7 Strategies For Setting Boundaries With Toxic Parents

Dealing with a toxic parent can be an extremely difficult experience. They thrive on getting you worked up, they are less than understanding, they seldom see things the way you do, and you often end up miserable. 

While this may just be happening on the home scene, dealing with such toxicity can take a toll on you both physically and psychologically. What even makes it more difficult is the fact that they are a family member, and you’re most likely near them. 

Alternatively, outside of living in the same space, toxic parents can extend their tentacles very far. You would likely grow up despising them even in adulthood, and this would most likely hurt future relationships too. 

This is precisely why setting boundaries with toxic parents is vital. If you’re going to take control of the situation, you must be proactive about this. 

What are Signs of a Toxic Parent?

Sometimes, it might be difficult to see the clear picture when you’re dealing with a toxic parent. This is because the toxicity might be wrapped up in ‘wanting only the best for you’. However, if you notice any of these 10 signs, you’re probably dealing with a toxic parent:

  • Manipulative: they twist situations so that they come out smelling like a rose while you are the villain. This is a toxic relationship.
  • Overly Critical: they seem to find faults in every single thing that you do. You can never seem to do anything right in their eyes. That’s a toxic person. 
  • Cruel: they have no regard for your feelings. They say deeply mean things with the main intention of hurting your feelings.
  • Controlling: they want to define everything about your life; your activities, who you hang out with, places you go. 

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  • Self-centered: they make everything about them, and try to rain on your parade when you’re in the spotlight. 
  • Shift Blame: they can never seem to do wrong in their own eyes. Instead, one way or the other, your actions culminated in causing the issue.
  • Angry: they never seem to have a moment of happiness. They are dour most of the time, and they take this out on you. There could also be passive-aggressive scenarios where they use silent treatment or brash comments. 
  • No Boundaries: constantly snooping into your life, even up to the point of demanding to know your every move might not be just because they care. Rather, this could be a clear indication of toxicity. They do not maintain healthy boundaries.
  • Demanding: they demand more than they should for the average parent. They expect you to abandon everything and rush to attend to their every whim. 
  • Unempathetic: they care less about your emotions and trivialize your feelings. Toxic parents typically put their own feelings first and disregard yours.

7 Strategies for Setting Boundaries with Toxic Parents

To help you along the way, here are seven practical and realistic strategies for setting boundaries with toxic/controlling parents:

1. Detail the Boundaries You Intend to Set

The first step to setting boundaries is consciously identifying these boundaries and detailing them. This is vital because you’re probably enmeshed in a pattern already and breaking out might take some work. 

If you’re dealing with a parent that expects you to appear and cater to their every whim or bend over backward for them, you would need to enforce boundaries, starting by saying ‘NO’. They might try to guilt-trip or emotionally manipulate you into doing their bidding, but this is just a feeble attempt that you must no longer fall for. 

Similarly, your parents might have inculcated a pattern of constantly seeking their approval. In this scenario, building your self-esteem and internal confidence is essential to breaking free and setting boundaries. 

The first step is to identify all the areas of your life where their actions have impacted you; this would require some self-reflection. Grab a book and a pen and note them.

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2. Adapt to the Idea of Disappointing Them 

Yes, this might sound somewhat strange. One of the hallmarks of toxic parents is just how controlling they can be. It’s not an awful idea to want your parent’s approval, but if doing this starts to take you lengths that you don’t want to go, stop!

There’s usually no pleasing them, and you’re worth way more than the scraps of compliments that they throw your way. You need to start doing what makes you happy and not what they deem fit as proper.

Listening and aligning with them to please them sets you up for disappointment in the long term. They might try to make you feel guilty, however, derive pleasure and satisfaction from the fact that you did something you wanted. 

It’s your life, you should be free to make your own choices. And taking this first step indicates that you have a mind of your own and you’re not afraid to follow it at the expense of their ‘disappointment’.

3. Careful What You Share 

One attribute of a toxic parent is perhaps their hauntingly retentive memory. They could bring up matters that you confided in them, and use them to embarrass or shame you. They might also keep reminding you of hurtful situations that you’re probably working at forgetting. 

This is why you need to filter the goings-on in your life that you let them in on. You should only share personal and private information with people that you trust, not based on family or kinship. If your parents are likely going to criticize or gossip about you, restrict them from being privy to that sort of information. 

Setting boundaries with controlling parents involves taking measures that would make them less involved in your life. Given that they are working based on information that they get from you, this allows you to control to an extent, what they get to know. 

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4. Stop Arguing With Them 

It can be extremely tasking to resist the urge to make your voice heard over theirs. However, at the end of the day, it might not do so much good. They are not ready to listen, and their nonchalant attitude would probably just leave you riled up and hurt yet again. 

