Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dismaying Story #56: Divorcing Your Toxic Parents

Dear Andrew,

I don't have these challenges anymore, but I think it'd be interesting to talk about adult children ending toxic/abusive relationships with their parents. When I had to do this, I couldn't find information anywhere about what I was feeling and what I was doing, nor about how to do it. I relied on a friend who'd been there and could walk me through the emotions to help me, but other than that people thought I was insane. So many people said "But they are your parents!" and expected me to put up with harmful behavior just because!

It would be nice for people to hear from someone like you that they don't have to put up with it and that they are worth saving, even if it means doing something so hard and so strange. It would be helpful to touch on what it's going to feel like, how strange it's going to be to go against not only your whole family, but society as well, and give some tips or exercises in how to cope.

Signed, Better Off Now

Dear Better Off,

My sympathy goes out to you and any other reader who has faced such a difficult situation. Your parents are, after all, irreplaceable. They are the people who gave you life and nurtured you when you were completely helpless and dependent. Everyone would prefer to have parents to whom we can turn for love and support through our entire lives. This is, however, not always possible.

The world is full of different types of people, so parents naturally come in every possible flavor. Those who are addicted, emotionally lost, abusive, narcissistic, criminally insane or mentally ill can all end up as parents. Not everyone is up to the task of being an effective care giver and children sometimes suffer mightily as a result. These toxic effects can continue when the children become adults.

It should come as no surprise that people are sometimes better off apart from their parents since our laws recognize this need. All too often judges must order children to be removed from dangerous home environments and placed in alternative care.

Things have apparently changed since you originally searched for information; considerable material is now available on this topic. For example, Motherless is a site for sharing real-life stories of people who are apart from their mothers (and fathers in many cases) for all sorts of reasons, not least of which are those who had to make the difficult choice to walk away. Reviewing these stories will show you that you are not alone. You will gain tremendous insight into the ways other people deal with situations similar to your own. If you go the extra step of posting your story, this can not only be therapeutic but also offers others the opportunity to provide supportive comments.

A large number of online discussion forums address this topic. For example, the first post on this Beliefnet message board offers this insight: My Husband is a recovering victim of child physical abuse and even adult abuse, as the abuse mutated into emotional and mental abuse in his adult years. He learned through therapy that if he cut all ties with the abuser, his father, he could begin to heal. It has helped. However, cutting ties means leaving behind all the other family members who are still allowing themselves to be abused, including his mother. It has been the hardest thing we have ever gone through. But I must say, his mind and heart is heading in a healing path.

As a final example of an online resource, Adults Recovering From Narcissistic Parents is a "group for past victims of abuse who have made a conscious decision to change old patterns and behaviors which keep them from living a fuller and more productive life."

For a comprehensive guide about handling this type of situation, however, I recommend you consider the books recently published on the topic. From the book flap of Divorcing a Parent: Free Yourself from the Past and Live the Life You've Always Wanted by Beverly Engel (1991): No one should have to endure an abusive, unhealthy relationship that threatens his or her well-being -- even if that relationship is with a parent. In this ground-breaking book, Beverly Engel draws on her own personal experience, as well as the stories and letters of other adult children, to offer a complete guide to why, when and how to divorce a parent. Engel discusses good and bad reasons for taking this step, when to stop trying to reconcile, and how to prepare yourself emotionally for the actual divorce, including such alternatives as temporary separation. If you do decide that parental divorce; how to handle negative pressure from others; how to come to terms with your own grief and guilt; what to tell your own children, and how to deal with their relationships with their grandparents; how to cope with holidays; how to divorce a parent after his or her death; and what to do if you change your mind and want to reconcile.

Cutting Loose: An Adults Guide to Coming to Terms With Your Parents by Howard Halpern is a more recent book (2003) that discusses various ways of handling difficult relationships with your parents. Separation may sometimes be necessary but many relationships can be improved dramatically by setting boundaries and by the adult children learning how to respond more effectively to their parents. This book offers guidelines for telling the difference and for making improvements.

I agree with Better Off Now; everyone is worthy of a life without abuse, whatever the source. I must also offer a word of caution for those who feel their parents leave much to be desired. Cutting ties is a drastic step that should be taken very seriously indeed. Separation almost always comes with a bucket-load of negative consequences, even if the overall effect for the adult child turns out to be positive (which can sometimes be far from true). Keep in mind as well that you are not the only player in such a scenario. Might your parent's difficult behavior be an indication they need your help? (e.g. a possible undiagnosed mental illness) Will pulling out mean denying your siblings the support they need from you?

In many cases the appropriate course is to learn how to modify your own behavior so your parents are less able to act as a negative influence in your life. When reading the books I mentioned above, pay attention to the balanced advice about alternatives. If it turns out separation is necessary, then these books provide comprehensive advice for dealing with the many issues that arise from such a decision.

Again, I feel badly for anyone who has to deal with such a gut-wrenching conflict in their life. I hope the sources I mention above can provide some help. If this type of self-help material is not effective for you, counseling is another alternative.

All the best,

Do you have a relationship issue in your life? Send in your question and it may become a Dismaying Story. Comments can be anonymous and the identity of email respondents always remains confidential.


  1. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Better off now- Thank you for opening up this subject.

    Andrew, thank you for the book suggestions and The Motherless link. My story is currently being featured under another name. Like "better off now" I have had a lot of criticism for divorcing my parents. Even writing my story and putting it out on the web has left me feeling like I've betrayed my parents. I worry that someone is going to leave me a negative comment or not believe my story. I wish there was more support about this topic and that is why I posted my story. I hope it will help others especially if they are enduring a toxic parental relationship and are in need of support about ending it.

  2. Excellent article, Andrew. This is a very real concern with no easy answer.

  3. Anonymous12:52 PM

    what about the parents that are abusing you in a more subtle manner? there are many ways of abuse. there are abusive parents who beat, rape and hurt their children physically. that is bad and can be punished. but how can you handle an indifferent parent? how can you get over the fact that your parent, the one person who's supposed to love you most in this world, doesn't give a rat's ass about you?

    what about the parents who give their children 'good advice' based on their own obsessions? like, a mother that has been raped might project her frustration on her daughter who might get aversion to sex and men. a parent who has had negative life experience projects it on his child, turning the child cynical before getting the chance to actually experience life.

    how do you deal with this kinds of toxic parents? they're obviously not bad enough to justify a divorce, and yet they are a source of endless trauma...

    1. Gotta divorce them too

      Like a thief isn't as bad as a murderer but you have to treat them just the same

  4. Andrew that was beautiful.
    Thank you!

  5. Thanks for the info Andrew. It's like you were reading my mind or a my higher power stepped in to get you to do this today.

  6. Andrew! What a fabulous resource you have provided! I am currently reading a book entitled, The Mom I Want to Be by T. Suzanne Eller. It is a great book for adult children who want to break the generational patterns of their youth. T. Suzanne Eller's childhood was fractured by a broken mother and absentee, violent father.

    I can't recommend it highly enough--as an added resource to the ones you have already provided. What a tragedy it would be to continue the abuse--even subconciously--to our children.

    God Bless you as you continue this valuable and much needed ministry!


  7. Culture clash!

    In my culture, in my family's value system, there is no way to separate yourselves that much from your parents. Do so, and you are in the wrong. I'm sure people can make all kinds of cases for why they need to get away, but it's like "Sorry! Can't do it!". Your parents could be killers, and you definitely can't follow their instructions, but cut them out of your lives and You Lose.

    Opinions differ in the Wild Wild West.

  8. Anonymous2:29 AM

    Wow, I wish I had this information available to me 19 years ago... :)

  9. Again, thank you for your thorough resources, I too wish I had this information years ago. There was a time I had to pull back from contact with family for various reasons. It is a long hard process sorting out the "toxic," the time to do something like this, and it takes courage, and much wisdom. One has to be careful not to "cut off the nose to spite the face" as the old saying goes, while protecting one'e self.

    Today I have a good relationship with my mother, and she accepts my boundaries, but this was not always so! Growing up was hell. Again thanks for your wisdom and being a help out there in cyberland when sometimes there seems to be no help at all.

