Nearly all parents do their best to provide their family with a happy and healthy childhood, and even these parents accidentally make mistakes that can result in future therapy appointments. Regrettably, some parents go way beyond the random misstep and barrel headlong into the toxic category. Irrespective of whether or not a parent is resolutely being toxic, there are behaviors that cause so much emotional and mental damage to a child that it continues to affect them even as adults. If you lived through any of the following situations as a kid, the odds are high that one or both of your parents were at least a little toxic.
No affirmation or security.
We have all experienced tough love and it can be in important way to make sure that your kids learn to care for themselves in years to come. Lots of us are sure that it had a positive impact on our lives. Conversely, for some, it is hard to maintain composure in the face of a perceived failure or rejection. If this is you, then it is likely from a parent’s poisonous refusal to provide you, their charge, with the right amount of reassurance and support when you were younger. Indeed, tough loves works sometimes, but if it is the ONLY approach a parent risks raising a child that does not end up as a well-rounded adult.
They were overly critical.
Everybody’s parents criticized their kids off occasionally. Lacking that, you never really learn to do things the correct way, e.g., loading a dishwasher, cutting the grass, or doing the laundry. A toxic parent takes it to excess by being constantly and overly critical about each action their child takes. Most parents who fall into this trap aren’t trying to hurt their children; rather, they are trying to teach them how to avoid terrible mistakes or accidents. Unfortunately for all involved, what does happen is that it breeds a terribly harsh inner-critic in the child that winds being crippling during adulthood.
Always demanding your attention.
Did your parents turn you and your siblings into a family sized cheering section, demanding all of your attention all of the time? They wind up making you a substitute for their own parents. It might look like bonding, but it is really a parasitic relationship that takes too much of the child’s limited energy which would otherwise be focused on learning things that children learn along the way. Difficult as it might be at the time, a well-rounded parent will give their child space to grow and be children (doing the things that children do), rather than forcing them into a kind of relationship that suits the needs of the parent alone.
Toxic “jokes” about you.
It’s a family, I get it, and we are all the butt of a joke now and again around the house. But when the jokes become an everyday thing, it can become a big problem. You really don’t need to accept this kind of treatment just because your parent is the one doing it. Ultimately, it is a tactic to undermine you and make you feel bad about yourself. If a parent has a legit concern, they should be honest and not critical in addressing their concerns, as opposed to making ugly jokes at the expense of the child.
They force you to justify their awful behavior.
Regardless of what you have been told, you didn’t deserve that physically or emotionally abusive behavior. If you find yourself justifying receiving it, it’s probably because you grew up being told you deserved it. Toxic parents try and twist situations to suit their own needs and leave their children with only two choices:
· Accept their parent is wrong
· Internalize all the blame
In most cases kids, even into adulthood chose the second option over the first.
Never allowed you to express negative emotions.
When you have parents that refuse to nurture a child’s emotional needs, making light of the child’s negative emotions sets up a scenario in which their child will be unable to express what they need. It’s a good thing to help kids learn to see the positive side of things in any situation, but being utterly indifferent of your child’s negative feelings can lead to depression. The child develops into an adult that has difficulty appropriately handling negative emotions. Regardless of what you were taught, respect and fear are not required to go hand in hand. In most families, kids who feel supported, connected, and loved are way more likely to be happy when they become adults. Of course, discipline of some kind will be needed from time to time. “Non-toxic” parents do not use fear-filled actions and words to manage their child. They do not do things that permanently damage their child’s psyche. Kids don’t need fear to be respectful, and adults should not feel anxious each time their parent calls, texts, or emails. It’s just common sense.
Putting their feelings first, always.
Parents sometimes feel that their feelings are the most important in family matters. This is a very out of date way of looking at things and we have discovered that it doesn’t foster good family life. Even though parents DO need to make the final decision about everything from dinner to vacation destinations, it is important to consider the feelings of all family members, even the kids. Toxic folks regularly/always force their children to hide their own feelings in order to mollify their parents.
They co-opt your goals.
Have you experienced one of your parents becoming interested in what you did to the point that it seems that they were copying, perhaps even duplicating you? You might have been flattered and seen these actions as those of someone interested in your life, but what it often means is that it made it harder for you to reach your personal goals. For example, if you have to sell 25 cases of “World’s Finest Chocolate” and your dad decides to pass it out to his friends, it is going to be a great deal harder for you to reach your sales goals. This kind of thing can disrupt your plans throughout your entire life if you let your parent continually get away with it.
Guilt and money are used to control you.
Every now and then kids are guilt-tripped by their parents. For a toxic parent, the guilt trip can be their go-to tool of control. Even as an adult, you can have a parent attempting to control you by giving you expensive gifts and expecting something in return. If you refuse them, they try and make you feel guilty because of “everything they did for you” whether or not you asked in the first place. Healthy parents know that their children don’t OWE them a specific response in exchange for money or gifts. This is particularly true when the gifts weren’t asked for in the first place!
The silent treatment.
It’s really hard to speak with someone when you are pissed off, but shutting out a child with the silent treatment is really damaging and pretty damn immature. When you dish out this form of “passive- aggressive” treatment, you damage your relationship with your child and forces the recipient of your behavior to feel pressured into fixing the situation even if they didn’t do anything wrong. It is a dreadfully manipulative way to deal with people you profess to love. If you are too angry to have a rational conversation with your child, then be adult enough to excuse yourself for a few minutes instead of unashamedly ignoring your child.
They ignore healthy boundaries.
Parents need little justification for keeping a close eye on their kids and sometimes it may become necessary to snoop to keep them safe. That being said, under “normal” circumstances, everyone needs to have—and be able to enforce—boundaries for themselves, especially teens. Toxic parents run roughshod over those kinds of normal boundaries without regard for anything other that their own concerns in the moment. For example, a toxic parent will always open their child’s bedroom door without knocking first. As much as you, the parent, may know it is you who pays for the house and all that your teen enjoys, that lack of a knock makes it more difficult for your child to properly identify and understand boundaries in their adult years.
They make you responsible for their happiness.
“Do you have any idea what I gave up for you to have….” and on it goes. If one or both of your parents spends time telling you how much they gave up for you in connection with their unhappiness, then you have just been placed in an untenable role with respect to their unhappiness. Their happiness isn’t your job, it’s theirs!
Also, parents should never, ever insist that kids give up things that make them happy in order to “even out the score.” Being forced into this kind of situation reinforces the idea that we aren’t responsible for our own happiness, when actually the opposite is true.
There are times when it might seem impossible to remove toxic people from your life, especially if one is a parent. Unless you take action of some kind, in spite of the difficulty, it will be much harder to repair the damage to your emotional and psychological well-being from your childhood.
On the good side, any toxic parent who reads this and sees these behaviors in themselves can turn today to a coach or counselor in order to gain assistance with breaking through their negative behavioral patterns.
As a sales friend of mine is famous for saying: “Begin today!”
SEE A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.