With little effort on their part, toxic adult children are able to make others miserable with their dysfunctional traits.

What’s worse than unruly children? I think that would be adults who act like children, those who have toxic traits and ruin the lives of others. And yes, they do this. And where does this behavior come from?

Well, apparently, these adults have either gotten too little or not enough attention as a child. They seem to be forever stuck between the ages of 5 and 7 emotionally. Although they may be smart, they are also cunning and manipulative, just to name a few traits. And I am not blaming the parents, by no means. Sometimes dysfunctions come from other areas.

Toxic adult children are common

There are ways to recognize these individuals. Their traits are so heinous, they literally run others away from them. In fact, some of these adult children are so easily recognizable, you can avoid them.

However, there are a few that can hide their toxic traits for years, long after they’ve started a serious relationship. This is the most unfortunate part of all.

So, let’s look at some signs to help us recognize them. Because honestly, we either stay away from them or help them in a guarded position.

1. Physical health problems

Adults with child-like emotions often develop serious health issues either in early adulthood or later in life. As much as their toxic behavior affects us, it also takes a toll on them as well. You see, it’s hard to function as an adult with adult responsibilities but yet react with childlike emotions. It just doesn’t fit. The habits of child-like children, mostly diet, are horrendous.

This mismatch causes physical ailments from toxic stress, poor eating, and low activity levels. This amount of stress on the body causes an increase in cortisol which hinders healthy body proportion and weight loss. This sort of stress also affects the heart and nervous system.

If child-like emotions are erupting within an adult situation, the stress can be enormous for both the adult child and their victim, which is, much of the time, the parents.

2. Broken relationships

Of course, toxic adults cannot retain a normal relationship with another person. At least, it’s not a common success story. Adult stress from a child’s perspective will see most aspects of the relationship in a skewed manner. When it comes to intimacy or communication, these toxic individuals will have little idea of how to make their mate happy.

Remember, they are thinking with childish emotion. This is especially true with communication, where these individuals usually refuse to talk out problems, rather throwing tantrums or ignoring their mate altogether. They will apologize sometimes, but it’s rare.

3. Substance abuse

Not all adult children partake in substance abuse, but many do. One reason they turn to drugs and alcohol is that they watched their parents or some other relative do the same thing. But again, this can also come from other sources, such as childhood friends or just the need to be rebellious throughout life.

If they’ve experienced any type of abuse that caused this habit, they can become trapped at that moment, reliving the pain and heartache of various traumatic past situations.

Sometimes the parents may have neglected or abused the child unknowingly. I know, my parents left me home alone quite a bit with an aged grandmother. Needless to say, bad things did happen. Adult substance abuse can be attributed to many experiences of children.

4. Gaslighting and blaming

Toxic adult children will never find themselves at fault, at least for the most part. If you’re trying to deal with someone who never takes the blame or tries to make you feel crazy, you may be dealing with an adult child. You see, children often run from responsibilities and they often place blame on other children.

Most of us grow out of this stage and learn how to appreciate healthier qualities, but some grow up to plague their parents and loved ones with these horrible actions. The adult child, as they are stuck at that moment where something affected them greatly or stuck in selfishness, will rarely learn to be a productive member of society, in terms of getting along with others.

5. You will notice patterns and role switching

Adults and children are impressionable on one another. Toxic behavior can spread from parent to child easily and vice versa. If the child has grown to only become an adult child, then sometimes their offspring will grow into the same pattern of behavior with their children, putting extra strain on the grandparents.

On the other hand, these grandchildren may also dodge these attributes and become the parent of the family. You see, someone has to take care of responsibilities and if the parent, or adult child, doesn’t do this, the real child will have to forego childhood to take control. It’s a sad situation. Many times the grandchildren see their grandparents as their real parents because of the stability they often provide.

Do adult children ever grow up?

Parents, if you want to understand how to handle your adult children, then you must take a few considerations.

  • Stay confident: adult children tend to bring down confidence levels with their actions. Stand firm when dealing with them.
  • Don’t go it alone: seek professional help when dealing with your adult children. These toxic traits run deep.
  • Be kind but strong: tough love is sometimes needed, just make sure they know you love them.
  • Get educated! Read as much material as you can on this strange character flaw. Learn and apply what you learn.

Although it’s usually a grim diagnosis, some adult children eventually grow up a bit. They may not become the outstanding citizens they should have been, but they can become better equipped to raise their own children and hold down relationships. The toxic behavior of childlike adults is something difficult to conquer, but it can happen.

