Likes and Dislikes

It’s good to have a strong dad.  It makes him a role model and someone to look up to when you are small. 

It’s very different once you become a teenager.  My father loves rugby and American football.  He is always suggesting we go to the park ‘for a kick around,’ and talks to me endlessly about players whose names I barely recognise.  I have tried to look keen but it’s hard as I am not interested in sport.   It was no surprise to me that I wasn’t chosen for any school team but he has seen it as both a rejection of him and proof of my inadequacy as his only son. 

He also insisted that I play the guitar.  I had lessons from 8 – 13 but rarely practiced as it didn’t interest me.  I much prefer classical music and art,  but dad’s focus is purely on what reminds him of his youth and he told me countless times that .playing the guitar helped him pick up girlfriends at parties.

He also sent me off to boarding school when I was eleven.  This is strange as he complained regularly that his parents sent him away to board at eight to get rid of him.  He’s never forgiven them because he hated it so much.  Despite this I had to board, which never suited me and made me feel trapped.  Even though boarding schools are not as draconian as they were and Harry Potter has made them acceptable, for an academic non sporty kid like me it just didn’t work.    

I’ve tried to tell him politely that I have every right to choose what I like and dislike, but it always ends up with him shouting at him and saying how disappointed he is with me as his son. 


It is very difficult for children whose parents don’t see them as individuals in their own right and  instead want a second chance to live their lives through them.

 Now you have gone to university you will be able to have interests and hobbies that suit you. 

From Horrid Mum to Horrid Grandmother

I have a difficult dilemma and am not sure how to handle it.

I have a great marriage and two daughters I love to bits.  My problem is with my horrid mother, who has grown into an equally horrid grandmother.  When I had my first child my husband and I talked through how much, if any contact my child and I  would have with her.   I felt there should be some, not least because I didn’t want to deprive our child of a grandmother.  My husband agreed and also felt the change in status might encourage her to be a better person.  I felt quite skeptical about this. 

Sadly the relationship between my mother and I has become increasingly strained.  We live a three hour drive away from my parents’ home so tend to stay longer than we’d like to.  I start feeling tense as soon as we are on the way and remain so throughout the visit wondering what she is going to say next in front of my girls, either about me or how I bring them up.   It belittles me and is awful for them to hear.  

Instead of seeing our visit in a positive light, she tries to prove she is still in charge and is often spiteful and mean.  Last time she offered the children chocolate biscuits but walked past me saying in conspiratorial tones to them:  ‘We think mummy’s much too fat to eat biscuits, don’t we?’ which they didn’t know how to answer.    My husband moved to sit next to me, held my hand and said:  ‘We think mummy’s lovely,’ a comment my mother ignored.  Each visit is as bad or worse than the last.

Now our daughters are seven and five they’ve asked me on the way home why she is‘always’ so unkind to me and criticises everything I do.  It’s touching how they stand up for me, and I try not to show I’m upset.    

My problem is I don’t know how much to tell them about my mother’s behaviour  when I was their age.  I also don’t know whether to leave them at home except during the summer holidays and around Christmas and just go myself.  Or cut my mother out of our lives completely.  


It is a good idea to have a debriefing session in the car on your way home. 

But we don’t think you should tell them the details of how she treated you when you were young.  Let them form their own view of their grandmother and protect them when necessary. 

If your children get upset by the visits, cut them right down.  Try short phone calls or Skype instead.  But the number of times you go is up to you. We don’t recommend trying to explain the situation to your mother as she will only blame you.   


Please share your views on this difficult subject on our forum.  





Subtle Domination

I had always thought of myself as being relatively capable and confident once I had left home and moved away from my manipulative mother. I pushed ahead with my career, made my own friends and lived independently without her constant criticism and carping. And relished the chance of finding my feet, and life opening up for me. 

Then I met Charlie. He was handsome, clever and funny and I felt proud that he had chosen me as his girlfriend. He also took such an interest in me which l lovedas it was so different to my parents.  He even paid for me to go to a fancy hair salon, took me to buy dresses from smart shops, even though I usually preferred to wear jeans. 

