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Interview with a psychologist

Toxic Parents – Suffering For The Sins Of Your Father, And/Or Mother

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We won’t be getting biblical but children do indeed end up suffering under the toxicity of their parents. Toxic parents end up acting aggressively, abusively, or miserably towards their kids subtly shaping their lives to become unfulfilling, guilt-ridden, and distraught with emotional issues. Whether you’re a parent who wants to reclaim a healthy relationship with their child, or a child who would like to open their heart more but can’t – read on.

Contents:

What is a toxic parent?

Everyone will define the term ‘toxic parent’ differently, mainly due to the sheer complexity of the relationship dynamics involved and how they are perceived individually. A toxic parent exhibits narcissistic behavior that lets them either live through the lives of their children or gives their kids an upbringing whereby competition is raised in order to undermine their children and accentuate the self. Children of toxic parents are expected to orientate their lives around the needs and wants of their parents.

Types of toxic parents

The vast majority of children, particularly young children, grow up thinking that their home life is typical. Circumstances, relationships, and the general toxicities of a home are considered to be commonplace for all. Before looking at behavior that identifies toxicity within parental relationships, here’s an overview of the most commonly occurring types of toxic parents found.

Just-enough parents

Children growing up under the guidance of just-enough parents will be familiar with their caregivers doing the bare-minimum only. Leaving children ample independence and a rope far too long, these unknowing ones miss how important their input is to their children’s lives while missing the effect of the lack of impact completely.

Overbearing overseer parents

Think of an overseer in terms of a taskmaster – kids are just another cog in the machine, a tool to be delegated around. While the instruction comes from a core wanting a firm framework of stability instead of lacking and a life wrought with inopportune happenings, their controlling nature creates distance and a lack of personal direction instead. To a controlling parent, a child is nothing more than an extension of themselves, stunting identity development.

Verbal abuser parents

Verbal abuse takes many forms, and children internalize all of them. It isn’t always name-calling, dominance, and undermining kids. Humiliation is a favorite tool of a verbally abusive parent, but the motivation differs from family to family. At times competition motivates verbal abuse, with parents driven by a will for their child to over-achieve. While for others, it comes down to a standard that simply cannot be upheld – sheer perfectionism despite the parental example itself lacking. Cynicism, sarcasm, and teasing are all verbal abuse, as is passive-aggressiveness.

Permanently gloomy parents

A negative attitude overflows into repercussions that mimic that of direct abuse. To allow your troubles to dictate your behavior dictates an experience that is lacking. Life will lose its luster more and more as children become infected by general naysaying, restricting beliefs and attitudes, a constant judgment of things around them. Feelings of dread and regret will begin to prelude each experience while seeming totally normal.

Addict parents

Addicts combine toxic behavior resulting in an environment that leads children to accept and become tolerant to things that are morally questionable or totally unacceptable. Furthermore, an addict leaves their children in a state of vulnerability creating paranoia within relationships, jealously, and an attitude that accepts lying and other examples of deception and betrayal to be justified when needed.

Physical abuser parents

The scars that you can see on a physically abused child are the easiest to remedy, with emotional issues running deep and manifesting as all sorts of imbalances throughout life. Physical abuse doesn’t always have to be the outright battery. Exhaustion and an inability to communicate with a child can often lead to outbursts where they’re simply treated roughly—for example, being put in the corner for a time-out but doing it out of temper. Beating itself leads to all sorts of complications, including self-loathing, rage, and questionable morals.

Sexual abuser parents

Sexual abuse in any form is the depravity that holds widespread, deeply seated emotional issues at its core, resulting in an equally expansive and disturbing string of consequences for an abused child. Psychology struggles to understand the motivation of each individual abuser. Instead of opening up to someone that they trust, children most often grow up unhealthily, burying the psychological trauma of incest.

What are the signs of toxic parents?

Dysfunction is the first sign of toxic parents, but this doesn’t mean that it manifests the same for all families. Here’s a look at fifteen of the most common signs of toxic parenting.