  10. Anonymous: I agree, those are difficult problems that many people deal with their entire lives. There is of course no simple solution, but two useful elements to think about are these:

    1) When part of what we could consider our normal support network is broken (in this case our parents) then we must find our support from within. We must learn that we are good people and not measure ourselves based on how our parents treat us.

    2) We need to establish effective boundaries (both emotional and logistical) so the impact of our parents' issues on our lives is lessened. The books I reference provide help in doing this.

  11. This is a great post Andrew. I grow up with toxic parents until I realized that if I wanted to have a happy life I have to cut with them. I mean emotionally. I do not think that we can become who we are if we are still emotionally and wounded with our parents. The issue is for me was not to abandom them, but to forgive them, understand that they were doing the best they could and set boundaries.

  12. Anonymous7:13 AM


    I think you have posted on my site once or twice and I on yours. So imagine my surprise at the coincidence when your site was the first one that came up when I was looking up information on a difficult issue that I'm currently dealing with--possibly separating, if not for good then at least for the indefinite future, from my parents.

    Your post was really useful. In fact, I haven't even gotten a chance to read through the links yet (I have ordered the Divorcing Your Parents book), but just the fact that you wrote a post on this topic is helpful in itself.

    As was mentioned in the letter, this isn't a topic you read or hear too much about. There seems to be no roadmap for how this is dealt with if you are seeking one among friends and other family for a guide or example.

    Everywhere I look, I see parent-adult child relationships that, although they have maybe their fair share of issues, are fairly normal and relatively functional or even many times very normal and happy, compared to mine. Of course one never knows all the things that go on in a family in private but based on what I do see, I have no examples of anyone I know or know of going through what I've been going through.

    Thank God for the Internet for letting you know you're not alone, because in real life, there's no one I can look to who's gone through this, and the only person who really seems to understand what it's been like for me is my husband, who has been able to witness a lot of the problems firsthand. When people don't get to do that, it can be hard for them to not think that it is just the usual parent child stuff and they might not really grasp the severity. I don't talk to many people about this, but I have gotten that type of response at times when I have. Either way, I'd love to hear from others who've gone through it and since I don't know any, books and the Internet are the next best thing.

    For some of us, our relationships with our parents are and have been so phychologically damaging, and healing from past and present wounds can be basically impossible when the wounds are being reaggravated on a regular basis, that we have no alternative but to make the break from our parents. When every attempt at changing your side of the relationship and setting new limits and boundaries fails over and over and nothing changes from the other side, at some point there seems no choice left but to give up trying.

    For me, each encounter is worse than the last because the incidents have accumulated so much over the years, that all the pain from the previous ones is already there before even experiencing the pain from a new incident. So each incident holds the pain of years worth of suffering and becomes harder and harder for me to tolerate as time goes by.

    To me, trying to make a break is very difficult, maybe the most difficult thing I've ever had to do, but staying and losing my mental health is not a price I can afford to pay--and that seems to be the cost in my situation.

    Those of us who end up having to do this aren't just mad, or have a nasty or annoying parent as some may think; many of us literally choose our sanity over the relationship; some are that bad that those are the only two options: phsychological breakdown and stay, or chance at some healing and peace and leave.
    Leaving hurts bad--I have done it for periods of varying lengths several times and have grappled with the idea and attempts for many years--but not leaving for me seems an even worse option.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for addressing this topic, and for the resources you compiled. I'm going to take a look at them now.

    Best wishes to you and all those who wrote in.

  13. Anonymous2:43 PM

    After reading the book during 5 years in therapy I had a spiritual decision to make. If I didn't cut all ties with my parents I would self destruct. The depth of the parent connection is commonly insidious. I suspect similar enough to warrant a website with open commentary for so many.

    At 40, I've never been more convinced that although my parents are wealthy, retired and happier than ever- they used children to get there. Dad 19 and Mom 14 when pregnancy had to be dealt with in 1950's

    Kids gave them reason to justify their emotional addictions. Their sobriety based on fear was so indestructible that their pure basic instinct was impressive. Spotty history in late 1950's America led to an accidental pregnancy. The right thing to do was marry, clean up Dad's drinking and accept responsibility for getting a girl pregnant. 50 years later it yielded 3 kids that would rather not be around them, but because two of their offspring have 14 children and one sexually abused gay son that is disowned and denied. It hurts to hear sisters, both mothers, relay the latest explosion and disgust from the last visit to Grandma and Grandpa.

    I don't feel bad for my parents discomfort. When I do, nausea and desire to avoid interaction paralyzes me.

    My therapist discourages my guilt plus Toxic Parents shows me reality. No child deserved what happened to me. While so many suffer in the world, and have real gripes we see on the news, I have my own long boring nightmare of daily amputation of my person, feelings, strength, will, and parental trust. 18 years of that gives me the right to be heard. Not in a context of who got worse but in context of singular experiences I'd trade with those who had worse.

    My parents combination of skill and determination was so codependent that one could only characterize them as a team. Mom the General, Dad the XO. Mom drove Dad, Dad worshipped Mom. Dad has the emotional capacity of age 10. Nearly 70 now, his world was saved by a 14 year old girl he knocked up by accident. She is his world.

    Oh 70 doesn't buy absolution from the past. He will strike, hit, beat, intimidate and scare anyone who comes close. If he approves of you and senses no threat you may enter the presence of his Queen. Their public surroundings were simply convenient tools. Kids were props on a set. Such feelings from children are very common from my interactions.

    I hope someday that parents must pass curriculum tests. Procreation without education is a criminal. Having babies you cannot afford is bad. Having babies you cannot teach and nurture without expecting anything but to protect and land your retirement should be outlawed. Regardless of money, toys, provisions and affluence, if you beat your kids and turn a blind eye to sexual abuse while building wealth for your retirement and community prestige you are a failure.

    When courageous kids speak up about child sexual abuse, parents are usually infuriated, outraged and vocal in defense of their own. They demand retribution and action against the perpetrator. How about a 34 yr old priest violating a 10 year old? Couldn't wealthy community leaders see their own kid just got scarred and horrified for life?

    I wasn't so lucky. I spoke up after many years, even to sue the Bishop for moving a priest 8 times in 10 years for the same complaint with other children.

    My parents said Shut Up. Don't Bring It Up Again. We Have No Knowledge. Kids Don't Understand. Don't Tarnish Our Name. Don't Speak About Shame. We Will Not Support You. How Could You Do This To Us?

    What Toxic Parents did for me is immeasurable. I don't have to forgive, excuse, or even understand my parents point. They are indeed independent. As much as I am blessed with education, wealth, spirituality and purpose to love, serve and give to others, my parents were simply a genetic accident. Probability, luck and statistics prove there's very few winners and a whole lot of losers.

    You do not have to be laudatory for their performance. They live affluence. Never forgive or rationalize abuse. Accountability is expected of everyone under the law. Wealthy or poor parents deserve no rewards for fear, intimidation, ignorance, ego and status in trade for children. Whether you are their hope, their legacy or their burden, your life is your own.

    The price of owning your reality may involved complete detachment.
    One might conclude my comments as resentment. I assure everyone that I have sought counsel at professional levels.

    My psychiatrist discourages any further interaction with my parents including their funerals. My 4 year therapist also turned me on to the book. My doctors isolate specific medical conditions that improved once I made a decision. We're talking about antidepressants, surgery, physical therapy and group interaction. We're talking heart conditions, diabetes, blood pressure and the silent killer of hypertension. Healthwise I'm a miracle that shouldn't be sober, walking, talking or writing.

    All of these conditions improved dramatically in just a few years time after I stopped any interaction with my parents. Just as flying a plane, take offs are optional, landings are mandatory. So it's your job to land your plane. Sorry, You didn't choose the takeoff. Detachment is like solo flying. This part you do alone. Existentially, you were always alone. Put these parents in their place for once and you will be relieved. Parents have a child fetish and rarely goes well even if they have money, power and convenient distractions like religion, careers and home improvement ideas.

    At 40, I play music, exercise, write, enjoy my own small business that works. I submit that I'm just as fine a specimen of manhood that anyone could hope to meet. I base my value on integrity, which is doing what you say, and not doing what you've committed not to do. I have recreated a family system complete with mentors, friends and fellowship of service. I won't kid anyone that I've been uniquely rewarded and gifted. However none of it ever came until I read this book along with therapy.