When we first went out together he’d grin with pleasure at how I looked and seemed to like showing me off to his friends. As the relationship progressedit became harder to please him but I could never understand exactly what I was doing wrong. I tried to behave as I thought he wanted me to.  He started to criticise me over trivia and I felt the novelty of being with me had worn off.  Warning bells sounded.

Meanwhile at work I had come up with an idea for a great project that would draw on new skills. I knew the idea was a good one, and I could involve other people if I needed help. When I first mentioned my idea to Charlie he seemed happy to discuss it. It took a while for me to realise that although his comments were initially encouraging they were always followed by reasons why the idea wouldn’t work. I carried on developing the project.  When a colleague came up with a serious obstacle, I hoped Charlie would listen and help me find a solution. Instead he said dismissively ‘I knew this would never work as you don’t have the skills. I just humoured you as it seemed so important to you.”  It was then that I realised that my boyfriend was my mother reincarnated.

Be careful not to repeat the experience of being with another horrid person so watch out for controlling behaviour, including put-downs and criticism from a boyfriend or partner. Instead look for friends and relationships that are unconditional and where there is give as well as take. Hold on to your self-worth. If you are worried, try talking to a trusted friend or colleague.


Please share your relationship stories on our forum.  We'd love to hear from you.  

About Love

My Mum would fit nicely into many of the characteristics of being a horrid parent.  She continually told me I was useless that no one would want to be my friend and certainly not marry me.

Not surprisingly my confidence was rock bottom, except thata little voice regularly told me that Mum was wrong.   For much of my teenage years I kept myself to myself.  I had several acquaintances but no really close friends.

When I was sixteen most of my school mates were dating and they’d giggle in the playground about what they’d got up to.  At least that’s what I assumed. 

When boys started getting interested in me at about the same time I said to myself I couldn’t be that awful looking, But I was tongue tied when they spoke to me and didn’t know what to say.  I both did and didn’t want them to kiss me because I was scared how I would respond.  When they did it took a while before I felt anything at all as most of the time I was worried about what they might do next. 


I lost my virginity when I was 22 because you had to at some point but I was so tense and worried that it didn’t really work for me.  Instead I scrubbed myself all over when I got home. 

Most of my relationships ended within three months.  Looking back I think I chose guys who didn’t demand anything emotional from me.  That made me feel safe.  I couldn’t open up.  Nor did I want to.

Then it happened.  I fell for someone eight years older than me.  He was clever and funny and I fancied him like mad.  My head told me to be careful and not let myself go but my heart took no notice.  I was overwhelmed by my feelings which I couldn’t control.  I had had no experience of managing emotions and I became a bit possessive.

He broke off with me and for a while I was devastated.  But I gradually realised that opening myself up to love was something I really wanted and needed.  I just needed to take it more in my stride. It took a bit of practice because I was so fearful of getting hurt but I gradually realised that love fills you with hope, energy, drive and confidence so it was worth being vulnerable and shedding the occasional tears.    I lost a few nice guys on the way but I learnt a lot about how to manage a good relationship.  Something I hadn’t seen at home.

Luckily I found someone who loved me for me and to whom I could tell my story of how my mother put me down.  It was risky confiding in him but it brought us even closer together.  Ten years on I feel a different person.   My marriage is everything I wanted.  I feel relaxed, don’t have to worry about what I say and see that I have lots of good qualities that my mother chose to ignore.  It was certainly worth the risk.  


Please email us your own personal love story or share it on our forum.  We'd love to hear from you. 

Soothing Images

Unpleasant memories can be hard to handle.  They can creep into your mind as nasty images, often in the middle of the night, and won’t go away.  You may find yourself replaying over and over again an upsetting row with your horrid parent, or an argument or unpleasant encounter you experienced outside the family.

The positive news is that there is a way to try and reduce the power of these images.

