s, is that personality disorders, etc. are not treatable.
    In my 42 years as a therapist, I have tried to keep alive the fact that they are treatable. I feel like I have lived through a kind of dark ages of our culture that have been shaped by moneyed interests alone – as opposed to what is good for the people. In my experience, this started in the 80s, when the mental health profession were literally shaped out of the awareness of treatability of what we call “personality disorders” whose patterns ARE resistant to change, AND the results of adverse childhood experiences [ACE’s]. Because they are “wired” into the survival limbic system, they do require Long-term treatment. Research in the late 70s and early 80s was suggesting a minimum of two years. The 80s gave rise to “brief therapy” being the only thing that was reimbursable. Big Pharma also had their influence. They wanted us to view “survival patterning” as a concrete, unchangeable thing called the person’s personality. This allowed them to spread the meme that “personality disorders” are all about about genetic brain abnormalities – imbalanced chemistry, as opposed to the results of the severity of their own childhood abuse and neglect). The final blow was systemic cuts to mental health research, and the privatization of most of that research. Drug and insurance companies would never make the profit they could from disallowing treatment for personality disorders, and getting a huge percentage of our population on psychotropic medications.
    Taking all of this history into account, the one thing absent that I would suggest to people along with what you are saying, which is incredibly helpful also, and would allow people to separate “acceptance” from “avoidance”, is that they can offer parents a choice to get treatment. Treatment from a professional experienced with what we call the personality disorders – narcissism, dependent, avoidant, borderline “personality disorder”, in the form of a choice – goes something like this (this is taken from paraphrasing numerous clients of mine who wrote their parents):
    “(enter parent name), you have an important decision to make about our relationship that will dictate how often – if at all – we see each other, as well as the depth of emotional intimacy we attain. It is important that you know that my relationship with you is very valuable, and my intention is to see how much you are willing to take in some difficult feedback, that if you are able, though uncomfortable, will lead us to a type of relationship that neither of us has ever had with a parent. (This is a separate dimension from love, and more about how patterns can unintentionally be passed from generation to generation… Unless someone gets help)
    My understanding from my counseling is that when people are abused or neglected in their childhoods, they end up with various thinking, feeling, and behaving patterns that lack empathy in their impact to others – even when their intention might be positive. They also tend to be couched in a story that is necessary to protect the un-recovering adult victim of abuse from their own shame.
    The impact to me of your pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving in various fight and flight ways has become too painful to withhold any longer. This pattern (enter a few examples of fight or flight behaviors that underneath probably have a vulnerable perceived threat – whether the parent is aware of it or not!)
    I’m not saying you ever intended to set out to be this way. I am saying that what appears to be your significant limitations around understanding the negative impacts that your survival pattern has on others, has led me to have to set this choice for you… as my own personal boundary. Of course, should you decide that this is all my imagination or exaggeration, I want to let you know that the door will always be open, but our relationship will then be limited by your unwillingness to get help to learn non-power and control communication and relationship skills – including empathy and listening. I’ve come to understand that getting help is what people with safe and supportive relationships do – as opposed to the belief that it is weakness.
    It is my hope that you might be one of the minority of those that have these “survival fight/flight patterns” that, though not their fault because they come out of one’s own childhood when we are all innocent, definitely need a significant amount of attention in order to have emotionally safe relationships. Relationships that can deal with differences without condemnation, do not get stuck in right and wrong, and most importantly, where individuals are able to “own” their childhood pain and the vulnerability under their various fight/flight control patterning, blaming, anger, and judgment of others.
    If you’re interested in getting help for these, let me know. I would be glad to partake in a first or second session to give your therapist examples of the impact that you are unaware of.
    IF things go well, then I’ll join you later, when the therapist assures me that you have gained the skills that, to be fair to you, you never had a choice to learn – because of what happened to you growing up.
    NOTE: IF the toxic parent is very reactive, it only makes sense to deliver this kind of message in a written way – starting with one’s positive intent, and then including the vulnerable feeling that given the experiences of attack, withdrawal, (whatever applies in the past). This sounds something like:
    “I just don’t feel safe to not go into reaction and get sucked into some sort of argument about what I’m needing to say. I just wanted to give you an opportunity to get on a better road to make things right between us.”

    • August 5, 2018 at 1:28 pm

      great bit of info youve shared.
      remember tho. Narcissists REFUSE to seek help.
      all we can do is limit our time with them.

      • October 23, 2018 at 8:07 pm

        Good point. Often true…not always. There are some rare situations where they CAN seek treatment because they do not want to lose a relationship with someone that means a lot to them….or incarceration is given as a “choice”. I also find it helpful for them to accept the need if one understands that the traits are often the result of being wounded young, and a type of “frozen development”. (Thus the lack of empathy, self involved style, reactive defensiveness, etc.)

    • October 23, 2018 at 9:38 am

      Hi, I enjoyed your thoughts about this subject. I read it a couple of times and it makes allot of sense. Would love to read more of your writingsite. Thanks Jan.

