Toxic Parents – How To Identify Them And The Best Ways Of Dealing With Them

Toxic Parents – How To Identify Them And The Best Ways Of Dealing With Them

The last people who are supposed to treat you badly are your parents. Even if everyone else disappoints you, your parents should be on your side 100 percent. Unfortunately, sometimes those parents are the very source of toxicity in an individual’s life in which case it might be better to go your separate ways. 

Toxic parents 

Some parents are truly toxic and no matter what anyone tries to do, they remain harsh, critical, and demeaning. Adults with toxic parents often try to find a solution by going to a therapist to try to salvage the relationship.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Attending Psychiatrist, once had an adult patient with incredibly toxic parents. The woman in her 60s said her aging mother has, always been extremely abusive to me and my siblings.” Once, on my birthday, she left me a message wishing that I get a disease. Can you believe it?” 

The woman tried to have a healthy relationship with her mum over the years, but the results were always the same. 

Most therapists want to “patch” relationships to have a happy ending, but sometimes it’s not possible. This led Friedman to wonder what the protocol for adult patients with toxic parents is. “The topic gets little, if any, attention in standard textbooks or in the psychiatric literature, perhaps reflecting the common and mistaken notion that adults, unlike children and the elderly, are not vulnerable to such emotional abuse,” he said. 

A clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Judith Lewis Herman, believes the best way is to ‘empower’ the patient to protect themselves by ‘alluding’ to the situation without giving any direct advice.  

She does that with the hope that the patient sees the dangers of such a relationship and takes the decision to leave it. “Sometimes we consider a paradoxical intervention and say to a patient, ‘I really admire your loyalty to your parents even at the expense of failing to protect yourself in any way from harm,” she said. [1]

Types of toxic parents 

Every family has their dynamic. For each family, there’s a specific network through which they operate. Most times, you have to dig a bit deep before you can observe this dynamic as an outsider. In toxic families, their dynamic is rather self-centered and in favor of the parents, thus, placing the children in a vulnerable position where they can easily be abused. 

Types of toxic parents include:

  1. The inadequate parents who act as if the children do not exist, and have no interest in them. 
  2. The controlling parents who have no regard for their child’s opinion. 
  3. The abusive parents who are either verbally, physically, or sexually abusive. 

Whatever type of abuse it is, it’s the children who end up paying for it unless a change is made to the dynamic on the very foundation of the relationship. 

Characteristics of toxic parents 

Some people might be in denial about their parents being toxic. They might think that their parents are only being ‘strict’ to make them the best version of themselves. However, there is a fine line between being strict and being toxic. 

The following are traits that toxic parents’ exhibit that will help you identify them: 

  1. They are emotionally manipulative – The parents here believe that an emotional attack is the best form of giving love and attention to their kids who end up living in fear of them. 
  2. They expose you to ‘adult’ problems – This could be letting you witness fights between them or putting you in the middle of them when they should try to keep you sheltered from them. 
  3. They are highly critical of you – They expect the best from you and no matter how much you try, they are never impressed. You end up feeling like you cannot measure up to their standards. 
  4. They ridicule you at every opportunity – This is after they make you feel guilty for not opening up to them. Then you do and they use it against you. 
  5. They don’t take responsibility for their actions – Instead, they’ll blame you for most of, if not all, their problems. 
  6. They have no respect for your personal space – They do believe people should have their personal space, but not their children. They think they are somewhat exempt from the rules and thus have no regard for boundaries and such when it comes to you. 
  7. They don’t keep to their words – To them, they don’t owe you anything so it doesn’t matter if they promised you something; they are probably not going to follow through. 
  8. They often try to intimidate you – Whether by threats or otherwise, it doesn’t matter to them. What matters is that you ‘fear’ them. They see this fear as the ultimate form of respect and will do just about anything to get it. 
  9. They try to control you – They fail to realize you are your own person and will try to get you to do things their way.
  10. They are mean – This could be in the form of passive-aggressive and snide comments or full-blown aggressiveness. Either way, you are sure to still be sure to feel the heat. [2] 

How to deal with toxic parents 

It’s much easier when you have toxic friends and you could just cut them off and move on. However, your parents are a whole other ball game. You will find it extremely difficult to just leave them or ‘break up with them.’

Here a few things you can do to try and remedy the situation 

  1. Begin by understanding that the lifetime of harsh words you’ve received is not your fault and is certainly not a reflection of who you are.
  2. Become more assertive. You don’t need to fight with them, just show them that you are over their toxic behavior and won’t stand for it any longer. 
  3. Set boundaries and strive to ensure that they respect them. 
  4. You should also consider moving out as you cannot heal in the same environment that got you sick. Just take a breather for a while. 
  5. Talk to a therapist. It would also be a good idea to get your parents to go with you so you all can attempt to settle your issues once and for all. [3] 

Try to keep an open mind, but hope for the best and that your relationship with your parents ends up becoming much better. If you do succeed in getting on the right track with your parents, then that’s fantastic. 

Just remember that you might be a parent one day, so let the cycle of toxic parenthood end with your parents. Try to be a better parent to your child than yours were to you.


  1. When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate.” The New York Times. Richard Friedman. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  2. 15 Signs You Have Toxic Parents. Psych Central. Sharon Martin. October 21, 2019.
  3. 12 Clues a Relationship with a Parent Is Toxic.” Psychology Today. Darlene Lancer. August 21, 2018.