“Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Very often, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache,” says the famous American inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant. And if there’s someone who knows this the best, that’s people who come from toxic families.
The psychological damage one suffers being raised in a dysfunctional family atmosphere is way more difficult to shake than the psychological damage one can suffer in toxic friendships or romantic relationships.
Unfortunately, the bad experiences that a person who grew up in a toxic family went through leave deep emotional scars on them that stay with them throughout their adulthood.
Oftentimes, they have a hard time establishing and maintaining their friendships or romantic relationships because they have low self-esteem and trust issues.
This article looks at the 13 most common ways a toxic family can negatively affect a child’s life. But before we present the behaviors that people coming from toxic families have in common, let’s look at the most common signs of a toxic family.
What Are The Signs Of A Toxic Family?
Here are the 10 most common behaviors toxic parents display:
1. They disregard their child’s basic needs.
A toxic parent will prioritize their own feelings, needs, and desires over those of their child. Self-centered and uncaring parents likely won’t admit that they’re neglecting their child, and this neglect or abuse can last for a long time.
Caring and loving parents should respect and support their child’s needs. They can do this by:
- Taking care of their child’s well-being
- Making sure their child has food to eat and clothes to wear
- Showing their child affection
- Providing their child with education
- Establishing boundaries
- Making sure their child grows into a responsible and disciplined individual
2. They don’t respect their child’s beliefs.
It’s normal for a parent to have different beliefs from their child. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t accept their child’s life choices, decisions, and perspectives or criticize or make sarcastic or derogatory comments about their beliefs.
When a toxic parent disrespects their child’s beliefs, this may look like this:
- They don’t accept their child’s sexuality
- They disapprove of their child’s partner that is not of the same religion or race they are
- They express their negative opinions about their child in front of other people and on social media
- They treat their child like they feel hatred for them
3. They put themselves first.
A toxic parent may begin to organize their life, as well as their child’s around themselves. Thus, they may expect their child to accommodate them and try to convince them that they should sacrifice their own needs, priorities, and values for their parents’ sake. Such expectations and behavior, in turn, may make the child feel manipulated, neglected, exhausted, or even unimportant.
When a toxic parent makes themselves the priority, this might look like this:
- They don’t support their child’s basic needs
- They never accept responsibility for their actions
- The child often finds themselves doing things only to receive the attention and approval of their parent(s).
- They constantly sabotage plans
- They hardly ever say “thank you” despite all the sacrifices their child makes for them
4. They heavily criticize their child.
Every parent reprimands their child for their behavior occasionally. But it’s one thing when this criticism is constructive and completely another when it makes the child feel disrespected, unappreciated, unloved, or inferior. This is exactly how a toxic parent usually makes their child feel. When they criticize their child, they focus on the child, not their behavior.
5. They expect their child to meet very high standards.
It’s normal for a child to help their parents when doing household chores. But tasks such as throwing the garbage out every evening, vacuuming the carpets every Sunday, or watching younger siblings shouldn’t cause a child to sacrifice their own needs or prevent them from playing, writing homework, or getting enough sleep. This is exactly the way toxic parents treat their children.
A toxic parent will often ask their child to:
- Accept responsibilities such as cleaning or cooking before they are able to properly or safely do so
- Watch or discipline younger siblings or act as if they were their parent
- Offer emotional support as if they were an adult person
6. They constantly pick fights with their child.
Occasionally having arguments is normal in any family. But when you live with a toxic parent, you have arguments on a daily basis, and sometimes even several times a day.
Having consistent fights, even over small, insignificant things, can make a child feel like they have to walk on eggshells in order not to annoy their parents or cause an argument. But no matter how hard the child may try to watch their behavior and respect their parents, they can never know what might cause them to fly off the handle.
A toxic parent may often display the following behaviors:
- Provoke an argument as a result of personal problems, not misunderstandings
- Disregard their child’s opinions and make them feel manipulated and emotionally drained after a fight
- Take everything their child says personally
- Gaslight their child
- Make offensive comments about their child’s character during a fight
- Make their child feel like they’re walking on eggshells when they are around them
7. They lie to their child.
It’s not uncommon for toxic parents to tell their children blatant lies to deny that something they said or did that hurt their child ever happened. Such behavior creates distrust and confusion in their relationship and leaves the child wondering whether everything their parents say is a lie or not.
