First and foremost, very important: no one brings their children into this world with the intent of being bad parents to them. However, there are unfortunately parents, who become toxic to their children. And they don’t even notice it. They just keep going on with this very unhealthy behavior towards their children and wonder, what the problem is with their kids – and they think that the problem is the children, not themselves, of course.
How does someone become a toxic parent?
Most probably, when they were children themselves, they had their own toxic parents – or at least one of their parents was. Growing up they got used to that sad pattern of abuse, and they took it with them to their own family, repeating the same pattern with their own children.
“It is very important to note that not necessarily all abused children will become abusers themselves. However, to leave these wounds behind in one’s life, they need to make a conscious decision and a vast amount of professional therapy and healing to overcome all those wounds of the soul that they suffered in their childhood.”
And the problem is that many people are not that conscious, unfortunately. Many people do not realize how much they are hurt, how much they would need to heal themselves in order not to treat their children the same way as they themselves were treated as kids. These people are so overwhelmed by their own pain (and so used to it), that they cannot even see other people’s pain. Not even their children’s. Not even if they are themselves the ones, who are causing it.
But as it can be very difficult to face all that abuse that happened to them in their childhood, they often decide to bury these stories, stating that if they do not talk about them, do not deal with them, they don’t exist. But this is definitely not the case or the solution.
“Everything that you suffered in the past and remains in your head or soul or emotions as unsolved issues will definitely have an effect on your life, on how you treat people around you. Including your own children.”
Let these issues be on the conscious level or on the subconscious one, they have a direct effect on your whole life. And this effect is most probably negative in this case – if you decide to ignore them and leave them unsolved. You can only break the cycle of abuse and toxic behavior if you work on your own issues.
If you were abused by your toxic parent(s) in your childhood, it’s best to heal yourself with the help of a professional – if not for your own sake, at least for the sake of your children.
How can you recognize a toxic parent?
The traits of a toxic parent can be observed on a wide scale. There are many things that these parents do, which will ruin their children in one way or another – causing small or even large problems for these kids.
Here, I would like to add another remark: I write about children here, but by children, I don’t only mean the underaged ones. I also mean those ‘children’, who are grown-ups now but have been in these very same situations during their upbringing. Therefore, while reading these lines, no matter whether you are a parent yourself or not, you can find some answers to your own personal development and healing.
But back to the traits of toxic parents. It would be almost impossible to list all those behaviors that make a toxic parent with their tiniest details and traits. Toxic parents can be abusive psychologically-emotionally, physically, sexually.
Now, I will focus on some of those, which can be trickier to recognize, within the psychological-emotional abuse category. There are some typical sentences and behaviors I have observed, which appear frequently when talking about this kind of toxic parent.
Let’s see some of the most frequent toxic parent sentences and what they can cause in a child’s life.
1. “I have a bad child.”
Toxic parents usually don’t have good self-awareness, they do not see what they are doing wrong, what ways they are hurting their kids. Sometimes, they might even think that they are doing things perfectly and if so, any issues must be with their child.
They claim that the child behaves badly, not listening to the parents, not doing what the parents want, etc. They even tell this their child, that they are a bad child!
“The mindset of these people is that the parents are perfect, the parents are always right – so the problem can only be with the child. Which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
They blame it all on a kid, who may not be of an age when they can explicitly say what they would need from their parents. Or even if they are older children, by this time they are used to them being at fault. They accept it, therefore, they don’t even think that they could be right and the parents could be wrong.
Growing up this way children are conditioned to the way of thinking that everything bad that happens around them, is their fault. Even if no one blames them, they blame themselves. Without even noticing how much they hurt themselves through this behavior pattern.
If you, as a parent, tend to think that the problem is mostly with your kid, try to change your inner monologue. What could you do differently? How could you find out what the deeper reason for your child’s behavior is, caused by you? How could you act differently, to ensure that the root cause is solved?
2. “Only I can have issues. You, my child, cannot have any.”
Toxic parents who were probably abused kids themselves, with unresolved issues, are dragging these wounds with themselves as parents too. This puts such a weight on their souls, emotions, lives that they are practically buried under them on a daily basis. Consciously or subconsciously.
“Due to the burden they continuously carry, toxic parents have no capacity to improve their emotional intelligence, they are not able to really feel and deal with other people’s pain. Not even those of their children.”
It is as if they were sitting close to a large screen, where very sharp and disturbing images and sounds are flashed very quickly, and they wouldn’t be able to see or hear what is happening around them or behind the screen. They might not even be aware of things happening outside of the screen – representing their own past, their own traumas, their own pain.
Children growing up with such toxic parents learn early in life that whatever needs they have, most of them will not be met by their parents. Because these parents will only see a fraction of the child’s needs – if any at all – due to their own disturbing flashing screen. These are children, who as an adult might sacrifice their life for others, without even being clear about what they themselves would need. Because they have lost the connection to their own needs a long-long time ago, when they were not met by their parent(s).
As a parent, what you can do is to make sure you listen to your children carefully. Deal with their needs, deal with their pain. You will be surprised, that even at 3 or 4 years old a child can express clearly how they feel themselves and what they need – if you provide them with a regular safe space without judgment, giving them your full focus, within a dedicated time period.
3. ”People cannot be trusted; the world is not a safe place. The danger is everywhere!”
