Marriage & Family

Useful advice for handling toxic parents

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Not everyone has the privilege to grow up in a loving family without problems. But then, yet again, there is no one family without issues. So the question is, is it possible to deal with toxic parents?

But before we answer that question, do you know the signs of one? Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, shares it in a straightforward way for us to understand. “Everything revolves around them first and foremost,” she commented.

According to experts, here are the seven signs to guide you in identifying a toxic parent:

  • Asks you to parent them
  • Neglects your feelings or safety
  • Doesn’t respect set boundaries
  • Physically or emotionally abusive
  • Their needs take priority over yours
  • Gets bitter over your independence
  • Their raised voice or potential argument scares you

For those who think they might be a victim of toxic parenting, here is some useful advice that may help you handle it.

#1: Reach out for some support

Continuously being in the loop of a toxic environment can be devastating. It would make sense for you to reach out for some outside support from trusted friends or extended family members.

Having someone in your life that understands what’s going on, even if you don’t want to talk about it can help rough it out. Suppose you’re staying with your parents; a meet-up session outdoors can also provide you with a much-needed respite from your demanding parents.

#2: Meet them when you want to
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This tip can coincide with drawing boundaries that we will detail in the next point. If you hate spending the weekend, public holidays, or rest days with your parents, then don’t!

Spending time with them on your terms is going to help improve your viewpoint of the situation. It may even enhance your relationship with them in the long run because you are no longer dreading time together but looking forward to it because you’re treading along your choice.

But we are aware it’s easier said than done. Thus, this is where the next piece of advice will come in handy.

#3: Impose boundaries

Remember we mentioned in the introduction that a toxic parent does not respect set boundaries? Regardless of that, it is still essential to impose one or a few because it’s necessary to maintain your emotional and mental health in such a family environment.

Yes, you might feel like you don’t possess the “right” to set up a boundary, but think about it. It could just be the very thing that your toxic parent has taught you to believe all along. Boundaries are crucial for any relationship, though they may be challenged in a difficult one.

McBain suggests that we start small. For example, “I can’t talk on the phone while I’m at work.” can help you build your way to “I will be spending Christmas with my partner’s family this year.”

#4: Don’t see change as an aim
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Once you are aware that your parents are toxic, it’s possible to want to change them. You know what? Don’t. It may be impossible to change anyone’s behaviours instantly, and it’s probably only going to end poorly.

Instead, focus on changing your behaviour or perspectives to make the situation better going forward. Sharon Martin, a licensed counsellor and psychotherapist, rightly shares her view in her article titled “You Can’t Solve Other People’s Problems: How to Stop Trying to Change Others”.

She says, “Try to focus on what’s in your control and the problems that you can solve. And remember that if you’re feeling particularly frustrated with your inability to change or solve a problem, you may be trying to solve someone else’s problem.”

#5: Pen down your emotions

As we come to a close, we want you to know that we understand how difficult it is to be at a toxic parent’s beck and call, 24/7. Not only is this unreasonable, but it’s also emotionally draining.

As such, take time to journal down your emotions. While talking about a problem to a trusted friend or relative is useful, they are two separate matters. Journaling practices can lead to various positive outcomes on happiness, goal attainment, and even several regards of physical health.

If you’re seriously considering therapy with a certified professional, then journaling would assist you in sharing your thoughts better during those sessions.

Final thoughts
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Realistically speaking, most of us face toxic parents to varying degrees, and there’s no right or wrong method to deal with them. But if there’s one thing you can do, that is to ensure that you put your needs first and reach out for support before you explode.

If it helps, impose boundaries and schedule a meeting on your terms. Don’t see changing them as your ultimate goal because that will only frustrate you further. Also, consider spending some time penning down your thoughts and signing up for regular therapy sessions to help you cope better.

Sometimes, professional guidance can aid us to put things into perspective. Cheer up!

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