If this is something you’re going through, don’t give up. I have seen people change, but I have also seen them take quite a long time to do so. The keys here, I believe, is educating yourself about the subject and patience. I wish you the best.


  1. https://www.nap.edu
  2. https://news.umich.edu
Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Instead of the term Adult Toxic Child, one should call these people what they are – they are narcissists. Unlike the popular opinion that narcissists are only 1-2% of the population, it is much higher than that. There are your ordinary low level garden variety type of narcissists and they create just as many problems for people as the 1-2% who have a clinical diagnosis. Also in most cases, it is the parents that molded their children into narcs.

    1. Sherrie Hurd
      Sherrie Hurd


      The adult child is one difficult person to be around at times. I know them, a couple of them, I might add. Usually, they were severely neglected as children and learned much of what they know from their peers. Sometimes one or both parents died or left at an early age, and this also drove them to learn from their peers. Usually these peers had similar circumstances and they began to relate to each other in childlike ways up into adulthood. While yes, they do exhibit narcissistic traits, I think it is more unintentional unless they also suffer from a personality disorder separate from their neglect. It’s hard to say, and it’s extremely difficult to understand what they’re thinking sometimes. After all, we’re dealing with children in adult form. It just doesn’t fit, and so it’s a task to understand.

  2. Avatar

    Well. After reading what you have to say I can’t help but feel disappointmet to the point of almost outrage with regards to your predispositional attitude & bias towards individuals with whom your article applies to. From my perspective, everything you had to say applies to you just as much as it does anyone else. Given the fact that I’m an “adult child” as you so i eloquently put it. I not only prefer the term man child but probably have that in spades if compared to anyone else. i also have at least enough maturity to own that fact & the reality of the situation im in as well. Without resorting to denigrating behavior in response to what you said in your article, i would prefer instead to share something with you that also has to do with me, “because it’s been my life up & to this point & I can’t do anything but accept it all.” By the age of fifteen i had already experienced “being kidnapped, parental divorce, “custody going to the wrong parent,” abuse, neglect, starvation, accumulative years of isolation, malnutrition, desolation, mother abandonment early off “8yrs old maybe,” abusive step-mother, multiple motorcycle accidents before the age of 8, “my dad nearly died in one as well & on the rare occasion I wasn’t along for the ride” & nealy jumping or falling off the back on more occasions because i was more terrified of the ride than dying from the fall because i was to small & barely strong enough to hold on “countless in excess of a 100 mph,” him almost blowing my brains out with a gun on accident “because he was being sadistic & having fun at my expense, not realizing i had chambered a round after cleaning it,” he also had many other methods of tortue he’d employ on occasion, “frequency/duration depending,” likelihood of being raped & sodomized at an early age by a man, “possibly him, but likely someone else to include different scenarios, caregivers & locations, somewhere in all that i may have witnessed the ritualistic rape & murder of another child my age, hard to tell because of repression, being sexually molested by a babysitter “girl” i was 3-4 her 10-12, exposure to inappropriate sexual behavior, to include acts & pornography, 2-3 TBIs, being shot with a pellet gun on multiple occasions, being shot at with live rounds from a rifle several times, moving away from & loosing contact from all extedended family members & being stuck with just my father after he remarried. No help with school, as well as being bullied by classmates & neighborhood kids. Stopping there because “Trust” when i say theres plenty more. From 15 on is another story entirely & just as bad. I’ve definitively faced my death 9 times, trifold with a gun in my face, “last time was my supervisor in the military,” to include overhearing by accident the premeditative planning to end my life while deployed, im not going to include the rest, there’s just too much context & im digressing. “Trust” me when i tell you that im not aiming for melodramatics, sympathy, or a shoulder to cry on, im just trying to convey some perspective here. I would love for someone to understand me & really get to know me for once. Realizing it’s unrealistic because there’s just too much for anyone to process & understand, let alone believe by this point. It’s been impossible for me to relate to others enough to get past being stigmatized, stereotyped, or falsy accused of doing something im not doing, didnt do, & in all situations had no plan on doing. I have more disorders of personality than i can figure out, let alone any therapists, “most are unauthorized to work with me because their not qualified enough,” many of those were working on a Doctorate. Im dyslexic, autistic, “which doesn’t bother me.” Id like to add one more thing before i get to the point. The one time in nearly 40 years where I actually have met someone who i know understands me, who i can actually identify with, inspires me beyond words to the point of tears, & i would do anything for & want nothing more than to spend as much time as possible with, im potentially going to forever lose all because of the lack of understanding & nature of these seemingly simplistic