How to Know When Your Relationship With Your Parent is Too Toxic

Do you feel like your relationship with your parent is too toxic? Are things getting weird? Is it hard to navigate the ups and downs of being a mom or dad, daughter or son, brother or sister? You might be in a toxic parental relationship if you feel afraid of upsetting your parent, hesitant to talk about important topics, or worried about sharing personal details.

Your parent may be unwilling to hear criticism, put you down frequently, try to control how you live your life, ignore red flags about their behavior or treat you with disrespect. If any of these sound familiar and not how you want to continue on in this relationship, it might be time for some intervention. Toxic parental relationships can wreak havoc on our mental health and make us feel unsafe.

It’s not uncommon for adult children to have an unhealthy dynamic with their parents; but if these feelings are interfering with everyday life, it’s time to have an honest conversation about what needs to change.

Why is Your Relationship With Your Parent Too Toxic?

A relationship with a parent can stray into toxic territory when one person feels disempowered, uncomfortable or unsafe. Toxic relationships tend to have a bit of a power imbalance because one person has more experience, a higher status in society or a different level of emotional maturity. When one person is overly invested in the relationship or uses their power to control the other person, that’s a sign of a toxic relationship.

The parent is excessively dependent or controlling on the child, fails to respect boundaries, disempowers, criticizes, blames, is overly emotional, or is self-centered. While the child feels overly responsible, fails to set clear boundaries, feels inadequate, is overly sensitive, or is overly accommodating.

How to Have a Healthy Conversation About Change

Before you talk, think about your history and what about this relationship that has caused you distress. Are you worried about being financially supported? Being criticized for your life choices? Having unreasonable expectations placed on you?

When you’re ready, approach your parent with compassion and an open heart. If you have a parent who is hostile or emotionally unavailable, this conversation may be better suited for a therapist. If your parent is receptive and open to hearing your feelings, start with an apology. Be vulnerable and honest about how their behavior has affected you and why it’s been hard for you to navigate this relationship for as long as you’ve had it.

When Telling Your Parent Feels Too Risky

If your parent is hostile or you’re worried about their response, it’s okay to seek help from a professional. If you feel unsafe in your relationship with a parent, there are ways to get help without risking a toxic reaction. Talk to a therapist about your concerns. They can help you figure out what’s best for your situation and encourage you to make healthy choices.

If you’re worried about being financially supported, find a therapist who specializes in family dynamics to help you healthily navigate these feelings. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by criticism, find a therapist who specializes in helping adults. They can help you find healthy ways to deal with your parent and set boundaries in the relationship.

3 Strategies for Beginning the Conversation

Find a middle ground. When you’re ready to have this conversation, set aside time and space to have a calm, non-confrontational discussion. Remember that you have as much right to ask for health treatment as your parent has to refuse it.

Go slow and be compassionate. Your parent may not realize the negative impact their behavior has on you, and they may not be able to change their behavior immediately. Going slow and being compassionate towards each other can help you both through the process and towards a happier relationship.

Practice self-care. If you feel like you’re losing it during the conversation, remember to breathe and take care of yourself. This isn’t an interaction where you should feel guilty for needing to step back and calm down.

2 Ways to Limit Toxic Behavior in the Future

Set boundaries. If there’s a certain behavior you want to stop, let your parent know it. You have as much right to ask for health treatment as they do to refuse it. Setting boundaries is an important way to show your parent you’re serious about treating yourself well.

Be accountable to yourself. When your parent does something that isn’t healthy for you, you have a choice about how to respond. You can let their behavior affect you and cause damage to your mental health, or you can hold yourself accountable for taking care of yourself.


Parental relationships can be hard, and it’s important to take care of yourself while being in a relationship with your parents. If you’re in a toxic parental relationship, there are ways to work towards a healthier dynamic. Start by being honest with yourself about your feelings, setting boundaries, and finding a therapist who can help you navigate this conversation and redefine your relationship.

The relationship between parents and their children can be complicated, and parental relationships often become toxic because one person — either the parent or the child — is being emotionally manipulative. If you feel like your relationship with your parent is too toxic, it’s important to have an honest conversation about your feelings and what can be done to change the dynamic.

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