8. They are abusive.
Abuse can come in many forms, such as gaslighting, stonewalling, violation of boundaries, yelling, threats, manipulation, and hitting. This is what it might look like when a parent is abusive:
- They have no (or little) respect for their child’s personal space, time, and boundaries
- They often display a controlling behavior
- The child feels calm and safe when the toxic parent is not around
- They often threaten their child verbally and physically
- They bully or are aggressive towards their child
9. They give their child silent treatment.
To control their child and play with their emotions, a toxic parent may refuse to speak to them for hours or days after a fight. Toxic parents usually use this manipulation technique to punish their children for disobeying their rules or not behaving the way they want them to.
10. They play the blame game.
To avoid taking responsibility for their own actions and mistakes, a toxic parent may often lay the blame at their child’s door. For anything wrong that happens in their life, they’re always ready to hold their child accountable for that.
13 Toxic Families Signs In People
1. They’re not always able to understand their feelings.
They have a hard time understanding their own feelings as well as the reasons why they’re feeling them. The fact that they have been raised in a family where they weren’t allowed to express their feelings is the reason why they often don’t feel comfortable showing their emotions to others.
Therefore, they often suppress them or even pretend that they’re feeling something else.
2. They often become anxious.
People coming from toxic families often struggle with anxiety for no apparent reason. Perhaps they were punished for every mistake they made when they were kids by their parents, or maybe they weren’t allowed to hang out with friends, try things, and explore.
Whatever the reason, these people often become fearful and anxious without being able to detect the reason for it.
3. They have confidence issues.
It’s no wonder that they have low confidence because, instead of being told to believe in their abilities, talents, and strength by their parents, they have been told that they are not smart and good enough. That’s why they often have difficulties making decisions, and they doubt not only other people but also themselves.
They feel like nothing they do is ever good enough, and they often feel the need to prove themselves and be validated by others.
4. They have difficulty developing healthy, meaningful, stable relationships.
When a person has been raised in a toxic family, it means that they never got to see what unselfishness, trust, and unconditional love and support really mean. All that they’ve got used to experiencing has been manipulation, belittlement, insults, and blame games.
Therefore, it’s tough for a person from a toxic family to start trusting and opening up to others. They may even unintentionally hurt a friend or their partner because they don’t know how to conduct themselves in normal, healthy relationships. (1)
5. They have difficulty communicating too.
They have a difficult time sharing their opinions with other people, both those who are close to them and those they meet for the first time.
The fact that most of the time, they weren’t allowed to express their opinions and ideas and defend themselves when criticized in their childhood is the reason why they’re often afraid to speak up and stand up for themselves in their adulthood.
Unfortunately, this is the reason why they often let other people put them down and weaken their confidence even more. (2)
6. They surround themselves with toxic people for comfort.
No, this is not a joke. The thing is that growing up with so negative, selfish, inconsiderate people has caused toxicity to be like an addiction to them. They have got so used to having toxic people around them that they don’t know any better.
7. They don’t feel love, compassion, affection, or respect.
A toxic family member will try to attack your self-esteem, mock your life choices, or belittle you. If you cannot remember clear signs of love and affection from your childhood, it’s highly probable because there weren’t any to begin with.
Our families may not always agree with our choices or way of living, but they should always respect them – respect us, and if as a grown-up you are noticing that your emotions are somewhat flat, that you rarely feel joy and happiness, it may be because you’ve been living with a toxic family.
8. They’ve endured harsh criticism in their childhood.
Toxic families have a way of making you feel inferior, incapable of anything, unwanted, or unloved. To them, you are never too successful, never too skinny, never dressed properly… never right.
It’s normal to want to raise a child that will not be spoiled, and it’s normal to reprimand them when they do something bad, but frequent criticism threatens not to be constructive and may influence the child negatively.
If you’ve taken on a defensive mechanism throughout the years or often feel unworthy and insecure about your true potential, that’s another sign that you’ve been a victim of a toxic parent or another family member with whom you grew up.
9. They’ve undergone physical, emotional, and/or verbal abuse.
Abuse, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, is a major indicator of the subversive nature of toxic families.
Gaslighting, body-shaming, or name-calling are also ways of abuse, but sometimes, that abuse is sly, conniving. It’s very hard to pin down. If arguments were never resolved in a healthy way through apologizing and discussing, the victim might continue to be stuck in that toxic cycle all the way to their adulthood.
