Maybe you’re finding your dad to be a little more annoying than usual or you’ve looked around and noticed that your mom’s not like other moms. Maybe you’re finally realizing that it may not be normal to hide in your bedroom or screen your parents’ calls. Or maybe your SO is like “WTH with your home life?” The sad truth is, any kind of relationship can be toxic, including ones between parents and their children. The technical definition of a narcissistic or toxic parent is someone who lives through, is possessive of, and/or engages in marginalizing competition with their offspring. Basically, life is all about them and everything they do (or want you to do) is done to satisfy their needs. Oftentimes, it’s hard to recognize a toxic parent because most are disguised as caring people who immerse themselves in their children’s lives. The involvement is a facade and what appears as devotion is not a selfless act but an effort to control and manipulate their kids through very close relationships with them. But how do you know if this is really what’s going on? The problem with trying to figure out if you were affected by a toxic parent is that it takes the ability to self-reflect. You probably grew up thinking that the behavior in your house was normal and it may not be until you grew and matured that you had the ability to recognize that something was “off” in your house. Unfortunately, the road to healing is often long and lonely because no toxic parent wants to admit that they have issues. The child of such a parent must muster up the strength and courage to stand up and make a change. The good news is, if you’ve been raised by a toxic parent, you can be happy! Studies show that through therapy, you can overcome your abusive childhood and become an even better parent. The first step is to recognize it. Think maybe you got “toxic parents”? Here are nine signs to help you decide (and deal).
1. Their feelings always come before yours.
A good parent will consider how everyone in the family in affected when making decisions. The toxic parent will consider only his feelings and how decisions affect him, as those are the ones that count the most. Has your parent said things like “It’s not enough to make me happy just to know that you’re happy”? Has your mother complained about the crappy nurse at the doctor’s office and how it affects her, as you’re lying in pain on the table? Red flags.
2. They don’t recognize your boundaries.
Normal parents can be interested and curious, but a toxic parent will take it too far and stomp over healthy boundaries that a child sets because they believe it’s their right to. Has your parent busted open your bedroom door whenever they want? Do they endlessly pry into your phone and your private life? Do they listen in on your conversations and question you about them later?
3. They control you using guilt.
A little guilt is part of normal parenting, but a lot of it is a problem. The narcissist parent is interested in maintaining domination of their kids. They want to control their actions as well as their decisions, and they’ll use whatever means to make sure that they maintain. This often includes using guilt or money to get one to heed. Has your parent ever given you a gift then expected something in return? Have they often told you how much they’ve given up for you?
4. They demand your attention.
It’s normal for parents to expect children to answer timely but narcissistic parents demand constant attention and instant gratification. They feel threatened by anyone or anything that threatens their control of their kids. Has your parent blown up your phone so many times that you’ve had to shut it off? Have they interrupted your phone calls and acted disrespectfully?
5. They don’t talk to you.
A healthy relationship involves discussing issues openly, leading to feelings of security. Many times, the toxic parent will immaturely shut down communication in the form of ignoring, in order to get what they want. Have you ever not agreed with your father only to have him throw a fit and not answer any of your questions? Has your mother locked herself in the bedroom in response to something that you did or said?
6. They take away their love.
In a healthy parent/child relationship, love is unconditional and isn’t based upon their actions. The toxic parent will use love as a bargaining tool to get a child to act the way they want. Has your mom ever said, “If you don’t go to the school I choose, then you no longer have my support”? Have you felt that if you didn’t act a certain way then your parents would stop caring for you?
7. They’re overly critical.
Normal parents want the best for their kids and to help guide them. Narcissists “help” their children avoid mistakes by criticizing, in belief their “suggestions” aide their kids to achieve perfection, which is a reflection of themselves. Are you afraid to show your mom your new outfit in fear that she’ll find everything wrong with it? Have you hesitated to try something new in fear you’ll fail in your parents’ eyes?
8. They compete with you.
Friendly competition in a relationship is fun and healthy and can contribute to good self esteem. Narcissistic parents can turn competition unhealthy when they see their child’s achievements as a threat to their own self worth. They become jealous. Has your parent ever said to you, “You’re pretty, but my hair was so much thicker than yours as a child”? Has your dad said to you, “You’re close, but you’ll never be as fast as I was”?
9. They make you responsible for their happiness and well-being.
Normal parenting involves happy and sad times, with or without children. A toxic parent will turn their child into their substitute BFF or parent in order to take care of both their physical and emotional needs. They make unreasonable demands of their children often forcing them to choose between them and their relationships with their friends or significant others. They often make them sacrifice healthy extracurricular activities and interests by guilting them into taking care of them. The toxic parent can mask it as quality bonding when in reality what they’ve done is established an unhealthy relationship that doesn’t allow their child to grow into a happy, healthy independent individual. Has your mom said to you “why are you going out with your friends? I thought the weekends are for us?” Or has your dad said, “you like your boyfriend more than me?”
10. You’re still scared of them.
In a healthy relationship, one should be able to be themselves without fear that they’ll be criticized, made fun of, talked down to or disrespected. Toxic parents, on the other hand, will use hurtful tactics like these, even on adult children, in order to maintain their hold. Especially when they think their kids are growing up and they’re “losing them.” As a result, children learn to be fearful of their parents, often expecting some sort of emotional, physical or financial punishment. They learn to curb their behavior in order to please the toxic parent. Many children describe “walking on eggshells” waiting to see if their behavior was acceptable or if they should expect retribution. Are you afraid to express your opinion or voice yourself in fear of being disrespected? Does your heart jump every time the phone rings because it may be your mom or dad calling?