The Mighty Logo

16 'Small,' but Significant, Boundaries People Made With an Abusive Parent

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Family can be complicated. When you add an abusive parent into the mix, things can get even more complicated — especially when you’re navigating what boundaries you need to put in place for your own well-being.

If you are way-too-familiar with the classic question from friends, “Well, why don’t you just cut them out then?” — you’re not alone. We know navigating a relationship with an abusive parent isn’t always that simple.

For some, having boundaries with an abusive parent means cutting them out completely. For others, it’s a little more complicated — and that’s more than OK.

Maybe your parent isn’t “all bad” and it’s worth it to have them in your life (with limits). Maybe you want your kids to know their grandparents — even if that means you have to supervise your parent when they are with your child. Or maybe you’re figuring out what boundaries work for you, and are open to trying different options.

Whatever your situation is, we want you to know there’s no “right” way to have boundaries with a parent who has been abusive to you. Everyone is different and what works best for one person might not work for another. It’s just important to do whatever’s best for your own health and well-being.

We wanted to know what “small” but significant boundaries people have used in their relationship with a toxic or abusive parent, so we turned to our Mighty community. Below, you can read what boundaries they’ve tried in their own lives. We hope their experiences can help you navigate boundaries in your own life.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Limiting the Time You Talk to Them

“I have made the boundary of only talking to my mom once a week. I also can only talk to her about positive things. Nothing big or important. I also changed her name in my phone to, ‘Think before you call’ to make sure I am calling for the right reasons to avoid any further abuse.” — Kim S.

2. Driving Separately to Family Events

“Driving to family events separately. She would always want to ride together — which makes sense as far as carpooling goes — but then I would have no escape if things escalated. By having my own vehicle, I not only allowed myself an exit strategy should I need one, it created built in ‘away time’ to take a mini break and decompress. [It also] reminded me I was in control of myself.” — Rebekah R.

3. “Unfollowing” or “Unfriending” on Social Media

“I unfollowed her Facebook page. I couldn’t unfriend her because she would probably get angry, but I couldn’t deal seeing her posts anymore after she left. It seems small, but it’s all I had the guts to do.” — AJ H.

4. Not Trying to “Fix” Their Life

“I understand I can’t tell them things about my life. I can’t talk every day and I can’t fix their lives. They miss me and I miss them, but it’s healthier this way.” — Lindsay G.

5. Not Sharing Where You Live

“I just moved out into my first apartment a month ago and she doesn’t know where I live. She hasn’t seen my car yet, either, which I bought with my own money last month. She hasn’t asked to see anything, which helps, but it just feels so freeing to have something of my own that she has no influence on in any way, shape or form.” — Alysha P.

6. Having Strict Boundaries About Seeing Your Kids

“I won’t put up with anything in front of my kids. As an adult who lives on my own now, I simply leave. I’ve made clear what I won’t put up with, especially in front of my children, and my best way out when I’m tried is to leave completely.” — Summer O.

“Support role only at my son’s (their grandson) games. No coaching or non-positive comments. If they can’t do that, they are no longer welcome.” — Raneigh S.

7. Setting a Time Limit for Visiting

“When I visit, I do not stay for more than a week. If I ever have children, they will not ever be around them without my supervision.” — Amber R.

8. Interrupting Verbal Abuse

“Interrupting their abusive monologue and saying, ‘I will not listen to you if you are shaming me.’ Threatening to get up and leave the conversation if they continue speaking like this. Obviously hasn’t worked, but I am proud of myself for trying to establish this boundary. I have been too scared in the past to speak up like this.” — Maysan N.

My wall is simple. When I talk to them, if they start on me about anything, I nicely say, ‘OK, I told you if you do this, I am done talking.” I hang up, or turn off texting. Then in a week or two, I answer and see if they got my point. I am not a child anymore. I will not be hurt or belittled by anyone. Especially by my parents.” — Alanna J.

9. Not Sharing Information About Your Mental Health

I stopped sharing what I talk about in therapy. And really my feelings about anything significant. I feel like having a wall between us is the only way for us to maintain contact and not have the relationship affect me negatively.” — Chloe L.

10. Deciding to Lessen or Cut Off Your Financial Support

I stopped fully supporting her financially. For the longest time, I paid all her bills including her mortgage and when I tried to refuse, I was shamed.” — Rachel M.

11. Only Seeing Each Other in Public Spaces

“Made it so we only saw each other in public spaces, which then helped me become strong enough to cut her out of my life completely.” — Mel L.

12. Refusing Their Company During Medical Appointments

“They’re not allowed anywhere near my medical decisions or doctor’s meetings.” — Veronica S.

13. Not “Going the Extra Mile”

“I don’t go out of my way anymore.” — Brittany V.

14. Blocking Their Phone Number Temporarily

“Sometimes I even block their number temporarily knowing I’m just going to get a barrage of calls and texts in retaliation. Those simple moves have helped strengthen the validity of all the boundaries I set up.” — Summer O.

15. Making a List of Things You Can’t Talk About With Them

Realizing there are things you cannot talk about with her. Topics can be twisted to where you are the problem and they did nothing wrong because they don’t remember it the way you do. Accepting that for you to heal, you have to let go of who/what hurt you…” — Kaytlan B.

16. Leaving the Situation

“Now as an adult, I can leave whenever I please. So whenever they cross the line and get verbally or emotionally abusive, I try ignore the bait, count [to myself] and wait ’til I can say I’m going. Then I leave. I either get another family member to take me to station for train or I get a taxi. I also cut down how often I visit by a lot too.” — Kirsty D.

What boundaries have you made with an abusive parent?

Getty Images photo via MatiasEnElMundo

Originally published: October 8, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home