Toxic parents are parents who unconsciously create a relationship of dependence with their child on them, chaining him psychologically. The little child comes into the world with needs and feelings. There is the need for survival (eating, drinking, being cared for and protected) and psychological needs (being loved, respected listened to and guided). Toxic parents are not able to respect the needs of their child, nor what he is. By will or force, they shape the child to the ideal image they have of him. The child does not have the right to exist as he is. His needs and feelings are systematically undermined because they are considered dangerous or unsuitable.
As the child needs love to survive, he will gradually repress his needs, consider them as dangerous, unhealthy and will try to adapt to the wishes of his parents. Denied in its very essence, the child becomes dependent on his parents and becomes an adult will continue to live in the same dependence.
Toxic parents do not bring their child to grow in confidence, autonomy, or maturity. The toxicity of “ordinary” parents who are dominant, critical, contemptuous and / or manipulative, and thus demonstrate an insidious toxicity that seems natural to them, convinced that they are the legitimacy of their behavior towards their children. Under the appearances of education, the words spoken to children are too often ordinary violence that leads to the opposite of the supposed intention of the educator.
The denial of reality is the consequence of an unconscious refusal linked to the many frustrations that the child has to face in order to become civilized. Since its conception, then throughout its development, in order to become subject of its existence and not an object that undergoes, each stage of human growth is a separation to be accomplished, at the same time as a suffering to be overcome. , then to integrate. And it is difficult to accept that the educational mode of our parents could have harmed our development, created repetitive patterns of devastating behavior and a psychic prison.
The author discusses the problematic life of adults who, in their childhood and adolescence, had parents who caused considerable damage to the development of their personality.
The author drew heavily on his experiences with his patients. She describes “toxic” parents who have been either alcoholics, physical abusers or sexual abusers, or have been resigning, domineering, critical, contemptuous, manipulative.
Susan Forward shows how the repetitive and insidious behavior of these parents causes emotional damage that spreads in the child’s being. The suffering that these injuries have caused, grows with the child insinuating itself into the structuring of all his personality. These grown-up children remain in great pain in their professional, social, emotional and sexual life. Paradoxically, they remain closely linked to their parents and their families.
Many of us have difficulty seeing that our relationships with parents have a major impact on our lives.
Our parents plant in us mental and emotional seeds that develop at the same time as us. In some families there are seeds of love of respect and independence. But in others, these seeds are fear, subjection or guilt.
All parents have occasional impairments, they are just humans. Most children are comfortable with it if they receive their love and understanding.
The toxic parents inflict all their time, trauma, abuse, criticism on their children and most of the time they continue to behave in this way even if the children have become adults. Children of toxic parents feel consciously or unconsciously guilty of abusing their parents and this leads to adult lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem.
I. THE PARENTS-GODS
Babies, our parents are for us gods without whom we could not survive, they give us love, protection, shelter and food. Having nothing and no one to compare them with we assume they are perfect parents so we feel safe. From 2 to 3 years old, we start fighting to build our own identity to affirm our personal will. This process of separation culminates during adolescence. Normal families try to tolerate, encourage incipient independence.
Toxic parents consider revolt or individual differences as personal attacks. They defend themselves by reinforcing the child’s disability and dependence. Instead of encouraging healthy development, they undermine it, often persuaded that it is for the sake of the child. This results in real ravages on the self-esteem of the child:
– he becomes more and more dependent.
– He has a growing need to believe that his parents are there to give him the security and the necessary
– He agrees to be responsible for the conduct of his parents to make sense of their physical and emotional attacks.
The child thinks that he is bad and that his parents are good, that he is weak and his parents are strong.
These strongly anchored beliefs remain and in order to regain his life he has to face the truth, his “divine” parents betrayed him when he was most vulnerable.
To protect themselves from this terrible truth the child prefers to establish defense mechanisms:
– denial, disguising to minimize and even deny the impact of some painful realities. Denial can go so far as to forget what the parents did.
– The use of rationalization, using “good reasons” to explain and eliminate the painful facts and make acceptable the unacceptable.
– The displacement of resentment, so as not to give up the myth of perfect and deified parents, children transfer their anger to another person or themselves.
Death takes nothing away from parents’ power, on the contrary, deification is often amplified.
Instead of freeing themselves from them, the survivors remain prisoners of their emotions.
It is important to put the toxic parents back on earth so that they can look at them realistically and thus rebalance relationships.
II. THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TOXIC PARENTS
1) parents with disabilities
Parents have duties to their children to provide for their material needs, to protect them from physical and emotional harm, to meet their children’s needs for love and care, to child moral guidelines.
Deficient parents are often unable to meet these needs and often rely on their children to take care of their own needs and even demand it.
In this case the family roles become unclear, distorted or reversed. The child has no model to learn and progress, he drifts into a sea of hostile confusion.
