If your childhood looked more like an episode of Married with Children than 7th Heaven, it’s likely you grew up with a toxic parent. You may have wanted a mother who resembled wholesome Mrs. Camden, but that’s not reality. Besides, many of these actors’ onscreen personas don’t exactly translate to their real-life ways.
But that’s beside the point. From mommy and daddy issues to everything else, there’s a reason therapists’ couches stay occupied. Here are nine signs you had a toxic parent growing up (No. 9 is sad but necessary if it applies to you).
1. You feel worthless in your parent’s eyes
In her New York Times Bestselling book Toxic Parents, Dr. Susan Forward examined qualities found in, you guessed it, toxic parents. Let’s say you had a parent who told you you were worthless as a child. This, as Forward (somewhat obviously) points out, is a definite sign of a toxic upbringing. How is anyone ever supposed to succeed, or go on to have happy, healthy relationships if they’ve been told they’re not good enough? If this was the case for you, talking to a counselor may prove a good investment in your overall happiness.
Next: The child becomes the parent
2. You had to, or still do, take care of your parent
Whether due to feelings of guilt or expectations within a family, most people feel a sense of loyalty, especially to their parents. Your parents are the ones who brought you into this world, so you should be forever indebted to them, right? Wrong. As Forward mentions, taking care of your parents because of their problems is a sign of toxicity in the relationship. Just because the status quo encourages respect and love of your elders, it doesn’t mean you’re obligated to stand by their side despite deplorable behavior.
Next: We all have emotional needs that need to be met.
3. Your parent ignored your emotional needs
Parents have an important job, and much of it involves taking care of your emotional needs, Consistent Parenting Advice explains. If these basic needs aren’t met, there’s no way you’ll be able to properly deal with your emotions in the future.
As if enduring years of unhappiness as a child weren’t enough, toxic parents can stick with you well into adulthood, too. While blaming all your troubles on your parents isn’t exactly productive, it may be time to acknowledge you have the power to sever the relationship. If you haven’t been able to escape the toxicity your parent brings to your life, consider how they’re still affecting your emotional well-being.
Next: This should never be tolerated.
4. You were subjected to verbal and/or physical abuse
Abuse of any kind should never be tolerated, and it’s especially hurtful when it comes from your own parent. A parent who physically or verbally abused their child has undoubtedly left a lasting impression. While most things on this list could be considered some form of abuse, it’s important to recognize it on its own.
Next: Children should be independent at some point.
5. Your parent doesn’t want you to be independent
Gaining independence is one of the most important lessons in life. However, there are parents who’ve made it nearly impossible for their child to fully achieve it. Jim Taylor, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today, “If your children are independent, you have provided them with the belief that they are competent and capable of taking care of themselves.” If you grew up with a toxic parent, though, you likely weren’t given the freedom to learn or experience things on your own, which brings damaging consequences down the road.
Next: But what about MY feelings!
6. Their feelings are more important than your own
According to Thought Catalog, a toxic parent will prioritize their feelings over their child’s. A parent who places a higher value on their emotional needs is only setting their child up for disaster, because their kid may sacrifice their own happiness to make sure their parent is OK. When your parent’s upset, you’re upset. This clearly isn’t a healthy relationship.
Next: Relying too much on the relationship itself
7. You and your parent are enmeshed
People in enmeshed relationships rely too heavily on the relationship itself, and their sense of individuality is lost. Such a relationship can be present at any stage of a person’s life and come in different forms. Ross Rosenberg, a psychotherapist, describes what an enmeshed relationship may look like on Psych Central. In his example, a narcissistic mother exploits her codependent son’s willingness to constantly give to her. She knows her son is too scared to stand up to her, so the relationship will continue on in this unhealthy cycle. In cases of enmeshment, setting boundaries is crucial.
Next: Most of us have a desired to be praised.
8. Your parent was dismissive
It’s human nature to seek approval: Most people have a desire to be praised, or at least acknowledged, for the work they do. And when you don’t get it, especially from a parent, disappointment is sure to follow. And the negative effects can last a lifetime. Psychology Today says a child who never received the proper praise can be left feeling unworthy of attention, continuously longing for validation.
Next: The sad reality some of us face
9. Cutting ties as an adult is your only hope for happiness
In The New York Times, Richard Friedman, M.D., writes about the importance of discontinuing a relationship with a toxic parent if the parent does indeed cause significant psychological harm. In his example, he discusses a man whose religious parents disowned him after learning he was gay. After meeting with this man and his parents, Friedman says he was “convinced that [the parents] were a psychological menace to [his] patient.” Admitting it was a drastic step, he recommended ending the relationship. Even though it sounds extreme, sometimes cutting ties is the only hope you have for true happiness.