The term “toxic parent” was invented to describe parents whose own negative behaviors inflict devastating emotional damage which wrecks their children’s sense of self.
Toxic parents are those who abuse their children verbally, psychologically, physically or sexually, as well as parents who aren’t present or sensitive to their children’s emotional needs.
You may have been raised by such a toxic parent who caused you untold emotional and mental suffering. If you came from such a home, healing from your childhood wounds is essential if you wish to enjoy and lead a normal life.
So, what are some of the signs of a toxic parent?
You may already know this from experience but a narcissistic parent is often self-absorbed and most likely didn’t take the time to affirm or praise you while you were growing up. Their needs came first, and they expected you to meet and cater to those needs. The consequence of this behavior is that you may find yourself often feeling inadequate and with an unhealthy, obsessive desire to please others.
No child should ever have to bear the burden of parenting their own parents. Toxic parents don’t see it that way. To them, you existed to serve them all the time. This relationship is wrong and parasitic in nature. As a child, it took away your childhood and forced you to grow up and take over responsibilities you had no business bearing.
Toxic parents blame their children for their own mistakes. You may have grown up repeatedly hearing things like, ‘If it weren’t for you, I’d be ABC.’ This made you believe that you were to blame for your parents’ mistakes, your parents drinking problem, substance abuse or whatever unacceptable behavior your parents engaged in.
As you have grown older, you may have developed something known as co-dependency. A modern definition of co-dependency is someone who enables and supports the destructive behaviors of another, such as manipulative narcissists.
This is common among children who came from toxic homes. If you haven’t yet dealt with your past, you probably still have a certain level of fear of your parents.
Children raised in loving families tend to have a healthy fear of their parents which stems out of respect and love. The fear you bear, on the other hand, is not one of respect, but one of dread. You were probably never allowed to express your feelings or receive the love you deserved. You may even have experienced the pain of being on the receiving end of harsh words, physical and emotional abuse. So, the mere mention or image of your parents brings back overwhelming fear.
In a normal family situation, parents are concerned about how their children are doing, and what they are feeling. Narcissistic parents, on the other hand, don’t care about your feelings at all. Only their feelings matter. Consequently, as a child growing up in this toxic environment, you learned to suppress and hide your hurt, your anger, and your sadness.
The damage inflicted by a toxic parent is often evidenced in the behavior of their children. Even as an adult, you may have found yourself struggling with behavior, personality and character issues. Below are just some of the examples of the damaging results narcissistic parents can inflict.
Do you find yourself in constant need for approval from other people and as such often develop dysfunctional romantic relationships? Does your self-worth come from others, and as a result have you become reclusive and co-dependent? As a co-dependent, you may enable or inadvertently encourage your partner or spouse’s destructive behaviors. You do this because you don’t know how to help your partner or spouse in healthy ways and because you don’t know what normal relationships are like.
According to German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney, if you grew up in a toxic environment you may develop character disorders. Some children-turned-adults fall into depression and others experience mental problems. Some attempt to gain and win love and power unhealthily. You may even harbor a subtle desire to execute revenge. If you don’t allow yourself to heal before you start a family, you may find that you are no better than your toxic parent.
Alice Miller points out that a toxic parent is responsible for instilling in their children the potential to reproduce their narcissistic abuse, thereby creating an intergenerational cycle. If you were brought up by tyrannical narcissistic parents it’s highly likely that your parenting style will be similar to that of your parents.
It is possible to heal from toxic parents, grow and evolve into a better person. Here are a few ways to help you begin your healing and transformation journey.
The first step to healing is acknowledging that there is a problem, and it’s not you. Once you’ve come to terms with this, you’ll understand that you are not inadequate. You are not unimportant. You are not unlovable, and yes you can love yourself and are worthy to be loved in return. You are not the problem – your toxic parent is.
You can’t fix a problem you don’t understand. You’ll need to devote some time to learn about the behaviors of toxic parents. You’ll recognize the traits in your parent. You’ll also see how their warped behavior has affected your life. Once you realize the problem, you’ll be in a better place to understand your own woundings and how to overcome them.
This is an absolute must. You need to get away from the source of your hurt and pain. Healing won’t come if you remain in contact with the problem. Just like detaching from toxic love partners, time away from your parent will help you to refocus and look internally and understand your own self, and your parent.
For many people, this part is the hardest. Holding onto the anger gives them a sense of power and a sense of being in control. However, holding onto anger and resentment doesn’t do anyone any good – especially you. After studying toxic parents and taking the time to reflect, you’ll probably have a better understanding of the situation.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to forgive your parent.
Sometimes anger is deeply rooted and it’ll take a lifetime to overcome, but it’s important to take that first step and let it go. It need not be something elaborate. In the quiet of your room, you can simply say the words, ‘I choose to forgive you, and I am letting go of my anger and resentment.’ You may have to say this a couple of times to yourself and keep reminding yourself daily.
Toxic parents may have belittled you, and done great damage to your self-esteem and confidence. This may have caused you to shun the dreams you wanted to strive for because you never felt like you could achieve them. This is the time to dream a new dream or to go after the dreams you have always wanted to pursue.
Turning your energy to new things will help with the healing process. Doing something you love and are good at will boost your confidence. Bit by bit, you’ll see that you are changing and becoming a different person – a better version of yourself.
You can’t change a toxic person and toxic parents may never understand the damage they do to their children. But, you have the opportunity to heal from toxic parents. You don’t need to live the rest of your life bitter, resentful and angry. So, take the first step to your healing journey today.
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Kim Saeed is a narcissistic abuse recovery expert on a mission to help abuse survivors to heal, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. She also hosts a podcast called Heal, Grow, Evolve, where she aims to help people create meaningful lives and relationships after emotional abuse. Listen and subscribe at www.healgrowevolvewithkim.com