Adult Child of Alcoholiccodependency

10 Ways to Free Yourself from Toxic Parents

10 Ways to Free Yourself from Toxic Parents #codependency #narcissistic #ACOA #ACA #adultchildren #toxicfamily #dysfunctional #boundaries #detachment #selfcare


In my last post, I shared 15 Signs You Have a Toxic Parent. Awareness is a great place to begin, but if you have toxic parents, what you really want to know is how to cope with their crazy-making.


How are your toxic parents impacting your life?

Toxic parents can make your life miserable. They are notoriously manipulative, controlling, and critical. They make it difficult for you to emotionally separate yourself from them so that you can make your own choices, set your own goals, and live a life that’s fulfilling for you. Instead, you may find yourself questioning your decisions, never feeling good enough, and riddled with guilt when you say no to them.

Left unchecked, toxic parents can take over your life and cause significant psychological damage. It’s not uncommon for adult children of dysfunctional, alcoholic, or toxic parents to feel trapped – unable to stand up for themselves and futilely trying to appease their parents.


You have choices

One of the great things about being an adult is that you get to decide what kind of relationship to have with your parents.

You have choices – probably more choices than you realize. As a therapist who helps adults cope with their toxic parents, one of the biggest barriers I see is that adult children feel like they can’t make their own decisions; they think they have to keep doing things as they’ve always done them (the way their parents want them to).

Your relationship with your parents doesn’t have to be like this. And although you can’t change your parents or magically transform your relationship, you can begin to break your family’s dysfunctional patterns. You get to decide how and when to relate to your parents. You get to decide what’s right for you.


10 tips to free yourself from toxic parents

1) Stop trying to please them. It’s normal to want your parents’ approval, but toxic parents are nearly impossible to please. And more importantly, it’s your life and you’re entitled to make your own choices and do what makes you feel good. Living your life according to someone else’s values and goals will leave you chronically unhappy and unfulfilled. And if you live your life trying to please your parents, you’ll be their captive -- forever seeking validation and love from people who probably can’t give it to you. When you give them this type of power, you allow your parents to determine your self-worth – to tell you whether you’re smart, successful, a good parent, a worthwhile person, and so on.

Reflective questions: What do you do in order to please your parents even though it doesn’t work well for you? What do you need to do for yourself, even if your parents disapprove?


2) Set and enforce boundaries. Boundaries help us set clear expectations and limits for how others can treat us. Boundaries create emotional and physical space between you and your parents. This is probably something you didn’t have as a child, so it can feel uncomfortable to set boundaries and start telling your parents how you want to be treated. Toxic people resist boundaries; they want to be in control. Setting boundaries with toxic people is difficult because they don’t respect limits, but don’t let that deter you. Boundaries are essential to all healthy relationships. Remember, it’s okay to limit contact with your parents, tell them no, come late or leave early. It’s even okay to have no contact with your parents. You don’t owe them anything! Relationships need to be built on respect and you can’t respect people who continually treat you poorly.


Reflective questions: What boundaries do you need with your parents? What’s one step you can take toward setting those boundaries?


3) Don’t try to change them. Trying to change people who don’t want to change is a waste of energy (and will leave you extremely frustrated). Instead, focus on what you can control – how you respond to your parents, your choices and behavior.

Reflective questions: How do you try to change or “fix” your parents? How do you feel when you inevitably fail to change them? With regards to your relationship with your parents, what’s in your control?


4) Be mindful of what you share with them. Trust is an important element of healthy relationships and we should only share personal information with those that have proven themselves trustworthy. Unfortunately, your parents may not fall into this category if they gossip about you, criticize, share things about you without your permission, or use what you tell them against you. You aren’t obligated to tell them everything (or anything) that’s going on in your life or answer their questions. Share only what feels comfortable and safe.

Reflective questions: What does it feel safe to share with your parents? What doesn’t feel safe?