words. Ignorance, ego, lack of compassion & empathy assumption, jealousy, vindictiveness, moral corruption & more. The individual I mentioned is my daughter & she’s only three & a half. Yet regardless of that fact every time im with her she almost always does or says something that impresses & fascinates me to no end. As numb as i am i could be in a bad mood & unwittingly look at a picture of her & instantly have all that burn away to include a ridiculous smile & a feeling ive never known. Please excuse my french but She’s that fucking bad ass! m going to offer some advice & condense it all for the sake of brevity & understanding. I highly recommend you look up the definition & meaning of everything im about to say. Compassion, understanding, guidance, virtues “to include the positive & negative ones,” bias, cognative biases “all of them, perspective, ambiguity, interpretation, influence, affect & effect “as well as how they differ from each other,” concept, conceptualization & “its importance with regards to large amounts of context & information,” context, pretext, synonyms, antonyms, circumpunct, faith, trust, hope, belief, vulnerable, vulnerability, pain, suffering, abuse, neglect, neglecting, respect, antagonist, protagonist, assumption, presumption, presumptuous, value, values, ethos, guidelines, safeguard, gatekeeper, forms, defect, disability, bully, bullying, denigrate, denigrating, nature, nurture, position, polarity, inspire, disapoint, disappointing, hopelessness, suicide, homicide, violence, domestic violence, infant, child, adolescent, adult, innocence, guilt, guilty, gullible, gullibility, accusation, character assassination, nihilism, past, present, future, unknown, unknowable, perfection, defection, handicap, endless, form, formlessness, anywhere, everywhere, nowhere, acceptance, disbelief, theo, theology, direction, misdirection, missinformation, dissimformation, psyops, prefect, adept, security, agent, agency, free, freedom, slave, slavery, master, apprentice, submission, submissive, domination, dominance, brother, sister, father, mother, neo, marxist, diplomacy, communism, democracy, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, root, cause, causality, causation, solute, solution, problem, soluable, solvable, never, all, allways, anyways, betray, cry, sad, sandness, vague, moment, precious, awe, awesomeness, ignorance, enlightenment, death, life, trancendence, forgive, forgiveness, time, timeless, stale, stalemate, advantage, king, queen, knight, rook, pawn, gesture, history, broken, unbroken, unbreakable, believe, believable, unbelievable, dictionary, function, reality, possible, impossible, psychology, Jungian psychology, alchemy, base, baseless, myth, mythos, interpretation, the nature of duality & reality, matrix, illusion, illistration, base, debase, the different phases of matter, dark matter, dark energy, discipline, consistency, profundity, proficiency, professional, unprofessional, human, inhuman, humanity, humility, humiliation, humor, dyad, self, selfish, selfishness, authority, authentic self, control, dissipate, insecurity, conscience, consciousness, confidence.

    And speaking of confidence im pretty confident that I’ve privided you with enough information to take it from here. Id recommend getting intimate with a good dictionary as well, “I’ll even hand you a paddle as well so you can join me & not have to go at it alone. There’s plenty of words i could have added & know i missed that are just as relavent to the rest as well as the point I’m trying to make as well as the message im trying to make with all of this. Any where you go in life & at any moment you feel like switching polarities from the positive to the negative with regards to your attitude “& I cannot stress the importance of doing this atleast a few times a day everyday” if you’re out & about enough. Stop, take a moment to look around, take in the details of your environment & remember this & always this, what you see is what you get & that’s exactly what you have to work with at any given moment, you’re just as much of a value or a burden “let alone influence” to anyone & everything you see around you. That you don’t get points for being an idealist, you’ve got to work with what you have, anywhere and everywhere, to include always until the sand runs out of the hourglass that represents how much time you have left in this life. Every moment is precious beyond the human capacity for understanding let alone acceptance. Words hurt & have just as much power & potential for destruction as they do for creation. Make the effort to atleast try & be respectful of & responsible with that revaluation. If ever you fret & feel that you’re about to switch polarities & lose your composure please do this one thing for me, “just this one thing,” please. Take a moment to inhale & exhale, relax & quietly repeat to yourself what im about to say “because this for your own personal sovereignty in that moment & no one else.” “Be still and know that i am God.” Faith, Hope & Trust. Because that’s all I have left in this world that can never be taken away from me. I’ve had to let go of the idea of ever having a meaningful relationship with another woman, lost all of my friends & anyone resembling family, & now i stand to lose my daughter for good, “not to mention my son with which I’ve never met.” I live alone, & thankfully what i earn each month from being a 100 percent disabled Vet provides me enough to just get by. I “Hope” my novel of a comment to your post can at least give you some perspective. I’m religious to the point of ambiguity, open to all theological concepts & mythologies within reason & am only saying this because i worry that my “be still and know” comment might dissuade you & anyone from else reading this away from the big picture. Take care & Godspeed

