Usually, you’re not able to tell right away if you’re dealing with toxicity in any form of relationship. Be it a romantic one, a sibling relationship, or a parent-child relationship. This is why it’s obvious that you would hardly know the signs you are dealing with toxic parents.
The forms of toxicity differ from person to person and relationship to relationship. You may have had a toxic relationship with your parents as a child without even realizing it. When you grow up in a toxic environment, it becomes the norm and you seldom question it.
Did you develop any insecurities while growing up? Perhaps you’ve been avoiding making big decisions in your life since you believe you’re not the best at it. Ever thought that your parents might be the reason for that? With the help of clinical psychologist Devaleena Ghosh (M.Res, Manchester University), who specializes in couples counseling and family therapy, let’s take a look at these 15 signs of toxic parenting.
Who Are Toxic Parents?
“A toxic parent is typically one who ignores boundaries and appropriates for every age of any child. Another common toxic parents trait is withholding love and putting too many conditions on the child. You may also notice them invalidate or ignore your feelings,” says Devaleena.
It is inevitable that there will be days when parents will have an outburst, or they will punish their child, sometimes rather unjustly. But in a healthy relationship, you often see parents making it up with the child again by offering an explanation and trying to reconnect.
But when screaming, shouting, and beating up is a part of everyday parenting, then it is a sign of toxic parents. What are the attributes that toxic parents usually have? We tell you.
- Selfish: Toxic parents are selfish, care very little about a child’s emotional needs, and their focus is on discipline and not on nurture
- Abusive: Toxic parents are usually verbally abusive. Insulting and humiliating come easily to them, and they can turn physically abusive too
- Intrusive: They have no idea of emotional boundaries and can keep pushing a child beyond limits
- Manipulative: They are controlling and manipulative and do not allow a child to make any kind of decision
John Mark Green said, “Toxic people attach themselves like cinder blocks tied to your ankles, and then invite you for a swim in their poisoned waters.” Until you realize you have cinder blocks weighing you down, you’ll never truly be able to reach your full potential. By drawing parallels to your childhood and the signs of toxic parents, let’s get to the bottom of just how healthy your household was, or wasn’t.
15 Signs That Will Tell You That You Had Toxic Parents
When every decision in life has been made for you by your parents, it’s easy to see why you might not be too confident in yourself. If you’ve grown up with toxic parents, it’s possible you only noticed something is wrong in your family once you stayed over at a friend’s house and no one was shouting at someone.
Devaleena tells about the most common indications. “One of the most common signs of toxic parents is emotional disbalance. They constantly overreact or create their own drama, and tend to offload their burdens on you.
“They are always self-centered, they don’t think about your needs or feelings. Their needs invariably come first, with little or no regard to how you may be feeling. One of the most common toxic parents traits is being harsh while criticizing, as well as going to any lengths to establish control over their child.”
Let’s take a look at the things that may indicate a hostile and unhealthy family dynamic.
Related Reading: My Toxic In-Laws Won’t Let Go Even After We Have Shifted Cities
1. Home wasn’t your ‘go-to place’
Be it returning from school/college or wanting to rest after a hard day at work, your home wasn’t your haven but a dreaded place to go to. The people staying in it made it difficult for you to think of this place as your “calm after the storm“. It was the storm and a place you needed to get away from.
As one of the subtle signs of toxic parents, you might’ve noticed a lot of negative energy entering your house as soon as a parent walked in. The minute you engage in conversation with them, you can be sure there is a confrontation coming. Healthy family dynamics feature discussions, not arguments.
2. Independence? What’s that?
You did have the freedom to go and hang out with your friends, but at a decided and specific time decided by either of your parents or both.
“Establishing control over their child is the most important thing for a toxic parent,” says Devaleena. “Giving simple instructions in the name of being a good parent is the biggest form of control. They instantly disregard the other’s ability to make better decisions. Ultimately each child has to learn to make choices on their own and bear the consequences,” she adds.
To the outside world, you were an on-your-own kid, but nothing would go aboard without the approval of your parents. You never considered yourself to be independent as, for even the smallest of things, you had to get consent or discuss it with your folks, after which the action would have its fruition.
3. You were always the under-confident kid
Owing to your dependency on your parents, as mentioned in the above point, you didn’t have faith in yourself. Every kid in your class would take a leap and try things for the first time, participate in activities that they had never done before, and more.
But you never thought you could do any of it and constantly underestimated yourself. This doesn’t mean that you are not a confident person now, as an adult. But these are signs you grew up with toxic parents. One of the most effects of toxic parents is developing self-confidence and insecurity issues.
4. Your parents HAD to be your priority
Your parents would be the center of all your discussions. Their needs and wants would come before the children of the house and it was always understood that, if their needs are met, everything else would fall in place eventually. Your parents came first, rather than you coming first for yourself.
From all the 15 signs of toxic parenting, this one probably sticks out most for you. Parents would drill into a child’s head that they are the priority. They could even go into emotional blackmail and have outbursts if you wanted to have a sleepover at a friend’s place. Sounds familiar?
5. You were the matured one in the relationship
Without holding any grudge, you would keep their needs as your topmost priority and work toward fulfilling them, rather than cribbing about your wishes going unheard.
