unhealthy and toxic relationship with parent therapy

How To Manage an Unhealthy Relationship with Your Parent

Many people have difficult, unhealthy, or toxic parental relationships. For a variety of reasons, including cultural beliefs, personal values, or societal pressure, you may think that you have no choice but to deal with it, even if that means you suffer. You may feel guilty for not doing more for them or obligated to do whatever your parent asks of you. Take a moment to reflect on what your parent does for you now that you’re an adult. So many of us are raised to believe that we have to obey our parents without question. But as we reach adulthood, the relationship needs to be more balanced so you can protect and grow your own emotional wellness.

What Happens When You’re In A Toxic Relationship With A Parent?

Toxic and unhealthy relationships, whether it’s with a parent, another family member, or friend, can create barriers to our personal growth and healing. It leads to unhealthy thinking patterns and unhealthy expressions of emotions. The relationship doesn’t allow for enough mental space or energy for ourselves.

When the unhealthy relationship is with a parent, it can be even more difficult to shift the dynamic and prioritize our own needs. It interferes with our ability to reach our own personal goals and aspirations. Toxicity enables and fosters the inability to set and stick to boundaries, and can cause anxiety, depression, and even trauma.

Unhealthy parental relationships prevent you from fostering your own unique character and personality. They don’t allow for the development of your true authentic self to bloom, and diminishes your own inner light and beauty.

Accepting Who Your Parent Is

When we’re in a toxic relationship with a parent, it prevents us from accepting who they fully are. We’re unable to acknowledge their strengths, flaws, and limitations. This leads to expecting more from them and the relationship, and repeatedly being let down and disappointed.

“Even a Broken Clock is Right Two Times a Day”

 What is your parent’s overall presentation or demeanor? Is the relationship generally toxic? While there may be a good few moments, don’t let them lull you into a false belief that the relationship is fine. You can enjoy those good moments, but don’t start to expect more from your parent. If they are pleasant, helpful, or kind 20% of the time, that’s not a true reflection of the relationship or who they are.

It’s also important to understand why your parent might be struggling. Perhaps they speak a different language than the majority of the people in their society. If this is the case, they may not be able to communicate their needs or access resources. They might not have anyone else to go to for support other than you. Or maybe they are dealing with an illness and because of lack of resources they don’t have anyone else to rely on. Maybe they were raised with the cultural belief that it is your duty as their child to take care of them as they age. Whatever the reason for the toxic relationship, whether you are aware of it or not, it is important to have a full understanding of and accepting who your parent is. You most likely can’t change them at this point in their life, so acceptance is the first step to protecting yourself.

How to Manage the Relationship With Your Parent When You Can’t Walk Away

If estrangement or ending the relationship isn’t an option, it’s important to learn how to protect yourself. Most often it’s unrealistic to end or stop all communication, so we have to learn how to manage the relationship in a way that allows us to prioritize our own emotional needs.

  • Minimize contact. This doesn’t mean cutting off all ties, but it means valuing and prioritizing your time.
  • “Radical Acceptance” – accepting your parent’s limitations and not expecting more from them. Do your best not to resist the grief that comes with this skill. It’s a completely natural response to resist the hurt/grief that comes with accepting others as they are and acknowledging that your needs will likely not be met.
  • State your opinion and needs. This can be a statement rather than a conversation.
  • Learn and practice assertiveness skills. It can be a slow process, but the more you practice, the better you become at being assertive and not sacrificing your own needs.
  • Create strong boundaries and effectively express them regardless of your parent’s reaction.
  • Practice and implement fierce self-compassion. Create space and minimize interactions when possible. Here is a helpful resource to learn these skills: The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive” by Kristen Neff.
  • Utilize spiritual practices as a protective strategy. Since energy and emotions are contagious, we want to commit to protecting ourselves as much as possible from toxicity and negativity.
    • Christian based believers: imagine using a ‘wall of fire’ to surround yourself and protect your essence and your being from harsh interactions and intensity.
    • Qi-gong practices: envision using a honey layer of protection covering your entire being from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Toxicity sticks to the outside and can’t penetrate through to your inner being.
    • Earth-based spiritual believers: you can use the white light that comes from the power of the moon to envelope you and keep you safe from intrusive dark energies and emotions that the toxic parent is trying to project onto you.
    • Shamanic believers: using a blue light of protection that comes from the core of Mother Earth. It starts from the bottom of your feet and goes to the top of your head creating a thick barrier protecting you from all that is unwanted.
    • And for people who don’t believe or use spiritual practices: you can envision a protective bubble as wide and as thick as you need to keep negativity, intensity, and projections at bay.

How Therapy Can Help You Set Boundaries and Grow

Working closely with a therapist can be highly effective, beneficial, and helpful with learning and implementing these strategies. Together you can address any barriers that prevent you from setting boundaries and prioritizing your own needs. Many times our own fears, misconceptions, and feelings of obligation can hinder our ability to shift our mindset and create a more livable and manageable relationship with a toxic parent. Therapy can help you feel empowered instead of bogged down.

Learning from and working with a therapist helps you develop the skill of “radical acceptance”. We are working with an unmovable object/character and it is highly likely they will not change. Therefore it is important to accept their limitations and not expect for change to occur even on “good days” when they are less toxic.

It is a priority to create a life for yourself that you want. When you wake up in the morning and honor your needs, you can look in the mirror and be proud, happy, satisfied even when it may be a hard day and a toxic interaction may be up ahead. How much or little you give to your parent is your choice. You have to live in your body and your mind and deserve to create the life you want for yourself.

If you you have an unhealthy parental relationship, live in California, and need support and guidance on how to determine your values and priorities, set boundaries, and grow your emotional wellness, contact Jacqueline today.


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Posted by Jacqueline Jackson