As a therapist, I’ve found that one of the biggest hindrances for many of us when it comes to dealing with the impact of toxic parenting is that we simply lack awareness of just how toxic our parent was – and likely still is.
Problem is, many of the signs you have a toxic parent can be easy to miss.
But being able to recognize the less-obvious signs of toxic parenting is extremely important. After all, if we can’t recognize the toxic patterns we may have been exposed to as kids, how can we possibly address the effects those patterns continue to have on us as adults?
If you ever wonder if you’ve got a toxic parent, this list is for you.
And if you want to assess just how toxic your parent really is, you can take my Toxic Parent Quiz to get your parent’s toxicity score.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the list.
Their emotional needs consistently come before yours
Coming in at number one: Your parents’ emotional needs consistently took—and likely still take—precedence over your own.
In many ways, this first sign is the common denominator in all forms of toxic parenting.
After all, so much of what toxic parents do (or don’t do) is done to satisfy their needs.
Problem is, this first sign can be one of the hardest to catch.
As children and even as adults, we don’t often see it as our parent prioritizing his or her needs over ours. Instead, we convince ourselves that there’s something deficient or defective about us.
They dismiss your feelings
Next up is the parent who displays a pattern of dismissing their child’s feelings.
And this one makes sense, right? The parent whose emotional needs “need” to come first is going to feel threatened by your emotional needs.
So, what do these parents do? They minimize, they downplay or even flat-out invalidate their child’s feelings.
These parents send the message to their kids that “You shouldn’t feel the way that you do” and that “you’re just too damn sensitive.”
Of course, the more we experience our feelings being dismissed in this way, the more we learn not to display or communicate what we really feel. And in some cases, many of us even learn how to cut ourselves off from our feelings altogether.
They withhold affirmation
Closely related to dismissing your feelings, toxic parents often withhold affirmation.
There are plenty of different reasons for this. A lot of toxic parents are, what I like to call, emotionally phobic. Simply put, they feel threatened when it comes to communicating affirmation.
Due to their own insecurities, these parents feel far too vulnerable when it comes to expressing words of affirmation. Instead, they find emotional safety in presenting themselves as “unfeeling intellectualizers” or hiding behind words of harsh criticism.
They lean on you for emotional support
Another easy-to-miss sign of toxic parenting is when parents lean on you for emotional support.
Essentially, your parent recruits you to be their emotional caretaker. They make you grow up faster in order to meet their needs.
It can feel like you’re in the role of therapist or even your parent’s BFF.
But it’s really a role reversal that takes place here. You become the parent in the relationship, and it becomes your job to meet your parent’s needs.
When you grow up with a parent leaning on you for emotional support, this pattern very often carries over into your adult relationships. You’re likely to wind up feeling responsible for fulfilling everyone else’s needs—and feeling guilty around letting others take care of your needs.
They use manipulative tactics to get their needs met
When a toxic parent’s needs aren’t being met by their kids, they often resort to manipulative tactics to get those needs met.
Manipulation can take many different forms. But some of the more common tactics involve saying or doing things to make you feel guilty or undeserving.
It can involve your parent playing the role of victim. And it can look like overly dramatic displays, such as your parent crying out loud in their bedroom with the door left open.
They take excessive interest in your life
“Excessive” is the key word here.
The textbook example of parents who take on this excessive level of interest in their child’s life is the helicopter parent.
We all know the helicopter parent, right? This is the parent who’s always hovering overhead, supervising and managing every aspect of their child’s life.
As signs of toxic parenting go, this can be an especially difficult one to catch because, especially when we’re younger, it tends to look a lot like caring.
Problem is, this “caring” is often rooted in the parent’s fear of becoming unnecessary.
In other words, these “caring” actions are motivated by the parent’s need to feel needed – and to make you depend on them as much as possible.
Self-involved parents love to talk about one thing—themselves. Conversations with these parents likely center around them and their interests.
Self-involved parents also push their kids to be like them. To pursue the things that interest them. To play the sports that they played. To study what they want you to study.
Of course, it can be great to connect with our parents around common interests. But when your parent wants you to be just like them, that’s…well, kind of toxic.
As children and even as adults, we like to see our parents as knowledgeable and intelligent. For this reason, it’s all too easy to overlook a parent’s infallibility as a sign of toxic parenting.
Infallible parents pride themselves on never being wrong. And when their presumed infallibility is challenged, they tend to become angry and critical toward others.
Chances are, if you grew up with an infallible parent, you’re likely to avoid engaging in serious or intellectual conversations with them. And you might even feel uncomfortable around these types of conversations in general.
You’re also likely to lack confidence in your personal opinions and level of intelligence.
They don’t understand or respect boundaries
There are certain boundary crossings almost all of us associate with toxic parenting. But other boundary crossings are nowhere near as obvious.
No matter the form it takes, though, a consistent pattern of not respecting your personal boundaries is another telltale sign of toxic parenting.
Did your parent used to snoop through your personal things without your permission? Did he or she read your diary or notes from classmates?
Or how about did your parent used to tell you about their marital problems or other adult issues? Did they ever act as if your friends were their friends too?
These are also boundary crossings – and signs of parental toxicity.
They require you to keep family secrets
What are family secrets? Well, these can be a lot of different things. Maybe it’s a parent’s drinking problem. Perhaps it’s a pattern of abuse. Or maybe it’s dad’s mental illness.
Whatever the secret is, it becomes the child’s responsibility not to let the cat out of the bag. So, not only do you not get to talk about it outside of the home and get the help you need, but you end up living in fear of somehow “slipping up” and inadvertently betraying your family.
What can I do if I have a toxic parent?
If you grew up with a toxic parent, it can really help to talk to someone, preferably a therapist with some expertise in the area of childhood trauma.
At Modern Era Counseling, we help adults overcome the trauma associated with toxic parenting. Contact us today to schedule a session or simply learn more about how we can help.