It is called visualization and is a technique that uses imagery to soothe and manage painful memories.  It can work by itself or be combined with relaxation, mindfulness or meditation.

To try it out find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably, close your eyes and breathe slowly and regularly, easing your stress and tension each time you breathe out.  Do this a few times and then think of an image you find relaxing. It can be a place you have visited, or just somewhere that makes you feel safe. Maybe it’s a particular beach or a countryside view you love and relax in. 

Alternatively you can choose to visualize a painting or photograph that gives you pleasure.   Look at the details carefully or imagine yourself as part of the image.  Take you pick and see what  works for you.

If you try visualisation regularly it can help you in all sorts of ways.

Here are a couple of examples. 

Coping with a low mood.

If you feel particularly sad, choose images that help you relax and picture yourself feeling happy, perhaps with a particular friend. Alternatively think of a recent time when you felt cheerful and remind yourself that you can feel the same way again. 

Dealing with angry feelings

Think about the most relaxing and soothing image you can picture.  Perhaps travelling to a remote and peaceful beauty spot where you can unwind.

If the unpleasant images and thoughts continue, try thinking that they don’t belong to you but you are watching them on television and turn the volume down or change the channel.



I Was Adopted

I was five when I was told I was adopted.  I only got the gist of what it meant but as far back as I can remember I didn’t feel I belonged.  Nor did I look anything like my adoptive Mum and Dad.  They told me they brought me to their home when I was nine months old and I think the best thing I did was somehow enable my mum to get pregnant, twice in quick succession.  She and Dad had been trying for years to have a baby but it only worked once I arrived.  I suspect I must have been a last resort.

With three children under four life was hectic, tempers flared and I was usually the one to get blamed.  My parents became increasingly intolerant of me as I grew.  I wasn’t as clever as my sister, nor sporty like my brother.  Instead I was a bit dumpy and slow. 

Mum criticised me for things like my hair which was wiry and difficult to brush and told me I was too fat.  Things became much worse when I was a teenager.  I wasn’t allowed to be moody.   Whenever Dad caught me like that he would say I was being ungrateful and if they hadn’t adopted me I would be on the streets by now.  So I learnt to keep my feelings to myself. 

If I didn’t like something Mum had prepared for dinner she would then be the one to say I was ungrateful and that I could have been left to starve.   

I knew I didn’t count when they sent me to the local comprehensive while the other two went to a private school.  The budget for my clothes was far less than for them too.  Luckily my siblings weren’t actually too bad.  We were never close and didn’t talk much together but at least they weren’t spiteful to me. 

It saddens me to say that my adoptive parents made me feel they just didn’t need or want me in their life.  It is a terrible burden on top of being rejected by my birth mother.  Not surprisingly it has affected my self-confidence and made me feel unworthy or anyone’s love. 

On the other hand I was lucky to have had the experience of living in a family with a work ethic and that has done me some good.  I love cooking.  I managed to get a catering apprenticeship, which Dad helped me get, no doubt partly to get me working and out of their house sooner rather than later.  I am currently in a flat share, just about manage financially and don’t see them much.  But they left me determined to prove them wrong about me and I hope eventually get a job in a good restaurant.  I like the fact that the hours are long which will help stop me feeling lonely. 

Please join our forum to talk about this important family issue.

Father's Day

Dear Dad,

This year I wanted to send you something different on Father’s Day.  Instead of a gushing card telling you that you are the ‘best dad in the world’ I thought I would offer a list of questions that I’ve wanted to ask you for years. 

These are:

1.    Why do you regularly try to destroy my confidence?

2.    Why do you keep belittling me?  Even in front of my younger siblings.

3.    What is it about me that makes you so angry so often?

4.    How can I get you to believe in me?

5.    You have an enormous ego.  Why don’t you let me express myself in my own way?

6.    Are you the father you wanted to be and do you see yourself as a good role model for me?

It saddens me that I’ve never been able to ask you these questions face to face which I’d much rather do, but I know you wouldn’t listen. Instead you’d shout insults at me to put me down. 

