Navigating a Difficult Relationship with Your Parent

When people come to therapy, one of the most common issues they admit to struggling with is their relationship with their parents.

It is probably true (at least up to a certain age) that no one knows us better than our parents, even when we wish they knew us better.

Our Natural Born Attachment

As children, we are fully dependent on our parents for shelter, sustenance, as well as for emotional nourishment. A child’s emotional needs are so strong and important that the wounding that often happens between parent and child can impact one’s life very deeply.

The attachment bond we have with our parents also informs every other attachment we have now as adults, including our relationship with our romantic partner.

How Can We Set Boundaries with a Parent?

But what can we do if we are experiencing a difficult relationship with one or both of our parents? Is this the end or is there some hope for recovery and reconnection? Knowing when to throw in the towel and call it quits or open our hearts, even more, is impossible to call.

woman struggling with relationship with parent

I believe the answer to these questions lies in our bodies. Listen to your body deeply, get in touch with your emotions and pain and you will know your unique answers to these questions.

Here are some pointers:

  • How does it feel to be around the parent you have a difficult relationship with? Where do you experience this feeling in your body? 
  • If you could request anything from this parent about your connection with them, what would it be? Examples: Please listen to me without interrupting me mid-sentence. Please knock on my door before entering. Please don’t bring up addiction when I come over for dinners at your place. Please… 
  • If you’ve expressed yourself to them many times before, and if they are not listening to you no matter how you express yourself (kindly, patiently, passionately, vulnerably, etc.) take a moment to think about how your life would be without them. This doesn’t mean cutting them out of your life, but take a moment to notice what you would miss about them if you never saw them again. What is still fine about your relationship with this parent?

Try Connecting Outside of Your Home

If you were to do one activity with your parent, what would it be? What would be truly fun, joyful, meaningful, but also light? You could go for a walk in the park, go for a hike, visit an aquarium together or see a movie together. How would it be to keep conversations casual and light during this activity to create some positive memories?

What happens when you remember that you don’t owe anything to your parents? You are not obligated to love or to get along with them. Notice the relief and freedom in this. Maybe it’s OK to allow love to be a choice, a conscious decision instead of something we have to feel all the time towards those around us.

Seek Professional Support

Definitely consider getting into some deep inner work with a qualified professional and exploring the wounding you carry from the earlier part of your life with your parents. Somatic work, EMDR, and even art therapy can all help to heal your inner child.

woman seeking therapy for support with relationship with parent

In certain circumstances, going to therapy with your parent and working on your relationship together might help. A therapist can help both parties involved understand one another on a deeper level. When we feel the freedom within, love flows more naturally in us and also towards others. 

At Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic, our approach includes individualized care and a range of therapeutic methods. We offer CBT, Somatic Therapy, Hakomi, DBT, Hypnotherapy, and EMDR along with a variety of workshops. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health and/or addiction, please contact us to learn more about our services.