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 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?