General disrespect

Toxic parents put their own needs first and above all. This is the primary toxin shared by all negative parenting mindsets, and it leads to rampant, diverse forms of disrespect. Whether it’s disrespect for ideals and aspirations or disrespect for choices, friends, and partners, toxic parents most often undermine their kids and the things that they’re interested in.

Uncontrolled emotions

A parent who is overcome by factors that seem out of their control is going to overreact due to always being in an emotionally charged state of fear or negativity. Parents who think that they’re always doing something wrong, or are equally accusatory of their children, typically overreact. Whether its aggression or passive-aggressiveness, both are just as damaging.

Emotional explosions

Whether it’s anger, rage, an irrational command, or sudden new family rule, emotional explosions are very seldom caused by the fault or shortcoming of a child. Yes, children will trigger a toxic emotional explosion, but the pent up emotions and unresolved issues from earlier in the relationship and other unrelated areas to parenting are at the root of this terrible life example.

Manipulation

The majority of toxic parents are skilled manipulators. Most of their acts of kindness or general extensions of parenting are done with a motive in mind. A predisposition or agenda set in place to get what they want, or to make themselves look good. After all, children are but reflections of the parent to this mindset, making no act of manipulation wrong to a mind justifying its actions in this way.

Blame casting

Blame is often called a game for good reason. Toxic parents look for a scapegoat when they feel guilty. Instead of owning up to misunderstandings, potential shortcomings, and life’s general happenstance, parents feel guilty. The impact on their self-worth is not something the ego handles well, leading to transference. It’s easier to conceive a problem that can be fixed within a child than an area of self-improvement for toxic parents.

Lack of boundaries

If your parents have no respect for your personal space, personal identity, likes, dislikes, and general preferences, then it’s likely that their attitude is toxic in other ways as well. Ignoring boundaries is a clear toxin that needs to be brought into the light and under control before the lack thereof leads to children losing their sense of self. Without learning boundaries, it’s hard to abide by or create personal boundaries of their own later in life.

Overbearing parents

Micromanaging every aspect of a child’s life is a clear sign of toxicity within the relationship. Trust is lacking, which leads to a developmental path rife with paranoia, mistrust, and in many cases, rebellion. Instead of striving for freedom, the bounds thereof are tested due to feelings of constraint during childhood. Without the freedom to develop naturally, irrational choices and imbalanced perception of worth often take the reins.

Critical nature

A common affliction of toxic parenting is being judged or critiqued regarding every part of a child’s life. Instead of allowing them to explore their personalities and the world around them, toxic parental figures lock their youth into a mold. If the child does not conform to any surmised standard assumed to be the only correct choice or leaning, then the child ends up judged severely.

Competitiveness

Parents who always need to be right are suffering under a competitive mindset that’s constantly questioning their own self-worth. When threatened, toxic parents lash out, transferring insecurity to their children. They also act in constant competition with their children for fear of being perceived as lacking. Instead of encouraging achievements, they undermine or ignore.

Unhealthy emotional reliance

Parents with an unhealthy emotional reliance on their children often overshare. Inappropriate details are divulged while every effort is made to receive an emotional response from you so that they have a source of support. Manipulation leverages and entraps children into becoming support figures.

Embarrassment

A parent who secretly questions or undermines their own ability to parent due to issues related to self-worth will end up embarrassing their children. Petty acts showing authority with little regard for the feelings of the child at hand are unfortunately common to toxic relationships. So are insults and a demeaning attitude.

Immaturity

As soon as immaturity is noticed from a parent, it should be clear that their behavior is leaning towards toxic. There are many examples of immaturity ranging from nonsensical showings of power to simple name-calling, but these and similar toxins should be avoided like the plague. Children with toxic parents who seem to «rise above» sometimes instead end up excessively critical and judgmental of others and themselves.

Insensitivity

When toxic parents act out in any of the ways listed or any other, the prevailing trait will be insensitivity. With the focus firmly on themselves, their blurred perspective makes the emotional standing of their kids lost. Instead, toxic parents end up acting on what they perceive to be happening in the relationship, which is seldom ever true due to their disconnection from their kids & reality.

