The following signs of a toxic parent are cause for real concern if you recognize them in your own situation.
A major problem for the abused child is that many of these things are actually 'normal'. The child has grown up in an environment where they were subjected to abuse from day one with no 'previous experience' with which to compare what goes on in the house. Therefore, many of the abusive situations are actually daily life for the child.
This can make it difficult for the child to recognize how abusive their upbringing has been. They are used to it. They have developed coping mechanisms. They know how to manage these things, even if they don't particularly like them. This is why it's often more difficult for a child to recognize that their parents are toxic compared to, for example, a wife recognizing that her husband is abusive.
A trick for you, if you think your parents may be toxic, is to consider the actual behavior or tactic I mention here. You will have been programmed to justify and defend your abuser. One way to do that is to justify the behavior. "My father does that because..." and then you go on to give a reason why the behavior is acceptable. This is how the manipulators get away with what they do for years and even decades. Try and avoid jumping to the justification. Pay attention to the behavior. If they are engaged in several of these behaviors, then these behaviors are not acceptable.
Having one toxic parent is horrific. Having two is something else...
So let's have a look at various signs of a toxic parent...
You realize your parent has been lying to you.
You are expected to check with them before making any decisions in your life, even when you are living away from home and/or married.
You have probably spent most of your life doing things to get their approval, or to at least get some kind of recognition that you are an ok person.
You have been criticized, belittled and humiliated much more than you have been praised or given credit for anything.
You feel like you have never been given any privacy. You were expected to tell them everything. They knew everything about you, or you believed they did because they made you believe that they had ways of finding things out about you.
They treated your friends badly in the house, or they criticized your friends so much that you never wanted to bring anyone home.
They spoke about you to others in front of you, making you feel small and stupid.
They rarely kissed you, hugged you or told you that they loved you. If they did tell you, you were expected to say it back, even if you didn't feel it.
Even as a child, you recognized that the treatment from each parent was wildly different.
A toxic parent does not make you feel comfortable, safe and reassured, no matter how much you crave that. In fact, the toxic parent is a source of terror at times. They make you feel bad, insecure and worthless very often. But in such moments you desperately want some kind of comfort and you end up ´'moving towards them', even though you want to run away at the same time.
They ignore your wants, needs and feelings. Their wants and needs are always more important than yours. For example, if you are sick or upset, they complain about how inconvenient it is for them, how your misfortune makes their lives more difficult.
If anything at all goes wrong, it's always your fault. If they hit you, it's because you deserved it. If they make a mistake, it's because you distracted them. If they forgot something, iI's because you were annoying them.
There are often repeated arguments about the same things, over and over again. As a child or a teen, you think they don't understand you. They understand you, all right, they are just making sure you can't have what you want.
They will also do incredibly mean things. They will throw your stuff away without asking you. They may make you give one of your toys to your friend when you go to their birthday party instead of buying them a new one. They may not give you birthday or Christmas presents. Or they give presents that absolutely suck. Or even deliberately not buy you the presents that you want, instead claiming that they have gotten you something better.
They may say that they have no money to buy you things but they seem to have everything they want. Or they offer you a toy for being good and when you behave and then ask for the toy, they give you a gold star and tell you when you have 10 stars then you will get the toy.
This promising and not delivering is typical of toxic parents. They can promise you the sun, moon and stars and then turn around at the last moment and give you some nonsense excuse why it's not going to happen right now. But hey, they promise it will happen soon!! But guess what...?!? The same thing happens again and again...
You, of course, are expected to forgive them. Every time. But they never forgive you. They keep a running list of supposedly bad things you have done and they trot them out any time they want to make you feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed.
Toxic parents have no sense of responsibility. They don't have any obligation to keep their word. They do not pay you back. They don't even follow their own rules. They break them when it suits them, when that gives them an advantage over others.
They make you feel useless, worthless, less than others. This happens in a variety of ways. Sometimes they will say it out loud, typically over and over again. "You are pathetic, stupid, worthless, you will never amount to anything, you always do stupid things, you never learn..." and so on. Often there are comparisons with others, "If only you were more like your cousins, why can't you be polite like your friend, you think differently from everyone else..." And then there are the criticism of everything the child does or the child is not allowed to do things, "Here, I will do it!" And there are disapproving looks and other derogatory gestures when the child attempts some task which all give the poor child the message that they are no good.
One of the significant signs of a toxic parent is that the children typically have identity issues. You can read more about the details of this in this article about complex PTSD but the idea is that the child has this underlying doubt about who they are. They will say that they never knew who they really were growing up, they felt as if they were living someone else's life or they feel overwhelmed by their toxic parent or enmeshed with the toxic parent. The toxic parent basically prevents the child from becoming independent. The child is not allowed to make their own decisions, to have their own wants and needs nor to express their own emotions. When the child is entering puberty it is normal for the child to want to begin to separate from their parents. They want to make their own decisions. Many children of toxic children report that at this stage a lot of fighting began. This occurs because the parent is basically preventing the child from becoming independent. The toxic parent is determined to control every aspect of the child's existence. The controlling parent insists on manipulating the child's perceptions, thinking, decision making, emotions and behaviors. They are basically molding the child's personality to be the way they want it to be. You can red more about this idea in this article about toxic parents.
Toxic parents will belittle you and make jokes about you, even in public, and then when you get upset, they slam you for being too sensitive and not being able to take a joke. The bigger pattern here is that they do something that causes you to have a response and then criticize you for having that response. This is devastating for children. It develops a sense of not being able to do anything right and may lead to learned helplessness where the child stops trying to achieve goals because they feel that they can never have what they want.
There are double binds. These are the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situations. One of the conditions for a double bind is that the victim is unable to leave the situation and has to choose one of the two options. Children, being completely dependent on their parents, are ripe targets. Being exposed to lots of double binds in childhood affect the victims learning and thinking abilities and affects their relationships throughout life (unless the effects are undone).
Punishments often outweighs the 'crime', by a lot!
They can be frequently physically violent.
They are overtly controlling. Things have to be done their way, when they want it and even with the right 'attitude'. The flip side is that some toxic parents are downright negligent. Instead of micromanaging many things, they pay little or no attention to the children at all.
They get involved in your relationships, too, not just when you are a child, but also as an adult. They may be nice and polite to a new boyfriend or girlfriend, but once this partner is committed to you in some way, they turn on them, too. A toxic parent will criticize, control, abuse, harass and intimidate your partners eventually.
When you see your toxic parent out in public acting all nice and friendly and helpful, you may wonder what's going on. The person you live with is a complete tyrant but when they go out in public there is a transformation that is a sight to behold. Outsiders are fooled into thinking that your abusive parent is mother or father of the year with such a caring attitude to their progeny that they are an example to the rest. You know that the reality is something else altogether.
In larger families with a toxic parent, there is often a golden child who is treated 'kindly' by the toxic parent. They receive gifts, praise and encouragement. Then there is the scapegoat, who is constantly abused and is made responsible for all the problems in the family.
You can read more here about narcissistic mothers, narcissistic parents, controlling mothers, myths and beliefs created by abusive mothers, problems in adult children of abusive parents and dealing with toxic families.
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