    Non-forgiveness is an option. Never expect resolution or satisfaction. Instead, Rebuild your new family. Choose friends, mentors, and leaders as fine replacements. Detachment can make life easier. It's a tool few have found and used.

    Bobby D, Austin Texas

    1. Anonymous2:41 PM

      Thank you. You just told my story, and have given me much hope at the very beginnings of my divorce from my parents. They denied my sex abuse, their problems were always bigger, it has always been about them since my childhood. That self-pitying behavior continues today, and is accompanied by guilt trips, shame, veiled criticisms and full-stock denial of their actions.

      I'm 42 and have no degree, have 'endured' a lifetime of alternate shaming and enabling my own addictions, and still reel from their ongoing resentment that I'm well over ten years sober now, with my own family, living my own life in a way with which they disagree. I'm just now tackling that degree, re-parenting myself while treating my PTSD and raising empathetic, compassionate kids with a partner my parents hate (privately. Publicly they can't say enough.)

      Make no mistakes: they did not do the best they could. Period. I was raised Christian, and although I've left the faith, they still practice. I believe their Bible excludes the pages defining repentence/amends and my 'obligation' to forgive them.

      I will die inside if I do not make this break from them completely, and your experience gives me strength and hope. Thank you for carrying yet another message of hope. I didn't cause their behaviors or illnesses, can't control and cannot cure it, nor is it my job to do so. Your reminder arrived precisely when I needed it the most!

    2. Bobby,
      I am not sure if you are ever going to read my comment, but I thank you for your words, Thank God I don't have such level of problems with my parents. Anyways sometimes I wonder why nobody speaks about boundaries, and the need every person has of them even with their parents. Building a fullfilling life requires courage, specially in your case. I love my parents, but I will manage to set limits on their level of decissions, or at least on the importance I give to their opinions. Its remarkable how my diabetes started in a moment I had a huge issue of control with my mother.

    3. Thank you Bobby! What you just wrote speaks the truth on a growing problem in our world today on so many different levels. I am in the process of trying to divorce my mother for her parenting skills, or lack there of, for the safety of my daughter. Although, I'm not sure how it can be done at my age, I will do everything I can to protect my daughter from what she neglected to protect me from. Thank you for your words of wisdom!

    4. I don't know when you wrote this, Bobby, but you just helped me IMMENSELY. I have struggled for years with a mentally ill, narcissistic mother and a dad who by saying and doing nothing supported everything she did, never protecting us from abuse that broke bones, stabbed flesh, locked doors, forced us to live in a hoarder's hell topped with animal feces and filth and literally no friends over to the house for 18 years. I am the only one who had therapy, put myself through school and went on to start a business and become spiritual in spite of it all. I moved back to their state a few years ago, thinking they were old now and mellowed. But I have discovered that being elderly doesn't erase mental, emotional or spiritual illness. I no longer speak to them after one last incident in a series of continued betrayals in which other, still sick, siblings were involved. I asked God every day why websites and therapists say we HAVE to forgive and confront, and NEVER think of ending the relationship. After reading your well- crafted explanation today, I am convinced that my heart speaks truest on the best course for my life, and I choose to live without their involvement in it, as well as my toxic siblings. Thank you...

  14. Anonymous6:34 PM

    please can u read my story about my mother leaving, i want people to know that they aren't alone!

  15. Anonymous3:28 PM

    I was wondering if anybody could please tell me the process of "divorcing your parents". Do you have to have legal papers drawn up or do you just write down your feelings and intent, have it notorized and send the letter. My mother has been absent most of my life, emotionally and physically. Now that she is elderly and has COPD, she calls asking for money that my husband and I don't have to give her. When I try to explain that we dont have the financial means to support her she becomes very verbally abusive and threatens to cut off the inheritence of all children that don't help her now. (There are 4 of us siblings) I am so tired of the emotional roller coaster. All I ever wanted was a mother and I could care less about the inheritence. I am 51 years old, happily married with 4 kids and 1 grandchild, all of whom I am very close to. I just don't understand how my mother could have done some of the things she has done to us when we were kids growing up. We were physically and verbally abused whenever we were "lucky" enough to be around her. Many times we were dropped off at our grandparents and she wouldn't show back up for months at a time. My kids are grown now and have only seen their grandmother a handful of times. She doesn't know their names, their birthdates or any of their accomplishments in life. I feel so guilty about wanting to never hear from her again but the emotional roller coaster is starting to take a toll on me. Has anybody else out went through this?

  16. To anonymous: you're not alone in going through this. There are many people whose abusive negligent parents suddenly re-enter their lives when it's time to be taken care of. These parents haven't lost their sense of entitlement to treat you as they see fit. It's sad but many people are riding the same emotional roller coaster you are.

    There's some good online forums where other people have posted their stories. Try:

    Aging Parents and Elder Care - just go through the posts and read the ones with "guilt" in the subject.

    SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information > Family and Friends
    Adult Children of Addicted/Alcoholic Parents Adult Children of Addicted/Alcoholic Parents - I don't know if your mom had alcohol problems, but generally anyone coming from a dysfunctional family background can find some insight here.

    Take care!

  17. samatha12:16 AM

    what/ how can i talk to my parents about how they are controlling my life? and to pleaseeeeeeee stopp,im an adult myself ,i just need some real good advice i need help asap.

  18. I thought I was starting a revolution. I guess I should be grateful that I was wrong.

    Thank you, Andrew.

    Here's the site I created yesterday:

  19. Jackie3:11 PM

    Thank you for the information. I have been searching for a way to describe how I wanted to end my toxic relationship with my mother. In fact, this past Saturday I told my counselor that it would be great if I could divorce my mother like you do a bad husband. I see now I am not alone in this factor. I ordered the book Divorcing a Parent and I can't wait to share the information with my counselor. Please know that you are not the only one out there and it is great to open up and talk about it because some people don't have the courage or even know that you this does happen in reality.

  20. Anonymous12:02 PM

    To Bobby D of Austin.

    I resonated strongly with your post.

    The description of the relationship between your mother and father sounds similar to my parents.

    Too many times people blame the victims of parental abuse.

    Too many times they are warned that severing ties could backfire, or that it needs careful consideration.

    IMO, this type of advice is harmful and keeps too many people tied to abusive parents.

    I emotionally divorced my emotionally abusive, self absorbed parents at age 40, after years of trying to please them.... An impossible task by even the mildest measure.

    No accomplishment merited praise, only criticism.

    I have never looked back and it has been the best thing to do for my own emotional health.

  21. Anonymous11:32 PM

    Unfortunately, some of us can't physically leave a parent due to financial restrictions. First, we ourselves have limited income and cannot afford medical treatment and must stay put. Then, the parent is aging and needs assistance although they reject that fact.

    The abuse is worse now that my mother has more pronounced heart problems. On top of that, the need to control extends to denigrating my own illness. There is no meeting halfway. A simple attempt to discuss her use of a "dial a ride" services to get to a doctors appointment occasionally to help relieve my hectic schedule (full of my and HER appointments) is meant with hostility and vindictive words.

    This is the worst situation to be in: dependent on the person who has no regard for you at all.

  22. Anonymous6:37 AM

    Hey Bobby D,

    I am a 42yr old happily married with 2 children and it seems we have the same outlook same story and way of dealing with it.

    I would very much like to talk with you and any others who feel the same.

    I am recently understanding that the problem I always knew I was going through (being my own psychologist in away) is a semi known problem and others have been through it too.

    Since I had put a lable on this and said to myself that I need to stop the hurt and destruction. I realized without question that I need to break all ties with my parents not as a complete solution but as definate need.

  23. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Wow - the first person who spoke about his Father who was physically (and I'm sure emotionally, mentally and verbally) abused as a kid, continued in other forms which was mental, verbally and emotional as an adult. This site has gave me more validation then I had before. I agree with alot of the posters who said that when it comes to "divorcing your parents" - there isn't alot of support initially which leaves us feeling like we are going crazy!