Disinterest in achievements & aspirations

A toxic parent is focused on themselves and their own gratification first and only. Selfless acts are turned into selfish acts through a bewildered sense of self-preservation. A parent that ignores a child’s achievements showing no interest or an active disinterest steadily diminishes their belief in their own capabilities and potential. Toxic parents most often coax their kids into suppressing their own hopes and aspirations in order to appease their, mostly selfish, whims.

Inability to communicate reasonably

An inability to communicate can arise from numerous factors ranging from childishness to frustration, but ultimately, it’s a blockage of expression. If parents fail to make their children understand and share their own views without conflict, then the very inability to communicate reasonably shows toxicity. Children of toxic parents receive blank refusals, angry, irrational commands, and are often judged based on notions rather than facts.

Consequences/effects of a toxic relationship on children

Toxic parenting has widespread negative effects on children, and the parental relationship shared. Here’s a look at the consequences and general effects of a toxic parental relationship on kids.

Prevalent feelings of guilt

Guilty by nature is a product of toxic parenting, not a harsh roll of the dice. Without any substantiation, children grow up with an underlying feeling of guilt, accepting unfair blame, and even anticipating it in life.

Accepting the role of victim

With guilt and self-acceptance as a scapegoat comes accepting the role of victim in every situation. Whether a child manifests extroversions or introversion to deal with being the victim, either is a distortion of their true self.

Constant feelings of regret

Once set in place, toxic parenting instills regret due to each situation being connected to something bad from the past. If a child never feels good enough, then nothing feels enough, leading to regret detracting from a full experience.

Diminished self-worth

The barrage of poor guidance that comes with toxic parenting leads to a lack of self-worth. A child isn’t allowed the freedom to feel the fullness of their own accomplishments, let alone see the beauty in the small things. When surrounded by negativity, a life lived in the «flight reflex» steals away the appreciation of all that’s good.

Underlying anxiety and oversensitivity

Highly strung adults are most often children that grew up in a toxic parenting environment. The anxiety set in place can manifest in varying forms of oversensitivity ranging from aggression and anger management problems to depression and fear-related disorders.

Consequences/effects of a toxic relationship on parents

Just like children are affected by toxic parenting, so are the parents themselves. Strained bonds create stress in all areas of life, but here are some unhealthy hallmarks effects of a toxic relationship on parents.

Unhealthy misdirected overcompensation

In efforts to «make up» for their blatant toxic behavior, repentant parents will overcompensate during periods of stability in the home and family. Acts of pre-biased gifting, praise, or attention occur. The overcompensation usually comes with conditions acting as a framework for manipulation or unhealthy emotional support.

Self-destructive anger

The more many toxic parents try to amend their strained relationships, the more damaged their connections to their children become. Instead of communicating rationally, openly, and acceptingly, parents become used to making decisions whilst angry, frustrated, or feeling «let down». Self-destructive behavior ensues, destroying the parental bond, which in turn creates more toxic behavior.

Emotional instability and irrationality

Sadly, toxic parents can be fully aware of the rampant repercussions of their negative parenting. However, once trapped in an entrained self-perception and routine, it can be hard to recognize the root of most issues. The repressed anger, anxiety and unresolved thoughts arise and manifest as mood swings, mysterious depression, and irrational irritability.

Unhealthy reliance on children & false values

It’s extremely common for toxic parents to form an unhealthy reliance on their children based on justified, false moral, ethical, or sheer belief-based values. This is where manipulation grows, with acts of kindness becoming marred by a pretense grounded in emotional reliance or grounds to control and manipulate.

Overwhelming feelings of burden

Without justification or quantifiable actual burden, toxic parents feel overwhelmed. The slightest emotional triggers can result in irrational feelings of burden motivated by self-worth issues. Children end up thinking that they’re a hindrance, and as the relationship deteriorates, the feeling of inadequacy as a parent rises, creating more burden.

