What do I do when my parent is making my life a living hell?

“What do I do when my parent is making my life a living hell?” I get asked this question a lot. You’re doing your best to be a dutiful son or daughter, but never seems good enough for your parent. Instead you hear complaints, criticisms, or negative comments that get under your skin. Do you often feel a pit in your stomach when your mom or dad calls? You brace yourself, not knowing what’s coming next, but certain it will disrupt your flow. Some parents are masters in manipulation. Guilt is a primary means to get their way. They also have a knack for spoiling a day by acting selfishly. These types of parents are:
  • demanding
  • inflexible
  • self-centered
  • entitled
  • inconsiderate of others
Adults who fit this pattern often have traits of a personality disorder. Common types include narcissism, border-line, or histrionic. So in response to the leading question, “What do I do…?” let me share some things that will help.

Lower your expectations

A common mistake adult children make is expecting a parent to behave nicely all the time. They keep expecting their loved-one to change. Unfortunately, personality disorders are generally fixed and resist change. It takes a longterm commitment to therapy and most individuals with this form of mental illness avoid counseling. In order to co-exist with a parent with a personality disorder you have to accept the person for who they are, not what you want them to be. To cope you have to lower your bar. Don’t expect them to behave nicely or demonstrate reciprocity on a regular basis. They may do it occasionally. However, for the most part they are self-centered. This may be difficult to accept. You may need to grieve the relationship you wish you could have with your parent. By lowering the bar you protect your heart from hurt over unmet expectations.

Set limits with your parent

One of the first things you need to do to set limits, is get comfortable using the word “no”. The days of dropping everything or changing your plans are over. Use a polite but firm “no” when the occasion calls for it. Weather the guilt storm and hold your position. Your parent may pout, but he/she will eventually get over it. Set limits also on rude or disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to listen to it if you don’t want to. Here’s an example of what you might say. “Mom, I am asking you to please stop with the negative comments. If you can’t I will have to end our conversation.”

Show respect and dignity to your parent

Your parent raised you from birth. Surely you have some positive memories about this relationship. Don’t lose sight of them. Hold on to the good! Maintaining respect is key. One of the ways you can do this is by separating the person from the personality disorder. Do your best to love your parent. Keep negative emotions in check. Try to avoid cutting a parent out of your life. Instead, maintain contact with healthy boundaries. As your parent ages, do your best to show dignity by being kind and caring.

Now it’s your turn

Is your parent making your life a living hell? Review the 3 ways you can cope better. Try working on them. If you need more support I encourage you to seek counseling.