5 Strategies for Dealing With Difficult Parents

Updated on February 1, 2018
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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.

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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?

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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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      • kalinin1158 profile image
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        Lana Adler 7 weeks 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

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        My siblings are terrified of our mom and they should 7 weeks ago

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        Seraph 7 weeks 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.

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        Francesca 7 weeks 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 image
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        Lana Adler 7 weeks 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

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        an 11 year old 7 weeks 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 image
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        Lana Adler 8 weeks 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 :)

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        Aby 2 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 image
        Author

        Lana Adler 2 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 2 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 image
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        Lana Adler 2 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 2 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 11 months ago

        Super helpful

      • kalinin1158 profile image
        Author

        Lana Adler 22 months 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 image
        Author

        Lana Adler 22 months 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 22 months ago from Oklahoma

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

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 22 months 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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