Toxic parents tend to push their own anxiety on their children. As these parents are full of deep insecurities, they are likely to be afraid of many things in life. These once abused children – now parents – who haven’t solved their own issues, were themselves conditioned to the fact that the world is not a safe place. That they cannot feel safe at home, on the street, in school, in their life. And this is exactly what they are passing on to their own children.
When a parent is in this constant state of fear and is faced with something that their older child does something that the parent is afraid of – but the child is not – they might take it as a personal insult. That the child did this on purpose, to hurt the parent. Hence, the parent thinks, that they have the right to punish the child and to make them feel guilty for what they did. Even if the child actually did nothing wrong…
“What these parents cannot see, is that their sense of fear is irrational – and other people doing things that they themselves are unable to do is not personally against them. This way, also proving to themselves that people want to hurt them and the world is not safe but full of dangers.”
As they constantly feel themselves in danger and they constantly feel that they are being attacked, this is what they also do with the people around them. And this is what they do with their own children. They start to externalize the solution of their fear and anxiety, by trying to control people around them, discouraging them from doing things that they themselves wouldn’t do.
“Even if they see, that their child runs this pattern in him/herself, they are not necessarily able to realise, that the pattern was learnt by the child from them. From the parents.”
If someone grows up with such toxic parents, they will not dare to step out from the family, step out into the world, pursue their own life. They will be stuck with very limited options and possibilities in life, feeling afraid of the outside world. And if they realize this, and would like to do more/better/different than their parents, they will face huge retribution from them. These toxic parents will tell these children that they are reckless, selfish, that they are doing these things to deliberately hurt their parents. Which is absolutely not the case.
These children (who are grown-ups by now) need to dare to try out new things, experience the world through their own eyes, and dare to do things differently than their parents did. Otherwise, they will always have only one slice of the cake, even though they could have the whole cake. Or even a bakery full of cakes….
If you are a parent, who believes that life is full of dangers and fear, try to be conscious and not push it onto your child. On the one hand, go to therapy sessions to work these out of your system. On the other hand, let your child experience the world in a different way than you did or do still. Let your child live their life differently, let them live their own life – in a way it is good for them, not for you.
4. “How dare you to know things better than me! I am your parent!”
Toxic parents – growing up the way they did – most probably have low self-confidence. When they become parents, they thrive being able to be absolutely better in everything than someone – their child. And it works for a while. They teach their child according to their beliefs (which can already be a problematic thing, just like it was described above), they teach them life as they see it. And for a while, these parents are indeed better in many things than their children. But then the day comes, when a child is older and would have his/her own opinion of things, would like to do things differently or maybe even better than their parents. And the problem surfaces.
“These toxic parents do not want to feel that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not whatever enough. Especially, when it is their child, who becomes more/better than them in some aspects.”
They feel threatened by this whole situation. Even though under normal circumstances a parent would be happy to see their child mastering something that the parent couldn’t master that much, with toxic parents it is not the case.
When toxic parents are in this situation, they cannot see clearly because of their own pain (the fear of not being good enough). Therefore, they start to hold back their child. They make the child believe that what he/she thinks, is not correct, that he/she is too eager, not enough, or has an ego too big wanting to achieve such things (that the parents couldn’t achieve).
“These toxic parents might do everything, in order to push the child back to being humble and thinking that his/her parents are the best in everything and that they know better. But with this, they basically ruin the child’s self-confidence. And so, the cycle of toxicity has the chance to go on…”
If children are conditioned throughout all their lives not to be better than their parents, they will never be able to live their own lives. They will believe that they are not smart enough, that they are not creative enough, that they are not persistent enough, in general, that they are not good and worthy enough. Because all these things are their parents, who are always better in everything. They are not allowed to be better.
These ‘children even if they are 30-40-50… years old are still addicted to their parents’ help, opinion, approval. They are the ones who maybe cannot do anything in their lives without their parent’s approval.
If you are a parent, who can be intimidated by your child being better in things than you, please deal with your own insecurities. Work with them, solve them, and do not ‘use’ your child to self-justify that you are good enough. Try to see objectively, how much it hurts your child in the long run in his/her own life.
The truth is, that these sentence examples could be continued almost endlessly – unfortunately. I am sure that some of you have heard these in your own childhood or from people around you.
What I always say, is that ‘awareness is the key’. Being aware that we need to improve, we need to do things better. Everything that surrounds us is somehow a reflection of us. If people treat us badly, we should think about how we treat ourselves badly. If people don’t respect us, we should think about whether we respect ourselves at all.
No one is perfect. Parents included. But the question is, whether we admit our mistakes and try to change things in our own life or not? As long as someone only wants to control the ‘outside’ but does nothing for the improvement ‘inside’, there will never be a real result.
Dare to admit if you did something wrong. The world will not end because of it, believe me. After admitting, start to work on changing your behavior, solving the underlying reasons, the root causes. Only then can you feel better about yourself, and you will enjoy better relationships with the people around you – including your children.
Sending lots of love to everyone for this,
And for related articles on improving your relationships checkout my HCT – Holistic Coaching Therapy blog.
Dori is the founder of the HCT – Holistic Coaching Therapy method, through which she is offering real, profound and long-lasting solutions to the issues of her coaching clients. She helps her clients in the areas of dating, relationships, human connections, self-awareness, self-confidence and holistic mindset. She is the owner of the HCT blog, where she has been writing about these topics (and much more) for years.