    1. Sherrie Hurd
      Sherrie Hurd


      So, Prometheus, I do like your name. I thank you for any of the advice that I take away from this because, let’s face it, that’s what we do, isn’t it? We take what we want away from each encounter, right? My heart does go out to your trauma and your hurt, and I hope your heart goes out to mine as well. I think I’ve written about it so many times that people are tired of hearing it. Yes, I can act like a woman-child too at times, and that’s okay, I’m working on that. Am I always optimistic, oh good lord, no…..not at all. I have some really hard days where I’m not sure I will talk to you guys ever again or do anything ever again. But that’s just me. I do manage to do it all again, however, and I see many things I would have missed, including your comment, which I adore. I love reading everyone’s perspective and listening, truly listening to what they have to say. Thank you for the many words you left for me…some of them I will have to look up because I am unfamiliar with the definition. Thank you so much. I guess other people would find your words harsh, but I don’t. I have heard so much worse and cried myself to sleep so many nights I have lost count. I find your words insightful and they help me see things from a different perspective.

      Thank you so much for reading. Please, feel free to offer any advice you wish at any time. Be blessed and know that you can do all things…you know the rest.

  3. Avatar

    Thankyou Prometheus.

  4. Avatar
    Athena Devlin

    I 2nd that thank you. For the shining example of precisely what a text book narcissist truly its. If I was one, Is list every last shirty thing in my life as week. However, I’ll leave it at the fact that the shit ranged from flat lining for 45 minutes at the age of 4 to my husband cheating on me with transsexuals and being me home HIV. Every one head had shit Halloween to them. Get the fuck over it. Still letting it control today. That shit is in the part. Sup using it to act like a fucking jackass. It’s not cute.

    1. Sherrie Hurd
      Sherrie Hurd


      Thank you again for reading. We must not forget the pain associated with some of these issues that people go through.. I used to be so self-absorbed, myself, that I thought I was the only one abused, neglected, and turned into a monster. Yes, I’ve been kind of monstrous before. Anyway, growing up, or not growing up is different from person to person, but hurting someone, isn’t okay. And even if they never care, we just have to forgive them anyway. I thought about vindication and goingn about bopping folks on the head and all that would do is get me banned from a lot of places and maybe in jail….so I choose forgiveness.

  5. Avatar
    Violet Dancy


    Interesting read . I have a kid like curiosity and have had a ‘ unique ‘ upbringing.
    I just find I am resourceful and appreciate all… even the bad as I know better to not reproduce it. Learning from all . If you didn’t know cold it would be hard to appreciate warmth .

    Thanks from the deep.

    1. Sherrie Hurd, A.A.
      Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

      Thank you, violet. There is no light without dark….yes.

  6. Avatar
    olga gendelman

    Thank you soooo much for your article !
    Helped me and validate my feelings of where I am in my case.
    My daughter IS toxic to the point would be funny if being too sad , she is 45.

    1. Sherrie Hurd, A.A.
      Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

      Yes, I understand about it being funny sometimes. It’s just that the toxicity is so obvious and cruel that you find it funny how a person can think they are driving down your self-worth. Yes, they may temporarily hurt you, but if you are strong, you know who you are. You actually feel sorry for them and hope and wish they would stop. You hope they stop because you don’t want to remove them from your life. That part isn’t funny, it’s tragic. A toxic person will see you hurting and feel triumphant that they have succeeded, but in reality, your hurting is your mind trying desperately to help them and keep them as a friend or loved one. They don’t get it. Sometimes they step right into the grave they are digging for you.

  7. Avatar
    Alice Via

    I am the mother of a son in prison and we have a very toxic relationship what can I do ?