    When I had enough of the abuse as an adult from my Father in mid twenties, it felt like I was trying to get out of the tornato to which I was in under his abuse. I did do a websearch and came across a website which was very helpful in saying "We wouldn't put up with abuse from anyone else, why our parents who are people too?" And in another book I read the author said "parents are just people who had sex, had kids..." I think when we start to heal, we can see the truth, we refuse to live in denial any longer and use the power we have, I think the abusers always told us we really didn't have that power because they wanted to continue controlling us. Granted, forgiveness comes in time... and I understand that in order for an abuser to abuse you - the effects you feel are probably not close to what they feel inside, THAT BAD... and they decided not to help themselves - some have mental conditions which take away empathy, etc.. etc.. I am just glad to know we are not alone and people have been through this too so we can help each other out. (Such a healing effect). It's true that other people who haven't been through it may not understand. In my opinion, I think that not being understood hurts the child within who fought to trust in his/her perceptions of the abuse - so when others say "oh, it's just typical with parent/child, your too sensitive, or deal with it... or how could you not talk to your parents???"... I think they can judge us to think we are the heartless when it's the complete opposite.. it just can hurt. It's been 2 years of no contact approx. I attended a funeral with him present and just stood my ground by not making any contact. We didn't deserve the abuse from an abuser regardless of their status: friend, parents, sibling. It's so sad sometimes I will admit, but for me trusting in the order of life has helped. (along with alot of relection, therapy, research, etc).

  24. Anonymous11:32 AM

    Wow. I had no idea there were people like me out there.

    My mother is a power hungry person who desires to be in control of everyone in her life. She thrives on her perceived status and material wealth and despises those she feels have no status etc. My father is spineless and loves her to a degree that has made him make a world for himself in which only she exists and everything she every tells him is the total truth - even when it is the polar opposite of what she told him 5 mins ago.

    All my life she has told me I was a useless, fat, disgusting failure. She hit me several times a day - but never hard enough to bruise - and called it discipline. She told my father I was a “Naughty child” and he believed her.

    As mentioned in a previous post by someone else - Mum commands and Dad obeys. Mum is Dads Queen and he won’t hear anything bad about her - Ever!

    It didn’t stop when I moved out. They (she) still tried to control my life and made me feel bad about myself. I felt guilty for not doing what they wanted even though it was not right for me. My mother used to bribe/threaten/blackmail me with “if you are good or do as you are told I will gift you….. “ If you are bad I will take away your….. I can stop your friends/family speaking to you…. I can make sure everyone knows how awful you really are…” She told lies to my family and friends and even stopped me getting a job and got me fired from another just to prove she had the power to do so.

    One of my very good friends has always told me “things can’t be that bad…. There must be a misunderstanding…” until recently when she heard how my Dad decided he would not pass on my inheritance from my Gran (according to her will) because he didn’t like me. It had to be pointed to my dad that as executor of her will he had no choice but to pass it on to me or he would be breaking the law. My friend was deeply upset for me and explained something that had never occurred to me before now - her parents are wonderful, she is a parent herself. She cannot conceive of any parent behaving in this way, except the odd case that makes it into the news where the offender is clearly bonkers and gets locked away…..

    I am under going counselling for toxic parents and for the first time in my life I feel strong and free. I can now move forward with my life with my husband who has supported me through all of this.

  25. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Wow! This is so comforting to find. I haven't slept in several days since I told my father, "No more berating me or hitting me when you get angry. I'M 39!!! "
    In response I have lost my job at the family business which he managed with the full brunt force of the fear he could impose upon others. My infraction to justify his anger was simply asking him to talk to me as he would any other man he had just met with regards to a business contract our company was reviewing.
    What has come as a shock to me is that the other family members feel that I am in the wrong. I have been deemed arragont for not allowing this man to belittle and put me down. I have been called disrespectful for telling him that I would protect myself if he made the situation physical again.
    He is now demanding an apology for my disloyalty and is citing all the things he has done as a father as justification for his abuses.
    On Thursday we are meeting for lunch. He will be dealt a divorce from his son.
    I could go into long stories of my childhood. But, it would be redundant as he is exactly what so many of you have experienced. Thank you for letting me know that i'm not alone.

    1. When you say that you will be divorcing your father, how did you manage to do that? I am trying to divorce my mother but I am hitting a lot of road blocks. I'm 28 and cannot find anything for the state of Texas that discusses divorcing a parent once you have reached the age of 18.

  26. Anonymous7:40 PM

    I am researching toxic parents and the effects this has on offspring. This article and the comments below really shed light on this subject. Thank you for choosing to write such a clear article. It must be a help to so many.

  27. Anonymous5:03 PM

    I'm in my 30’s and only a few years ago realized that I’m not overreacting. I was NEVER physically abused and if anyone ever touched me I knew that my parents would be there. In that way I was safe. But….

    My parents were obsessed with me not getting hurt and only they could protect me. I always knew that there was something wrong. I saw others with some freedom, some responsibility for themselves. But my parents justified their actions by explaining how my friends’ parents were stupid and not as caring as they were. And then one summer pre-teen day I was with 2 friends and didn’t come straight home when it rained (because being out in rain could cause you to get sick and die). They flipped! I found out that one of my parents was kidnapped as a child. It’s one of those stories you dread. Barely surviving the physical and sexual abuse… who wouldn’t be affected by that? Then I also found out that my parents had a baby before me that didn’t survive. So there it is, their emotional blackmail.

    Their fear of not having control and of their past was used to manipulate me. Not to say that they didn’t do similar things to my brother, but as they once admitted, I’m a girl. So I got the worst.

    There are so many times I wished I were physically abused. Society recognized that. But the mental stuff… You can’t explain it. When my boyfriend (whom they obviously hated) and I decided to move in together I knew it would be bad. So a friend sat next to me while I made the call. The screaming and cursing was instantaneous. I had betrayed them. How could I do this to them? They asked me if I was married then proceeded to verbally barrage me with accusations and assaults for over an hour. When I finally realized I could hang up, my friend was hysterically crying and physically shaking. I didn’t talk with them for almost a year. It was wonderful. The panic attacks, heart palpitations and facial twitching went away. I felt no guilt about it, but it was hard on the rest of the family. I finally contacted them (at my boyfriends urging) to try to work it out. They’ve been better since, but I can only get so close before they get out of control. I always have to be on guard. They barely do the obsessive calling (20-30 times at work, home, and cell) if they can’t reach me. They “try” but won’t control themselves.

    I’ve thought about it a lot and the only comparison I have is a cult. Mom’s the leader; everyone looks at her to see how they should react. Dad’s her enforcer. His favorite saying is “I usually agree with you but this time your mother’s right.” Everyone else that is close has just succumbed.

    I know there are mental issues but my mother is brilliant, and her self-help books all justify/support her behavior and are evidence that she is normal and a good parent. I’m still figuring out how to handle it.

    This is abuse, right?

  28. Anonymous9:01 PM

    I can also relate. I am 25 years old, and I live in a single-parent household (unfortunately) where "it's either my way or the highway." I may not have been the perfect daughter, but I sure as hell try my best to be a good person.

    I've made many attempts to move out of my mother's apartment, but with no success. I am on a fixed income (I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism befor the age of two), and she's the one that receives the check (I am still looking for means to have her relinquish her rights to my Social Security). Long story short, I barely get anything now except yelling, name-calling, and more mental and emotional abuse. There were even times that when I got in trouble as a kid, she would often beat (or "whip") me with a belt (this was very common in a Black single-parent household). Or she would use this same method everytime she caught me picking a blister off my skin. Though I don't have any physical scars from the belt/shoe/switch or whatever, I still have the emotional scars from the pain she's inflicted on me. I'm scared to even bring a boyfriend around her because she instilled so much fear in my spirit. As a child, I had devoted my life to making her happy. But now that I'm an adult and continually searching for some sense of identity, nothing is good enough. We would have these arguements (if you would call it that) about the way I live my life by "disregarding what she says." And if I stand up to her, then she wants to slap me, or pull my hair, or push me. It's gotten to the point where every time I think of my mom my blood boils, or if she's brought up in a conversation that I get angry at the person who even mentioned her. Even though I try to keep a good disposition around my family and friends, inside I feel enraged, depressed, or just plain miserable. Though I've long since chosen to live my life my way and follow my dreams so I can help other people, as well as my future children, I ask everyone who posted to pray for me and yourselves. Thank you ever so much.

