Signs You Grew Up in a Toxic Family

Family is constructed and often represented as the core institution in a person’s life. Although familial relationships can be tough, healthy families should remain a support system through the good, bad, and ugly.

However, this isn’t the case for all families. Some experience mental, emotional, or physical abuse from family. Others struggle with navigating relationships among narcissistic or even psychopathic family members. Help your relationships (along with your mental well-being) and figure out if you grew up in a toxic family situation as well as useful ways to cope.

You neglect your own emotional needs

A woman sits at a park using her phone.

Looking after others is great, but doesn’t leave much room for self-care. | M-imagephotography/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Many adults who were raised in an unhealthy family are out of touch with their emotional needs. This can be a result of feeling obliged to continue toxic relationships against one’s best interest.

In an article by the Huffington Post, clinical psychologist Sherrie Campbell notes that children of all ages that come from toxic families are “emotionally starved.” This is often a result of a family dynamic that revolves around the wants and needs of the toxic family member. It’s important to combat this potential neglect by setting aside time to identify what makes you feel healthy emotionally.

You’re terrified of manipulation

A woman glares at her computer.

Your first instinct is to distrust other people. | Antonio Guillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Toxic family relationships are often a result of one or more family members’ manipulation. Manipulation can be based in perceived emotional, physical, and financial needs. Campbell’s list of reasons to terminate relationships with family lists financial manipulation and emotional abuse as two distinct reasons to end relationships with harmful family members.

A deep-seeded fear of manipulation can influence your trust in future relationships. Mark Goulston writes for Psychology Today about ways to recognize and handle future manipulation.

You have difficulty trusting others

A woman looks uncomfortable around her friend.

You might need some extra time to trust new people. | Astarot/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It’s no surprise that being raised in a toxic family will hinder your ability to trust. After all, realizing that the people who are supposed to love and care for you most would hurt you willingly is tough to accept at any age. Brown University’s study on dysfunctional family relationships states that children raised in toxic families will have difficulty trusting the behaviors of others as adults.

Prioritize what you value in a relationship and find people who uphold these values so you can better identify who you are comfortable opening up to and relying on.

You second guess your relationships with your family

A mother feels left out of her child's wedding plans.

It might be hard for you to fit in with your family. | ElNariz/iStock/Getty Images Plus

According to a New York Times article by psychiatry professor Richard A. Friedman, therapists often, “have a bias to salvage [family] relationships, even those that might be harmful to a patient. Instead, it is crucial to be open-minded and to consider whether maintaining the relationship is really healthy and desirable.”

The idea of breaking off family ties is unthinkable to many. However, in extremely toxic cases it may be necessary.

You lack a strong sense of identity

A woman cools off her temper in a bathroom.

Hiding your true self can be frustrating. | Kuzmichstudio/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The two relationships we develop in tandem during adolescence are the ones with our parents and ourselves. If the parent-child relationship is abusive then there is a possibility the individual will have a toxic relationship with themselves. Especially in terms of self-esteem.

According to Verywell, self-esteem’s importance is rooted as a basic human motivation in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy reinforces the theory that children need their family’s esteem along with inner self-respect in order to achieve self-actualization and identity.

You feel perpetually infantilized

A woman has an argument with a family member.

You might feel like your family doesn’t believe in you. | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Toxic relationships and toxic parenting in particular may involve parents who resist acknowledging a child’s potential as an adult. These parents stunt independent growth by exerting the same level of control they had over you when you were a kid. They will often make their adult children feel guilty and act offended when this control is met with resistance. They may even neglect emotional and psychical boundaries, such as disregarding your work or social schedule.

If these family members cannot acknowledge your adult life as your own, or respect the boundaries you set, it may be time to consider cutting them out of your life.

You have difficulty controlling how you express your emotions

A woman looks tense during a meeting.

Outbursts can be a sign that you’re harboring emotions. | Julief514/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It’s likely that someone whose parents or siblings took emotional precedence in childhood will have difficulty recognizing and expressing their emotions later in life. The Brown University study recognizes that dysfunction can occur, “when parents exploit children … as possessions whose primary purpose is to respond to the physical and/or emotional needs of adults.”

The same study recommends identifying the difficult experiences from your childhood and making a list of behaviors and emotions you’d like to change. Pick an item on the list and begin to work at altering your emotional responses and behaviors one by one.

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