5) Know your parents’ limitations and work around them -- but only if you want to. I know many adult children of alcoholics who know they can’t change their parents’ drinking and recognize that their parents become forgetful, aggressive, or otherwise difficult after a certain time of day (when they’re intoxicated). So, they plan their phone calls, visits, and family get-togethers for earlier in the day to avoid the worst of their parent’s behavior. This is an effective coping strategy for some, but you certainly don’t have to plan your life around your parents. Quite the contrary, work around their limitations only if they work for you. It’s completely valid to have your birthday party in the evening and not invite your parents because you don’t want them to ruin it. Remember, you have choices and you don’t have to justify them to your parents.

 Reflective questions: Are there ways you work around your parents’ limitations? Do these compromises truly work for you? If not, what changes do you need to make?


6) Always have an exit strategy. When things start deteriorating, take that as your cue to leave (or ask your parents to leave). Chances are that things will only escalate (they’ll drink more, get angrier and more obstinate). So, it’s safer to end your time together at the first sign of trouble. You aren’t obligated to stick around just to be polite or to make your parents happy.

 Reflective questions: How can you get out of a difficult situation with your parents? Do you and your spouse or partner have a signal to let each other know when it’s time to leave? If not, would one be helpful?


Don't try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer. #scottstratten #jackasswhisperer #toxicparents #boundaries7) Don’t try to reason with them. There’s no way to reason with someone who is irrational, emotionally immature, or intoxicated, so don’t expend a lot of energy trying to get your parents to see your point of view. It can be sad and frustrating to accept that you can’t have a healthy and mature relationship with them because they are closed-minded or empathy-challenged. Be assertive about issues that matter to you, but at the same time, don’t expect your parents to care about or understand your point of view. Try not to get dragged into arguments or power struggles that degrade into nasty bouts of name calling and other disrespectful behaviors. As I’ve said before, you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. Choose to disengage instead.

Reflective question: How can you take care of yourself or disengage when your parents can’t see your point of view or aren’t interested in your perspective?


8) You don’t have to be at your parents’ beck and call. This is a much-needed type of boundary. Toxic people will take and take unless you say no to their excessive demands. You can help them out if it’s feasible and if it’s appreciated, but you’re not obligated to be their chauffeur, maid, gardener, or therapist – especially if they're treating you like dirt the whole time. Nor do you have to be their errand-boy, on-call 24-7. Nor do you have to take their phone calls or reply to their texts immediately.

Reflective questions: How do your parents exploit your kindness by expecting you to meet their demands 24-7? How does it feel to recognize that you aren’t obligated to do things for them? Can you release some of the guilt by remembering that you’re setting healthy boundaries and taking care of yourself just as other adults do?


9) You don’t have to spend the holidays with your parents. That’s right! You deserve to enjoy the holidays and that might mean spending them away from your parents. In some families, there’s a lot of pressure to maintain family traditions, but this often comes at the expense of your own happiness and peace of mind. Now might be a good time to start your own holiday traditions or be creative about how you spend the holidays. Perhaps you’d like to celebrate Friendsgiving or go on vacation over the holidays.

Reflective questions: What holiday traditions would you like to change or omit because they cause stress or family conflict? How can you create holidays that are enjoyable to you and reflect what’s important to you?


10) Take care of yourself. Dealing with toxic parents is stressful and that stress takes a toll on your emotional and physical health. It’s essential that you take extra good care of yourself. Start with the basics like eating healthfully, getting enough rest and sleep, exercising, connecting with positive people, acknowledging your feelings and giving them a healthy outlet, getting support, and having fun. It will be easier to set boundaries, choose to respond differently or detach when you’re at your best physically and emotionally.

Reflective questions: Take a few minutes to sit quietly with yourself. How do you feel? What do you need right now? How can you give yourself more of what you need?

You can also download a free self-care planning worksheet when you sign-up below for my emails and resource library.


Change starts with you

Changing the ways you relate to your toxic parents can be scary because it will most certainly upset the status quo! It’s only natural that your parents will resist the changes you try to make. Transitions are difficult and stressful but setting boundaries with your parents is the path to freedom from their toxic energy and expectations.

You are the only one who can change your relationship with your parents and you can start today! What small step can you take today towards reclaiming your life?


Heal and learn more about toxic relationships

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©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
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Free yourself from toxic parents #boundaries #detachment #dysfunctional #family #toxic

Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves -- imperfections and all! Sharon writes a popular blog called Happily Imperfect for and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.