  29. Anonymous12:56 AM

    To the person with autism, perhaps you can report her to social services since she is physically abusing you. Perhaps they can help you get out of that environment.

    In my own situation, I have felt tremendous guilt for having "divorced" my parents. My brother who I thought was someone I could confide in and was the only person in the world who could possibly understand my point of view, has laid guilt trips on me ever since the split. The latest one stated that our parents have nobody. My father is an alcoholic and he has isolated my mother from everyone in her life, her mother, her sisters, her brothers, and now her daughter. She has been manipulated to think that it was all her idea to cut them out of her life. But he is the type who bad mouths people with a viciousness of a pit bull. Once he starts, he never lets go. It was just easier for her to say goodbye to us, than to have to listen to his endless gripping. So if they have no one, it is because he has made it that way.

    Strange that growing up, she was the one that clued me in that he was an alcoholic. She had no one else but me to talk to, so she leaned on me a lot. She was so angry with him, she passed it on to both of her kids. But when I cut ties with him, she would come over saying things I could hear him saying. She defended him like a defense attorney on trial. I never saw her so spineless. But now I look back and realize it was always that way.

    And the worst is that he says hateful mean things and she asked me why I didn't just ignore them or ask him nicely if he really meant what he said, because he couldn't have possibly meant to imply I was stupid. But he had done it for 33 years!

    As for the brother, I think his main concern now is that he is the one who may have to take care of them now when they get old. Well deserved, since he was the other one stirring up chaos between me and my mom when we were speaking to each other. He was running back and forth telling my mom things I had said, and telling me things she had said. Bringing hurt feelings to light. But now that I am out of the picture, this is inconvenient for him as he lives hundreds of miles away. He might just have to move back to a town he hates and parents he despises. Sometimes siblings can be toxic too.

    Communicating with a toxic sibling only allows the toxicity to continue in your life. If they really loved you, would they be relaying what the parents said? They have said and done things that really made me feel insane. My in-laws can't understand why I would cut my parents out of my life and friends also do not understand. But such a burden was lifted off of me a couple of nights ago learning about the toxic parents book. I realized I am not crazy. I am protecting myself and even my children by protecting my mental health. And it true as said above, we wouldn't take this from anyone else. Why should we take it from someone who is supposed to love us? This blog has only confirmed further that I am not alone and I am doing the right thing for me. Thanks to all of you for sharing your stories.

  30. Anonymous3:59 PM

    Where to begin? I'm forty three still live at home with my mother. Grew up in an alcoholic home, my parents finally divorced, but mom and I...its hard. She always compares me to my all times. I don't drink or do drugs. Its like I'm not allowed to do or say anything. And I don't say anything...she always says something negative about me..and the worst is always the dad comparisions. I hate it. I can't talk her and I avoid it, but its difficult.

    Its just so hard.

  31. Dear Anonymous - Where to begin, indeed? I would begin by asking all sorts of questions, such as: There must be factors that have contributed to you still living with your mother. Have you examined these factors and asked yourself whether there are alternatives that might work better for all concerned? I'm sorry to hear of your difficult situation.

  32. Anonymous10:45 PM

    After spending my life taking care of my parents, I have found that setting boundaries is the key--setting boundaries has changed my life. Here is my story: I am 48 years old, married, with 4 children. My mother is 85 years old and has Alzheimer's. I oversee her home-based care, hire caregivers, maintain her home, take her to the doctor, visit her, and include her in my family's life. I am at the same time married and raising 4 children, and TRYING to have a life of my own. All the responsibility for my mom falls to me because I live locally. WHY IS THIS SO HARD? Because I grew up in an abusive, toxic home. My father was an alcoholic with a nasty temper who quit drinking while I was in grade school. Even after he quit drinking, he continued to have an explosive, violent, profanity-laden temper. My mom was mean to him, and they screamed and fought daily. My dad was controlling, selfish, negative, critical, and talked non-stop, forcing us to listen to him for sometimes hours. His temper would flair and he would beat my mother, and sometimes us children, too. He lost his temper, going into a rage, screaming at us children and fighting with my mom every day. He threatened to kill us if we ever left. We were all afraid of him. My mother repeatedly told us kids to never tell anyone what went on inside the house. So no one ever knew how bad it was. My sister and I have always felt sorry for my mom--she was afraid to divorce my dad and wouldn't go through with it, even when my sister and I encouraged her to. After I grew up, I tried to help her and my dad, being part of their lives and making them part of my family's life. It wasn't easy. I did it for my mom's sake. Although I felt sorry for my mom, I also knew that she continued to needle and nag my dad, making everything worse. She was very mean to him. My mom can be sweet, but she also tends to be critical and complaining, a perfectionist, and stern. She is very hard to please. I always wondered if that was because of my dad's abuse, or if she came by it naturally. My dad died 9 years ago, and my mom has had Alzheimer's for 10 years. I have been helping my mom ever since my dad died, while raising my own family. I'm burned out from taking care of her. This past Christmas holiday she had a fall and broke her wrist. I spent the Christmas holidays taking her to the doctor and being preoccupied with her care--also dealing with a few other time-consuming issues that came up with her--instead of enjoying my family and being with my daughter who was home from college. This was the last straw--I had finally had enough. I resented my mom's intrusion in my life and wished I could walk away from her and have nothing to do with her again. Because of her Alzheimer's, being with my mom and helping her is hard work, no fun, and exhausting. And Ive been taking care of her for a long time. My whole life, to be exact. I read the book "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend and have learned about setting personal boundaries. I wish I had read this a long time ago. I'm going to read "Cutting Loose" by Howard Halpern next. With boundaries, I can still oversee my mom's home-based care, visit her, maintain her home, take her to the doctor, include her in my family's life, but make each choice and decision with personal boundaries in place that keep my involvement with her from swallowing ME up. I can let her caregivers do more when it's not convenient for me. I can quit feeling guilty and be proud of myself that I've done so much already to help her. Boundaries protect me and my family, so I can help her without hurting myself by sacrificing too much. I feel like I can keep going now, instead of wanting to "throw Mama from the train."

  33. Anonymous2:06 PM

    After years of therapy and a lifetime of dealing with a cleverly subtle toxic mother who has the support of the entire family(except my father)I have finally written to them.The letter took an exhausting two days to write. I sent it and know it was the right thing to do but I'm waking up in the middle of the night with the words I wrote going through my head. I don't feel bad about it or about myself but wonder if this is normal. Has anyone had the same experience? Does it take awhile for you to process the information and come to terms with the enormity of this decision? Any input would be helpful.Thanks.

  34. Thanks for the post! It feels really good to know that there are people that feel the same way and that your not just going crazy. I have felt this way for most of my adult life. The relationship I have with my parents is friendly and on an as needed basis. I have learned to forgive them and I do believe that they did do the best they could with us growing up. But as an adult I cant understand why they choose to play the victim role now every time some tries to call them on their nonsense. They have a history of playing their kids all 9 of us, agfainst eachother. They blatantly pick favorites and only choose to deal with whomever will take their side in the situation. My father is an alcoholic in denial. My mom is an enabler that uses the bible as her excuse for staying in a co dependant marriage.
    Just thinking about the dynamic of a family dinner has my head spinning. I never had a mother daughter relationship, I was 23 when i finally had to accept the reality of that. I have also accepted that I just needed love than they had the capacity to give. Even as an adult I have to initiate communication. I have to call them, they dont call me. I have to visit them they dont visit me. When/if we happen to bump into eachother at a gathering they talk and act as if nothing is wrong, they put up the front and if I dont go along they play the victim.
    Reading the comments was all to oreal for me, i have question on many occasion why have kids if you cant offer them a better life. It seems as if my parents think that their children are thier property that they can use and abuse when they want. I love them with all my heart my as a 30yr woman i have to be true to myself. I learning how to love myself and admit when something doesnt work for me.I am worth more even if they dont think i am. I refuse to get in the habit of settling for abusive behavior from anyone , much less my parents. I wish i could really help them see the damage that they have caused mentally, emotionally to their childs self esteem. Its a battle in all my relationships to not fall into that toxic abusive way of thinking. It brings tears to my eyes as im writing this. I love them, but I love myself more.

