Toxic parents: parents who do unloving things in the name of love. It’s no secret that a lot of us have been subject to toxic parenthood and the loss of what should have been a memorable time–childhood. The feelings and emotions that follow us around because of our experiences are not ones we understand. At some point, we were victims of our guardians who set some feelings alive, feelings that have and will haunt us until adulthood. We’re here to help you understand, recognise and deal with toxic parenting.
Before we start, we have to understand the difference between a toxic experience and a bad experience. No parent is perfect; thus, they all, quite normally, make mistakes that annoy us, drive us through the wall and agitate us. Maybe by not liking what we’re wearing, not approving of our friends or setting unfair curfews. Before the unfortunate claim of toxic childhood, we have to be on terms with the fact that over-claiming this would trivialize it and not normalize it. Be reasonable. It’s worth mentioning that a lot of those who are in an abusive relationship with their parents fail to realize that; in other words, they’re in denial.
Toxic parents plant seeds of fear, obligation, dependence, pain and emotional repression in their children, creating a toxic home environment in turn. They fail to express their love by actions and merely do it by words, and this is not love at all. Since all parents make mistakes, what sets normal parents apart from toxic ones? Too many mistakes that leave a print to follow their children well into their adult life. They’re immensely controlling and usually get angry over the tiniest of things that disrupt the equilibrium of their toxic household. They use more chaos as a way to maintain their grip over their kids. It’s of utmost importance to recognize toxic parenting, whether we like it or not, is bound to leave its mark on us; affecting future partners, kids and most importantly: our sense of self.
A characteristic trait of toxic households is the unreasonable house rules that breach the very basic right to individuality and privacy. The rules aren’t crystal-clear, but rather described as underlying rules. Here are examples of these rules:
- You have to respect your parents no matter what.
- Children are to be seen, not heard.
- They follow the my way or the highway mindset.
- You are not allowed to be angry at your parents.
- You can’t be more successful than your father.
- You can’t be happier than your mother.
- You are not allowed to individually lead your life.
- You have to be dependent on parents.
The consequences of deviation from these rules allows one of two outcomes and sometimes both: inflictive punishment and/or love withdrawal which both lead to trauma response (e.g. the inability to say no). Also, defying these rules leads to immense feelings of guilt triggered by parents and the shaping of the belief that it’s better to hurt than betray your family’s ideas. There are more signs that point at an abusive upbringing, these include and are not limited to:
- A prominent lack of personal freedom that doesn’t allow the child individuality.
- Child is subordinate to the will of parents.
- Parents discourage individual expression.
- Child becomes an extension of the family rather than their own being.
- Parents react greatly to minor disobedience.
- Do anything that you feel like you need to keep a secret.
- Call children names and insult them.
- They’re very critical of the child.
- They inflict physical pain in the hopes of discipline.
- Getting intoxicated in front of kids.
- Parents are always depressed or emotionally unavailable.
- Parent’s needs are always put first.
- Child parents the parents, i.e. takes care of them.
- Instilled fear in the child to express anger towards the parent.
Much to our luck, toxic parenting follows us well into adulthood and takes the following shape.
- The adult being viewed and treated as a child.
- Parental approval needed for decision-making, sometimes present as unconscious pressure.
- Intense emotional reaction to spending time with parents.
- Financial manipulation.
- Person takes the responsibility of how parents feel.
- Person holds the belief that they can change their parents for the better.
The influence of toxic parenthood leaves their mark in one’s relationships, making one enter an abusive relationship–toxic attachment style (avoidant/anxious) and instills the belief that they’re bound to be abandoned and hurt. There’s also an imminent sense of loss of self, not knowing what you’re feeling or what exactly you are. Dissociated from one’s feelings, in a way. It’s hard, we see you and feel you. Due to the low self-confidence, the victims of an abusive upbringing think that they’re being a fraud and once people find out who they really are, they’ll be strongly disliked. Also, experiencing emotional flashbacks (suddenly feeling angry or upset) results from this childhood trauma. They also grow up to be perfectionists as a result of the constant criticizing.
That’s quite a lot to take in, and if you’re getting overwhelmed (like I am getting right now), this is your reminder to take a deep breath, put your phone aside and take a few moments for yourself. Whenever you’re ready, continue reading. Your feelings are valid.
There are ways to deal with your abusive parents. Here are some tips for you.
- You have to establish a support system elsewhere.
- Create a space where you validate your emotions and express them as healthily as possible. You’ll get emotional flashbacks of unprocessed emotions, you’ll feel like shit a lot and you get to know that none of this is easy; however, starting to validate your emotions is the first step to get somewhere.
- Set low expectations for your conversations together to avoid disappointment.
- Learn conversation diversion tactics to steer the conversations away from a potential argument.
- Recognise the reasons you don’t fight back: is it fear? If yes. Fear of what exactly?
- Do not normalise their behaviour, and we’ll get into that later.
- Stop doing things that are inconvenient for you in order to please them. They’re hardly pleased, and it’s high time to prioritise your needs. You are their child, you are not the parent. Maybe this is not your reality right now, but it’s important to remember that.
- Try enforcing your boundaries if possible.
- Be mindful of what you share with them.
- Do not try to change them.
What’s more important than all of that is staying safe, please keep that in mind. Recognising abuse is not a black and white process, it’s a grey one. Your parents do good things and do bad things too, but when the bad really overweighs the good, it’s your right to take a stand. Be easy on yourself, you’re the victim not the preparator. It’s confusing and definitely takes a lot of time, but you have to free yourself from your parents’ toxic legacy. You can heal. You won’t be born anew, rather the seeds of fear, obligation and pain won’t control you anymore.
There’s a pathway to healed adulthood. Let’s walk you through the steps, read with caution.
- You have to learn to let go and forgive after processing and understanding. This is the last step that you have to keep in your mind from the start.
- Even if they were abused as children, what they’ve done is entirely their fault and they hold full responsibility. It’s not their fault they were abused, but it’s their job to try and heal. They normalised thie behaviour and applied it on you, you have the chance to not go through the same.
- Recognise your toxic beliefs, behaviours and negative feelings and process them.
- Learn to face anger and express it for repressing it is bound to backfire later.
- There’s no healing without grieving, so grieve over the loss of your childhood, over the loss of self-esteem, over the loss of joy, over the loss of trust, over the loss of nurturing and respectful parents, over the loss of innocence and over the loss of love. This step is usually skipped, but try not to skip it.
- Learn to respond and not react.
- Learn how to say no as it’s an ability that we lose along the way.
- Don’t try to change them. Let yourself be yourself and let your parents be your parents.
- Confront them, it’s hard but essential. My psychiatrist once said that this is the hardest part and once conducted, there’s a little way to go.
- Break the cycle of abuse. Toxic behaviour is usually inherited and children become more like their parents when they grow up even if they don’t like it. The parents of your parents were likely abusive as well, and I doubt that you wish to have your potential kids feel the same way as you do now. Toxic parents consider their children as a rage outlet as the abused finally becomes the abuser.
If your parents fit the criteria, it’s better to find out what type of abusive parent they are to be able to deal with them more effectively. Please, seek help if possible because there’s no shame in needing help. Again, we see you, we feel you and our hearts go out to you.