Painful Parental Relationships: How To Deal



Knowing how to proceed in family relationships of any kind is a skill that must be learned and relationships with parents, especially as adults, are no exception. When dealing with painful circumstances, it’s normal to feel unsure of how to respond. Even with lots of relationship practice under our belt, family conflicts have a way of triggering our earliest wounds and occasionally causing us to feel off balance. Luckily, there are ways to navigate painful parent relationships while protecting your own peace. Keep reading as we discuss some ways that you can implement right away.


Seek support


If you’re able to, professional support can be incredibly helpful when navigating family relationships. Having an unbiased person, like a therapist, listen to your circumstances and provide feedback and advice removes some of the pressure of dealing with the emotions of strained parental relations. Additionally, a therapist can help you work through lingering pain and trauma from childhood that may be affecting the way you relate to your parents today. A therapist can help you learn to understand what parts of the relationship you are responsible for, and what parts must be left to your parents so that you’re not trying to carry or fix the entire situation alone. They can also serve as a mediator and support if you’d like to attend therapy with your parents.


In addition to professional support, surrounding yourself with close friends or “chosen family” can be incredibly healing and helpful. Leaning into these relationships allows you to practice what it’s like to move through safe and healthy relationships. They can also serve as reminders, for you to refer back to, of what loving and supportive relationships should feel like.


Set or review your boundaries


Another tool that you can use to protect yourself and your peace is setting boundaries. If this is something you haven’t yet done, it can be the first thing you do while you learn additional healthy ways to handle your parental relationships. Boundaries are simply accountability measures that anyone can put in place to create a healthy space to exist in. Boundaries can be applied to anything from communication, topics of conversation, behaviors, or situations.


A good example of a boundary for a parent who yells or communicates aggressively is to explain that you will not engage in conversation with them when they are yelling or being unkind. This is a boundary because it tells them what you will not accept, and what you will do if they choose to engage in that behavior anyway. Telling your parent “you can’t yell at me” is not a boundary since boundaries do not dictate the behavior of the other person and you cannot control their behavior. Since you can control only yourself, your boundary is that you won’t tolerate yelling and aggressive communication and the consequence of that boundary being crossed is that you will leave the conversation until they change the way they communicate to you. To learn more about boundaries and how to set them, read our blog, “What Are Boundaries and Why Are They Important?


Communicate and advocate


Improving your communication skills is another important aspect of managing difficult parent relationships. As a bonus, investing in better communication will also help you in every other interpersonal interaction that you have. Learning how to communicate more effectively will make it easier for you to identify where misunderstandings are occurring. It will also give you the skills you need to stand up for yourself in difficult situations.


A good communication example is learning how to be direct. When it comes to communicating with our parents, we may find ourselves skirting around an issue to avoid hurting their feelings, exacerbating a conflict, or experiencing uncomfortable emotions. However, indirect communication in strained relationships often prolongs discomfort by avoiding the route to resolution. Learning how to be direct while also being compassionate is incredibly valuable for both growth and healing in difficult relationships. It reduces harbored resentment from not expressing yourself fully and eliminates the expectation that the other party should know how you’re feeling. It also provides a blueprint for the other party to express themselves even if they haven’t yet learned how to on their own.


While it is true that strained relationships with our parents can be deeply painful and cause a lot of stress and heartbreak, it is also true that there are many paths to peace. Whether or not a resolution can be reached, you can seek support, heal, and build a life independently that fosters your happiness and connects you to the world around you in new and fulfilling ways. With work, love, and time, family ties may be mended and the effort is worth it! Are you looking for support in navigating a difficult parental relationship? Book an appointment with Genesis Counseling of South Tampa to find support, learn communication skills, and develop a more grounded relationship with yourself and others.

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