As children, we look to our parents for love, support, guidance, and validation. But what if those parents are toxic parents?
What if everything they do to us, tell us, show us or provide for us is damaging? Some children raised in an abusive environment will focus on surviving. Others might not even realise they have toxic parents until they reach adulthood.
When we are children, we soak up information about the world. This can come from our parents, our peers, our teachers and sources such as the media. If all that information is negative and abusive, there is no doubt that it will have some kind of effect. In fact, there are numerous studies that show abuse in childhood can increase the risks for health problems in later life.
So what sort of things do toxic parents do?
There are many things that toxic parents can do to a child. One of the most basic is what they say to them. Remember the old adage of ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’? This is simply not true when it comes from your parent’s mouths.
7 things toxic parents say that have a lifetime effect
I wish you’d never been born
This is the worst of all. Your own parents telling you that they didn’t want you in the first place. This denies your entire existence and undermines your sense of identity and self-esteem.
You were going to be an abortion
My own mother said this to me and I never forgot it. However, I consider myself lucky because I received much love from my father. As a result of her saying this, I developed a very thick skin and even today find it hard to open up to people.
We are getting a divorce
My parents argued all the time and either one of them would threaten to leave at some point. My mother would always say she would take me and my brother with her, which frightened me. Constant bickering and threats of breaking up the family can leave children unable to trust in later life.
Why don’t you lose some weight?
You will already know how damaging this comment can be. Parents are supposed to love their children no matter what their size, looks, intelligence or anything else for that matter. To be held to a certain standard by your own parents can lead to adults setting their own unrealistic levels.
You’re so ugly
My ex said this to me once and I remember how devastated I was to hear it. And I was an adult woman. I cannot imagine how a child would react. Our parents are supposed to encourage us and lift us up, ready to face the world. Not break us. This will live with children and could lead to self-harm as adults.
Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?
Pitting one sibling against another leads to a lifetime of jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. It can also cause resentment that affects the relationship between the two siblings well into adulthood.
Why are you so stupid?
Calling someone stupid hurts at any stage in their life. When that individual is a child, it will stick with them. It could affect their efforts at school. I mean, why should they bother studying when everyone knows they’re stupid? It will certainly damage their self-confidence.
Besides saying things, toxic parents will also do things to children, and this will have devastating effects that last into adulthood.
4 things toxic parents do that have a lifetime effect
Neglect can take many forms. It can be something as basic as not feeding or clothing a child. Or it can be ignoring their demands.
How many of us remember our parents being too busy when we were desperate to show them our latest drawing or project from school? Neglect during childhood can make some adults resort to ‘peacocking’ behaviour. This is where they’ll use their appearance to get noticed.
I have a friend who was ignored by her father during childhood. Since her teens, she has always had brightly coloured pink hair, tattoos, piercings, and worn outrageous clothing. If her own father wouldn’t notice her, she certainly made sure everyone else did.
Lack of affection
I can certainly relate to this one. When I was a child, I used to wait for my parents to come home after a night out drinking. I knew my mother would always come into our rooms at night to check we were asleep. I would hang my arm outside the covers so she would tuck it back under. This was so that I could feel her touch me, as normally, she never did. When I was a teenager, she cuddled me once after a huge row. It made me feel physically sick as she’d never done so before.
As an adult, you can imagine I am not one of those cuddly hugging sorts of people. Don’t touch me feels more appropriate!
Sudden mood changes
Not knowing what mood your parents are going to be in is extremely unsettling for children. They need a solid foundation and clear boundaries in order to mature into fully functioning adults.
Walking into a house where the atmosphere is constantly shifting is like having the rug pulled out from under you. It causes stress to build up and children from these backgrounds often suffer from impaired behaviour and learning skills.
However, this childhood stress can also have another impact. It can also make children more resilient. Studies have shown that repeated exposure to the stress of this nature can:
“…improve forms of attention, perception, learning, memory, and problem solving that are ecologically relevant in harsh-unpredictable environments.” – Study Authors
Did you know that if you were abused as a child, you are 51% more likely to suffer from domestic abuse as an adult? Why is it that adults who have already suffered from childhood abuse are now experiencing another form of abuse?
Domestic abuse includes stalking, coercive control, sexual assault, violence, and non-sexual assault. Child abuse is defined as both mental and physical abuse, sexual assault, and being a witness to domestic violence.
The health toll from toxic parents
A UK study revealed around one in five adults aged from 16 to 59 were subject to childhood abuse for the year ending in March 2016. This is around 6.2 million people, all with lifetime effects from their toxic parents. Not only does this impact on our society and health service, but on us as human beings.
It is clear that childhood abuse affects both the mind and body. Adults who have experienced abuse as children tend to smoke, drink, take drugs and are less physically active.