30 thoughts on “10 Ways to Free Yourself from Toxic Parents

  1. So good Sharon. My mother was controlling and manipulative and my dad just enabled the behaviour. Saying NO to mum was fraught with all sorts of guilt trips, shaming and the silent treatment for days and sometimes weeks on end. It took me a very long time to set strong boundaries with them without feeling guilty or caving into what they wanted. My marriage also suffered because I never really “left home” and seemed to be at my parents’ beck and call whenever they needed me. I couldn’t seem to break away and just have a life of my own. Thankfully for the past decade after educating myself on various issues such as co-dependency etc I’ve been able to untangle myself and move forward with my life.

  2. I really appreciate your help and advices ma’am, but what you’re saying basically means that there’s no way to protect myself from my parents’ emotional exploitation if I’m a school kid with introversion amd autism?

    1. I would encourage you to seek help and support from another adult in your life. Often a teacher, doctor, school counselor, friend’s parent, or another caring adult can help mitigate the harmful effects and give you guidance. I wish you the best. I know it’s a very painful situation and I hope you can get the help and support you deserve.

      1. Hi Sharon ‘ thanks for this page about me I am a daughter who got married husband and his family tortured me for 3 months then I came back to my parents house and now they say I’m a burden you please look after your own stuffs because we don’t want to spend on you anymore but here the twist is “ my paternal aunt with a 9year daughter is with a toxic in laws and husband “ my parents asked my aunt you and your daughter we are always there to take care of you you can come and stay with us forever we will do everything for you and her daughter….
        But why not me ??? M 28 single now seeking for love and affection from parents which I never got every now and then they keep asking me to leave the house I’m broke carried with suicidal thoughts and don’t know what to do n drenched I am an Indian with looks and no carrier ambitions I am Treated as maid at my own house same way I was treated as my husband’s own home Sharon why do people give birth to child when you can’t love them a little bit jus little bit.

  3. I enjoyed reading this, Sharon. I am a 47 year old woman who was raised by a toxic mom. I crave independence. My Mom tries to sabatoge it. She took me to court to gain shared custody of my son. She used my benign brain tumor against me. No doctor would have said that I am too medically incompetent to raise my son. She fought me for custody when I moved 5 hours away from her. She also called up my boyfriend’s mom and was saying all these nasty things about me. My boyfriend’s mom defended me. My mom was trying to break us up. The one day, my Mom wanted to get together with me, but I had plans with my boyfriend. She was so furious, she called my employer and got me fired! When my boyfriend died from cancer, she wanted me to move back home. I have totally cut my Mom out of my life. I don’t miss her at all. The Mom I thought I had, died a long time ago. I am so thankful that I could afford to live on my own and avoid the toxicity of my mom. I wouldn’t permit a friend to treat me how my mom has.

  4. Hi. Thank you for the useful information. I’m 46, single and have struggled for most of my life with anxiety and destructive behaviour. I broke contact with my Mum 3 years ago and recently was at rock bottom, so decided to try and reach out and see if bridges could be built. I poured my heart out to her judgmental comments. I’ve never felt supported by her and always such a disappointment. It was never acceptable to show anger/weakness. She said ‘don’t you have any friends?’ and laughed when I said I’d stayed in a difficult job for 10 months, then started bringing up things I’d said and done to her in the past and that she always feels like she’s walking on eggshells around me. I felt like a boot kicking into me when I was feeling so low. She will just not accept that sometimes she says hurtful things too. I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall trying to have a relationship with her.

    I feel so alone, but would rather that than be emotionally manipulated and controlled all the time. I felt like I had to account for my movements if I didn’t answer the phone when she called and that I couldn’t have my own opinion. She pushes herself onto other people too and won’t accept if they refuse her help. She just can’t see other people’s point of view. I wish her no harm, but feel it’s impossible to have contact with her. It’s quite sad really.

