Our parents are an important part of our lives. However, sooner or later, the tables are turned. When your parent or parents reach a certain age, you become the caregiver rather than the child. So what do you do when this relationship turns toxic and your manipulative elderly parents are controlling your life?

What is a toxic parent?

A manipulative or toxic elderly parent comes in many forms. Very often, manipulative elderly parents have behaved in a toxic way for your whole life, and it is only as an adult that you might be able to recognize this.

Examples of toxic parenting:

  • An enjoyment of punishments for bad behavior
  • Overwhelming feelings of inadequacy or being disappointing to your parents
  • Being infantilized, even as a young adult
  • Telling children they are bad, worthless, or unwanted
  • Extensive criticism
  • Using guilt or threats to win an argument

These are just some examples of toxic parenting which may be prevalent in elderly people later on in life.

Key signs that you have manipulative elderly parents:

1. Power struggles

Your manipulative elderly father or mother is used to being in control. They have had the ultimate say in everything you do since your birth and find it very hard to surrender control of your life over to you.

A power struggle can be a painful experience for everybody involved. This might manifest as controlling behavior, attempts to dictate any minutiae of your daily life, down to trying to force you to make big decisions based on their opinion. Trying to wield power over you is a key sign of manipulative elderly parents.

2. Unwarranted advice

Most of our lives, we turn to our parents for advice or support when we need it. However, manipulative elderly parents will try to retain their dominance in the family dynamic by doling out advice, often in a highly critical way, when it has not been asked for.

This is a way of demonstrating their superior wisdom, and whilst often advice is well-meaning and intentioned, it may be quite the opposite when coming from a manipulative elderly parent.

3. Guilt trips

As a grown adult, you may feel responsible and nurturing towards your parents when they reach a certain age and need help with basic life skills. However, not all elderly people are ill or frail, and many are perfectly capable of retaining their independence long into old age.

Manipulative elderly parents are adept at using their age as a way to make their children feel guilty and using this guilt as pressure to get their way. If your manipulative elderly mother does not want you going to a party, for example, there is every chance she will pick that day to feel very lonely, complain about how little you visit her, or find a way to make you feel guilty enough that you cancel all other plans.

4. Driving success

Nearly every parent wants their child or children to succeed. This is usually very healthy, but in toxic parents, the drive for success will never be fulfilled. If your parent has constantly made you feel worthless or inadequate, this is unlikely to stop once you reach adulthood.

Toxic elderly parents will never feel that you have succeeded, no matter your family life, personal health, career, or income. Relentless pressure to achieve more is a sign of manipulative elderly parents.

5. Verbal abuse

Sometimes, abusive behavior from an elderly parent may be the result of an illness or condition. However, a manipulative elderly parent may feign being infirm or use their age as an excuse for inappropriate and hurtful behavior.

Using abusive language or behavior has limited ramifications, and knowing that you will feel too guilty to ever walk away can make you the butt of their frustrations.

6. Variable frailty

One of the most common signs of manipulative elderly parents is using their age as a guilt trip, as explored above. This can extend into variable frailty, where a seemingly healthy parent will suddenly feel unwell, or unsafe, as soon as there is a situation in which they wish to gain the upper hand.

This can turn on a dime, and your elderly parent is very likely to be perfectly healthy again as soon as they have got their way.

How to manage manipulative elderly parents?

stop blaming your parents

As with any toxic relationship, dealing with a manipulative elderly parent is all about you setting the terms and boundaries of your relationship. Here are some tips about how to cope:

Setting boundaries

This is entirely up to you how to manage, but you must set your boundaries and be clear that they will not be crossed. This could relate to discussions about your spouse or children, it might relate to finances, or it might be a cut-off point above which behavior will not be tolerated.

Once you have explained your boundaries, stick to them at all costs. Manipulative elderly parents are very good at crossing lines, so don’t allow that to happen.

Strength in numbers

Dealing with the challenges and stresses of caring for elderly relations is often best shared. And if you have a manipulative elderly father or mother to add to the mix, finding solace in a friend is necessary.

If you have siblings, make sure to discuss and share your experiences so you can all make a game plan. Otherwise, confide in your spouse, partner, or friend. Understanding the emotional struggles you are facing will help them support you when you need it most.

Establish responsibilities

If your manipulative elderly parents require care or assistance, decide what you can and cannot manage. If their needs are beyond your capacity to cope with, consider using a care agency, home visitor, or community service to ease the strain.


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Francis Guillory

    I’m currently helping a friend through a rough patch with her parent. This article inspires me to be more proactive in her relationship, and be there for her. Thank you for sharing this precious insight.

  2. Christa D’Auria

    My aging mother now living in the assisted-living apartment complex still is narcissist and closed-minded in her negative, toxic and old-fashioned attitudes however I have chosen to stay away from her in my strong resistance as that’s up to me to decide to make no contacts with me in long distance. That’s off-limits. My older sister who is R.N. is greatly dependent on my same aging mother on her frequent guilty trips to visit her. Now I live in the healthy, positive and independent life in my own way after my college graduation to start my new life in the Outside World in my milestone in reality.