Recall that toxic parents can be very assertive and get downright nasty if they feel like you’re questioning their ‘authority’. Save yourself the entire humdrum, and rather, focus your energy on more productive areas of your life.

This doesn’t imply that you shouldn’t clarify the situation. Let them know that while voicing their opinion is well within their rights, they should not yell, talk over you, curse or interrupt you. However, if you see this leading to an argument, exit the scene. 

It’s not worth your while.

 5. Reduce Time Spent In the Same Space

This is probably one of the few accepted times when running from your problems is valid. If you have parents that are unwilling to listen to you and invalidate your feelings, then you need to start reducing the amount of time that you spend together. 

If you typically communicated every day, you could limit contact to five or six days, pulling back gradually. If you stay in the same house with them, develop hobbies that get you to spend time outdoors. You could also get a library membership, spending time in quiet places can calm you down. 

You might dread going home, but remember that there is more to home than your toxic parents. You could carve out your private niche in your room and do things that make you happy. Progressively, you would feel better and less time spent with them implies more peace and quiet for you. 

6. Make Yourself a Priority 

Your ‘battle’ with toxicity can be a tiring one, hence, prioritizing self-care is essential. This is one of the most essential parts of creating boundaries. Let it be clear that you’re putting yourself first in every area; physically, emotionally, mentally. 

Maintaining your well-being is crucial to regaining control of your life and breaking free of their influence. There are different ways to do this and personal preference plays a huge role as well. Some people deal with it by engaging in physical activity like exercise while some find mental stimulation such as reading books more ideal. 

Your nutrition is vital too. You’d need to eat right to keep up your strength and overall wellness. When you find yourself in a good space, you would be able to fend off the toxicity even better. 

7. Come to Terms With Their Person 

A breakthrough when setting boundaries with controlling parents is coming to terms with who they are. It’s no fault of yours that they are that way, and you would most likely be unable to change them. 

Coming to this realization shows you that all that matters is how you react to their actions. This empowers you in your dealings with them. Now you can channel your energy into more profitable channels. 

Similarly, you would be able to reflect on your behavior so far and see whether you’re exhibiting any signs of toxicity. So, rather than burning your energy on what you can’t control, you can instead focus on making yourself a better person. 

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What Happens When You Set Boundaries With Toxic Parents? How Will They React?

After figuring out how to set boundaries with parents, and setting these boundaries, the next thing to expect is a reaction. Usually, they have either of two reactions or both, one after the other: 

  • The offensive/ attack 
  • The defensive/ guilt trip 

The Offensive/ Attack 

When they get on the offensive, they might get nasty and try to turn the tables on you. They might try to show you that everything they have done is a result of your action. When they see that they are not getting their way, they might descend to name-calling, and such, but you have to stand your ground. 

The Defensive/ Guilt Trip 

Extremely emotionally manipulative parents choose this course of action most of the time. They might reel off a list of everything they’ve done for you growing up and point out that you’re not grateful. The idea is to get through to you on an emotional level, hence, a manipulation. It doesn’t matter what they say, maintain those boundaries. 

How Do You Detach from a Toxic Parent? 

First off, you need to be honest with yourself, would they ever change? You cannot hang around, bearing the brunt of their actions and hoping against hope that they get better. You need to come to terms, and then move on. 

How To Set Boundaries With Parents as a Teenager?

Life as a teenager might be difficult for your parents to understand. You’re a new generation, and your parents might not realize just how much you need to grow on your own. 

They probably think that to guide you, they need to keep close tabs. An ideal course of action in this situation would be to sit them down and help them understand. Communication is important for both parties to move forward.  

Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents

You’ve probably grown up now and you’re an adult in your own rights. However, your now-elderly parents would probably still see you as the little kid you used to be, and consequently, treat you the same way. 

To set boundaries, you would have to use fewer words and more actions. Start by saying ‘no’. They have to know that you have your own life now, and you have plans for how you spend your time. This is a great way to start. 

The Bottomline 

Setting boundaries with controlling parents is breaking out of a box

It might take a while to finally get them to back off, but starting as soon as possible is the way to go. 

Remember that you have to be strong, make up your mind and stay unwavering. 

You would be out of this soon. 

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Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more?

4 thoughts on “7 Strategies For Setting Boundaries With Toxic Parents”

  1. Hello your article article was really good. But actually I’m a teen and most of the points you wrote about are not ideal for teens. Like I cannot say no to them I would just end up beaten. Please make a page for teens. I would really appreciate that.

    • When I was growing up we didn’t have Facebook live. But today you can protect yourself with it. Use your phone to your advantage. Photo bruises and wounds. Video the abuse.


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