Toxic relationships include relationships with toxic parents. Typically, they do not treat their children with respect as individuals. They won’t compromise, take responsibility for their behavior, or apologize. Often these parents have a mental disorder or have a serious addiction. We all live with the consequences of poor parenting. However, if our childhoods were traumatic, we carry wounds from abusive or dysfunctional parenting. When they haven’t healed, toxic parents can reinjure us in ways that make growth and recovery difficult. When we grow up with dysfunctional parenting, we may not recognize it as such. It feels familiar and normal. We may be in denial and not realize that we’ve been abused emotionally, particularly if our material needs were met.
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your parents’ behavior. If this conduct is chronic and persistent, it can be toxic to your self-esteem.
1. Do they over-react, create a scene?
2. Do they use emotional blackmail?
3. Do they make frequent or unreasonable demands?
4. Do they try to control you? “My way or the highway.”
5. Do they criticize or compare you?
6. Do they listen to you with interest?
7. Do they manipulate, use guilt or play the victim?
8. Do they blame or attack you?
9. Do they take responsibility and apologize?
10. Do they respect your physical and emotional boundaries?
11. Do they disregard your feelings and needs?
12. Do they envy or compete with you?
Detach from Toxic Parents
Detaching is an emotional concept and has nothing to do with physical proximity. It means not reacting, not taking things personally, nor feeling responsible for someone else’s feelings, wants, and needs. Our parents can easily push our buttons. That’s because they’re the ones that put them there! It’s harder to not react to our parents than to our friends and partners, with whom we’re on more equal footing. (Read “Getting Triggered and What You Can Do.”)Even if you move as far away as you can, emotionally, you may still react and have trouble detaching.
Be Assertive and Set Boundaries
Sometimes, it’s impossible to hold on to healthy behavior when we’re around our parents. Our boundaries were learned in our family. If we don’t go along, our family, especially parents, may test us. You may have trouble setting new boundaries with your parents. Perhaps, you have a mom who calls every day or a sibling who wants to borrow money or is abusing drugs. Confused, they may attack you or blame your new limits on your partner or therapist.