Toxic parents in adulthood

The deep-rooted imbalances that began as a child will fruit into a host of hindrances later in life. The earlier a child accepts toxicity as «normal», the more taxing it is to overcome its seemingly disconnected manifestation later in life. It isn’t easy to match a problem to the emotional issue at its source, which, in turn, results in everything from irrational anger and poor decision making, to an inability to self-motivate.

Anger and criticism are grossly misunderstood by adults who were raised by toxic parents. Instead of seeing these natural social dynamics and a part of healthy relationship building, the children of toxic parents match any adversity with anger, irrationality, or total seclusion. Toxic parents breed toxic adults, but adults who are excellent at arguing. No, this is not a good thing. All this shows is dissociation, and a life plagued by invisible implicit threats.

Can toxic parents change?

Children need to remember that they must not accept the toxic behavior of their parents. Negative emotions, perceptions, and behavior need to be discussed openly. Realizing that there is a problem and owning up to it is the first step towards healing relationships, and it is never the fault of the child.

Ultimately, toxic parents love their children. Unfortunately, the degree of dysfunction typically reflects the core love felt. It is the expression thereof that is warped. This means that with work and a willingness to change, it is possible.

How to stop being a toxic parent

If your kids and relationship are suffering under damaging behavior, here’s a look at five tips to help you stop being a toxic parent.

  1. Stop lying – Parents and children need to accept and allow each other to be transparent about all things without worry about negative repercussions. It’s all about truth and respect. Stop judging.
  2. Control your impulses and don’t criticize – There is a massive difference between correcting and criticizing, and an equal contrast between reacting while emotionally charged, AKA upset, and acting rationally.
  3. Live in the present – Predisposition, assumed attitudes, and perception guided by things that happened before are a springboard for toxicity. Take children for who they are, here and now.
  4. Replace toxic patterns – Take an honest look at yourself and identify toxic patterns within your thoughts and actions. Don’t strive to stop them but rather replace them with positive, practical steps. Take active steps to live and act better.
  5. Think powerful, positive thoughts – It is better to find yourself wrong than to perpetuate wrong limiting thoughts and beliefs that damage your children and relationships. Forgiveness starts within, and once a parent has accepted the reality of toxic parenting, it is time to start thinking bigger and better about children and life.

How do you deal with a toxic mother/father/parent?

If you are a child or adult who is suffering under the effect of toxic parenting, here are five tips for dealing with your toxic mother, father, or parental figure.

Decide to let go or hold on

Whether you’re going to work at the relationship and press on or let go and move on are both entirely acceptance decisions. Sometimes the best thing that you can do for yourself and a parent is to create distance, however, only you will know which boundaries will be right, and what/if to let go.

Communicate proactively

If you find yourself noticing something evoking toxic behavior from a parent, speak about it. Children will soon learn which approaches work and which do not, but recognizing that there is a communication issue can make all the difference. Doing nothing doesn’t help. It only makes things worse.

Have a plan to escape politely

Don’t allow toxic parents to drag you into arguments or sway you across into a bout of negative gossip or criticizing another. This is not bonding. If you know how your parents are going to try to rope you in, figure out a few polite escapes beforehand. Conflict is never worth it.

Refuse being exploited

Kids should never feel obligated to act unreasonably. Personal responsibility and accountability within the home are normal, but exploitation and emotional leverage are clearly not that. It is never okay to allow toxic behavior to continue destroying relationships – it’ll take courage, but standing your ground and speaking openly is the only way to effect change.

Forgive, anticipate, and react

For as long as a child condemns their parents, the truth of their bond will never be felt. If toxic parents truly want to change and have been making an effort, then grant a little leeway to adjust. Even though they’re maturing, it’ll take time, so forgive minor mishaps, anticipate triggers to toxic reactions to help avoid the situation completely, and always react justly.

One can’t forget that toxic parents often don’t realize how to stop the string of trauma they’re causing. Now, this doesn’t make it right but recognizing toxicities, and their ill-effects is the first step towards fixing the problem and mending relationships. How do you handle toxicity? Have you managed to mend a toxic relationship with a parent? We encourage you to share your experiences in the comments below. Your feedback could make all the difference to a family in need of help and inspiration.

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