  3. Jamie Hull

    The problem is that several of the points made in this article seem to cross lines. What the adult child wants to happen for and with them for example 2hen a “child” wants something, they want it, including advice and if parents don’t give in they are considered “bad parents”. If a parent gives in, they are considered “bad parents” because they have at least, down the road.

    No person is perfect even as parents. No one instantly wipes out a parent’s past or present, problems or such and they become perfect people. In the same way, the adult child now has some responsibility for their own actions and the resultant reactions from them. These adult “children” are not perfect either and guess what? Neither will their children be perfect.

    Where does the proverbial buck stop? With great grandparents or great great grandparents and so on back down the line? Or, is it all only parents and everything that goes wrong in an adult “child’s” world and life is “their parent’s faults”?

    May the author of this piece be forever perfect as a person and especially as a parent because the author is going to need to be according to their own words here.

  4. Nancy

    I have 2 elderly parents that stalked me, injured me, and control me (still) since the police have been to their house but never investigate coercive control even though it’s a reporting state. It’s disappointing that so many social workers and psychiatrists don’t understand this type of abuse. They literally torture me like a political prisoner. It’s at the point where I am living in an old car I purchased to escape but it never happened b/c of Covid. My father was always abusive but not physically b/c I’m a female until after he retired and had a number of mini-stroke.Then he became extremely agitated and violent. I can’t list all the horrible things that were done to me but some abuse was totally by him and others were my mother’s orders.
    I had my own apartment and my mother was angry when I moved out at 22. She told me that I had to live with them for life in that little room forever until I got married! I never thought they were capable of such evil. They waited until I was vunerable about 2 decades later. None of this would be happening if the US had a decent healthcare system!

  5. DisabledGuy

    Physically disabled and 40. Live with elderly parents. I have always been there for them but it’s about to change. They painted this picture of being wonderfully loving parents and generally good to the outside world, but the shades are off after my brother found out how they really are.

    They manipulate and are physically and verbally abusive. I will be moving soon and if they cannot take care of themselves then they can go in a nursing home. They gang up on me and scream at me knowing fully that I have a major headache disorder and the screaming will cripple me to the point where I am on the floor in complete agony. They will not know where I live and my phone # will be changed. Since I have no other family I will be updating emergency contacts to NONE, and advanced directives on my disabled butt to say doctors can do what they think is best but my parents are not to be allowed near me in case I am hospitalized or allowed to make any decisions about my medical care in the event I am unconscious. I have given my complete adult life to making sure they are taken care of.

  6. Lise

    I am taking care of my mother that is 87 years of age. it is very difficult because I know on occasions, although she told me that she was not feeling good, contrary to the nurse in the long-care elderly space where she lives, mom seemed to be fine all day to day, but this evening she told me that she was sick, that she throw up and due to the fall 3 days ago (she fell on her bum) I asked her to start using her walker which she confirmed with me that she used her walker today and walked 4 times outside and inside and now she has to take Tylenol for the pain. I spend the past 2 months taking good care of her, and now I realized that my dearest mom she is manipulating me – I know she has medical issues and I am taking care of this with her, but eventually I will be going back to work (off work due to a head injury) that happened in February 2023. On occasions, I sit with her in the leaving room and she seems fine and she speaks to her friends that she made and on occasions it happens that some of them would mentioned that they had a great time playing cards – and when I spoke to mom, she mentioned that she was not feeling good, she stayed in bed and she hardly ate that day. Today, she contacted me 3 times early in the morning to tell me that the nurse when to take her blood pressure, it was really high and she mentioned that she will have to go to the hospital – then she call me back to tell me that she was going to rest for a while that she did not want to go to the hospital, and she said high blood pressure is very difficult and dangerous for her age. I contacted the nurse and she told me to not worry, her blood pressure is a little high and she did not tell her that she had to go to the hospital. I contacted mom and she told me, argumentized that she did not tell me this on the phone, although I have the conversation registered. Not sure what else to do, when we sit in the front hall, it is nice many of her friends are there, if I go into a long conversation with one of her friend, she wants to go in her room. I am seeing the manipulation but I do not not know what to do, mom is 87 years of age, I am the only sibling that goes and see her, 2 of them told her that when she dies that she will die alone (so sad, the cruelty in them) and last week it was her birthday and the 2 of them did not bother to call her. ;Mom had encountered terrible health issues for the past 15 years, and it is without any doubt that I know she has chronic pain and I am there to support her, I love her, she is my mom, her body hurts she has bad arthritis, her back is crooked, she has hammer toes, which makes her difficult to walk, she is loosing her earing, and loss of continence (urine) in her bed which is more than an indicator that she is deteriorating everyday. I love my mom, there is nothing I would not do for her to make her comfortable until she is ready to pass away, and I came up with a plan to get a care-giver for her to spend time with her 6 hours of week, this will be lovely for both of us. Amen (Please pray for her). Thank you.

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