I’ve always defined a toxic person as anyone who gets validation by exploiting your hunger for theirs. And I stand by that in regard to toxic parents. But I feel like it’s much more difficult to acknowledge (and in some cases, even begin to recognize) the toxicity of our own parents than it is a toxic romantic relationship, a toxic ex, or a toxic friend.
Whenever I’ve wondered if one (or both) of my parents is toxic, I immediately feel guilty and ashamed; almost like I just committed a crime. We enter this world literally looking up to our parents and unconditionally loving them – no matter what they do or don’t do. When we are children, our parents are all we have to trust and count on for survival.
What does it mean to have toxic parents? How do you deal with toxic parents?
First and foremost, I’m not into parent-bashing or parent-blaming. No one had the perfect parents, no one will be the perfect parents, and our parents did the absolute best they could given their circumstances (that we may never know the full story of). What I am into, is advocating for compassionate curiosity when it comes to our programming.
Having a toxic parent means many things. The common denominator of parental toxicity is, in my opinion, being on the receiving end of behavior from a parent (or both parents) that consistently makes you:
- Question your worth.
- Feel obligated to ignore your feelings (and in some cases, mental health) because you “owe it to” your parent(s).
- Feel guilty.
- Feel scared of losing them/their love.
Dealing with toxic parents requires that you first, determine (and eventually, accept) that your parent(s) are toxic. And second, that you start healing yourself instead of expecting your parents (and romantic partners or friends that remind you of them) to heal you.
Here are 25 signs of parental toxicity
- They put conditions around love that should have been given to you unconditionally as a child.
- They are hyper-critical of you and have unreasonable expectations.
- They enmeshed you. You were their parent at times, their makeshift emotional spouse and confidant at other times, and every time, there is a total disregard for your boundaries.
- Toxic parents did not teach nor empower and encourage you to have healthy boundaries.
- They are competitive with you and very self-absorbed.
- They are always starting arguments and “debates” with you.
- Nothing is ever good enough.
- They are emotionally, verbally, and/or physically abusive.
- Toxic parents confuse love for you with control over you.
- They are self-absorbed. If they ever seem proud of you or encourage you, it’s generally to elevate their own image.
- They put their egoic needs over your emotional ones.
- They are emotionally unavailable and empathetically bankrupt at best, narcissistic (and some cases, sociopathic) at worst.
- They made you feel like you were a mistake when all you did was make a mistake.
- They put you in charge of their emotional weather. It was your responsibility to “make them proud” and “make them happy.”
- One way they controlled you was by making you feel guilty.
- You were more concerned with impressing them than doing what makes you happy.
- They are better when you’re down and out. When you’re happy and things are going great for you, they take away from it by having some unforeseen emergency or ruining your joy with their criticisms and negativity. Toxic parents are very good at being almost antagonistically positive when you’re going through tough times and being negative when you are genuinely positive.
- They humiliate you in front of others.
- With toxic parents, reactivity is at an all-time high. They never get on their white horse. Everything elicits an almost theatrical reaction from them. They do this to get attention, make their position known, and their voice heard. They are also, very passive-aggressive.
- They suck the energy out of every event, holiday, milestone, announcement, and situation. Everything always winds up being all about them.
- They have an inability to introspect; they aren’t self-aware at all.
- You have a codependent relationship with them.
- They’ve betrayed your trust but expect that you unconditionally trust them.
- They’ve made you keep their secrets.
- They triangulated you. You always felt like to had to “work” for their love, and attention. They also made you believe that their validation was your emotional oxygen. They treat your friends (or even people who have hurt and betrayed you) better than they treat you.
Wow. When I re-read this list I wrote, I’m ashamed to admit that I have been a lot of those numbers in my past. Throughout the years of writing this blog, I have been very open about how much of a liar I was and how selfish and toxic I used to be. I’m not ashamed of it and am still a work in progress, as we all are. I would be much more ashamed if I pissed away the chances I had to evolve. I would be very ashamed if I continued to stay in the avoidance, delusion, and denial required to devolve.
The one way you can heal from toxic parents
Forgive them. Forgiveness is adjusting your boundaries in light of accepting who someone has proven themselves to be. Once you forgive, you can start to implement healthy boundaries.
Hone in on exactly what you needed from them and didn’t have. Accept that they will never be able to give you these things and strive to become everything that they are not.
Toxic parents have emotional quadriplegism. And just because you may see them emotionally walk with someone else, that doesn’t mean that they’re walking. It means that they need to (heavily) rely and lean on that person to do so. (**I mean absolutely no disrespect to persons with physical disabilities; I trust that you know where my heart is with this example but never want to unintentionally hurt or offend anyone).
When you do this, you’ll stop worrying about repeating the cycle; about being a toxic friend to your friends, a toxic partner in your romantic relationship, and even a toxic parent if you already have or want kids.
You’ll stop worrying because you’ll realize the fact that you’re even worried about it means you have more self-awareness and integrity than the toxic types ever will. Be grateful for that.
It will set you free.
+ If you need further and more personalized help with your relationship, please look into working with me here.