5 Strategies for Dealing With Difficult Parents

Updated on February 1, 2018
kalinin1158 profile image

Lana has a BA in Psychology, an MA in International Affairs, and other useless degrees.

It could be your biological parent, or perhaps toxic in-laws, but the effect they have on you is the same: hurt, confusion, disappointment, anger and desire to withdraw.

This article will discuss how to deal with difficult parents, and when to let go.

Source

1. Put Things in Perspective

“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.” ― Jim Morrison

Even the most loving parents damage their children with the best intentions - to protect them, to guide them, to better them. In most cases, by imprinting their own fears and prejudices on them.

The point is, parents are just people. People with flaws, struggles and impaired judgement. People with emotional or intellectual handicaps. People with personal blockages and limitations regardless of their parental role. People who make mistakes and who are terrified of being judged by their children.

Learn to see your difficult parent as just human. Learn to see their emotional immaturity as a type of disability.

2. Keep Expectations Low

In many ways the effect a difficult parent has on us is fueled by our feelings of injustice (being wronged) and the belief that things could be different, or should be different. In other words, our expectations dictate how we feel.

You need to let go of your expectations and accept your parent(s) for who they are. You can't expect someone with, say, a narcissistic personality disorder to act with empathy and kindness. No more than you can expect a scorpion not to sting.

Difficult parents are waaaaay easier to deal with when you accept that they won't change. So don't expect of them more than they are capable of, and you won't be disappointed or hurt.

3. Don't Fall Into the Guilt Trap

Difficult parents love making you feel like you've hurt them. Or, in a different scenario, you're a bad person if you don't do something they ask.

Don't fall for it. If they're setting a guilt trap, calmly tell them that you don't appreciate being emotionally manipulated, and you won't tolerate it anymore. Manipulators don't like being called out on their dirty tricks.

If they continue to harass you, reiterate that you can't do what they're asking you to do this time, and you need them to respect that. The trick is agreeing with everything they're saying (how can they argue when you agree with them?) and re-stating your decision over and over again.

Working a guilt/shame angle is a tell-tale of a manipulator. Don't fall for it!
Working a guilt/shame angle is a tell-tale of a manipulator. Don't fall for it! | Source

Do you have a difficult parent you wish you could ship off to Antarctica?

See results

4. Be Direct and Assertive When Confronting a Difficult Parent

When confronting a difficult parent, be direct and calm without expecting a specific response. That's the part you can't control.

The part that is up to you is letting your thoughts and feelings known, which is empowering.

Stick to the facts and use "I" statements (i.e., "I feel like my words don't matter to you when you constantly interrupt me" or "We appreciate your concern and all your help but we won't be needing you to move in with us after the baby is born").

Remember that manipulative parents are not known for their empathy. They will try to confuse you, go on the offensive, or assume the role of a victim - something they do a lot.

Don't let them bully you into submission by invoking guilt or pity. State your case in a calm and polite manner, and stay cool regardless of their response. Your goal is to be honest about your feelings, and to make it clear that you won't tolerate certain behaviors.

5. Consider Forgoing the Relationship That's Too Harmful

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” ― Jane Austen, "Pride and Prejudice"

A parent isn't someone you can easily cut out of your life. But if all else fails and your difficult parent continues to cause you psychological harm, consider forgoing a relationship altogether, at least for the foreseeable future.

In some cases it's the only logical recourse. A parent who is fundamentally incapable of showing love and support, who is unable to see the error of their ways after numerous attempts to communicate how their behavior or words affect you, someone who is consistently abusive, demeaning or critical - that parent is a destructive force that will continue to tear you down until you put a stop to it.

It's not an easy feat - the parent-child bond is hard-wired into our brains, which means children get attached to even the most awful parents. But consider the cost of having that toxic relationship in your life - stress, anxiety, depression, internalized feelings of inadequacy, failed personal relationships, not to mention thousands of dollars worth of therapy.

Maybe one day they will change. Right after Jesus descends unto Earth in a golden chariot, riding a couple of unicorns. Anything's possible. But until then, consider all options, including cutting them loose.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Lana Adler

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      • profile image

        Bryan 

        7 hours ago

        Hi Lana:

        I want to thank you for your article. There is a lot of mental illness in my family and despite what my parents say, I do believe everyone in the family has been affected. Both of my grandfathers were alchoholics, my grandmothers were manipulative when we tried to care for them, my uncles are reclusive and my aunt is borderline.