  35. Anonymous7:10 PM

    Amazing website! Thanks Andrew.

    You know, I am smart, I have a beautiful life, I've had a beautiful life, I have a beautiful immediate family...but when it comes to my parents and sibling(s)...I just don't understand.

    I've been in therapy for almost seven years to finally have a therapist put a word to my family despair- I am an Adult Child of Parents with Borderline Personality Disorder.

    Until I got that diagnosis of all of the dysfunction I have lived with my parents, I now know it has a name. Its such a relief to know I am not coo-coo!

    My therapist and I have realized that this is a definite trait my parents carry. Both of them. Sadly it's something I will never see them change. They are who they are and actually that is how they have always been.

    Having to subtract them from my life has been so hard. I think the word parental divorce is so accurate. I feel like I have been through a divorce, as a 30ish year old woman with my parents. I am worn out and have nothing to show for the years I thought we spent happily together.

    I've had feelings of despair, sadness, crying a river, writing letters and throwing them away, talking to everyone who will listen only to realize at the end of the day the only person I have in my life that will always be a constant is me-Hard concept to undertake when you've always been given everything you have ever wanted, needed and not needed but now I realize as long as I take care of "me" everything is gonna be allright.

    I was under their control and didn't even realize it for most of my life. That was my normal and I knew nothing beyond my normal. They were so over involved in my life, my kids lives, my finances, my marriage etc. and I thought it was all normal until one day I did something they did not like-I found my compass and made some differences in my life and they were outraged that I wasn't following their plan.

    I have many normal relationships in my life, including a normal marriage...but nothing can prepare you to be motherless and fatherless.

    For all of you going through the storm of toxic parent...hold on tight to the nearest pole, stable yourself, stay grounded as hard as it is, don't react like they want you to, stay neutral and learn that this is your new life and try to start a life without them...It's hard as hell but knowing you have a group like this is such a huge start. Hold on tight, the ride is miserable and unfortantely its something we will all have to deal with for life...Don't get off the ride though because at the end of the day you can look at yourself and say "I did it without them:)"

    1. Anonymous10:19 AM

      Hi Anonymous,

      I know you posted this comment a long time ago, but I just wanted to say thank you!

      I'm going through a similar thing. I have lived most of my life under my parent's control without ever knowing it. My dad is narcissistic and my mum would make me feel guilty using emotional blackmail. After spending some time with my dad when I was a teenager, I opted to live with my step mother when he left. 10 years later, I have only just come to realise that the step mum I was with is also narcissistic.

      Exactly as you said, the moment I decided to do things differently and stop pleasing her it all fell apart. I was sidelined, accused of 'losing my culture' and told that 'God will not forgive me' (which of course, is utter nonsense).

      Unfortunately, my mum is rather manipulative and she finds people to 'gang up' with, in this case my brother and her family friends. So I get the pleasure of being ignored a million times over as punishment. I'm sure her version of the story puts me in an awful light, but I've come to realise it's just how she operates. My brother knows what's happening, but he has never stood up to her.

      My mum did not have control over her life as a child, and this feeds into her need to control now.

      I'm very lucky to have a supportive partner, and his parents are wonderful too. I also have a great therapist who is helping me come to terms with everything.

      It's so reassuring to come across a website and other people who also go through similar things. It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking 'it must be me'.

      Life gets better and as one of my friend's said to me: Onwards and upwards.

  36. Anonymous11:49 PM

    I can relate completely. I left ( got married and moved cross country) shortly after my father died. My mom blamed ME for his death (he died in a hospital) and I signed the DNR papers because she wasn't strong enough to sign. After I left my extended family blamed me for "abandoning" her. I can only imagine how unbearable my life would have been if I stayed. When I visit her I get an icy reception from everyone. Funny they have no idea the pain I have gone thru emotionally living with this very difficult person for years. I am glad I left and maybe the family will understand one day but I am not holding my breath. I wish you all peace.

  37. What a wonderful post. My concern is on children with divorced parents. Divorce is an intensely stressful experience for all children, regardless of age or developmental level. Many children are inadequately prepared for the impending divorce by their parents. The pain experienced by children at the beginning of a divorce is composed of: a sense of vulnerability as the family disintegrates, a grief reaction to the loss of the intact family, loss of the non-custodial parent, a feeling of intense anger as the disruption of the family, and strong feelings of powerlessness.

  38. Anonymous11:12 AM appears to be out of business. Other than that, thank you for the other resources. I am 51 years old, and in the process of "divorcing" my mother right now. I find that it is extremely difficult to find support anywhere, because my mother never physically abused me or my brother. She is a bi-polar who hasn't been in therapy in over 30 years and who always refused medication. She has very narcisstic tendencies and tends to work her world around two themes: 1. she is the "poor victim" of everyone else's insanity or 2. Divide and conquer - she only feels secure when everyone around her is hating each other. I know from past attempts to understand and also from my father (they divorced when I was 7, he and I were able to repair damage early on and remain close) that as a baby my mother was emotionally neglected by her parents. Apparently her mother was ill and her father was a distant type, it was his sisters who did the best they could to keep her alive, but it sounds like she never bonded with them. She is truly incapable of unconditional love, but she believes that she is absolutely a wonderful mother and grandmother. Many times in the past I have been estranged from her, and those were the happiest times of my life. During one of those estrangement periods I met my current husband (we've been married for 21 years). I only tried to mend the relationship because of having a daughter. Over the years my mother has had many "episodes" of irrational behavior where my daughter is concerned, and my husband and I have set boundaries time and time again. She is the type of person who agrees to go along with the boundaries for a time and then goes back to her old behaviors. She tries to drive wedges between my husband and I (she never remarried btw) and between my daughter and I. She has successfully ruptured all my relationships with extended family on her side and my siblings and I are not close because of her (we have made peace, we're just not close).
    Anyone have any resources that talk about how to deal with all this stuff when it's NOT physical abuse or substance abuse or extreme neglect that's in play? I know others had it much worse than me, but I ge tired of reading books about how it's up to ME to do all the hard emotional work, healing, reconciling, etc. My mother is only 20 years older than me and in pretty good health. I really want this to end without harming my daughter. I can't bear the thought of another 20-30 years of my mother's manipulations.

    1. Anonymous3:41 PM


      i'm posting here about my experiences witnessing my husband's dysfunctional family, and its devastating effects on his life. we lived with them for one year, which was a blessing in disguise as I got to see what life with them is like. but even then they kept up appearances as a loving and supportive family.

      they never physically or sexually abused family members, except for hitting his sister once. more often it was extremely loud yelling (which really almost counts as physical abuse, as my husband's ears would hurt, and he would dissociate in fright). it was fear, walking on eggshells, constant stories of how the parents should be pitied, and you could never imply they'd done anything wrong.

      the damage they've done has resulted in my husband being unable to trust almost anyone (he is married to me and i hope that our relationship is healthy--i believe we have trust, but it is hard for me to help him). he hasn't been able to hold a job, his friendships have deteriorated, and he has phobias and feels trapped wherever we live, and we have moved so many times I have lost count. he battles with depression, anxiety, hopelessness.

      they deny everything he's done. they yell at him if he voices his feelings, and hang up on him. they threaten disowning him.

      his father turned on me savagely and yelled at me in front of family, friends, and neighbors in the front yard because i asked his dad & mom to stop pressuring my husband about his job situation. this was after a drunken neighbor who is his dad's friend flirted with me, and no one would address the situation or take our side when we pointed it out.

      at this point we gradually began pulling back from his family. that would seem like a good thing, but my husband has sunk deeper into depression as a result. no one ever admitted that anyone was in the wrong, the fingers have been pointed at us.

      the pain of receiving no validation has been tremendous, and we have been very isolated for years. we have virtually no support system, and don't know how to go about finding it. i feel that i have taxed my friendships as much as i can, and abuse support groups feel dysfunctional. therapy hasn't worked much either (well it works for me, but my husband can't trust).

      anyway to your original point, the abuse and aftershocks are very powerful, ESPECIALLY when the abuse is hidden and never admitted to. At least with physical & sexual abuse you know something happened (well, unless you repress the memory, then that's another issue). not to minimize physical & sexual abuse, but the covert emotional abuse cloaked as righteous parenting is super devastating.

      as my husband's wife, I have sustained my own trauma. i'm working to take care of myself so i don't get crushed as well.

