5 Ways to Maintain Healthy Boundaries When You are Still in a Relationship With Your Abusive Parent

There are a lot of people who were abused by their parents while growing up continue to be in a relationship with their abusive parents, long after they have left home. They also continue to be emotionally or verbally abused by their parents as an adult. What’s worse is that they recognize they are being abused, but they feel like they are not able to prevent it. When asked why they continue to subject themselves to the abusive tactics within the relationship, I am often given responses like “because it’s my mom/dad” or “I have to respect them because it’s my mom/dad.” The abusive tactics that they are subjected to in adulthood can vary from name-calling, to being cursed out, being manipulated or used for money, only being available on their terms, being made fun of, being scolded or talked about negatively in front of others, or being told that they were never good enough etc. While a person is being subjected to abuse, they often revert to the same survival methods they used as a child: ignoring it, dissociating, using distraction (for example turning the radio or tv up loud, or changing the subject), allowing the abuse to continue while not responding to it, or avoiding their parents until they are unavoidable. Although these tactics used allows you to survive in the moment, you continue to internalize those hurtful words and emotions. Anger and resentment continue to build; however, these emotions are never really expressed in a healthy way, but rather they are stuffed deep down internally. There are healthier ways to manage your toxic relationship your parents. Here are my suggestions.

1) Be present, and be mindful of how you feel. Be present in the moment and listen to how your mind and your body are responding to what is happening. Are you getting anxious, angry, is your chest starting to tighten? Once you recognize how you feel both physically and mentally in the moment, you can also learn to identify the trigger to those reactions. Was it something that was said? Is it just the simple fact that you are even around that person? Whatever the case may be, the idea is that you identify what is happening to you so that you can address it.

2) Understand what respect is. People often use words like respect, but they don’t know what it means, and they don’t necessarily apply the concept of “respect” when it comes to themselves. In other words, when a person tells me that they must continue to allow their parents to abuse them because “that’s my mom/dad, and I must respect them;” they often forget that respect is earned, not given. Respect is also a 2-way street and cannot be manipulated. Thus, if you are being disrespected constantly, and giving all your respect away to someone who isn’t earning it – then you are automatically at a deficit in your relationship. Which means that as it stands, that relationship does not have any good value or earning potential in your life. You are not getting a return on your emotional investment. Thus, that relationship does more harm than good.

3) Understand that you have the power to make a choice. When you experienced abuse in your childhood, it’s understandable that you had to do what was necessary to survive. Maybe you couldn’t leave home or go anywhere else. As an adult, you don’t have to live in that abusive household anymore. In fact, there is no law written anywhere that says that you must communicate or have anything to do with your abusive parents if you don’t want to. You are not chained to that environment. As an adult, you are free – to do what you please.

4. Recreate your family. As a child, you don’t have any control over the family that you are born into. As an adult, you do have the power to choose your family. Again, this requires you to define what a family is to you. Is it a blood relative, or is it a healthy, loving individual that provides support when you need them to? If your answer is the latter of the 2 choices, then you should surround yourself with people who can fulfill those needs if your family of origin is lacking. Think about what an emotionally healthy mother or father is to you. Make a list of the important characteristics. Then work on creating relationships with people who meet your standards, and have a fulfilling relationship with you as a mother-like or father-like figure. It will make letting go of your toxic parents much easier.

5. Get support and work on inner healing. Recovering from past childhood trauma and abuse is not easy. Therefore, I would recommend talking with a therapist about those experiences. In addition to therapy, I always recommend that people continue therapy beyond the session. Reading self-help books, taking notes, highlighting sections, journaling about ideas that resonate with you in your readings, and bringing those topics to therapy to discuss with your therapist is a good start to the healing process. Remember, abuse may leave a scar, but it does not define who you are.

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This blog was written by Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC. This blog is meant to be educational and not meant to diagnose anyone or to be used in place of therapy or treatment with a licensed mental health professional.

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