    1. Sherrie Hurd, A.A.
      Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

      Well, for now, visit him and show him, love. I assume the visits aren’t that long so it shouldn’t be too difficult to stomach the manipulation. It’s going to be a different story when he gets out. Make sure you tell him that your relationship is not good and see if he takes responsibility for his part. This is the first step. If he does, then you can get counseling together. If he doesn’t then you can get therapy to help you deal with your relationship with your son. Just take care of yourself.

  8. Avatar

    I live with a son that has seen a long term mental problem, he’s 30 years old and been manipulating the internet , apps and the computer in my car. This has been going on for over five years and there’s no slowing him down. He works as a security consultant in computers users.
    Some of the effects that he has done still lingers on on some of my apps.
    Pease help!

  9. Avatar

    Can you refer further reading materials? This is hard for me as I am dealing with an adult child. During this pandemic, a lot of counselors are closed for business. I feel like my heart is about to burst into pieces. 😢

  10. Avatar

    I have a daughter and a son who think turning up two hours late is normal, it’s so infuriating. When I complain I am accused of being dramatic, and of are we going to go through this again mother and how we are not there for you. They tie me in knots.

  11. Avatar

    Life isn’t about giving advice. It’s about listening and learning about the other persons pain. You can’t put yourself in their shoes. You can be kind though and say your feelings are valid and I am here to listen. It’s going to be ok. X

  12. Avatar

    I have a 30 year daughter who depends on my for constant financial support
    I provide her a condo to live in and pay most of her bills since she was 16 ( she has never lived with me and the relationship with her mother was only a few months although I have always been apart of her life since birth)
    when I confront her about working or taking over her own bills
    I get emails threating suicide and told Im a horrible person
    (in much more disguising violent langage that I would not post)
    and that she has various illness , seems a new one every couple of months
    this behavior started in late teens (I remember she told every body she had terminal cancer)
    some illness seems to real as I have seen prescriptions
    it has gotten progressively worse and starting to fear her safety and mine
    I want to get her out of my condo and have her take over her own bills
    but dont want her homeless

    1. Sherrie Hurd, A.A.
      Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

      For 14 years this has been going on. The hard part is this time that’s transpired. She knows you will do whatever she wants, basically. Now, I wouldn’t ever want to risk her suicide, but something has to be done. I do believe she has some personality disorders or mental illnesses, but not sure what they are. One of them could be bipolar disorder. In order to understand what to do, you have to get a diagnosis of her illnesses. She has to be willing to let you in her life so much that you can go with her to the doctor and see for yourself what she’s dealing with. If she’s not willing to let you go, then something is off.

      I am not sure how you can convince her to let you into her life this much, but it would help to know the truth. Bipolar disorder is considered a disability, in case you didn’t know, and if she cannot work, she can apply for disability for her condition. She also needs to be willing to see a counselor with you, so you have a mediator to sort through things. Usually, this mediator or good therapist can recognize how to handle any suicidal threats. In your case, professional help is needed. YOu can start with you. Yes, I said to you. You need to talk to someone on a regular basis to help you with the growing frustration and anxiety. It’s building up to explosive proportions if you’ve dealt with this for 14 years. Talk to them, tell them everything, and hopefully, you can get her to join you. I agree, she does need to take care of herself, but it’s going to take steps to get to that point where you feel comfortable. By all means, we want to keep her alive because I know you must love her dearly to endure this.

      I hope some of this helped. OH, and having a support group of other family members or friends is a good way to vent for yourself and pool together ideas. Just avoid anyone who is harsh. This is a delicate situation.

  13. Avatar
    Linda Gutch

    my daughter never got my full love and attention growing up since I was depressed and always arguing with her alcohol father—never meant to neglect her emotionally—she is married and I often babysit my grandkids —I try to give her as much love and occasional financial support but she is often nasty and abusive towards m—have apologized if she felt neglected during childhood—she becomes angry and unreasonable sometimes—never shows me affection—sometimes she’s fine and fun to be wit—but unfortunately she can be mocking towards me—Please offer me any strategies—I pray she finds peace

  14. Avatar

    Yes, this is so true. I have a mother and two daughters who are very toxic and I find that it hurts me to my heart but, I know I have to cut ties with them. What hurts so much is when you spend so much time defending yourself and hurting when every time I get involved with them. My daughters act just like my mother and my mother is now 86 years old she will never change. My daughters are in their forties and they are just as hard to deal with. I give up.

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