        I am a 23-year-old male who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism later in life. Now, as an adult, I am coping with fears that no one should have to deal with but everyone does. Like, what will the president do next and might it start a holocaust? Will I be forced to have unnecessary surgery the next time I see my doctor? Will my teeth fall out because I keep dreaming about it?

        Anyway, I need a special stuffed animal, a woolly mammoth called Ellie, along with me when I leave home. I have gotten, with a great deal of effort and pleading, my parents to agree to letting me take her in the car when I go places. But recently I took her to the dentist, and they were very nice, even giving me a cloth bag with their logo to put her in, but my mom complained. This is a problem because I have a scary appointment with a urologist in September where I need to resolve something. I feel very strongly that I need to take Ellie there with me. I don't expect my parents to be reasonable on this, and my disability means I can't drive myself to the doctor at least for now. How should I deal with this? What I can't have is my parents manipulating me the day of the appointment when I'm getting out of the car by saying I'm making a scene, and risking giving in out of fear or embarassment. I guess I'm afraid to stand up because I'm afraid they'll punish me for my "rebellion" by saying I can no longer take Ellie anywhere, but I honestly feel, and friends have told me too, that my parents do not have the right to control me in this area at my age. Since you wrote this incredible article, can you give me some advice on how to communicate about this? Thank you.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        7 days ago from California

        Rochelle,

        I’m sorry you have to go through all this. I know we all need and want a loving mother and it’s so devastating when you feel like you didn’t get that.

        As a child (and a young adult) I felt that way about my father and I was so jealous of my girlfriends who had seemingly perfect, warm, close relationships with their dads. I’d literally cry watching a father pick up and kiss his daughter.

        But I grew out of it...and you can too. The pain is real but it doesn’t have to shape your life. One day you’ll be a mother (if you choose to) and you’ll be AMAZING because you know what it’s like to have a difficult mom.

        You are not alone. This world, although it can be sick and cruel, has plenty of love to go around. You just have to be open to receive it. And remember: “The sun is still shining behind the clouds” :)))

      • profile image

        Rochelle Baboolal 

        8 days ago

        I'm 24 years old and my whole life I've had a bad relationship with my single mom. I love her so much but she has hurt me so much over the years over and over again. When will it stop? She hurts me, says sorry and I forgive...it's a cycle and she continues. I have no dad, he left her before I was born, I am the only child and my excluded small family absolutely doesn't give a shit about me so why live?

        The latest thing I'm battling with to this day (10/07/2018) she has bewitched and used witchcraft on me.

        I can't believe it, I just can't!!! My own mother, if she won't protect and/or love me, who will?

        Live without a mother and father or die? I am not ready to be all alone especially in this sick world we live in.

        Why did God create me? Are we created for pain and suffering? Where is the sunshine? I've been waiting for years. Dreams don't come true. I'll never have a good relationship with my mother and I'm jealous of those who do.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        4 weeks ago from California

        Hi Ruth,

        I know this is hard. Especially when it’s your own mother. But staying away is probably best...You need to be around people who love, support and treat you kindly. So you’re lucky you have those people! And hopefully your dad will take more initiative in keeping in touch. I wish you luck my dear!

      • profile image

        Ruth 

        4 weeks ago

        This has been the best advice I have read to help me cope with my mother. I have been in counselling for help with the situation which did help. My husband and friends are very supportive and understand how badly I am treated. My current way of coping is just to stay away which she ask me to do anywhow but I miss seeing my dad.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        6 weeks ago from California

        Dear Tom,

        You have a great mind. You’ll use it for something good in the future.

        And I give you a lot of credit for making an effort to learn to communicate to your family. It’s not easy. You might fight and yell, but that’s what real close families do. They let things out. Families that sweep things under the rug and pretend everything is fine are the distant and the unhappy ones.

        So I think you’ll be just fine )) Keep doing what you’re doing and learning as you go. You’re waaay ahead of the game. Good luck!

      • profile image

        the 14 year old 

        6 weeks ago

        Thanks for the response. I'll definably try you advice in the hope of an improvement but I would like to add that the family, despite the faults, is currently happily functional despite the feuds. The "sandwich" technique sounds a great idea and one that I'll use in the future. As for my experience in psychology, I think its just good memory, understanding and modern society's total disregard to exposure of knowledge (bad and good) to teens :).

        Thanks for answering,

        Tom

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        6 weeks ago from California

        Dear 14 year old,

        That’s quite a message, I hope I can answer in a way that makes sense to you.

