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Takeaway: We want our parents to love and care for us unconditionally, but not all parents can. In this post, I'll explain the top ways I help my clients deal with toxic parents.

How to Deal With Toxic Parents

Our parents are supposed to be the ones who love and care for us unconditionally. However, that is not the reality that many people face.

Some people have difficult relationships with their parents. Instead of building them up and supporting their children, toxic parents cut their children down and may hurt them--mentally, physically, or emotionally.

If you are dealing with toxic parents, you may feel like you have no control in the situation. However, there are steps you can take to cope. 

Hi, I'm Justine Carino, a therapist in Westchester. I work with young adults who are discovering themselves, and that often comes with understanding wounds from their parents (who can be toxic).

Let's dive in!

What is a toxic parent?

While there is no specific definition of what makes a parent toxic, there are some common traits. This is not an exhaustive list, but most toxic parents will exhibit these behaviors.

They disregard your feelings

Toxic parents tend to prioritize their needs over those of their children. They are so wrapped up in their own feelings that they do not take yours into consideration. While each individual is entitled to their feelings, it can be hurtful and harmful when a parent is so self-centered.

They try to control you

Your parents are likely toxic if they do not allow you to have any agency over your life choices. It is natural for parents to have influence over young children, but at a certain age it is important for children to have some control over their decisions. If you are an adult and your parents still try to tell you what you can and cannot do, it is time to evaluate your relationship.

They make you feel bad about yourself

Verbal and emotional abuse is just as significant as physical abuse. It is not okay for anyone to disrespect you--including your parents. If your parents constantly criticize you, call you names, manipulate you, or make you feel guilty, they may be toxic. 

Strategies for how to deal with toxic parents

If you suspect you may have toxic parents, it can be difficult to know what to do about it. While you cannot change or control someone else’s behavior, there are steps you can take to protect your energy and wellbeing.

Setting boundaries with toxic parents

It is crucial to set boundaries with toxic parents. For example, if your parents continuously invade your privacy, you may choose to set a boundary about knocking on your bedroom door before entering or calling you before they drop by your home.

Once you have reflected on what you want your boundaries to be, make sure to clearly communicate your expectations. It can be helpful to discuss them during a time when you both are calm and removed from the situation being addressed. 

Being firm and consistent is an essential part of maintaining boundaries. If you want your parents to respect your boundaries, it is your responsibility to uphold them.

Creating emotional distance

Creating emotional distance is another way of setting boundaries with toxic parents. However, this type of boundary does not necessarily need to be communicated or discussed. Rather, it is a way of mitigating the effects of the toxic relationship that you can do entirely on your own.

There are many different ways to create emotional distance between you and your parents. You may start to reevaluate what you expect from your parents, choose to share less information with them, or realize that you are not responsible for their emotions.

However you choose to go about it, creating emotional distance is a key part of coping with toxic parents.

Get support from other people in your life

Dealing with toxic parents is stressful, and you should not have to go through it alone. Talking to siblings, friends, and other supportive people can help mitigate the effects of a toxic relationship. 

Adding a therapist to your support system can be especially helpful. With the help of therapy, you can process your emotions and learn additional skills to cope with toxic parents.

Prioritize your self care

Dealing with toxic parents takes a toll on your mental health. It is crucial to stay on top of your self care in order to maintain your own wellbeing.

Each person has their own way of coping, and different self care strategies work for different people. For some people, physical movement can help boost their mood. This could involve going for walks or runs, hitting the gym, doing a yoga flow, or even dancing. Other people find benefit from relaxation strategies such as baths, burning candles, meditating, and breathing exercises.

It is important to find a self care routine that works for you--and be consistent with it!

Recognize what you can control and let go of what you cannot

Part of dealing with toxic parents is accepting that you cannot control their behavior. This can be a difficult concept to grapple with. However, recognizing that you are not responsible for changing them can also be empowering.

Once you let go of trying to control what your parents do, you can put more energy into what you can control: yourself. This mindset shift can give you more time to reflect on your part in the relationship. Are any of your behaviors feeding into the toxic dynamic? What more can you do to take care of yourself?

Put your effort toward these areas instead of obsessing over what you cannot control.

Learn more about how to deal with toxic parents with the help of a therapist

Do you feel like your parents are toxic? You do not have to deal with this alone. Speaking to a therapist can help you learn more about how to cope with your toxic parents. 

I have training and experience supporting people with family conflict, and I would be honored to help you navigate this situation. If you are located in the state of New York, contact me today to discuss your unique situation and learn more about how I can help you. I'm a therapist in Westchester County--I look forward to meeting you! And don't forget to check out my tool to take your wellness to the next level, check it out here

Meet the author

Justine Carino

Justine is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict and relationship issues. Justine is also the host of the podcast Thoughts From the Couch.