The child is deprived of his childhood and this can take different forms:
– the child must change into an adult to fulfill the responsibilities of a parent who is deficient, that is to say, to take care of the home, the brothers and sisters and the defective parent. Often he fails in this role of child-parent, he feels feelings of guilt and not be up to it. Adult, he enters a vicious circle: accept responsibility for everything, fail irreparably, feel guilty and incapable and react by redoubling efforts. The person is enslaved, looking for personal value in the work and does not put limits.
– The child rescues a parent who is obsessed, drugged, brutal or excessively dependent and becomes responsible for it. The child becomes co-dependent and at the same time a victim. This behavior will follow him all his life, he will look for someone to save. It will be very difficult for the person to define their own identity and to set healthy boundaries.
– The physical absence of a parent (following a divorce for example) causes a particularly painful feeling of emptiness and lack in the child. The latter often rationalizes by taking responsibility for the event. He hates himself, he has no meaning or purpose in his life, the feeling of invisibility will cause a lot of damage in his life.
These toxic, deficient parents often arouse pity and their children feel protective feelings about them.
For these people it is important to see that they were forced to grow up too fast and stole their childhood.
2) The dominant parents
The authority is good if it is adapted to the stage of the child, as long as it is small it needs to be kept and protected.
Authority becomes abusive, if it holds the child back and prevents him from making his own experiences.
The child then becomes fearful and anxious, he will always need the advice of the parents who invade, manipulate and dominate him. He has a great feeling of helplessness. The fear of not being necessary is often the driving force of these dominant parents and they justify themselves with “it is for your good”. These parents are deeply dissatisfied and afraid of being abandoned. The independence of the child is a threat to them.
– The authority can be manifest, it is then a direct control which is often accompanied by intimidation and humiliation. The feelings and needs of the child must be subordinated to those of the parents, their opinion has no value, their needs and desires are not important.
If he goes to independence, the parents are in despair, so they use tactics such as the withdrawal of the affection or the prediction of disasters to bring back the child. He feels guilty, angry, frustrated and with a deep sense of betraying his parents.
Money is also a means used to keep children in a state of dependency.
Some dominant parents control their children by treating them as if they are weak and incapable, whereas this does not correspond to reality. The child then the adult must continually prove himself and there is never approval of the parents.
– The manipulative parents
If manipulation is an instrument of deliberate control, it becomes destructive. Parents hide their motives, the child is confused.
Parents play the “good Samaritan” by provoking situations where the child needs them.
The child is no longer free and the feeling of competence is stifled. If he tries to express his frustration, he feels guilty about the “goodness” of the parent and the parent takes “martyr” attitudes (with all that I did for you)
There is often depression in adults who have such parents.
Fraternal rivalry is also used when comparing children to each other. The child is then pushed to do what the parents want to regain their favor.
There are 2 ways to react, but in both cases we are controlled by the parents:
– The capitulation.
– The revolt. By rebelling, the child tries to free himself from the fusion and the stifling control.
It is a self-destructive revolt because in reaction to a parent and not an active manifestation of free choice. They can survive long after the death of parents who exercise some kind of control beyond the grave. The beliefs and guilt passed down by the dead parents continue to guide the remaining people.
3) Alcoholic parents
Alcoholism is a family secret, we deny reality, we lie, we excuse, we hide. This causes emotional chaos in the child, he feels a lot of shame. The secret becomes a cement that unites to maintain the cohesion of the family. We play the “normal family”, the child can no longer develop a feeling of confidence in him, if he must constantly lie about what he thinks of him. He feels guilty, is afraid to reveal the secret and not to betray the family, he becomes lonely. He develops a perverse loyalty to people who share his secret.
Alcoholic parent children become extremely tolerant to accept the unacceptable.
They often get married to alcoholics or violent people as well.
Why this repetition of the past? The search for the same familiar emotional patterns is a common drive for everyone, even if their feelings are painful or destructive.
What is familiar provides a sense of comfort and a structure for our life.
We know the rules and we know what to expect. More importantly, we are reconstructing the conflicts of the past because this time we hope to find a good solution. This reconstruction of old painful experiences is called “repetition patterns”.
In these alcoholic families children play a role attributed to them:
– The child takes the role of parent, because the alcoholic “terrible child” of the family leaves no room for any other child in the family. The child is then ignored, he does not have the emotional support he needs. He feels invisible, responsible for the feelings of others and does not want to cause grief to anyone. He feels guilty because he can not fix the parents’ lives.
– The boyfriend: to avoid being beaten, he drinks with the alcoholic parent. The drink becomes a link, a secret. The child feels this as camaraderie, love, acceptance. In their future, they themselves often become alcoholics by conforming to their parents’ behaviors, imitating them and identifying with them.