  39. Kathryn Morrison2:01 AM

    I am so grateful first and foremost for be able to live...I have endured a lot of great pain as a child and even as an adult. I've had to undergo a lot of physical, sexual, and mental abuse. My father used to use me like I was his wife. I grew up too fast for a child. He loved to make my mom made and he would turn us against each other. My mother became very jealous of me knowing what was going on in the house. They would both say things together at times like I was going to get pregnant at 4 years old and that I was boy crazy. I knew they would say these things because of what they were doing to me. Years went by things got a little better the sexual abuse stopped I believe when I was 11 but the physical and mental abuse went on until now. I have just recently decided to go into counseling. I have been the one to forgive and forget. I have learned that does no good for your healing process. I believe it actually makes you worst off as a person. The best book that I have been reading was Toxic Parents. It is a great book and I really recommend it. I think that parents that are toxic do not change. My parents have made me look so bad to everyone. It's like if they can't have me to torture me they don't want anyone else to have me. They don't ever want the good for me and I believe that is simply because they are unhappy and mentally sick. I have moved on I am married with three beautiful children and I am so lucky to be away from all the toxicity. I am also so happy to know that I am not the only one out there. It is nice to know that I can come back and forth to this blog!!

  40. Anonymous4:30 PM

    I am so grateful to have found this post! I "divorced" my parents about 4 years ago. I can't say that they have been the best 4 years of my life, but they have definitely been the years in which I was finally able to start healing and progressing as an adult and individual. My mother is a full-blown narcissist who is worshiped by my father. We were told constantly as children that she was perfect.

    I empathize with those of you who also suffered emotional and psychological abuse. These are definitely the hard ones to make others understand, and they are also the hard ones to overcome as an adult. I am just now getting to where I don't hear those voices in my head anymore and am beginning to truly value myself as an individual.

    Last year my personal journey led me to realize that my marriage was not healthy and I had to make the painful decision to end that relationship, as well. Working with my counselor as I made that decision, I began to realize that I had learned unhealthy interaction skills in childhood, that then caused me to look for and tolerate unhealthy relationships as an adult. While I am not perfect by any means, I can now see more clearly the patterns in relationships and feel much better equipped to make decisions that will provide me a healthy emotional future.

    I recently received a card in the mail from my mother wanting to meet somewhere to try to reconnect. I have a feeling that she has heard about my divorce and is sensing a weak point where she might be able to weasel back in. However, this feeling was contrasted with my normal tendency to give everyone a second chance. Before I read these posts, I had decided not to meet with them. I plan to stay divorced from them until I truly feel comfortable with the idea of a reconciliation, if in fact that ever happens. While I was able to make that decision on my own (huge progress for me!) it was still helpful to find this support out there. It's hard to stand alone. It's really nice when you find out that you actually aren't standing alone. Thanks to all of you who have shared.

  41. thanks for the honesty of everyone who has posted. this helps me to acknowledge my own similar situation as real as i expect that in the past i would have talked myself out of my true feelings and intuitions

    i had de facto cut my parents out of my life 3 years ago, following a full breakdown, and subsequent years of depression, therapy and holistic healing.

    i have built a new life with a career change and a new 'family' from my community where healthy, loving relationships are possible.

    my aged father is seriously, possibly terminally ill and my mother has re-opened contact.; so far phone calls as they live a days travel away. at first she was attentive and present, but now i am in the familiar grip of guilt, manipulation and control and i am expected to visit them

    i am doing forgiveness work as i feel that is an important aspect of one's own healing and helping to release guilt

    i would like to think that there was a way to make peace emotionally and spiritually, even if 'in real life' the relationship with my parents is untenable because of how they prefer to treat me

    blessings of peace to all that we can all have a safe and secure emotional future

  42. Anonymous6:54 PM

    What happened to looks like a porn site now? I was really interested in funding it and reading others stories...maybe it's called something else now??

  43. Anonymous9:06 PM

    hi I am based in Europe and cannot get a copy of the Engel book on divorcing a parent - I have just (today!!) stood up to my parents after 20 years of physical and emotional abuse and have told them I want no further contact. I want to write to them to finish the relationship but I am not sure how to write the letter. Could someone please write about Engel's various techniques?

    1. There are relationships that are better ended especially if it is no longer healthy or if there are other people who have to bear with the negative effects brought by the relationship.

  44. It took me years to finally admit that it was time to cut my parents out of my life. I'm 41 now and for years bought into their warped ideology that I needed to honor them and respect them, but they didn't need to do the same for me. Finally, after my mother almost assaulted my wife, in front of my kids, I sent them a letter saying we were done. I did, however, leave the door open, saying I would consider letting them see my kids if they made an honest effort to atone for all the damage they did to me, my wife, and my siblings and their spouses. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. The hardest part may be how people cannot relate or understand to this. After finding your site, I see that I am not alone. Thank you.

  45. Anonymous12:52 AM

    i am new to this i am 42 years old very very scared and lost until i finally found this site when i googled can i legally divorce my mother, ive almost allowed her to break me i found myself driving all over town to literally kill her i was in so much pain i hate her im hate that her blood runs through my veins but worst of all i hate myself for having a glimpse my whole life that maybey this time she will do me right and love me and tell me how wrong she was and has been, it just gets worse every time. please tell me there is hope for me thank you for haveing this site. "one who is broken"

  46. Anonymous7:02 PM

    Boy do I feel like divorcing my parents.I'm 39 year old married woman with 4 kids.I feel so emotionally screwed up sometimes.My story follows with parents who didn't get married until I was 9 and my brothers were 16 and 22 at the time.My father never loved my mother.I think he only married her because of me.She seemed always jealous of me.

    Growing up was focus on my mom's problems.She use me as a therapist since I was a little girl.I shouldn't have been burden of her and my father's sex life and problems in their marriage.Emotionally I seemed like her mother.She always blamed everybody for anything that went wrong in her life.I felt responsible for her happiness.

    My father was no saint as well.He provided the bare minimum.He had lots of money but only on his needs not ours.He would always take vacations without his family,he went with his friends.He also golf every weekend-never missing it for anything.He didn't care about our school activities.He wouldn't even fill out fafsa for me for college.

    My parents didn't hardly take us to the doctors and never to a dentist even though they could afford it.Of course they went to the doctors and dentist.

    There was so much fighting going on.I only saw my mom and dad kiss once and that was at their wedding.They never hugged or anything.Both were into themselves and put me in the middle of their crazy fights.

    I was also sexually abused by both my older brothers.My mom didn't believe me and said I was lying.I use to run away starting at 13.I was trying to divorce myself at an early age.I never did receive any type of therapy for that.Everything was brushed under the rug and I had to act like nothing has happened.

    Fast forward to now.My 70 year old mother fell down the stairs,breaking her ribs,pelvic bone,left arm.She was in rehab for 5 weeks.I came everyday for her helping the best I could along with my kids.She's better now but she don't want to do for herself.She wants to just sit there a burden me or blood suck me with her negativity about my dad again.I started to feel sick and I can't take it mentally.My 77 year old dad wants to act like he always did.Go golfing on the weekend and be free.Instead of him stepping up to the plate he wants me too when he knows I have my hand full with my own family.

    Both of my parents put themselves first all my life.I been told they are putting money away to take care of themselves when they are old.Now that something has happen they don't want to spend their money.They want to run me ragged.NO WAY!I'm not about to burn a candle at both ends.I will help were I can if that's not good enough well then hire someone!They both still scream at each other and in front of my kids.I limit my kids seeing them.I have to.

    What gets me too is how cheap they are to my kids and I but can spend various amounts of money on themselves.I cannot and will not be at their becking call.It's always been about them and they won't change.My mom keeps the house dark,she won't see people either.She just wants to rely only on me for everything.She thinks everyone is out to get her.I know she's depress probably been her whole life.She won't do anything that involves her to take responsibility for her self.

    I can't talk about this hardly with anyone.The response from people "they are your parents you have to be there".At what cost?My health?My emotional well being?People don't understand unless they been through the toxic growing up.And by the way.I been there more for my parents then they EVER been for me.My husband and I never had them hardly babysit(mainly I felt they didn't protect me they wouldn't protect my kids either).Like I said they were into themselves as well to be bothered when I really needed help.

