Whether we want it or not, our parents play a major role in shaping us mentally and emotionally.
What is toxic parenting?
No one is perfect, including our parents. Parents are human beings too. They may have the best intentions and want the best for their children, but they make mistakes and might unintentionally do damaging things at times. Despite this, their impulse is to do better, improve, and make things right.
Toxic parenting, however, involves parents who carry a promise of love and care, but at the same time, mistreat their children. They partake in parenting styles that inflict on-going and repetitive trauma, abuse, humiliation, and ill-will. They don’t treat their children with respect as individuals, compromise, take responsibility for their behavior, nor are they likely to apologize. They lack compassion and nurturing abilities and are more concerned with their own needs than worrying about whether or not what they are doing is harmful or damaging.
This repeated behavior creates fear, guilt, obligation, and leaves a child with emotional scars. Toxic parents treat their children in ways that make them doubt their importance, self-worth, and make them question if they are worthy of love, approval, and validation.
Signs of Toxic Parenting
Toxic parents lie, manipulate, ignore, judge, abuse, shame, humiliate, and criticize. Their actions and behaviors all fall under the umbrella of neglect or emotional, verbal, or physical abuse. Nothing is ever good enough for them. It doesn’t matter if you get an A or become class president. They’ll always find a way to bring you down, compare you, and then criticize you for the way you fall. Other signs include:
- Controlling behavior (how you behave, what you wear, what you do, etc)
- Disrespectful/lack of boundaries
- They are emotionally reactive, dramatic, unpredictable
- They invalidate your emotions
- Try to live vicariously through you
- They put their feelings first
- They expect perfection
- Use fear to gain compliance
- They guilt trip you
- They are passive aggressive, harsh, cruel
- They are demanding and competitive
- They play the victim and try to sabotage you
- You feel bad when you talk to, spend time with, or think about them
- They treat you as if you’re still a child even when you’re an adult
The list goes on. Toxic parents overall seek to completely control their child on every aspect of their life and are extremely talented at making others believe that everything they do is in the child’s best interest.
Types of Toxic Parents
- The godlike parents– suffocate their child’s independence to the point that the child can’t survive on their own. This environment encourages the belief that the child is bad and weak and the parents are good and strong.
- The inadequate parents– these parents focus on their own survival; the child becomes almost invisible and is forced to grow up fast. As a result, these children find it difficult to develop a sense of self-worth.
- The controllers– these parents try to live vicariously through their children and control their lives even in adulthood. These children develop anxious and fearful personalities and have difficulties maturing. These parents often use guilt and shame to leverage themselves.
- The verbal abusers– these parents directly insult their children or are cynical and sarcastic to intentionally hurt their feelings and put them down. You often see this parenting style in extremely competitive people or perfectionist parents who are never satisfied with anything. This results in the child internalizing and starting to believe what their parents say about them.
- The physical abusers– physical abuse often happens because of the parent’s exhaustion, high stress levels, anxiety, their own unhappiness and lack of impulse control, or because physical abuse was normal for them as they grew up. These parents lash out when their children don’t meet their needs. This parent style results in feelings of rage, revenge fantasies, and self-hatred in the children.
- The active abuser– physically abuses the child
- The passive abuser– they witness the abuse but do nothing to protect the child. Results in a form of abandonment.
- The alcoholics– they do everything mentioned above. Drinking also leads to a destruction of vulnerability, trust, and openness. The child becomes a scapegoat for all that is wrong with the parent and they learn early on that relationships lead to betrayal and love leads to pain.
- The sexual abusers– the ultimate betrayal. Destroys the child’s innocence and leads to them feeling dirty, damaged, and different. The children are robbed of healthy relationships and sexuality.
Effects of Toxic Parenting
Growing up in a dysfunctional family can lead to an equally dysfunctional adulthood. You may encounter problems such as:
- Having a hard time saying no because your boundaries weren’t respected
- Becoming more susceptible to developing anxiety disorders
- Working hard to please others to fit in
- Having a hard time being your authentic self
- Having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others
- Believing people close to you will hurt you or abandon you
- Expecting the worst from people and life in general
- Possibly developing an insecure or avoidant attachment style in your relationships
You are also susceptible to mirroring the same negative behaviors as your parents due to triggers. You might not even realize the full capacity of the toxic behaviors that you grew up with because those behaviors were all you knew, what you learned, and what you considered normal. You grew up not knowing anything different and may have even began to believe that you deserved to be treated this way.
If you read this far and had these thoughts and believe that your parents were right and that you are worthless or useless, that is not true. You deserve love, warmth, and to know how important you are. Your parents’ toxic behaviors are not your fault or your responsibility. You may want them to change for the better one day, but that might not be possible. Despite not being able to change them, you can reclaim your life from them.
How to Heal from Toxic Parenting
Healing comes from a place of understanding. I know that it can be difficult to “unlearn” the toxic patterns of behaviors that you grew up around, but you can overcome them. You can eventually separate yourself from your parents, change yourself for the better, and set boundaries that work for you.
- Become aware of your true feelings, beliefs, and behaviors towards your parents
- Rather than use forgiveness as an excuse that it didn’t happen, actively grieve
- Grief lets you get unstuck, allows you to heal, and enables you to do something about your lost childhood
- Make it clear that your parents’ toxic behaviors were not your responsibility
- Give yourself permission to be angry, without making any judgements
- Talk about your anger with safe people, increase your physical activity, use your anger as a source of self-definition for you to define your limits and boundaries
- Gain emotional independence
- Allow yourself to be who you are and let your parents be who they are
- Proactively communicate and confront your parents if necessary
- If you choose to confront your parents, do it for yourself, not for them. Simply having the courage to do it is successful. Your response is what matters, not their reaction to the confrontation
- Break the cycle and try your best to not impose toxicity onto your own children
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