        *gulps coffee*

        First, I cannot believe that a 14 year old wrote this message. You’re wise beyond your years my friend! Perhaps, you have a talent for psychology.

        Second, I can understand your parents’ reaction, not in the sense that they’re right, but in the sense that it’s a normal human reaction to get defensive and to turn the blame back on the accuser (aka “you do it too”).

        That’s why if you want your parents to hear you, you have to be careful not to trigger their defenses. And definitely try not to scream (as frustrated as you might feel). One technique you might have heard of is to “sandwich” a grievance between the compliments or something positive. For example, you might say: “Mom, dad, I love you both but it makes me very frustrated when you... . Maybe you could ... ? I appreciate everything you do for me.” Or smth along these lines.

        Again, I’m not justifying your parents’ behavior. I think they should be acknowledging and validating your feelings instead of just deflecting. And if you sometimes exhibit the same behaviors, you probably modeled it after them. So in the end, it comes back to them.

        Hopefully the situation improves. Hang in there ))))

      • profile image

        14 years old-2nd message 

        6 weeks ago

        To add to the issue in the first comment, whenever I do manage to point out reasonably and calmly some of the issues, I'm slapped in the face (not literally) with "the you do it too" excuse. The main issue being manipulation of blame in an argument. The second issue here is, I'm sure I probably do manipulate the blame as well and to back that up; from a little bit of research I found that apparently most people are unaware that they are manipulating at the time, and can genuinely hurt when confronted.

        So, pretty much the issue here is the idea that it is a valid for them to say that I have no right to make any claims due to me being susceptible to some of them myself. I am in need of an opinion of someone who approaches this in a neutral mindset-being the best substitute for family theory, which, my mom admitted she would never turn to (saying "we don't have the money" or "its a waste")

        Also, regardless of whether they have a right to say that, the big big issue here is...what am I to do?

        I can accept why you would say "Hang in there!" but perhaps you remember just how long you have to "hang in" when your only 14.(This is pretty much saying I would like a bit more immediate solutions to the issue if you have any please)

        Sorry if this has waffled a bit, I couldn't find a better way to present this if I tried.

        Thanks so much if you reply.

      • profile image

        14 years old 

        6 weeks ago

        I'm lost at what to do with my parents. Before I read the article I had already tried some of the suggestions above. The problem is, trying to confront them often results badly (partly due to my personality). I often get goaded and loose my cool-nothing awful like swearing a lot but there is shouting. Whenever this happens it normally results in some sort of punishment (lost phone, ban on internet, etc). I'm at a loss on what to do...

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        4 months ago from California

        Dear Seraph,

        I can't imagine what it's like to have a parent with mental health issues. But from your words, I get an idea.

        It must be so devastating to have to parent your own parent, and to be forced to grow up so fast.

        Here's the bottom line: your mom is not well. Clearly. And like you said, she's not taking her meds either. She needs help. It's a sickness in her that drinks and gambles and disregards her own kids. Perhaps if she could be magically cured even for a second, she'd see the pain she's causing and she'd be heartbroken.

        But in her current state she is unable to see it. She's not even able to take care of herself.

        I know you're angry at her. And you have every right to be. She sounds awful. And you may be angry at her for many years. Maybe your whole life. But is that what you want?

        I know 14 is a very frustrating age. You might feel like you're trapped and everything's being decided for you. (I've been there. Most likely, most people have.) But it won't be this way forever. Hang in there!

        Also, find something you like and keep doing it. Practice it, get better at it.

        And find the positives in your life, things that you are grateful for. Think about them every night before going to bed.

        Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. I do hope things get better for you. And even if they don't for a while, you're strong enough to get through it. I believe it completely. Peace,

        Lana

      • profile image

        Seraph 

        4 months ago

        My mom guilt trips me by saying I don’t love her and I don’t do things for her, but she doesn’t do anything for me. She drank a shot every night while she was pregnant with my baby sisters, then she asks why the have allergies. She then proceeds to ask me for money to pay for gas and groceries, there’s a problem with that:A I’m 14 B that money is from my various relatives for my birthday. I’m also very aware that she never drinks her medications for her depression and mood. The only reason she is depressed is because she gambles away her money and listens to her friends while prioritizing her friends over her children. I am the Kim to my siblings, not her. My dad is trying to help the rest of the family but he can only do so much he said he was human divorce her if she goes and gambles again, but I don’t see the end in sight. My mom also has mood swings and threatens to kill herself just because she blames my dad for everything. I don’t know what to do, please help.

