What are the signs you grew up in a toxic family? I grew up in a toxic family, but thought it was normal. It was only when I left home and started sharing stories with friends and partners, I realized how different my childhood was.

Often, the effects of living with a toxic family don’t emerge until much later. You might have problems maintaining relationships, perhaps you have low self-esteem, or maybe you’ve ended up with a toxic partner yourself.

Knowing where our difficulties in adulthood came from can help us move past our toxic childhood and lead fulfilling lives.

12 signs you grew up in a toxic family

1. You were mature for your age as a child

Children growing up in a toxic family often receive too much responsibility at a young age, which makes them mature faster.

This is how I remember my childhood. We walked the half an hour to primary school on our own; there were chores to complete from an early age, evening work to pay the bills and we lived under strict rules. I have very few happy memories of my childhood.

2. You had few friends as a child

Were you the misfit kid that always wore unfashionable clothes or shoes that didn’t fit properly? Was your school uniform a mismatch of thrift store purchases? Did you have to ask permission to do things your friends did automatically? Were you unable to go out and play because of housework or your homework?

These are all signs you grew up in a toxic family.

3. You don’t like to maintain eye contact

Abusers will use direct eye contact to intimidate or bully their victim. Victims learn to look away, so they don’t provoke a reaction or further abuse.

Research suggests that for adults with childhood PTSD, direct eye contact is threatening as they associate it with violence. However, adults perceive avoiding eye contact as a sign of anxiety or poor social skills, which can affect their perception of you.

4. You are angry for no reason

Studies show that children remain attached despite their abusive parents. However, there are serious repercussions in later life. Children who endure abuse, whether it is witnessing it or experiencing it, still must rely on these abusive parents for their safety and survival.

You are terrified of the person abusing you and yet you need them to protect you. It’s such an opposing set of circumstances it causes confusion and anger as you get older.

5. You can’t form long-term healthy relationships

We learn about relationships from our parents. Their interactions shape our perception of ideal relationships. If there was a lack of trust, accusations of infidelity or abuse within our parents’ relationship, it affects how we approach intimacy.

Problems maintaining long-term relationships is just one of the signs you grew up in a toxic family.

6. You have a problem with food

Mealtimes can be stressful times in a toxic family environment. There might be little food available because your parents are neglectful, or food is used as a weapon to control you. You learned to woof food down as quickly as possible to escape the anxiety or because there was little food to go around.

Now, food reminds you of stress and manifests itself in eating disorders or a fear of eating in front of people.

7. You are hyper-independent

If your parents were cold and emotionless, you couldn’t approach them for help. You had to keep your problems to yourself, and you learned the only person you could rely on was you.

Now as an adult, you perceive yourself as a failure if you need someone because, as a child, they ingrained in you the idea you must rely on yourself.

8. You are ultra-dependent on others

A parent that drills into you with how stupid and helpless you are creates these same negative traits. Or maybe your parents controlled every aspect of your life? You never learned how to be independent because your parents did everything for you.

9. You need to justify everything

Imagine growing up where you never knew what was going to set your parents off next? The most innocent and reasonable things could trigger an avalanche of abuse and catch you off-guard and by surprise.

So, to mitigate such a response in the future, you over-explain and justify your position or actions before things go sideways.

10. You don’t express your opinions/feelings

Do people accuse you of sitting on the fence? Have you been told you shut down or you’re cold or you can’t talk about emotional stuff?

When you grew up, you had to protect yourself from the chaos that surrounded you. Part of that was suppressing your emotions. Maybe your parents laughed or punished you for crying? You now see emotional outbursts as weak, or you refuse to let others see you in a vulnerable state.

11. You change yourself to please others

Living with chaos or abuse in early childhood can affect how your personality forms.

If your parents ignored or bullied you, you may feel your needs and opinions are not important. There might be a desire to fit in with the group or not stand out too much to cause attention to yourself. People can think you are insincere or not genuine because you change your mind so frequently.

12. You feel responsible for other people’s feelings

When your parents blame you for everything that goes wrong at home, they make you responsible for things out of your control. Now you are hyper-vigilant, anticipating the worst and expecting to be called out for it. You have made yourself emotionally accountable for everyone else’s feelings.

Parents that hold their child responsible for their feelings place an unnatural burden on their children that can last a lifetime if not dealt with.

What can you do if you grew up in a toxic family?

If you recognize any of the above signs you grew up in a toxic family, here are three things you can do.

Talk to siblings

Do you have brothers or sisters that endured the same toxic family environment as you? Are they willing to talk about their experiences? Speaking with people who know what you went through can be helpful.

Remain detached

If you want to have some kind of relationship with your toxic family members, you can refuse to get drawn into family dramas. You can do this by not taking sides, keeping the conversation casual, or changing the subject.

Limit contact

There’s no rule in life that forces you to have contact with family members. It might be better for your well-being to limit this contact. It’s up to you to enforce strict boundaries or cut off all contact.

Final thoughts

You can’t control what kind of childhood you have, but by recognizing the signs you grew up in a toxic family it’s possible to decide what you want your future to be and heal along the way.

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