  • August 5, 2018 at 6:37 pm

    Such a wonderful reminder to stay centered when dealign with dysfunctional parents. I love your simple yet SO effective suggestions on how to keep it simple and take care of yourself first. Without self-care, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos. Thanks Sharon! Will be sharing!

  • August 6, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks Sharon. Lots of great tips here. It’s taken me a long time to set boundaries with my parents, say NO to them without feeling guilty, and realise that I definitely have my own choices in how to live my life. My family was enmeshed [probably co-dependent], there were very flimsy boundaries [in other words you did as mum and dad said] and if you had a different choice than what the “family” wanted you were made to feel guilty and were shamed big time. I’ve been reading about these issues over the past 4 or 5 years and this has helped me greatly in realising that I too matter and it’s not just about them or keeping them happy or walking on egg shells so that their feelings don’t get hurt. It’s definitely been a process.

  • October 3, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you so much for your post! I had my first child two years ago and ever since then, my relationship with my parents went south. I didn’t understand why at first, then I gradually came to realize that they never gave me the kind of love that I give to my daughter so naturally and unconditionally. Then I saw your blog today and I could tell that my parents have 9 out of the 15 toxic traits. So I guess my questions is, is it acceptable for me to cut contact with my parents? I haven’t contacted them for more than a month already, simply because talking to them makes me feel sick. But at the same time, I feel extremely guilty about it because after all, they were not abusive or anything and they are not horrible people, so they shouldn’t deserve being treated by their single child this way. I am really sorry to trouble you with this, but your article is so pertinent to the problem I’m facing, and I just really would like to hear your comment on this. Thank you so much in advance!

    • October 3, 2018 at 3:45 pm

      Always remember that this is YOUR life. You get to choose who you have in it. Having no contact with family of origin is such a big choice and a personal one at that. It took me a long time to “leave and cleave” when I got married. I still felt that I had a “role” to play in my family of origin. It’s taken many years of educating myself that whilst I appreciate all that my parents have done for me I really don’t owe them anything. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty by saying NO to their requests. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for setting boundaries with them. Many parents still think of their children as just children, not adults; I think my parents still see me as a young girl incapable of making big life choices but that’s just not the case. Lots of great reading out there on issues such as setting boundaries etc.

      • October 10, 2018 at 5:51 am

        Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience, Sue! I can really understand what you mean by how your parents still see you as a young girl, because mine do, too. The fact that they put so little trust and so much control on me alone should justify why I want to stay away from them. I’m happy for you that you have figured out how to set boundaries with your parents. I really hope all kids like us could have peaceful relationships with our parents and with ourselves.

    • October 4, 2018 at 9:30 am

      It’s a personal decision; I don’t think anyone can tell you whether it’s the right choice for YOU. Many people find that ending or limiting contact is the only way to reclaim their sense of peace and wellbeing as it’s very hard to heal and feel better about oneself when toxic energy is still coming at you. For a more in-depth look at the subject, you might like to read Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward.

      • October 10, 2018 at 5:53 am

        Dear Sharon, thank you very much for your reply! You are right, I should worry about healing first before anything else. Thank you for the reading suggestion, I am very intrigued by the title already.

  • January 12, 2019 at 8:06 pm

    I have toxic parents I just realized and my situation is difficult because I live with my two children alone in my parents house this is getting worst every day sometimes I feel I won’t find any solution for this could you help me please 😔

    • February 20, 2019 at 6:19 pm

      I was a single mom of 3 living in my parents 2nd house for three years. They were so toxic and it got so bad. I finally met a great man and told them we were getting married. They made sure to tell me it was a horrible idea so that I would cling to them and be more dependent. I decided to break free and left and married him and moved out. They disowned me and turned all my siblings and immediate family against me and my kids. I have never been happier though. Sharon has complied such a great list and has great information on here. I never knew until I read this list months ago that I even had toxic parents. Make a plan and get out as soon as you can for your sake and your kids sake.

  • April 28, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    My situation is a bit different, my spouse has toxic parents. Her mother passed away almost 2 years ago, and she became a toxic parent by living with a toxic husband. My father in law has all 15 traits of your previous article. I cannot wait to read this to my wife when she gets home, maybe she will see she isn’t alone. Our lives are 100% entwined with his and he liked it that way. She needs a good councilor to build her self up in a way she has obviously never been. Our financial situation makes us dependent on him because he stole her inheritance from her parents and we’ve been stuck in his web of negative thinking and self destruction. Never in my life have I ever met another person like him. He is destroying my spouse and she wants away but he is very good a emotionally manipulating her, and making her feel guilty for wanting to be happy. It destroys both of us. For myself it’s hard to watch such a beautiful soul be sucked dry by a person who should want to give her everything, and encourage her to have a life of her own. Were getting there, I believe she sees that he is the problem but I also dont think she has any hope that the situation will change. I am currently in therapy for my own issues a a individual person, but this has been our topic for months. It really sucks. I just want him to go away. Those thoughts make me feel like a horrible selfish person, but I am to my limit with the selfish, self centered, controlling, hearless, pig headed perverted man and I just want to take her a run away. Our relationship as a couple couldn’t possibly be better, we have what most people spend forever looking for, and leaving her would only make me more miserable, and she has been punished enough in her life with him as a father. I want to make her life better, but I know the next step is up to her, I’m and so grateful to have found these articles to help guide her alone

    • April 28, 2019 at 8:08 pm

      I’m sorry you’re going through this Heather. It’s very hard to standby and watch a loved one being manipulated and hurt by a parent. I hope you all find emotional freedom and healing.

