Most people try their hardest to be good parents. However, it’s normal to make mistakes, apologize, and learn from the experience. Unfortunately, some people were raised by helplessly toxic parents.
When you reminisce about your childhood, do you have fond memories, or would you rather forget it even happened? Perhaps your childhood was muddled in experiences of physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse. Maybe the dysfunction in your family unit was caused by substance abuse, untreated mental illness, or both.
If you grew up in a harsh environment, you probably vowed that your children wouldn’t suffer as you did. Do you avoid talking about the past by changing the subject? Have you hidden years of pain, fear, and anger in the dark recesses of your mind?
It’s important to remember that not all toxic family relationships are apparent. Some abusive situations are subliminal and may go unnoticed for years. Your memories and issues may not come to the surface until you are an adult and become a parent yourself.
If your parents were toxic while raising you, do you worry that you would be the same with your children? Conventional wisdom has always said that abused children grow up to be abusive. However, a three-generational study published by the EKS National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states things don’t always turn out that way.
After the evidence was reviewed, the study concludes that parents who were abused as children are not more likely to harm their kids. However, the study deals more with physical abuse than other forms of mistreatment. The authors do admit that more research is needed to come to a firm conclusion.
12 Ways Toxic Parenting Has a Lifelong Effect on Children
1. They Have Issues with Boundaries
If you had a toxic relationship with both of your parents, you might not have learned proper boundaries. Most parents realize that as children get older and more responsible, they earn more privileges. They also understand that even kids need a certain amount of privacy.
When the parent/children relationship is skewed, the parents often don’t teach boundaries. They also don’t always value their children’s rights to age-appropriate privacy. Growing up with boundary issues is almost guaranteed to spill over into adulthood.
2. They May Develop Trust Issues
The first people children learn to trust are their parents and other caregivers. If that trust isn’t established at an early age, children can be fearful and distrustful of others. Parental trust issues have significantly negative consequences for future personal and professional relationships.
3. They Might Have Low Self-Esteem
As a parent, you say loving, sincere, and encouraging things to your children. They long to hear genuine praise like “I’m so proud of you,” or “I know you can do it.” Children need to hear “I love you” and all the esteem-building words their parents can offer.
Did you feel like your parents were on your side and made you feel loved and worthy? Even when parents must correct unacceptable behavior, good parents do it lovingly. Statements like “I’m ashamed of you” or “Can’t you do anything right?” are poisonous to a child’s heart and soul.
4. They Often Feel Responsible for Another’s Well-Being
People who are raised by toxic parents often become people-pleasers as adults. Some parents place the unfair burden of their happiness on their children. They expect the kids to be little angels, and family life will be perfect.
When the going gets tough, these parents blame the children and often take frustrations out on them. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, it may be the root of perfectionism and people-pleasing issues that still hinder and hurt you.
5. They May be Critical and Judgmental
It’s one thing to offer your children constructive criticism out of love, but quite another to bash their ego. Parents who have a toxic relationship with their kids don’t know how to encourage them to try harder or do something else. Instead, they point out everything wrong and make unacceptable judgment calls.
If you were used to your parents criticizing everything you do or say, it might become a norm for you. Not only may you believe their judgments, but you may find yourself judging others harshly. It can be damaging to your relationships with family and friends.
6. They May Feel Alienated from Others
When you think of parental negligence, you may assume that the children aren’t cared for and their needs aren’t being met. However, children can have a safe environment with all they need and want and still be emotionally neglected. Some parents are so engrossed in their problems that their children are an afterthought.
People who were raised by toxic parents often feel alienated. They grew up without a strong parental bond, so they are used to being alone. They may blame themselves as if something is wrong with them to make their parents alienate them.
7. They Often Have Irrational Beliefs or Fears
Children use their parents as role models and usually model the intensity of their emotions. It’s not uncommon for a parent to pass irrational fears or beliefs to their kids. For example, a parent who has a water phobia may refuse to allow their children to learn how to swim.
Some parents can also enforce toxic religious views on their kids. Such psychological based abuse is long-lasting.
8. They May Bounce from One Toxic Relationship to Another
One of the most crucial issues stemming from toxic parents is that it often becomes the children’s status quo. Sometimes, one parent may be the abuser to both the children and the other parent. If your family dynamics were mostly abuse and enabling, the familiarity may be strangely comforting.
Do you have a pattern of going from one destructive relationship to another? You may have been raised with low self-esteem, and you don’t know any other way to live. Fortunately, you don’t have to settle for someone who mistreats you.
9. They Can be Distant and Closed Off Emotionally
How do you protect your heart when toxic parents raised you? You may build up emotional barriers that keep others away who may hurt you again. Keeping others at an arm’s distance may give you a sense of security.
However, these actions can isolate you and make your feelings of insecurity worse. According to a study published by Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, long-term isolation can cause depression and other anxiety-related issues. Building healthy relationships may be more difficult for you.
10. They Are Often Hypervigilant Parents
Have you heard the term “helicopter parent?” These are parents who are so worried about their kids that they “hover” around them nonstop. While parents should keep their children safe and be concerned for their well-being, hypervigilance can stifle their growing independence.
It’s understandable that if you grew up in an abusive home that you would be extra cautious. An article from the American Psychological Association states that obsessive parenting can have adverse effects on children’s emotional health. Hypervigilant parents usually are dealing with control issues.
11. They May Resort to Substance Abuse
An article published by the American Psychological Association lists substance abuse as a significant risk factor for parental abuse. If one or both parents are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, their children’s safety and well-being are at risk. The problem only gets worse without intervention for both parents and children.
According to a study published by Pediatrics, children raised with abusive parents are prone to substance abuse as teens and young adults. If you saw your parents use harmful substances, it may be tempting to you. Plus, people often turn to substance abuse to escape their pain from the past.
12. They May Become Toxic Parents
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you may become the person you never wanted to be. Do you see familiar patterns in your relationship with your children that you had with your parents? You may be repeating the past without even realizing it.
Final Thoughts on How Toxic Parents Affect Their Children
Do you still struggle from growing up with a toxic parent? Then you must consider talking to a certified mental health provider. It’s time you realized that the toxic relationship was not your fault. The cycle of neglect and abuse can stop with you.
Not all dysfunctional parent/child relationships involve violence or lack of care. Listen to how you and your children communicate with each other. The things you do and say will influence your children’s lives forever, so make sure it’s done in love.