I hope you can understand and respect my position and that you will carefully and calmly read my questions.

Your son

If you feel like this please see our Coping Page on the Website.

Ageing Parent


It’s difficult to know how to cope with a horrid parent once they become elderly and frail.  

Some people become more confused and scared as they age and more frustrated about losing their mobility, memory, and faculties like sight and hearing.  It’s a combination that is likely to make them to complain at length and react increasingly negatively.    

In addition the challenging characteristics they have are likely to become more pronounced and you may be the one they take it all out on.   

Also if they have lost their partner their grief can turn to anger against you. 

They might try to make you feel guilty that you are not devoting enough time looking after them and compare you unfavourably with others. 

So what can you do?

It’s painful to be talked down to by a parent who makes mountains out of mole hills, is constantly critical, irrational and illogical, but tell yourself it can help you develop a more logical and reasoned way of thinking. 

Try not to feel guilty.  Instead reassure yourself you're doing your best and that however much you do wouldn’t be enough.  

Not being available all the times doesn’t mean you are cruel and heartless.  Seek advice from your GP and local services for the elderly.

If your difficult parent is in a nursing home they may:

Insist they don’t need to be there and that you are getting rid of them.

They can also criticise you for choosing the nursing home.

In addition they can accuse you of stealing their money, especially if you have power of attorney.

They may call the bank or the police or/and tell the staff how hateful you are.

Take what your parent says with a spoonful of salt. 

Elderly people often make false accusations.  It can be a sign of dementia as well as how horrid they are. 

They may also complain about a member of staff and how they are being treated.  It is hard to know if this is a genuine complaint and whether or not this is justified.

Speak to a senior member of staffand perhaps ask if one of the staff could pop in during your visit so you can both see how your parent behaves. 

It might also be a good idea to keep a diary of your visits and anything you have discussed that might become significant.   

Two Types of Parental Neglect



There’s a significant difference between your parent’s benign neglect and their unkind neglect. The former is a way of giving you space to develop and grow at your own pace.  Your parent will, for example, have let you wander off to explore your environment, help yourself to something to eat and not ask too many questions about what you’ve been up to.

Your are unlikely to feel abandoned because when you’ve been with your parent you get lots of attention and feel loved. You also have the sort of relationship where you can suggest you do something together and they will happily agree. 

Unkind neglect, however, is when your parent is too distracted by their own life to give sufficient attention to your needs. 

Their job may involve long hours and regular travel and you have often been left at home on your own or with a minder, who may deal efficiently with the practical side of your life but not give you emotional support.  At one level this may suit you as you wouldn’t  want to confide in someone who is neither part of the family or a special friend.  

A good parent with a demanding job will ensure they carve out special time with you to keep the relationship close. Unfortunately some parents become so unused to making your needs come first that, even when they are home, their computer, iPad, mobile and their social life takes priority over you.  They are distracted when you talk to them and so busy with themselves that any affection they do show is likely to be fleeting and rather mechanical.   

This means you may not get that vital emotional support from your parent either.

Recognising that they are not very interested in you is difficult to manage and getting their attention for any length of time can be so difficult that you learn to keep your feelings to yourself and become quiet and inward.  .

It  can have a long-term affect. 

So what can you do?






  OUR SUGGESTIONS: Believe that you are lovable and that if your parent doesn’t appreciate you others will.  Try not to suppress your feelings too much.  Instead share them with someone you trust like a teacher or a close friend.  Enjoy yourself with friends, get involved with all sorts of activities like reading, dance, exercise and music. Try to learn new skills too. Reassure yourself you that you will have plenty of opportunities in the future to develop a more fulfilling life. 



Believe that you are lovable and that if your parent doesn’t appreciate you others will. 

Try not to suppress your feelings too much.  Instead share them with someone you trust like a teacher or a close friend. 

Enjoy yourself with friends, get involved with all sorts of activities like reading, dance, exercise and music. Try to learn new skills too.

