How to Deal with Selfish Adult Children

Thứ bảy - 27/04/2024 01:10
Plus, signs and causes of selfish behavior in your adult child Watching your child grow into an adult can be fulfilling, but also challenging when you see their negative behaviors affect their lives and relationships. If you're a parent of...
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Watching your child grow into an adult can be fulfilling, but also challenging when you see their negative behaviors affect their lives and relationships. If you’re a parent of a selfish adult child, you may be at a loss for how to help your child as they seem to disregard your feelings and the feelings of others. You’re not alone, and there are many resources to aid parents through the difficult process of dealing with selfish adult children—including this guide on recognizing, addressing, and understanding the roots of selfish and disrespectful behavior in adult children.

Things You Should Know

  • To deal with a selfish adult child, set boundaries. Use an “I feel” statement or neutral phrase like “This is what I need” to calmly express how their actions hurt you.
  • Encourage your adult child to take responsibility for their actions and behavior. Ask them to put themselves in other people’s shoes and empathize with their feelings.
  • Communicate calmly and respectfully with your adult child, even if they lash out. Remain open to your child’s perspective and apologize for any way you hurt them.
Section 1 of 3:

How to Deal With a Selfish Adult Child

  1. Step 1 Set boundaries with your adult child.
    Communicate to them what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable, and enforce these boundaries whenever they come up.[1] Use phrases like “This is what I need,” “What you are doing is hurtful,” “I know it hurts to hear this, but I don’t like it when _______ and I’ve asked you repeatedly to stop.”[2]
    • Limit financial support, like shared credit cards and bank accounts.[3]
    • Resist your parental urge to rescue them and prevent them from learning a lesson.
    • Require them to pay rent and share expenses if they live with you.
    • Find your identity outside your parental role and encourage your child to do the same.
    • Respect your child’s independence when they make different life choices than you.
    • Remember that boundaries are an act of love—you cannot control your child’s reaction to how you set boundaries, but their negative reaction doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
  2. Step 2 Remain respectful and calm during arguments.
    Even if their behavior is upsetting or unacceptable, model healthy communication and tell them so calmly. Take a deep breath before you respond to avoid reacting from a place of anger.[4]
    • If you need a moment to compose yourself, you can even say, “I need a moment to calm down before I can give this the attention it deserves. Can we each take five minutes and come back to this?”
    • If your adult child is pushing a boundary you’ve set or making excuses for their behavior, say, “I understand; however, I can’t allow you/I need you to…”[5]
    • If the argument is becoming heated, say, “I hear that is how you see it. I see it differently.”
    • If your adult child tries to manipulate you by saying, “You don’t care about me,” say, “Thank you for telling me that you feel like that. What am I doing that’s stopping me from showing you how much I love you and how important you are to me?”
    • If your adult child uses disrespectful language or insults you, say, “You’ll feel better about yourself and this conversation when you speak to me in the same respectful tone I’m trying to speak to you with.”
  3. Step 3 Encourage your child to take responsibility.
    Avoid judging your child and offer to help them with moving forward. If they’ve gotten into trouble with their work, a relationship, or a legal situation, ask them how you can help them move forward. Tell them that they need to consider how they got here and how their actions may have contributed to it.[6]
    • Taking responsibility for their actions may help your child see how their behavior affects others and reduce their selfish behavior over time.
  4. Step 4 Listen to your...
    Listen to your child and own your mistakes. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and some of your child’s behaviors may be coming from things you unintentionally did to hurt them in the past. Validate their feelings and acknowledge the mistakes you’ve made.[7]
    • Say something like, “Thank you for sharing that with me. It was never my intention to hurt you, but I understand that I did. I’m truly sorry.”
  5. Step 5 Reinforce positive behaviors.
    Note when they successfully control their emotions and let them know how much you appreciate that. If the two of you are able to have a calm and constructive conversation, tell them how much that’s helped you understand them and improve your relationship.[8]
    • Use positive language and offer immediate feedback whenever possible.
    • Say something like, “Thank you for calmly explaining to me how you feel. It helps me understand and listen better when we’re not shouting at each other, so thank you for giving me that opportunity.”
    • It’s easy to get swept up in your adult child’s selfish behavior, but avoid becoming so absorbed by their negative behaviors that you stop seeing their positive ones.
  6. Step 6 Seek professional support.
    A mental health professional can support you in expressing your feelings and learning tools to deal with your disrespectful adult child. If they are willing, you may also attend family counseling with your grown child and any other affected family members.[9]
    • With a counselor or therapist acting as a mediator, your adult child may be more receptive and better understand the issues with their behavior.
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Section 2 of 3:

Understanding Selfish Behavior in Adult Children

  1. Step 1 Selfish adult children show a lack of empathy.
    A selfish adult child may have seemingly no consideration for you and your feelings. They may also show no remorse after hurting you and use manipulation to get what they want, like giving you the silent treatment or guilt-tripping you.[10]
    • Other signs and behaviors of a self-absorbed adult child include:
    • Constantly accusing you of things you did or didn’t do without hearing your side of the situation.
    • Criticizing or insulting you with unproductive statements like “you’re a terrible parent” or “you’re so cruel.”
    • Comparing what you do/did for them to what you do/did for their siblings.
    • Texting or calling you out of the blue asking for money or favors.
    • Complaining to you constantly about their toxic significant other, but also complaining that you haven’t been supportive of their unhealthy relationship.
    • Denying that they have a substance abuse problem or blaming you for causing their addiction.
  2. Step 2 Independence and individuality may be mistaken for selfishness.
    In early adulthood, a chapter defined by immense personal growth and self-discovery, adult children experience autonomy for the first time.[11] As a result, some of the behaviors of adult children may come across as self-absorbed, but it’s really just a phase as they try to assert their individuality.
    • Someone voicing negative feelings is also sometimes misconstrued as them behaving like a toxic adult child.
    • Children should be able to critique you in a healthy and constructive way, such as, “I often feel like you shut me down when I’m feeling upset, and that really hurts me and our relationship.”
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Section 3 of 3:

Causes of Selfish Behavior in Adult Children

  1. Step 1 Entitlement
    Your adult child may act self-centered because they feel entitled to a certain level of treatment or attention. A sense of entitlement often comes from excessive indulgence or spoiling during childhood, which appears as selfishness in adults.[12]
    • An entitled selfish adult child may take any critique as an insult and always think their ideas are incredibly valuable.[13]
    • They will also see other people’s success or ideas as a detriment to their own.
    • Educate your adult child on the risks of entitled and selfish behavior by saying, “If you take everything as a personal attack, you’ll constantly be frustrated and upset. Isn’t that exhausting?”
    • Or, say, “If you only focus on your needs, you’ll stop being able to see outside your own perspective. You won’t be able to work, learn, or develop relationships with others, and you’ll only hurt yourself in the long run.”
  2. Step 2 Lack of life skills
    Some adult children may still need to develop basic life skills to be self-sufficient and responsible for themselves. They may then become dependent on others, which can be seen as selfishness. However, they truly don’t know how to function or navigate the world on their own.[14]
    • If, for whatever reason, your child didn’t learn the life skills they need growing up, now is the time to teach them.
    • While this may seem like something you shouldn’t have to do at this stage, part of your role as a parent is to ensure your child can thrive on their own.
    • Set aside one day a week or month to work with your adult child on a skill. Start with something simple like doing laundry, meal-prepping, or making medical appointments.
    • Then, move on to more complex skills like using a budget or setting work and personal goals.
  3. Step 3 Parental enabling
    Enabling is a coping mechanism often seen in families with mental health conditions or substance abuse issues. As a parent, you may enable your struggling adult children by protecting them from consequences, blaming others for their selfish actions, or keeping secrets and making excuses about their behavior.[15]
    • Despite your positive intent, enabling your child only exacerbates their negative behavior.
    • Enabling is not the same as support. Enabling encourages unhealthy behaviors, while supporting someone empowers them to recover and change their habits.
    • Supporting and empowering an adult child looks like setting boundaries, being honest about the damage their behavior is causing, and asking them to take responsibility for their actions.
    • Many parents struggle with enabling their children. While you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it, you also need to take steps to correct your own behavior in order to aid theirs.
  4. Step 4 Trauma or mental health issues
    A history of trauma, especially resulting from a dysfunctional home environment as a child, can lead to disrespectful or selfish behavior as an adult. Similarly, someone who is struggling with untreated mental illness, like depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder, may express their feelings in unhealthy ways.[16]
    • If someone you or your child is struggling with mental health, trauma-related or otherwise, SAMHSA’s National Helpline is free, confidential, and available 24/7/365: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
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