Do You Have Toxic Parents?
Most people describe their childhood as “normal.” We tend to normalize our own childhood because it’s the only one we had, and we truly want to have a loving relationship with our parents. However, that wish can be so powerful that it clouds our memory and our vision, making it difficult to see our parents clearly and objectively. So, if you are an adult who is depressed or anxious, how do you know if your relationship with your parents has something to do with it? You may or may not have negative memories of your parents from childhood. But how can you tell if your current relationship with them is healthy or “normal”? How would you know if your desire to have a good relationship with a parent is blinding you to the reality that a loving relationship with this person is really not available?
Below is a list of 10 parental behaviors that are not consistent with a loving, trusting, relationship. If your parent engages in several of them, you may wish to take a closer look at the dynamics of the relationship.
1. Intervenes in unwanted ways in your relationship with a sibling or other parent
2. Tells you how you should feel about other family members – that you shouldn’t be angry at a parent or sibling, or that your feelings are unjustified.
3. Clearly favors one or more siblings; may talk negatively about one sibling to another; alliances with and against siblings may shift depending on the circumstances.
4. Equivocates aggressor and aggresse: When two people “don’t get along” it doesn’t necessarily mean they are equally at fault. Sometimes one sibling (or parent) is consistently the aggressor. A parent who systematically ignores this disparity is, in effect, aligning with the aggressor.
5. Condemns your character during confrontation. Does not limit the exchange to the circumstances at hand, but rather paints you as a bad person in general. This may manifest as “You always _____,” or “You never ____,” or “You are just a (fill in the blank with critical adjective) person.” This parent may also try to gang up on you by suggesting that other people agree with this negative assessment.
6. Insists that any complaint you have about this parent is actually a symptom of your own problem. (You are stressed, depressed, angry; you need therapy, or more therapy, or better therapy or medication, etc.)
7. Attacks you viciously, then shortly after behaves as though nothing happened; then acts like you’re crazy for harboring any ill will, or criticizes you for holding a “grudge.”
8. Acknowledges only the nice things h/she has done for you. This parent seems to have no memory of having acted badly, and if you bring it up, you are “oversensitive,” “ungrateful,” or otherwise defective.
9. When this parent is pleased with you, you are wonderful and may feel quite loved. But when this parent is unhappy with you, you feel hated and may question whether there was anything the parent ever liked about you.
10. Part of you wonders whether you are crazy, but another part of you knows you are not.
In families with multiple siblings, typically only one child seems to get the brunt of this. For this person, therapy can take on even greater importance, as it may be the only place where h/she can learn to distinguish reality from the false family narrative.
For more information on this subject:
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, by Alice Miller