  • April 28, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    Thank you, that means a lot. It is very hard especially since she suffers from anxiety and severe epilepsy and her seizures are almost always stress induced. I can’t even count how many timeline watched him send her into them, then put her down for having them. I tried to read her the articles and ng I got through the first and during the beginning of the second she said there is no point in reading it, because it will never change because of our current financial situation and he uses money and guilt to manipulate her, and he’s very good at it. She says there is no point in trying she will be stuck this way until he is dead, then she will spend the rest of her life feeling guilty for feeling that way. Sometimes I feel that way myself. He is just a nightmare

  • June 7, 2019 at 4:19 am

    My husband & I are self made hard working couple with 3 beautiful kids. Our business has closed down due to our hard work being finished but handful of companies not paying the due amount so company got liquidated & still trying to fight for our money & to be paid.

    We have lost everything & starting again in our 40’s.
    My parents are very wealthy money wise & choose not to help in any way at all. They have told me & hubby that we can’t beat the big companies , we have shit for brains & we are losers. Yes you have read correctly.

    Also my mother & father have said to me to leave my husband due to all the stress & pressure he has brought into our lives / meaning me & kids.
    Mother & father have never baby sat for us or popped over or caught up – they don’t really like interacting with hubby & I actually, only on special occasions Easter, birthdays , Xmas they expect us to go to them all the time every occasion but if we didn’t go well WW1111 will occure.
    They don’t get along with their brothers & sisters do my uncle & aunties on both sides & now I know & understand why. I never use to believe that my mother & father are bad, wicked , evil people but guess what .. they are . My mother & father who made me make me feel sick to the stomach. I now know & 41 years of age that I don’t want to be a human being like them & if my children ever go through a hard time I will help them in any & every way & my darling husband agrees 100 %.
    Anyway to cut along story short I can’t change my parents but I can change the way I choose to parent.
    I just wish my parents had a heart to is help one another & love one another & give mental, emotional strength & support.
    But they continue not to do so & they have done the same to my dear brother but continue to only help my sister. And my sister is a cold person also.
    God bless to you all & do good it’s simple 🦋

  • June 16, 2019 at 9:22 am

    If the toxicity of the parent begins to be leave too much stress and anxiety in my life, can it be the healthiest choice to say goodbye and cut communication off completely? I feel like I haven’t option left. Your advice would be most helpful.

  • August 27, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    I’m so glad I found this article. I am 34 weeks pregnant and my parents disowned me after I told them how toxic they are and how I’m going to distance myself from them because they stress me out. They pretty much have all the traits of toxic parents from the previous article and it’s so sad that they treat me, my husband and my unborn baby so poorly. To the point where they said they don’t want to have anything to do with us… I never understood how anyone’s parents could be so cruel and selfish. Then I found this online… Thank you for this article. Now I don’t feel so alone

    • September 1, 2019 at 6:54 am

      I just want to share with you that a situation happened to me. I was banned from my Parents’ home for no reason although my husband was still welcome. Once my Mother found out I was pregnant she and my Father kept the ban going with no explanation. They were so cruel to me during the pregnancy however the upside is that my husband and friends now support me in keeping an extreme distance from them as their actions prove their disdain. We will never know if it is jealousy or hatred or emotional damage from abuse in their lives but we do now know for sure to stay away. I’m so happy this happened during my pregnancy because I am one hundred percent sure that I will not ever leave our child with them unattended. Also, I let them meet our child and interact a couple other times and then decided for my health and well-being to disengage for at least two years because it can permanently harm a woman who just gave birth to undergo stress and trauma. You have your husband and child so you have been given more than most. Be grateful and happy please because irregardless of what your Parents say or do, you deserve peace and happiness.

  • March 9, 2020 at 11:08 am

    Thank you for this highly insightful and relatable post. Breaking away between the ages of 18 and 24 has been difficult but I am finally starting to gain control of the situation. I now understand that I cannot reason with my parents look to them for approval. I am actually allowed to not see them for holidays and hold back when I don’t feel comfortable reciprocating feelings they express towards me such as love. Especially trying to reason with them in certain situations is futile and ends in angry shouting outbursts, arguments and nothing good. I have started to blame them for all of the problems in my life and I need to take responsibility myself because I have control. Something I feel I have lost along the way. I intend to implement many of these strategies.


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