If You Have Toxic Parents, Read This

How knowing your worth stops you from feeling devalued.

Posted Jan 16, 2021

I have written many posts in support of parents of struggling adult children. This current entry looks at the other side of the coin: Parents who intentionally undermine the lives of their adult children.

Over the years, I have had adult children confide in me about parents who:

  • Discourage, berate, or belittle their spouse other type of relationship partner.
  • Devalue and invalidate their career choice/work accomplishments.
  • Impose their values on grandchildren in ways that invalidate their adult children's parenting efforts.
  • Play the victim by blaming their adult children for their own financial hardships due to the "huge sacrifices" made on their behalf.  
  • Actively trash or even undermine a career choice, or career switch, or choice to start a business ("It's a tax scam.") or own a home ("What do you need a house for, you are not married!") resulting in pervasive anxiety, self-doubt and confusion.
  • Create drama to get attention to distract themselves from their own misery or loneliness

If you have toxic parents, you may struggle with, or have struggled with, anxiety, depression, and anger in response to feeling manipulated, deceived, pressured, or even humiliated. As I write in my most recent book, The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, strong emotions from family conflicts are often overwhelmingly intertwined and lingering.

If you have had enough of feeling put down, it's time to stand up for yourself.  Here are three surefire ways to stop your parents' antics from getting the best of you.

1. When You Look At Them, Picture An "L" Sign On Their Forehead. 

I am by no means suggesting you imagine "Loser" written on your parent's forehead!  What I'm suggesting, though, is to picture the word, "Limited" above their eyes. The more you see your parent(s) as having limitations, the less likely you will take their words or behaviors personally.

To add in some compassion, which will be a gift to you as well, reflect on how hurt people, hurt people. With this in mind, you will likely feel better about yourself to reframe your aggressive, passive-aggressive, or otherwise problematic parent as a wounded child who has never healed. 

2. Take That "Kick Me" Sign Off Your Own Forehead. 

I coach my clients to "Know Your Value" (KYV). KYV consists of positive mental drills you do for yourself. This includes making a list of your own strengths, the caring things you do for others, and what you have done in your own life that YOU feel good about.

There is truly an empowering magic that comes from listing the many ways you value yourself. Be completely honest and don't be bashful and hesitant with giving yourself accolades when you're in the land of KYV. These are not exercises of arrogance, instead they're about loving yourself, which is an important step in knowing your value. It takes mental courage to accept the goodness in you, especially if your troubled parent(s) have wittingly or unwittingly negatively impacted your view of it. 

3. Let Go Of Your Emotional Ghosts.

Our emotional ghosts from childhood result from the conditional (versus unconditional) love our parents give us. I explain this in detail in my relationship book, Why Can't Your Read My Mind?  As an example, once I walked outside of a movie theater and I saw a young man in his early twenties holding hands with a young woman of similar age. The young man suddenly wheeled around from her and pointing his finger at her, exclaimed, “How many times do I have to tell you….“ I saw his female companion look away sheepishly.

I would bet you that this young man was likely being haunted by the emotional ghost of shame. It seemed very likely that one or both of his parents had a pattern of talking to him in that condescending manner and that he was passing this relational style on to the woman he was with.

Often, we are unaware of just how much our childhood experiences affect the things we think, say, and do. This is particularly the case in our intimate relationships. How you handle conflicts, your needs for personal space, your willingness to discuss certain topics, was likely modeled by your parents or parent figures while growing up.

Maybe you were “valuable“ if you made good grades, or you were “irresponsible“ because you did not get good grades. Or maybe you were “always thinking of yourself“ or were “not athletic like your brother." The good news for you is that the more you know your own value, the less you will be ensnared by these parent-induced emotional ghosts from your past.