Teenage Angst: How To Deal With Toxic Parents
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Are your parents possessive of your time and constantly critical of your behavior? Is one or the other of your parents overly involved in your life and your activities? Do you feel guilty whenever you try to do something for yourself, not them?
If you answered in the affirmative to any of these questions, you might be dealing with narcissistic parents, and what’s more, they might not even know they are hurting you.
It is difficult enough to navigate the treacherous waters of your teenage years. You are just now learning how to be an adult, somewhat captive to those pesky hormones, and figuring out who you want to be. When you have parents who are more self-interested than supportive, those years can be extraordinarily difficult.
It can leave you wondering if a narcissistic parent even loves you at all. However, it is possible to learn how to protect yourself and deal with the worst aspects of their narcissistic behavior.
Read on for some wise advice on how to manage your toxic parents’ behavior and take action to protect yourself.
Qualities of the Narcissistic Parent
First, it is important to identify the characteristics common to narcissistic parents. While narcissism manifests itself differently in men and women to some degree, there are some qualities that mark both mothers and fathers as narcissists. These behaviors can be confusing and hurtful, especially to a teenager who is experiencing their own emotional turmoil.
Narcissistic parents will need the conversation to be about them, ignoring your emotional needs in favor of their own self-interest. This is due, in part, to their own complex internal emotions. They behave selfishly and are often more immature than you are, throwing tantrums when they don’t get their way. They will often brag about your achievements to others, but they rarely provide any personal support or validation for you.
Narcissistic parents will often blame you for their problems, and they will frequently demean you for even the smallest infraction. They will guilt you into doing what they want and try to make you feel bad for not catering to their every whim. They constantly undermine your self-confidence, making you feel anxious, unworthy, and even unloved.
The Impact on Your Mental Health
Growing up with narcissistic parents undeniably influences your psychological health and overall well-being. It is impossible to remain unscathed by the behavior of fundamentally self-centered parents who have complex agendas and manipulative manners. Unlike typically functioning parents, narcissistic parents do not put your needs above their own.
Experts have identified several psychological impacts of growing up with narcissistic parents, according to peer reviewed articles in Choosing Therapy. Children of narcissistic parents often have trouble making decisions and feel guilty when they put themselves first. They are used to catering to the needs of their parents.
You might doubt yourself and your abilities, after having been criticized by a toxic parent frequently. You will often shoulder the blame for your parents’ behavior, rather than see their actions as self-centered and inappropriate. You often feel insecure, uncertain about your place in the world or with others, because your parents are unpredictable. Their emotional outbursts leave you traumatized and feeling alone.
This can lead you into potentially unhealthy relationships, clinging to a boyfriend or girlfriend that mirrors your parents’ emotionally abusive behavior. Or, it can lead you to isolating yourself from others, unable to trust anyone with your feelings.
Managing Your Toxic Parents
However, there are ways in which you can protect yourself and improve your mental health and learn to live with your narcissistic parents. While confrontation is part and parcel of a teen’s arsenal, in this case, confrontation will likely only make things more intolerable. Narcissists react negatively, often explosively, to having their behavior pointed out to them. Instead try some of the following techniques.
Once you understand what’s happening and acknowledge that it’s not your fault, then you can begin the process of acceptance and letting go. You are never going to be able to change their behavior, and the more you try, the more frustrating and toxic the atmosphere will become. Accept that this is their problem, and the abusive actions toward you are really a reflection of their own insecurities.
Tend to your own self-esteem and confidence. Your narcissistic parents will try to gaslight you at every turn, perhaps insisting that your memories are false, that your claims are invalid. Remember that you have your own truth.
Foster compassion, both for yourself and for your parents. You should prioritize your own well-being over theirs, putting your needs first. But also try to cultivate some compassion toward them: they really don’t intend to hurt you, and underneath their narcissistic behavior, they really do harbor love and affection for you.
Take Action for Yourself
Seek out activities and people who bring positivity into your life. If you find that you are very skilled in a particular sport or intellectually talented in a specific field, then you can begin to develop an identity outside of your family unit. This identity will be one imbued with self-worth and self-reliance.
Always remember to defend your boundaries, as much as you can, in the face of their manipulation and demands. This is not always easy when you are a teenager still living at home, but try to maintain your own autonomy as best you can. The more able you are to stress those boundaries with clear-eyed and cool-headed calm, the better able you are to maintain your own emotional health.
Finally, seek out a professional if you feel incapable of managing the situation at home any longer. It is extremely important that you become an advocate for yourself. If your levels of anxiety and depression aren’t addressed, then you risk potentially permanent harm to yourself and your prospects. A school counselor or teacher, a coach or a mentor, a church leader or extracurricular activity director: these people can be touchstones for help when you need it.
Dealing with toxic parents can be exhausting and emotionally overwhelming, but don’t feel that you are alone. Reaching out to a therapist, a support group, a family member or friend can help you feel reinforced in your struggles. It can also help you to see the situation more clearly, allowing you to relinquish your guilt and shrug off the misplaced blame.
Understanding the psychological impact on your mental health hopefully motivates you to implement some of the strategies discussed above. Remember that you are entitled to be treated with love and respect.
This blog article can also help you with strategies to detach emotionally from a narcissistic parent and grieve the trauma you have suffered.
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