– The suspicious child, the child’s guilt: the children of alcoholic parents are afraid of intimacy, they have learned that the people they love are unpredictable and that they will hurt them. They are therefore suspicious and persuaded that if they let anyone who comes close to it, they will be hurt before dropping them. Alcoholic parents are totally unpredictable, well one day, wrong the next day. The rules change constantly, the child is never up to the task. He is systematically criticized, he becomes a scapegoat and even responsible for ethylism. The child feels guilty, self-destructive (delinquency) or self-inflicted with emotional and physical symptoms.
– The golden child: some must be the hero of the family. He is pushed by compliments. He then exhausts himself pitilessly for himself towards a perfection impossible to attain. His self-esteem becomes dependent on congratulations, rewards, and academic performance, instead of relying on inner trust. They often need to lead everything and everyone, sometimes by manipulating them away from those they love.
– The accused child: the sober spouse of the ethyl is often co-dependent or permissive. It settles in the alcoholic families a precarious balance. Any attempt by the alcoholic or another family member to get out of balance imbalances the whole. It happens that the co-dependent does not want this to change, because he often withdraws from this situation benefits as admiration, power over the family.
Children of alcoholic parents often hope that family life will change.
4) Verbal abuse, when brands are internalized
– The verbal abuse consists in launching repetitive attacks against the physical aspect of the child, against his intellectual capacities, his competence or his value as a human being.
These abuses can be:
– direct: accusing the child of being stupid, worthless or ugly.
– less direct: taunts, sarcasm, insulting nicknames, devaluing remarks often under the mask of humor.
The child is not able to tell the difference between truth and jest, threat and teasing. He believes what parents say about him and it’s especially important if these abusive acts are frequent and cruel. These children, then adults, go through life, nerves alive, expecting to be hurt and humiliated. They protect themselves by shyness, mistrust.
Their parents do not take into account the child’s feelings or the long-term effects of these words on the self-image that is developing in the child. They often state that these verbal abuses are for the education of the child so for his “good”. In fact, these parents thus fight their own feelings of incapacity, they mark with these attacks, their superiority and thus manage to deny their own feelings of incapacity.
– The rival parent competes with his child often at the time of adolescence because he feels threatened. A mother sees in her daughter a rival whom she denigrates. A father feels a threat to his virility and authority so he humiliates and ridicules his son. Unconsciously these parents want to make sure that their children can not surpass them. The children receive a lot of unconscious messages. They often do not allow themselves more success, they sometimes sabotage it and they put themselves as limits not to surpass the parents.
– The indelible trace of insults: cruel insults, sermons, accusations and degrading names inflict great damage on a child’s self-esteem and leave deep psychological scars. These abuses undermine self-confidence, in their own value.
– Perfectionist parents impose on their children goals, ambitions impossible to reach, ever-changing rules. They expect their children to react with a degree of maturity difficult to reach because they do not have the necessary experience. If the child fails, he becomes a scapegoat for taking on family problems. They tyrannize him with the demands of perfection and use devaluing verbal abuse to feel themselves strong and empowered. The children of such parents generally choose between two paths:
– they exhaust themselves relentlessly to win the affection or approval of the parents.
– They revolt and choose failure to have the impression not to surrender to the demands of parents.
– The murderous words such as “I would have done better to take the pill!” “You ruined my life!” Inflict pain and confusion on the child. He stores these messages and often shows suicidal tendencies in adulthood as if to realize this “prophecy”. The child believes what his father says, his mother of him. He interiorizes, that is, integrates into his unconscious. He really thinks he is bad, good for nothing: he doubts that he is capable, worthy, worthy of love.
5) Physical abuse
It is any behavior which inflicts a great physical pain on a child whether or not he leaves visible traces. If the physical abuse exceeds a certain limit it is a crime against the child.
This type of abusive parent has a great lack of control in their impulses. When they have strong negative feelings, they hit their children to let off steam. It’s an automatic reaction and blows are one answer under stress. These abusive parents often come from families where these abuses were common and they come to adulthood with emotional deficiencies and deficiencies. The child is for them a parental substitute that should meet their emotional needs. They become enraged when the child fails to meet their expectations and then they hit them.
The abuse of alcohol and drugs also destroys the control of impulses.
A climate of terror sets in, children are afraid even during quiet moments because these abuses are unpredictable. These experiences of violence generate a strong lasting fear, to be hurt and betrayed, this fear pursues them all their life. They no longer trust, expect the worst from others, lock their emotions in armor and let no one get close.
– The justification
Some children will never know what unleashed these acts.
Other parents justify themselves, try to explain:
– by rejecting the fault on a third person. The real cause of violence does not go away, so anger and violence can be triggered again.
– By saying that “it is for the good of the child” for his education so that he does not go wrong, that he becomes more enduring, braver and stronger.
