Dealing with parents that are not ready to change the way they treat you

Our parents make mistakes in our upbringing that wound us. When we are grown they can keep treating us in ways that tear at those wounds. If we have done some work on ourselves we will often understand before our parents do that their behaviour is damaging.

However, if we try to talk to them about this there may be defences in place that keep them from being able to take in what we are saying. One issue is nature of the parent child relationships. It can be hard to take in critique from someone you believe you ought to know better than. Furthermore, if being a good parent is very important to you it can be heart-breaking to imagine that you have made mistakes. Other defences go back to our parents’ own childhood and the world view that they had to adopt to survive their own upbringing.

This can cause significant tears in the relationship, and significant suffering for both parties – where one is opening old wounds by exposing themselves to their parent’s denial, and the other is desperately but subconsciously holding on to their own world view, so that they don’t have to open their own wounds from childhood.

Sometimes the child’s need to be heard and the parent’s defences are equally strong and the only way for the relationship to progress is for each party to work on their own wounds before they can have a healthy discussion.

While it is not healthy for the child to try to supress what they have learned about themselves in order to maintain the relationships, they may be able to fulfil their need to be understood elsewhere, validate their pain and make peace with their parent’s limitations in such a way that they no longer take their parents harmful treatment to heart. Importantly, this does not mean having no boundaries. This approach requires a clear understanding of what treatment still opens old wounds and enough self compassion to not put yourself through that.

Alternatively, the parent might be able to process their own wounds in such a way that they can understand that they are treating their child in a way that is hurtful. Only then would they be able to treat their child the way that the child is asking to be treated.

If neither person can process their wounds they will continue to find interactions damaging, but neither will they be content apart.