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Dealing with Parents Who Mistreat You

Our most troublesome relationships are often with family members and, among these, parents often win the prize. If you’ve had problems dealing with difficult parents, it’s up to you to change to feel better around them. Here are the steps you can take which will improve your relationship, your life—and your eating.

1. Don’t expect them to be different. Change your beliefs from hoping they’ll suddenly cease their annoying behaviors on their own. Breaking news: it ain’t gonna happen. Instead, try three successful strategies. First, quit feeling like a victim and speak up when they hurt your feelings. I don’t care if they respond by saying you’re crazy or too sensitive or they didn’t mean to hurt you. Say something because it will make you feel less like a victim and more empowered protecting yourself. And just because they don’t seem to understand your request to change doesn’t mean they won’t think about it later and maybe do so. If they do fine and, if they don’t, there are more actions you can take.

2. If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to confront your parents—repeatedly, not just once in a meek voice—ignore them. Easier said than done, I know, but doable. Pretend you don’t hear their ignorant, unkind remarks. You may feel triggered, but use deep-breathing and soothing self-talk to stay calm. Practice! Though they may egg you on, tune them out and don’t react! Take up the challenge! Imagine how silly they’ll feel trying to bait you as you smile back at them or change the subject. This behavior on your part takes effort, but it works and is an excellent strategy for keeping your cool. As I’ve said before, what comes out of someone’s mouth, even if it has your name in it, is about them, not you. Practice pretending that what they say doesn’t count or matter because it doesn’t.

3. Reduce time spent with them. I’m amazed at how much time clients spend with parents who drive them crazy. Cut your visits down to the barest minimum. Get off the phone more quickly, don’t drop by so often, avoid extended vacations. Ignore their manipulative grousing and refuse to feel guilty. You are not a victim. If you visit them weekly and they’re miserable to you (and you come home and have a whopper of a binge), make your visits briefer or less frequent. Practice self-care. If they’re really terrible to you, it’s okay to let them know that you won’t stand for it. They may not like it, but while they’re taking care of themselves, who’s caring for you, pray tell? Take a break from them and they even may appreciate you more when you decide to see them again. Gather up some courage and do whatever is necessary to feel better around your parents. Let go of guilt and enjoy the pride of finally taking care of yourself!