  5. This helps validate my need for space right now. After a particularly rough fight with my mom, where she refused to acknowledge any responsibility in hurting me, I told her “I love you, but I need time.” She was understandably upset, but I held firm on my boundary and ended the call. But now, just a couple days later, she is texting me asking for a birthday list (my birthday is at the end of the month). Considering our fight started out about finances anyway, I don’t even want to engage. Would you ignore the text, or is it better to respond with some kind of boundary-setting statement?

  6. I’m going through the process of understanding this right now. I’m 21 and glad I realized this early as well as have people around me to support me. For the longest time, I’ve been living for my parents and I’m now trying to change especially since I was diagnosed with depression/anxiety earlier this year. We’ve come to a dumb stalemate of me having and dog and them not wanting me to bring him to their house. I got to a University an hour away and since I recently adopted him from a shelter as a ESA, I need to spend time with him. This Christmas holiday break, I have only been home maybe about 3 times, but left immediately because of my precious pupper (wish is completely fine with me) and them not wanting to see him. It’s quite a crazy and ridiculous predicament. Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE — friends, therapist, friends parents, my pediatrician since birth) cannot believe how unreasonable they are being (I would explain more but it would be a saga). No matter how much I try and explain how I’m feeling and how much my dog helps me mentally and emotionally, they refuse to listen and only care about me not arguing with them and apologising from being rude when arguing. This article helped me confirm what so many people and myself believed all along, but seeing an outside source talk about it really confirmed something for me. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I now have the courage to fully try and become independent of my parents so I can pay for everything myself since they already don’t want to help me and try to “cheer” me on about having 4 individual jobs saying I’m now “adulting” even though in the past they wouldn’t even let me have one job.

  7. This was very helpful thank you! Just the info I needed to reinforce myself.

    My mother is going through withdrawals due to my limitations and standing by them, so much so that she repeatedly says “I’m feeling like an unwanted wife is that how you want me to feel”
    I told her that I am not responsible for her feelings and that analogy is improperly used but in one ear out the other. Is there a meaning behind that weird analogy.

    Female 37ish/ mother 55ish

  8. Thank you plenty for this help. I am a victam of a toxi parent. My father is dead but i later realized that my own mother is full control of my life inclouding my relationship with a woman she forcing me to marry and settle down with. My mom don’t allow me make my own decision, she does everything. Now that i am 36 with two boys from different mothers, and this problem derived from my mom. My mom refused every relationship i try to build on my own strenth and that’s hurt alot. I not living a normal life, i feel like i am in the cave, cant make any decission on my own for her to accept, accept hers. I am so confuse, broken heart and unhappy with my present living condition with my controlling mother and the woman she gave to marry, inclouding two outside children from the woman she want me marry. Is that right? I cant even set positive goals and make good plan for my future. I only stuck with controling mother, and a strenth woman who i do not love…..

    Thank you for helping me understand what step to take to set my self free from this satuation. Thank you..


  9. Hi, thank you for this
    I have 29, my father was an alcooholic and my mother try to make decision for me even now when I got married and I just can not talk with her because si understend only what she want. When I was a kid I was very sad and I just push out all the people, I never had friends back than. My husband make’s me fell good, smart and beautiful but my mother is saying me that he is traing to manipulating me, that I make bad decision, that she can sleep at night because of me and my bad decosion, and I am distroing my life,
    I am happy to see that in the world are a lot of people like me. Thank you,
    Ps. Sorry for my English,

  10. Thank you for sharing this, but the only problem is that its very hard to set up boundaries with parents, especially being a child as I will then be considered as ‘spoiled, ‘antisocial’, ‘isolated’ or just ‘ungrateful’. They have too much arrogance to actually see the problem within themselves. I feel like I’m imprisoned in my on life as they make me feel as if I owe them, or that I am obligated to stay with them. They would make me feel guilty for something that I didn’t even do. I feel like I’m living with strangers. I mean we act like everything is okay but it’s not. They also blame me for not having a relationship with them. How could I possibly have a relationship with someone if all they do is try to hurt me? I seriously don’t know what to do