Devaleena tells us why toxic parents end up overreacting to their problems. “They treat their children as objects of their manipulation and not as human beings whom they need to show love and tenderness. They may also have had a difficult childhood or come from typical dysfunctional families where their own emotional, social, or even physical needs weren’t met.”
You would top your class, as promised, but the iPhone they promised you if you fulfilled their wishes never came. You never got to wish anything on your birthday or throw any tantrums. They did if things didn’t go according to plan.
6. Ever heard of parents sabotaging your relationships?
Because they would have been so used to your presence and you succumbing to all that they say and do so much that knowingly or unknowingly, they would make sure that your other relationships wouldn’t work out.
There was always a pattern that you never noticed. Whenever you bring a partner home, your relationship with that person will sour soon after. Why was that? Looking back, could it have been your parents playing a key role?
7. Your parents were always the center
Like it or not, this is the fact in most cases. You can say goodbye to what you want to talk about, or even about your needs and wants. What your parents want to talk about always takes center stage.
They would hint toward what they wish to talk about, what they would like for dinner, where they would want to go for a holiday, and so on. And you would end up agreeing as they would have maybe guilt-tripped you, by then. Years later you could realize that your parents never knew what was your favorite food or the restaurant you loved to go to because they always chose for you. These are signs you grew up with toxic parents.
8. You faced criticism more than appreciation
Even if you went out of your way to do something extremely important or a nice gesture, they would always find flaws or focus on things that didn’t take off well. It could even be one of the signs of toxic parents in adulthood since you’ll never really see them being too happy about your career.
Body shaming you, criticizing your crush or your friends, or simply picking on the “B”s in your report card could have come easily to them. And if you had made a decision for yourself and it went wrong, you already knew a never-ending slew of “I told you so” is coming your way.
9. You were the punching bag and laughing stock
From them having a bad day to your mother’s PMS, everything came out on you. These are signs of a toxic mother. You’ve had to bear the brunt of everything bad or wrong, and you’re also the one who gets mocked at parties with their friends.
It’s a sign of disrespect, but in a way, it would make them feel great about themselves. You might end up thinking things like “My parents are bad, they don’t even respect me,” but eventually, they’ll end up gaslighting you into thinking they’re the best thing that could’ve happened to you. They’ve probably been telling you about all the things they’ve ever done for you since you grew up, and how exuberantly grateful you should be for them.
10. You go unheard and unspoken to
If you were growing up with toxic parents, you probably weren’t involved in any decision-making around the house. In some cases, we often see parents deciding the careers of their kids as well. It might have left you feeling ignored, incapable of making decisions, and not respected in your own house.
Living with toxic parents can sometimes be a lot to deal with. Because being ignored all the time is not easy to deal with and on top of that, there is no emotional connection.
11. Your space is always within their reach
From all the different types of toxic parents, the most common trait you’ll find is them having no understanding of boundaries or personal space. You think you are in your room until you open the door to witness your parents trying to hear your phone conversations with your friends. Your door was never ever allowed to be closed, and “alone time” was non-existent.
“Parents of teenagers often pry on their children’s lives and belongings on the pretext of cleaning their rooms. They call it ‘being clued into what their child is up to’ but a toxic parent does it habitually and often long after the initial teen years are gone too,” says Devaleena.
12. Bribery for controlling you
No one would think that your parents are toxic with the amount of love they shower upon you in the name of gifts and money. It’s actually a very subtle way of controlling you and your actions.
These are often the signs of a toxic dad if he is co-parenting after a divorce. He could get you lavish gifts, mainly for two reasons: so you wouldn’t demand too much of his time, and you would stay on his side and do his bidding. One of the most common things toxic parents say is something along the lines of “I bought you everything you wanted, don’t talk back to me”, in an attempt to establish control.
Related Reading: 5 Terrible Mistakes My Parents Made in Their 50-Year-Old Marriage
13. Derail you from your goal
They make other things so important and ask you to focus so much on them that your ambitions take the backseat. You wouldn’t ever blame them or think that they would be responsible for it either, but it’s just what they do. They would make you do what they want you to do.
Toxic parents will make sure you miss swimming coaching and you’re focusing on things they want you to do instead. This usually results in a lot of unhappiness for the child, who might end up doing what their parents forced on them. This is what happens if you grow up with toxic parents.
14. All children are scared of them
They aren’t good with children and in fact, children fear them. Their presence itself scares them off. You and your friends know that they aren’t the “Let’s have a conversation about it” type, and you’d rather prefer to speak with your friends’ parents about the important matters at hand.
You feel like breaking up with your toxic parents, but you are so scared of them that you feel they will never let you go. You want to escape to university or get a job in a different town, but they always manage to drag you back.
15. Never a grown-up to your parents
This is true for most parents. You will always be a child to your parents, but with toxic parents, you will never be a grown-up and thus won’t be able to participate in the decision-making process or have a firm say about anything important to them or for the family.
The only way out is acceptance. Once you know that you have had a toxic childhood and that growing up with toxic parents defines your current characteristics, it will help you make a notable change in your existing confidence levels and more.
Spread more smiles and make people aware about these that can help them stop being toxic, in case they are as well as in making people know about the throttling relationships that they are into due to toxic parents.