Living in a stressful environment causes increases in stress levels. This, in turn, lowers immune functions, increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes. A body under constant stress produces cortisol, the stress hormone. Too much of this and you are vulnerable to type 2 diabetes. You are also at risk of fibromyalgia, chronic pain, headaches and migraines, gynaecological problems, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
In conclusion, I think it’s pretty conclusive that abuse from toxic parents has far-reaching consequences into adulthood.
Have you been a victim of childhood abuse from toxic parents? Would you share your story with us?
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This Post Has 14 Comments
I am a surviving victim of many childhood abuses, including emotional neglect, physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse, most of which was on-going and long-term. This article covers it well, and is right about much of it. The long term effects for me include CPTSD, Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, being overweight with high cortisol levels, chronic pain, arthritis, migraines, and even cancer. The psychological effects, to me, are the most damaging in the long-term, leaving behind constant doubt and fear, among other effects, some unname-able. Feeling damaged is difficult and shakes self-esteem deeply. Another side-effect of my abuse is my drive to make sure I never have a child. I had so much damage that I knew I would not make a good parent and decided by the time my teen years came about, that I would not have children. I knew I had no skills or genuine support for myself, and never learned how to properly take care of myself, so how would I raise a child under those circumstances? I decided it was safer to not have a child than risk raising it with the risk of the same abusive people affecting my children, much less me being properly prepared to care for a child in the way that they deserve to be treated-cherished, nurtured, and loved.
I am very sorry to hear that your childhood was so abusive Phoenix. I applaud your decision not to have a child, I made the same choice for similar reasons.
Hello Janey D. I think your blog about toxic parents is informative but I would like to add an opinion. I think the majority of children turn out OK in spite of their parents. Of course there are exceptions as evidenced by some of the horrific things we see in the news. If you are a reasonably well adjusted child or adult and well informed, if not educated, you should be able to give your upbringing its proper place in the type of person you become and what values you have and act accordingly. If you find you can’t do this, seek a good therapist.
Yes I have toxic parents & been a victim of child abuse all my life
I’m very sorry to hear that Sumit. I hope you are finding strength and courage to live your best life.
Hello Janey, You have written very informative article and all of what you have said is true. However, I would like to add that children who suffered child abuse sometime do turn okay provided two things, they meet a genuine mentor along the way in life or meet a life partner whose love melts away the ice built within. I grew up in a abusive environment where mother was the abusive one but was lucky enough to have a mentor (who was a spiritual teacher) and a loving wife who made me not only forget but tried to repair my relations with my mother. Today I am the only son who takes care of her more than anyone else of my other sibling, and this was only made possible through two great personalities who entered my life. As a french saying goes “To understand all is to forgive all”, I think it is important to forgive because forgiveness only releases you from the prison of agony built over the years. My prayers are for those who have suffered at the hands of their loved ones and may they shine like stars….
Hi Ahmad and thank you for your comments. I too had a great mentor. I left home at 17 and lived with an older lady who was like a second mum to me. I am very happy that you have found two special people that love you and that you have found the strength to forgive.
I was told countless times as a child by my mother that she wished I’d never been born. Add to that a mother who yelled, screamed, slammed doors, and threw things. I survived and have been surviving my entire adult life. I have my walls and have removed them only to be attacked and forced to build them again. But just as the quote I read on this site said,”some walls are build to protect what’s left” If what doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger then I must be stronger than I give myself credit for.
Hi Tammy, yes my mum told me the same things. And you’re right. It made me stronger.
Hi there.Firstly this is a really informative blog.I’m actually only 14 years old but unfortunately I am a victim of abuse from toxic parents.For many years I lived in denial and always justified my parents words and actions by blaming myself.A few days ago I was crying myself off to sleep which is another thing that has become a normal part of my routine when I attempted to take my life.You have no idea how much it scares me nkw that I think back on it and that’s when I realized how much I was affected my there abuse.
I just want to say that if anyone is going through some tough time in their life…Know that we can get through this .Just stay strong!
Hi I just turned 14 a few months ago and I have toxic parents, could u please tell me ur discord ID or WhatsApp number or email I will like to hear that I’m not the only one who’s suffering…
Where does a parent start after realizing they were abused by a parent and they carried the abuse into their parenting? I have done so much damage to my children (who are adults now) and I feel so guilty and responsible. I can not change the past but I want to help them understand the truth and let them know I am so sorry for everything and how much i love them, and how they can help themselves so they will not keep the abuse going and learn how to have healthy relationships. I want to know they know the truth so they can forgive me before I die.
Just be honest with them and prove to them through actions that you have changed . If my mother apologized to me and truly ment it would be one of the best days of my life . One important thing is don’t bother apologizing if you haven’t changed or don’t really mean it or for your own satisfaction because trust me it hurts just as much if not more then when the first abuse happened.