Reassure yourself you that you will have plenty of opportunities in the future to develop a more fulfilling life. 



The day you get married is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. You have found a partner you love and who loves you and this is the day to celebrate with family and friends.

The reality is that the path from the proposal to the wedding can be fraught with difficulties and stress.  Even in happy, supportive families there can be issues over who is being invited, the venue and the overall cost.

If one of you has a horrid parent it can be far worse.  We have heard terrible tales that include one side making the other pay for some of their guests as well as their own.  Or one side insisting they make decisions and this includes choosing a future daughter in law’s dress.  It can get so heated and intense that you feel sidelined and overwhelmed.    

It is also possible that your horrid parent will seize the opportunity to control every detail of your special day.  In addition they may endlessly criticise your partner or/and you, insisting they can’t see what one of you sees in the other.

There is also the worry about how they will behave on the day itself.  One mother of the bride burst into tears when she saw her daughter walk down the stairs at home in her bridal dress.  Then promptly left the house.  Apparently she felt jealous and couldn’t cope.   During the celebrations they could also snub your partner’s family or cause trouble with a relative they didn’t want you to invite.  They can even tell you they may not come at all, offering the pretext that the event is taking place too far away, or so and so will be there and they don’t want to see them.  Then keep you in suspense about their final decision until the last moment.


We recommend

Well before the wedding you try to rise above any rows and distance yourself by taking some of the steps we recommend in our Coping page.

You confide in your spouse about the concerns you have about your horrid parent so they can support you.    

You keep telling yourself that your horrid parent is grabbing their last chance to control you, and that you have the support of someone special who is on your side. 

You focus on the fact that you can life your life as you choose and make your own home an oasis of peace and harmony.   One that will be very different to what  you endured as a child. 

On the day itself refuse to let any nasty remark or bad behaviour spoil things.    Let yourself float in that special bubble of happiness that belongs to brides and grooms and accumulate as many positive memories as you can.   

If there are a few small issues remember that however important your wedding day is, it is only one day and just the beginning of your life together. 

Do send us your story all about your wedding via our website or forum. 


It’s that time of year again when exams are looming.  It’s a period of stress and worry, especially if you feel you are at a significant cross roads in your life and so much depends on getting the right result. 

Concentrating on revision is demanding and draining too and inevitably more difficult if, during these crucial times, you also have to cope with your horrid parent.   

Loving families go all out to make whoever is taking their exams feel supported. Unfortunately a horrid parent can take advantage of the fact that you are under pressure and be even more critical. They might make nasty comments to undermine you too by saying how useless you are, compare you unfavourably with themselves, or your siblings.  They can even ask why you bother at all as ‘no-one’ will give you a job. 

If your exams also signal that you will soon leave home, they might also seize the opportunity to exert further control.  They can threaten to stop your allowance until the exams are over,  or ground you so you can’t go out, ignoring the fact that everyone needs some time off.  So want can you do?


See our COPING page about looking after yourself with good and regular habits.  It will also help you try to tune out of your parents’ criticisms and avoid arguments.  It’s very important not to get involved in verbal battles, you won’t win and it will just add to your stress.

Keeping your room tidy is a very low priority during exam stress but it might help lower the tension at home if you confined any mess to your bedroom and it didn’t spread out to communal areas like the kitchen and living room.

Work out a revision schedule that works for you. There are lots of good tips on the internet to choose from.

Plan to revise at school, in a library or with a good friend who also wants to study to cut down on the amount of time you are at home.

Make plans for once your exams are over to give you something to look forward to.


Choosing The Right Words

Many people who have seen our website have written to us describing their self-centred horrid parent with clarity and insight. Some, however, have gone further and stated that their parent hadNarcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.

It is totally acceptable for a qualified mental health professional to diagnose a patient with one of these disorders, and some horrid parents fall into this category.  But anyone who does not have a professional qualification should exercise caution.  A horrid parent can function well socially and hold down a good job while still behaving badly with their child.  Something that makes it difficult for a professional to diagnose a  mental health disorder.   