Also, if you never felt supported or praised for your accomplishments, if all you remember is constant nagging and reproaching, constant criticism or violence, it’s because you’ve been living with toxic family members. The thing about our childhoods is that they cannot be changed, but they can help us rediscover ourselves and learn how to raise our own children differently.
10. Their toxic family members abuse(d) alcohol and substances.
Casual and occasional use of alcohol isn’t harmful per se, and it’s certainly not toxic. But when a family member uses drugs or alcohol regularly and displays compulsive behavior, this points out a harmful and unhealthy dynamic in the family.
Emotional, verbal, or physical violence resulting from substance abuse is, again, a toxic family sign that threatens to disrupt a child’s well-being.
11. They were supposed to meet ridiculously high standards.
It’s normal to assign tasks to children, as that’s how they can learn about responsibilities. But those tasks shouldn’t keep the child from playing, finishing their homework, or getting enough sleep.
Toxic families often ask their children to look after siblings or provide most of their care, do heavy chores like cleaning and cooking meals before they can safely or aptly do so, or provide emotional support for their parents as if they are adults.
12. They feel controlled and constantly disapproved.
Toxic families might try to control major aspects of your life, including your friendships, romantic relationships, and career decisions, and in case you fail to meet their expectations, standards, and requirements, toxic family members will never miss a chance to slap you in the face with their spiteful, passive-aggressive remarks.
There are also toxic families who scapegoat. If you were the family member who was always blamed for everything, that means your parents or siblings blamed you not because you had the fault for everything, but rather to hide and cover for their empty, dysfunctional, toxic relationship.
Toxic families will usually blame someone from the inner circle of the family, turning them into their scapegoat. Now, the scapegoat is always someone that’s more fragile and vulnerable or, paradoxically, someone that’s very strong and enduring.
Finally, the role of the scapegoat can be fixed or rotated. Parents can turn one or all of their children into scapegoats, depending on the nature of the situation.
13. Constant reiterating dysfunction that turns into a lifestyle.
When the family members are going through a financial crisis or health concerns, it is natural that they will be stressed out, disconnected, impatient, etc. It’s not nice, but it’s part of life, right?
However, when that cycle keeps repeating itself, it means there is a problem. These patterns of behavior should be temporary, and the parents should apologize and explain to their children what happened and why their reactions were the way they were. If the parents fail to do this and, worse, keep being disregarding, dismissive, and critical, that’s just another sign of a toxic environment.
How To Respond To Toxic Families
There’s no right or wrong way to deal with toxic family members. There just isn’t. It’s all subjective. As it should be, of course. In these situations, it’s best to talk to your parent or sibling and to help them understand how their behavior influences you negatively. Make sure you communicate your problem and make sure you communicate it in a kind, rational, calm way.
In case they refuse to understand or change anything about their negative behavior or even further push the blame on you, don’t let them drag you any further into their vortex of toxicity.
- Decide what YOU want to do next
- Practice detachment
- Talk to an expert and seek advice
- Cut ties if nothing else helps or if your therapist suggests it
In fact, a 2015 study in the US conducted by the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge found that 40% of people have experienced family estrangement at some point in life, and a whopping 80% have reported being much happier after cutting ties with certain family members, so whatever you decide to do, make sure it entails your mental well-being, your own comfort, and peaceful state of mind.
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers and decisions. What’s right is what makes you feel comfortable.
What Can A Toxic Family Do To A Child?
Being raised in a toxic family can affect a child in the following ways:
- It can undermine their self-esteem and make them feel unlovable or even unworthy
- It can cause the child to grow into an uncompassionate, uncaring individual
- It can make the child dependent on their parents
- It can make the child feel a constant need to be accepted and validated by other people
- It can prevent the child from setting clear boundaries
- It can cause the child to be unable to accept criticism
- It can cause the child to be unable to handle problems in a healthy, mature, and responsible way
- It can cause the child to be unable to treat themselves with compassion and dignity or to feel guilt if they treat themselves this way
- It can cause the child to have difficulty trusting others
Riley Cooper is a professional writer who writes informative and creative articles on topics related to various fields of study. Written with love and enthusiasm, her articles inspire readers to broaden their knowledge of the world, think and get ready to act. If you have a general question or comment please fill out the form and we will get back to you as soon as possible https://curiousmindmagazine.com/contact-us/