    1. Anonymous2:43 PM

      Society (people in general)find it easier to 'turn a blind eye' than acknowledge parents can be toxic. The implications for societies structure are fundamental and scary.


      If someone says "they are your parents you should be there for them" look them straight in the eye and reply "they were never there for me, they lost the right to expect me to be there for them. Sorry you do not understand toxic parents but that is the reality".

  47. Anonymous6:57 PM

    I have chosen to be estranged from my father for about 5 years now. I have been in a good place about the situation for most of that time with an understanding that he will not change, I am ok with that and my life along with the people in it are better this way. I do not wish him ill, I would prefer he find a way to be a happier person but I cannot be in his life. Every year on my birthday he leaves a card, nothing said about his feelings or the situation, just happy birthday written. But he leaves this card at my house, not using the mail system. I have even been home and he leaves it without knocking. It is very insincere. I still speak with some family members we share like my grandmother so I know that at some points in my life he probably knows about me from them. The problem is my husband and I are expecting our first child. My mothers mother passed two years ago and he had to be informed he was not invited as he called her saying he was going. When I was seven he left her for another so 24 years later after my parents being divorced it was very inappropriate to try to attend. I feel he wanted to face me to say his peace about what could my problem with him be and that I am at fault, again no change from him or attempt to reconcile in any real way that is unselfish or genuine. Do I write him a simple note stating that I am expecting and that although I wish him well please respect my boundaries and not attempt to visit or call? I just don't want him feeling like just stopping by my home or the hospital after our child is born is ok. I want to pre-prevent that. Any suggestions?

  48. It sounds like your father is not recognizing you as a separate person, an adult who deserves respect and consideration, which I have experience with because it is the primary trait that my toxic parents demonstrate that characterizes their abuse to myself and extended relatives. They treat people with respect only when they fear them or are impressed by their power or wealth. I think it is because they do not feel respect for themselves. I gave a presentation once on the conscience and researched how immoral decisions eventual separate a person from their core childlike integrity, which serves as a shelter from evil influence. It is my opinion that "toxic" parents, and others who behave disrespectfully, are seeing the negative reflections of themselves in others and need to be surrounded by wealth and power to prevent the guilt of unacknowledged emotions/restitution from setting in. Essentially, they are running from karma. I think the best way to convince your father to respect your boundaries is to tell him that if he would like to go to therapy to discuss the feelings and issues in the relationship, then it would be the next step in reconciliation, and the decision is his. This way the proverbial ball is in his court and he may need the counseling, which would be beneficial for him and his own trauma that he is likely experiencing. Best of luck.

  49. Anonymous10:15 PM

    It can feel so disheartening when affection and connection is unrequited, particularly when a central figure like a parent is checked out into a disassociated state. If your primary concern is ensuring that your father recognizes your boundaries, you could suggest that he meet with you and a therapist to reconcile and clear the air, and that otherwise you would rather not see him, and if he refuses, the proverbial ball would be in his court.

  50. Mmm, taken me years to come to this point. I am living with my abusive father, due to a serious brain injury that has left me financially dependent on his to a large extent. He has always been a bully, emotionally bereft and abusive. This was the situation in early years, I always believed he had the power to kill me and would if I did not do what he wanted, by beatings just to make the point. I was seen as a failure as a son, and he would make sure I knew it, time and time again Until I grew up believing this is what I am, and has taken many years of counselling to sort anything out, i am still not there. It was always he and my mother.My sister and I just seemed to be something they had to have, we were neither nurtured or loved. When my Mother died 20 years ago I felt nothing, and have always carried the guilt of it with me, but no more. He wants me to stay with him and to relieve his loneliness. Because I refused and am trying to find my own way again, he treats me like the furniture and worse, making me and the fallout from the brain injury as uncomfortable as he possibly can. Thanks to your stories, maybe I can see there is a way out.

    1. Phil, Your story is tragic and heartbreaking. Please know that you are VERY worthy of enjoying the rest of your life, regardless of what has happened to this point. I'm glad you're getting counseling help - keep at it, that's all you can do. I wish you all the best of luck and good fortune moving forward!
      - Andrew

  51. Anonymous6:02 PM

    I am concerned that one I start writing this I won't be able to stop. Like a long pent up volcano, with years of hurt and emotions to let fly.

    Let me start by giving a little background about me and my relationship with my parents. I am 51 yrs. Old. The oldest of 4 girls. Until recently we all just accepted that my father was a tyrant. And that it was normal for us to tip toe around him. But a recent event brought up years and years of pain brought on by him.

    From as far back as I can remember my Dad was never happy with anything we did. If I brought home an A on my report card I had to explain why it wasn't an A+. Having to endure hours of sitting at the kitchen table listening to lectures that began with him screaming at me that I will never succeed if I accept "average". I know this does not sound bad, like I am being over sensitive. But this is one of many things that we endured.

    I grew up being called fat, lazy, stupid, and he demands attention. He will yell at my mother call her the same. She is 74 yrs old and he will get on her about not wanting to walk or go dancing with him. She has medical issues and recent knee surgery. To him that is no excuse.

    He treats his grandson's the same way. And will "target" someone in the family and humiliate them in public.

    The recent event that started the reflection of our relationship was over a supposive loan of $500 from 10 years ago for my Daughter's wedding. What set it off? I think that it was the used truck we purchased. After all how dare we have something nice.

    The worst thing he did to me and my ex was to move him, my mom, sisters and her kids all in my house with me my husband and our 3 kids. He had us evicted from that house, then he followed us to another where my kids and husband ended up walking out of.

    I have enormous an amount of guilt and stress over the thought of "divorcing" my parents because of their age and I don't feel I could leave my Mom. I am tired of having to justify everything I say or do just to make him happy. To plan my life around "will Dad like this" and if not giving up what makes me happy to please him. I can not recall the last time I got an honest unsolicited compliments from him.

    He adopted my sister's daughter, and son and now his granddaughter. To him family is more important than anything else, but he fails to see the damaged lives in his wake.

    1. Anonymous1:20 AM

      It is so incredibly difficult to convey my feelings. I feel I was inadequate at expressing myself above. My story is incredibly complicated. With years and years verbal abuse. I am just starting my journey to heal from this and am thankful for a safe place to express my hurt and anger.

  52. Anonymous3:23 AM

    I am at wit's end, trying to listen to Christian songs when I found this website. Just now, my verbally (and physically) abusive father is shouting at my mother making her run errands for him.
    Living in a house with my toxic father has become the source of my depression that none of my friends could understand, making me seem like an ungrateful daughter. But can they really blame me? Should they really blame me? That every single time my father feels insecure, he blames us, his family as the cause of all his misfortunes, making me unhappy to live anymore. I wasn't able to finish college due to his poor financial decisions back then. I worked, along with my siblings, we tried to work it out.
    We stayed with our parents, hoping he'd change. But I believe in behavorial patterns. He hasn't changed.

    In the Philippines, where social norms and religion dictate that we have to obey and respect our parents at all costs, made it harder for me to make these decisions and I still feel stuck until now. My siblings called me "ingrata" for making plans on how to break ties with our parents. I am the youngest. I have seen everything --- blood, bruises, death threats, knives and broken glass pointed at our necks yet mother and siblings still think that we must stay with our father. I am 26 now, with decades of abuse still haunting me. I could only feel remorse, indifference towards my father. Time and time again my father would blame me, us for everything. I have tried to live my life outside - with friends, co workers, and found a very loving boyfriend for 8 years who have seen me battle with depression. Learned to be independent even at an early age. I have been through a lot trying to figure out a lot of things t myself.
    Moving out and living my life seemed like a sin in this family. My father keeps on holding us back, holding us down, he calls us useless to him. All our lives we felt like investments, and he brings us down by keeping score of all the things he has spent on us. I feel like drowning sometimes until I have decided to end my life. Failed a lot of times. Sometimes, I ask God why He had to give me such parents if I really have a purpose in this world? What do I need to do? Sometimes I wish I was never born.

    At the back of my mind, I still have hopes to finally cut the depressing ties I have with him.