The effects of being hounded and verbally abused by a horrid parent can gnaw at you throughout your life even after it stops. It can also affect your confidence especially during key life events.
Don’t let yourself become a victim. You can have a positive and fulfilling life despite your toxic childhood experience, not least because you have learnt so much about how not to behave.
Moving along life’s path.
This is your chance to choose your own values and discover the adult you want to be.
It is a slow and complex process, so don’t be surprised if it takes from your late teens to mid-thirties. If you get impatient, try thinking of your evolution like a giant jigsaw puzzle where pieces fall into place over time to build the real you.
Your development will continue throughout your life due to the people you meet, what you do and the decisions you make.
Be positive about yourself
Your maturing process will be more complicated if your horrid parent has criticised you for years and left you the legacy of automatically criticising yourself. It's important to stop doing that and instead learn to be comfortable and positive about who you are.
Learn to trust.
Trusting others is difficult if a parent has regularly broken your confidences and tried to bring you down.
You may have built up barriers to protect yourself from being hurt and feel uneasy about opening up to others.
The truth is that a good relationship can only thrive on mutual closeness and trust. Take it slowly and make sure you feel safe.
Remind yourself often about the things that are going well in your life.
Aim for an active social life with friends you like and who care about you.
Guilt and rebellion
Growing older won’t automatically rid you of feeling guilty that:
- you don’t love your difficult parent.
- it’s been your fault that you get on badly with them, especially if a favoured sibling gets it right.
Don’t blame yourself. A very nice person can have a bad relationship with a parent. A not so nice person can have a good relationship.
Rebellion doesn’t work and it's best to avoid trying to get your own back. Your parent is likely to get nasty and you will be the one to suffer.
Instead live the life you want whether or not it is the life your parent has chosen for you. Equally don't stop yourself doing something that might give them pleasure.
You are likely to have some of your difficult parent's character traits. Don't worry. It’s how you manage them that counts.
- Negative characteristics are like muscles. If you indulge and use them they will stay strong.
- The less you let them control you the less they will dominate your life.
- Concentrate on the more positive aspects of yourself so their power diminishes.
- Avoid people who bring out the worst in you.
- It is normal to occasionally be angry. But stop before you become vindictive.
- Apologise if you hear yourself speaking like your difficult parent.
Coming and going.
Leaving home is an opportunity to escape from the clutches of your horrid parent. If you are going away to study it will need careful handling as you will be back during the holidays.
Until you leave for good, avoid those obvious triggers that end up in arguments.
Leaving home, especially for the first time, can also increase your horrid parent’s determination to control. They could be nasty and make comments like how glad they are to get rid of you.
A characteristic of a horrid parent is that they see events purely in relation to themselves.
They might try to insist on the job you should do. Only agree if you agree it is the right thing for you.
They could try to belittle your chances of doing a job well.
Another possibility is that they show no interest in your chosen career, but boast about it to their friends to get kudos for themselves.
Leaving home for good
Before you leave home it might be worth subtly suggesting to your difficult parent that this might be the ideal time to work towards having a more adult relationship. It's risky and your timing is key. If your horrid parent is irrational it could lead to a fierce argument.
Staying in touch:
If you have no contact with your parent once you leave home, it means they still control you.
If you decide how often you talk or visit, you stay in charge. It can also stop you feeling guilty.
Be polite but slightly distant to avoid arguments. Unfortunately your difficult parent may store up resentments for when you return.
Texting is useful if they are putting you under pressure. Use neutral language and keep to safe subjects.
- Keep them upbeat .
- Don’t stay too long.
- Take a small gift if you are staying for a meal.
- If a row begins, politely make your excuses and leave.
This creates a pattern which may help modify your parent’s behaviour.
Don’t commit to phone at precise times on certain days. If you are a few minutes late, you leave yourself open to criticism.
Stay in control but politely and firmly end the call if your parent is rude to you. It will make it clear you are no longer prepared to be bullied.
Relations and relationships
Having someone in the family you can trust and build a strong relationship with can help build your confidence. They don’t necessarily need to know every detail of your relationship with your horrid parent.
Be aware that confiding in them could make them feel uncomfortable if your parent is nice to them but not to you.
Good friends can be a tremendous source of comfort and support, but do hint at your difficulties with your horrid parent before you fully confide in them.
Trust your judgment when you decide on a partner.
Your parent may run you down and compare you unfavourably with your partner.
Or they may disapprove of your choice for no good reason.
Stay strong and in control of your life.