      • profile image

        Francesca 

        4 months ago

        This is the first time tgat I have read something that really brngs relieve. Accept for Christ Jesus is comming, cause Israels enemies have surrounded them, The Sign that heres anyday now

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        4 months ago from California

        Dear 11 year old,

        I really feel for you. I also had a difficult dad. It's so hard to deal with this, especially at a young age.

        I don't know the extent of it but it sounds like your dad might have anger issues. He gets mad easily, for what seems like a small thing, and you can't predict what's gonna set him off next time. Does this sound like your dad?

        Even if it does, it's gonna blow over. Things are gonna get better, I promise you. They always do. You CAN handle this. You're capable and smart, and I know this because you found this article, didn't you? And you're asking for help. That takes courage. You have a lot going for you, just hang in there. And maybe try talking to your dad about this when he's calm. Or to your mom.

        I guess what I'm saying is: you're not alone. Many people had difficult parents, including me. I survived, and I learned from the experience. So can you, I know it

      • profile image

        an 11 year old 

        4 months ago

        My dad is horrible. he distroid my laptop because I did not say hi to his (then) gf. Now he is treating to cut off wifi because my friends cant have playdates. I try to handle this situation as best as a I can but I cant please help me :(

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        4 months ago from California

        Hi Aby,

        thank you for sharing. I know it's hurtful that your parents don't trust you. But the thing is, I don't think there are a lot of parents out there who really trust their 14-year old kids. You know?

        It's just a weird age when you do weird shit (said from personal experience :/) and your parents are probably terrified that something might happen and they won't be able to protect you. So they go overboard. It doesn't feel good, for sure, but it doesn't mean that your life is over.

        I do hope things get better for you. In fact, I know they will. But if you do feel depressed or have thoughts about suicide, I do encourage you to speak to someone about this. Perhaps, a school counselor. Hang in there! Or stop by and vent here anytime you want. Peace :)

      • profile image

        Aby 

        5 months ago

        My parents dont trust me, i hate it. Ive been really sad maybe depressed i really dont know what do do anymore i feel like life isnt worth living anymore if my parents are going to be fucking it up with the bullshit of not trusting me, they think everywhere i go im gonna go with a boy but i hate when they do that specialy my mom she thinks shes helping me but shes ruining my life and because of what she does i dont rly wanna keep living im 14 btw

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        5 months ago from California

        Dear 12 year old,

        I'm sorry you have to deal with an emotionally immature parent. That's tough for anybody, especially for someone as young as you are. However, to give advice, I'm gonna need to know more. In what way is your parent difficult? Are they abusive towards you? Are they responsive to your needs?

      • profile image

        The 12 year old 

        5 months ago

        I need to deal with an incredibly emotionally immature parent and as I stated before I am only 12 and can't cut off ties. Any other advice?

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        5 months ago from California

        Thank you, Lynda. Peace is a very difficult thing to achieve when dealing with a difficult parent, so you are way ahead of the game. Way to go! Peace :)

      • IreneWallis profile image

        Lynda Irene 

        5 months ago from Midwest

        Thanks, for such a well thought out piece. I have reached a turning point an actually feel at peace.

      • profile image

        Claire Conlon 

        14 months ago

        Super helpful

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        2 years ago from California

        Larry, you have my sympathies lol. I can barely handle the set I was born to, and the one I married into. You are a brave soul!

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        2 years ago from California

        Thank you Mel! I'm sure motherhood will allow me to have more compassion for my parents, and all parents. But for now, I'll continue to judge them from a morally superior vantage point :) And I'm glad my profile gave you a chuckle, thanks for always showing your support with comments and kind words, you are a gem!

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        2 years ago from Oklahoma

        Effective tips. Now imagine being a teacher and dealing with lots of parents, lol.

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 

        2 years ago from San Diego California

        Being a parent helps you accept, and sometimes even appreciate your parents. I'm not going to win any father of the year awards, and now I am more willing to tolerate the past sins of my own father. Fortunately, neither Mom or Dad try to manipulate me emotionally, so I can't comment on that. I'm just waiting for Jesus to ride in on the unicorns to make it all better.

        I chuckled at your author's profile comment about your useless degrees. While I am certain they are not useless, the sure sign of an honest writer is when they poke fun at themselves. Great work, happy babying.

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