Are Your Parents Toxic? How to Tell, Who to Talk to, and What to Do About It
Parents aren’t always right. Sometimes, they even have it all wrong.
There comes a time in every child’s life when he or she realizes that their parents aren’t perfect. It may come in a harmless or even charming manner, such as when your dad burns the eggs and spills the juice making breakfast. It may come in a darker way when you realize your mom isn’t acting like that because she is being silly, but rather because she’s intoxicated. It may happen slowly, as you begin to realize your parents are dealing with depression, anxiety, a lack of motivation, or that they lack the warmth and loving kindness you see from other parents.
Your parents are people and no one is perfect. But if your folks get it right most of the time, always trying their best to be present, caring, and supportive, you’ve got it pretty well made even if they do slip up from time to time. On the other and, if you and your parents have a toxic relationship, you need to identify it, realize it’s mostly not your problem – or rather not your fault. It may very much be your problem, and you need to work on plans for establishing the best possible functioning relationship.
Before you can deal with toxicity in the family, you first need to figure out if your parents are toxic people – and you also need to do a gut check on yourself to make sure you’re not also a problematic part of the equation.
Common Signs of Toxicity in Parents
Toxic parents can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being, not to mention making things a challenge for your partner (or for you if toxic in-laws are the issue). It’s critical you identify the traits of toxic parents so you can at least know it’s not you causing the issues in your relationship and, at best, so you can work to fix things or to distance yourself if things are unlikely to get better.
1. Your parents are always negative – Parents should be supportive even when, let’s be honest, their kids hardly deserve it. (Think of an outpouring of cheers and applause for a kindergarten school play, for example.) If your parents always find and highlight the bad, pointing out your failings and playing down your achievements and never letting the little things go, that is classic toxicity.
2. Your parents want to control everything – The older you get, especially if you are an adult, the less and less your parents should seek to influence and control your life and the more they should respect your choices and even begin looking to you for guidance. If they are always trying to control you, from the subjects you study to the job you get to the friends you keep and the people you date, that’s not care and concern, it is being toxic.
3. They always place the blame and pass the buck – Parents should model good behavior by being responsible, honest, and mature human beings. If yours instead always blame other people for their problems, always pass on hard work or responsibilities to others, and if they take credit when no credit is due, they are instead modeling toxic behavior.
4. They just don’t seem to care that much – A lack of empathy can be a sign of a serious mental disorder, like sociopathy, psychopathy, or narcissism, but it can also be evidence of people who are simply pretty lousy parents. If your parents are too self-involved and disinterested in your life – in your cares, fears, struggles, successes, and so on – then they may not be afflicted with a serious, diagnosable mental disorder, but they may well count as toxic parents who need to be put in their place, with that place likely being far away from you.
Why It Can Be So Hard to Deal With Toxic Parents
You know the old expression about blood being thicker than water, right? Well, there is no thicker blood than that between you and the ones who raised you (and in most cases who gave you your very life), even if that blood is bad. With a toxic friend or partner, you can break off the relationship. With a toxic coworker, you can report to HR and request mitigation or, if that’s not an option, you can find a new job. But with a parent, except in the direst of situations, such as when there has been abuse, it’s very unlikely you will ever want to permanently cut off contact.
That’s why it’s critical to establish immutable boundaries between yourself and your toxic parent or parents. You need to have a serious conversation and set up rules you know you can live with – think no random, surprise visits, no calls or emails or texts sent when the toxic parent is angry, drunk, or in any other poor state, no assumption of access during holidays or such if not first noted, and so forth – and then communicate these rules clearly.
That way, even if your toxic parent will not respect your rules and boundaries, you can still implement them. You can shut the door, hang up the phone, not reply to the text, and spend your time (and emotional energy) how you want, and if they complain or rage about it, you can calmly explain that the rules have been made clear, and then you can hang up or shut the door again.
Remember, no one who does not want to change is likely to change as a result of external forces. You may be able to change the ways of your toxic parents if you make them see their own issues, but you probably won’t ever have the relationship you would have wanted with them, so instead have the relationship you deserve with yourself. Don’t let their toxicity interfere with your own sense of pride and self-worth, and don’t let the cycle of toxicity continue.