It is understandable to want to neatly categorise what is wrong with your horrid parent.  Not least because you need all the help you can get to make sense of what you have been through.


We would instead like to encourage you to use your observational skills to describe various aspects of your horrid parent’s behaviour.  Writing down the details of what you see and what they do will build up a dossier you can refer to.  This will help give you a better grasp of the problems so you can focus on ways to copewith your difficult parent.   See the coping section on our website. 

Instead of offering a medical diagnosis we use the term ‘self-obsessed’ on our website when describing a parent’s unpleasant, irrational and manipulative behaviour.  It can also be described as ‘narcissistic’.

We also believe that noting and sharing your experiences with sympathetic people, perhaps through our forum can help you feel less alone and better understood than relying on a medical diagnosis that may or may not be accurate. 

The Good Parent


What are  the obligations of your parent who is  kind and caring and obviously loves you? 

One obligation is to keep you safe. When you have one horrid parent and a kinder one, the kind one should be able to help you if you are being emotionally attacked by your difficult parent.  This includes supporting and protecting you when you are under threat.  It means not being passive in the face of a tirade directed at you and giving excuses for their partner’s bullying rants. Unfortunately this is often not the case. 



It is important to remember that parenting is a joint venture between two adults.  While parents need and often want to present a united front, if one of them is being horrible then the other parent has an additional responsibility to be supportive of you.  If they find it too challenging to do so in the heat of a row, then they certainly should  as soon as possible afterwards.    

When a child is regularly under attack from their horrid parent, they will often be grateful that at least they have one parent who is kind to them.  But is this enough? It may be hard to criticise this kind parent, but if they don’t stick up for you, understand your plight and protect you, you are entitled to ask why not?

Sometimes young people in this situation feel intensely sorry for the gentle parent, particularly when the tables turn and the nasty parent shouts and behaves badly towards them.  The difference is that the parent is an adult and you are a child.   They may do nothing because they are scared, but that is their decision not yours.

If your love for your gentle parent is heavily mixed with feeling responsible for protecting them, they are probably failing in their parental duty towards you. It’s an uncomfortable thought, but it is important to be realistic and accept that although you love your kind parent they have let you down.

What do you think? Do add your thoughts on our forum.

Do You Feel Guilty?

It often happens that one parent is horrid while the other is not.  This can make your home life easier while you still live there.  But it’s very different once you leave for good,  particularly if you can no longer tolerate the horrid parent and cease all communication.

Cutting ties with your family is likely to make you feel guilty.   You may worry that if you are not present your horrid parent will harangue your gentle parent.   You also don’t know if your gentle parent will dare go behind their partner’s back to see you and keep up the relationship.   

You may miss your gentle parent horribly too and need their love more than ever.   This can make you feel more rejected and responsible for what you believe the good parent  now has to put up with day by day.  

Perhaps you feel you are between rock and a hard place.  This is why before you take a drastic step to cut one parent out of your life, you need to face the possibility that  your decision might affect both parents.  You also need to think through how to manage your guilt.  



Our advice is:

Work out exactly what you feel guilty about.  If its the thought of leaving the nice parent to the mercy of the horrid one remember that how your parents relate to each other is their business and responsibility.  Not yours.  You might never want a relationship like theirs but they might have come to terms with it for all sorts of reasons and even if they haven’t it’s their problem not yours. 

If you don’t think you can manage your guilt, think very carefully before you break away.  It’s easier to cool a relationship down and distance yourself from it, especially once you leave home, than break all connections with one parent.  There is little point to lead yourself into a worse frame of mind than the one you are already in.

If you do break away try to stay positive if your nice parent doesn’t see you immediately.  There may be lots of things for them to work through.  Ring them occasionally on their mobile not on the landline, and try to plan a way to get together.   

Try to talk to someone you know who has had the same problem.   See our resources page for a helpful website.   

If neither stay in touch, build your life as best you can and don’t blame yourself for what you have done.  

Do join the discussion on the forum.