  11. Hi…I actually need some advice. I experience a lot of these things on a daily basis…I am 26 years old and live with my mom. I moved in with her after being gone for five years because I moved in with my aunt at 18. My mom and I seemed to have a great relationship when I was far away and we talked on the phone. But now…things just seem to be tense. I am getting angrier and angrier. She is trying to force my sisters and I to have a relationship because she regrets the fact that she doesnt have one with hers…but she could if she would quit thinking my aunt is trying to compete with her. I am just really tired and want to do something about it but I do not know what I can do. I live with her so I can save money for my own place but I am not sure how long I can keep pretending I am okay. My bf is a great help and does not engage with my mother when she says backhanded comments toward me. When she is mad at me, she wont talk to me or acknowlegde me until I apologize to her. I am always the first one to apologize to her. I do not want to cut her out of my life but I am not seeing much of a choice anymore. Please, any advice would be super helpful.

  12. Number seven is the one I’m most relating to, and needed to hear. I’m going to start meditating on this in the mornings with my prayers. My mom cannot be reasoned with. She is as toxic as toxic can be. My problem is that I DO engage, and it does turn into yelling and name calling, and is emotionally wrecking me. I’m helping to take care of my dad who has cancer, so I have to be around her, at least for now. She’s totally non-cooperative in almost every circumstance, unless it goes her way. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will need to “divorce” her as my mother in the near future. There is no trying left in me, because she is an unsolvable riddle.

  13. Thank You Sharon for sharing, its insightful. I’ve been suffering with this toxic relationship with my parents from when i was 7 years old. I always remained positive and tried to work my way around the problem; of the opinion i’m a better person and they are old and not able to think wisely anymore. Until, recently i met with my Previous General Manager in a random conversation he ask how my life with my parents.It was strange; i said “all is good” why do you ask. He said “Cause you parents came to office to meet me? saying they were concern and with your life abroad?” I was then work overseas. I was shocked and i didn’t know how to reply as i felt shameful and sad. Then i understood why there were some people in the office would treat me disrespectfully and judgmental. I was always confused of why this situation would happen. I now care for them from far in sense i no longer want to be next to them cause i’m not sure why and what and i feel better and much happier sharing my care and love just over the phone and give them their monthly allowances. I’m tired to prove to them i’m a good child and i’m working hard to provide so they could leave happily. I acknowledge the fact they worked so hard to put me through school and took care of me.My question is? i feel guilty for taking such decisions. i feel selfish ? Why am i feeling this way Sharon? i can’t understand? What am i not doing right.

  14. *I left out the part “saying they were concern and with your life abroad?”…. that i’m doing prostitution and i’m doing drugs. Honestly i’m not this person they were talking about.

  15. help I’m 13 and my parents are homophobic, overprotective, and controlling I can’t do this anymore. I need help please I want to die

  16. I’m 17 and about to turn 18 in couple of months and I’m living with a toxic mother she has been destroying my mental really bad for years ( and i really never spoke about it ) and I feel hopeless of how I’m going to leave at 18 from her. Is there any advice I could get ? What if can’t get away from her ?

    1. Hi Sara, I was in the EXACT same boat as you when I was 17 (I’m 18 now). I really disliked high school and my mom didn’t help to alleviate those feelings. She made me feel so angry all the time because she’d make me feel stupid and she was always so critical, even when I was kid. I couldn’t talk to her about how I was feeling because I knew she would start criticizing me and then lecture me. I didn’t want to go to college right after high school and she wasn’t supportive of that decision. I basically went to college to please her and my dad. I don’t have any advice as of right now, as I’m just now realizing how toxic my mom has been and am figuring out how to navigate our complex relationship, but I want you to know that you’re not alone! 🙂

  17. Hello Sharon,
    Thank you so much for writing this. I feel equipped with the right tools to stand up to my parents. I didn’t want to admit that they were toxic because they have done a lot for me. But lately I’ve noticed just how critical they can be and how they are never pleased. I’m 18 and am in college, mostly because they left me with no other choice and because COVID made it hard to anything else. I know college isn’t what’s best for me right now and I want to drop out. But I don’t have a lot of money and I know they won’t be supportive and will look down on me. Do you have any advice? (Again thanks so much for writing this! This is the second post of yours that I’ve read and I think I’m going to stick around :).

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