Once you are firmly linked to someone you love your parent’s power will diminish.
Genuine intimacy between two people is life enhancing and healing.
Falling in love.
A child with a horrid parent has a powerful need to love and be loved.
Be wary of this neediness. It can override the reality of a relationship.
Don’t give of yourself too easily.
Beware of falling for someone who has similar traits to your parent.
Don’t move in with someone and certainly don’t marry as a way to escape from your horrid parent. You could be jumping from the frying pan into a fire.
Opening yourself up to intimacy will make you vulnerable. Take it slowly.
Although you need love your childhood experiences can make it difficult for you to connect emotionally with other people.
You can feel:
- an outsider,
- emotionally distant
- and continuously worry that the people you care about may desert you.
You may be:
- hyper-sensitive, think skinned and prickly,
- easily bullied,
- a perfectionist,
- a people pleaser,
- prone to self sabotage
- predisposed to overreact.
Your need to be liked is so strong that you can be easily led. You can’t bear confrontation and let others take control.
At an extreme level you can be prone to addiction or mental health problems.
Accept that many aspects of your behaviour is due to you having a horrid parent. With practice, awareness and perseverance you can modify or change most or all of them.
Being pregnant doesn't suit everyone. Nor is it always easy. You or your partner may feel sick, tired and vulnerable and your horrid parent may seize this opportunity to undermine you.
- Say you will be a hopeless parent.
- That you will find out what it is like having a child like you.
- Criticise your timing.
- Try to insist on choosing your child's name.
If this happens limit your contact.
Instead work on increasing your self-confidence during your pregnancy.
- Tell yourself you will be a better parent than the one you had and work out how.
- Talk to your partner about the type of parents you'd both like to be and what your aims, values and hopes are.
As your children grow
- Your parent will continue to criticise you, your partner and even your child.
- Consider if and when to tell your children about your own childhood.
- Your parent may try to get your children to side against you.
- Make up nasty stories about you and ask them to keep them secret.
- Feed them but refuse to serve you.
- Tell them they will inherit all their money, not you.
- However poor your relationship, encourage your children to be polite and let them find their own relationship with their grandparent. Accept that they could become fond of them.
A first time parent
You have moved into a new world. It is okay to feel:
- exhausted, vulnerable and worried.
- when your new baby cries it is normal not to automatically know why.
- you can feel lonely and overwhelmed by the responsibility, especially if a friend’s baby is docile and sleeps well and yours does not.
- remember every baby is different and problems are not necessarily your fault.
Your parent, especially if they are narcissistic or/and immature, won’t be pleased to be out of the spotlight and can try to undermine and demoralise you to maintain their control.
They may be keen to tell you how much you are getting wrong, try to take over and state how unlucky the baby is to have a mother/father like you.
If this happens:
- ignore it.
- try to find like-minded new parents to befriend for mutual support.
- lean on your partner.
- child-rearing books can be invaluable. Choose one that is encouraging and positive.
- Don't stop visits, it will give your difficult parent an excuse to complain about you. Instead prepare yourself in advance and let your partner support you.
- Try to keep visits short and make excuses to leave if your parent behaves badly.
- Afterwards talk about both good and uncomfortable things that happened. It will help air complicated feelings.
Do not use our parent’s increasing fragility as an opportunity to take revenge for how you were treated as a child. Your behaviour will be no better than theirs.
Behaving well proves you are liberated from the past.
Doing your duty as your parent weakens will help reduce any guilt you may have when they die.
The situation between you and your difficult parent can worsen when your kinder parent dies. Try to think ahead how you will cope.
As they age, the unpleasant characteristics of a difficult parent is likely to become more pronounced.
- Your parent might try to make you feel guilty that you are not devoting enough time looking after them and compare you unfavourably with others. This is difficult to handle.
- 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:
- Accuse you of stealing their money, especially if you have power of attorney.
- They may call the bank or the police.
- Tell the staff how hateful you are.
Take this with a spoonful of salt. Elderly people often make false accusations. It can be a sign of dementia. Speak to a senior member of staff.
Death of your horrid parent
It can be more difficult to get over the death of a parent you had a bad relationship with than one you loved. You may feel enormous regret that you could not work out a way of being with them without feeling stressed.
If your parent didn't give you what you needed as a child when they were alive, it can be hard to accept that there is no chance of repairing the relationship now they have gone.
Or you may feel relieved that you will not have to suffer at their hands ever again. Do not feel guilty about this. How they behaved was not your fault.
Whatever your feelings it is important to make peace with the past, learn from it and move on.