You are an adult, or at least the law says you are, so why are your parents still treating you like a kid?

Growing up was never easy but these days the challenges of becoming economically independent may be confused with the need to be emotionally recognized as an adult. Let’s say you’re visiting your parent’s home for the holidays. Or maybe you are living with them while you look for a job. Your parents impose a curfew on you. Are you kidding me, you ask? You want me home by midnight? What?

And that’s just relatively normal stuff because some perfectly nice parents have a hard time recognizing their job as a parent is pretty much done. Usually they grow out of it as you grow older as long as you don’t panic and argue with them over every little thing. Choose your battles, speak calmly and reasonably (like an adult) and they will eventually come around to seeing you as a peer instead of a kid.

But, what if your parents use a cunning kind of psychological warfare to keep you off balance so that you never trust your decisions? What if they use every opportunity to make you feel stupid or a failure? What if they are experts at using emotional blackmail to make you feel you need to do what they tell you to do instead of what you want?

Then your parents may be truly toxic. When you have truly toxic parents it is best to recognize the fact that you may not have the nice parents you always thought you did and start dealing with having the parents you really do have. Because they don’t hurt you physically does not mean they are not abusive.

Ask yourself these nine questions:

1. Do your parents still treat you as if you were a child?

2. Are many of your major life decisions based on whether your parents would approve?

3. Do you have intense physical and emotional reactions after you spend or anticipate spending time with your parents?

4. Are you afraid to disagree with your parents?

5. Do your parents manipulate you with threats or guilt?

6. Do your parents manipulate you with money?

7. Do you feel responsible for how your parents feel? If they are unhappy do you feel it is your fault? Is it your job to make it better for them?

8. Do you believe no matter what you do, it is never good enough for your parents?

9. Do you believe that someday, somehow your parents are going to change for the better?

If you answered “Yes” to even three of these questions, chances are your parents (or any other close parental figure) are toxic to you. Dr. Susan Forward, author of Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, writes:

“…all toxic parents regardless of the nature of their abuse, basically leave the same scars. For example, your parents may not have been alcoholic, but the chaos, instability and loss of childhood that typify alcoholic homes are just as real for children of other types of toxic parents.”

To begin recovery from having toxic parents Dr. Forward and I agree that:

1. You are not responsible for what was done to you when you were a defenseless child. It is hard to let go of the child’s perspective of responsibilty even as adults. We still think: “I should have been able to keep my Mom from being depressed.” “I just wasn’t a good enough kid.” “If I was better my dad wouldn’t have left.” “I let her down.” Whatever the hurt is that happened long ago it was not your fault. It was the responsibility of the adults charged with caring, protecting and nurturing you.

2. Starting today, as an adult, you are responsible for taking the positive steps needed to liberate yourself from your parent’s toxic legacy. The past is not your destiny. You are an adult and you can learn to be an even better parent to yourself than your toxic parents ever could be. When you hear their abusive, putting down voice in your head, talk back! You are not a failure! You are not stupid! Remember your strengths. Tell yourself you are good, kind and brave.

3. A good therapist can help guide you. Sometimes figuring out if your parents were/are toxic and how to recover from their poisonous influence is too complicated to do on your own. That is not a failure! It takes courage to recognize that it may be time to call in the cavalry.