Research shows that blows have only a temporary deterrent effect, but that they create strong feelings of rage, helplessness, dreams of revenge, and self-hatred.
– La violence passive
A parent who stays there while letting his children be brutalized without intervening is guilty of passive abuse. It does not intervene out of fear, dependence or need to maintain the status of the family. These passive parents themselves become frightened, weak, passive children in the face of spousal violence, so they abandon their child by protecting themselves. Sometimes their beaten children excuse and protect them because they see in them also a victim.
– The learning of guilt
Children agree to be held guilty of crimes committed against them. They believe the lies that parents make them believe: “You’re mean, it’s your fault if I hit you.” These lies are not questioned by the child even in adulthood because they come from parents who know everything and say true. The child becomes disgusted with himself.
– Bad treatment and love
There is sometimes association of abuse and moments of tenderness. These messages of different natures increase the confusion in the child.
– The child guardian of the family secret
The child does not want to betray the family secret, he is frightened, he is afraid of the consequences. The relationship with the parents becomes a comedy, we try to give the outside the image of a normal family.
– Abuse: an emotional crossroads
The abused children have in them a cauldron of boiling rage. When they are adults, this repressed anger can be expressed in several ways: violent behavior (to the point of crime), somatization (headache), depression. They do not necessarily become violent parents, on the contrary they can have many difficulties to apply a discipline to their children.
6) Violence and abuse
Incest is without doubt the most cruel, the most perverse human experience.
Definition of incest:
– from the legal point of view, it is the sexual relation between parents of the same blood.
– From a psychological point of view, incest includes physical contact with the child’s mouth, breasts, genital area, anus or other body part in order to provoke the sexual arousal of the abuser . He is not necessarily a relative of blood, he may be a relative by marriage or remarriage or a relative.
There are other types of incestuous behavior or there is no contact with the child’s body such as: exhibitionism, masturbation in the presence of the child, having the child pose for pornographic pictures, watch the child when he is naked, make corruptive and sexually explicit remarks to the child.
All of these behaviors require secrecy.
These incestuous acts with or without contacts are emotionally destructive to the child.
– A “so kind family”
Most incestuous families give a very normal picture to the rest of the world, they keep this look for many years, sometimes forever.
The child gives in because there is psychological coercion or because there is a threat of bodily harm, humiliation, abandonment or death.
– Why do not children denounce
The aggressors often use the threat to silence the victim: “I will kill you … I will beat you … no one will believe you … I will go to prison … it will make mom sick …”
Other abusers use physical violence, the majority of abused children are emotionally and physically abused.
The child keeps silent not because he is afraid of violence, but he fears to disunite the family by causing trouble to one of the parents, loyalty is very powerful.
The abused child perceives the prohibition and shame in the behavior of the aggressor. They know they are raped, they feel dirty. They internalize the fault and they are convinced that it is entirely their fault. This thought feeds strong feelings of self-loathing and shame.
The child refuses to consider the parent to be bad.
He thinks that no one is going to believe their horrible secret, he feels lonely inside and outside the family. This loneliness brings him back to the aggressor the only one to give them attention.
Some girls who are victims of their father feel guilty for betraying their mother and this increases their guilt.
– parental jealousy
Incest links the victim to the abuser in an intense and insane way. Particularly in the father / daughter case, the father often becomes obsessed with his daughter and jealous of the boys with whom she is dating. He saw this as treason, rejection, infidelity and abandonment. Sometimes she is beaten to threaten her verbally, to put in her head that she belongs only to a man, to daddy. These messages are as destructive as incest itself because at adulthood they prevent it from normally living attachment to another person. These victims of incest often take the obsession for love, they find it hard to convince themselves that they are victims.
– Cover the volcano
Many victims do not keep the memory of the events, there is total amnesia or partial, but they can reappear brutally following events (birth, marriage, death) or during a therapy. The unconscious protects these victims from these memories, and lets them re-emerge when the person is ready to confront them.
– The silent partner
Many victims experience more anger towards the mother than towards their father, the abuser. They ask themselves the question “why did not she protect me? ” There is :
– Those who do not know anything.
– The silent partner who chooses to ignore the clues of incest, hoping to protect themselves and the family.
– the mother who learns that children are raped and does nothing: it is the most culpable.
Often these silent partners were themselves abused during their childhood. They suffer from low self-esteem and incest makes them relive the throes of their childhood.
– The legacy of incest
Adults who were abused during childhood inherited three feelings:
That of being Disgusting, Destroyed, Different (the three D’s). Feelings of self-loathing sometimes lead people into degrading relationships with exploitation and betrayal. They relive the family scenario.
Most have difficulties in dating relationships, either physical love disgusts them or they are sexually hyperactive which further increases their disgust for themselves.
Some people turn on their own pain and rage, they suffer from depression, migraines or gain weight.
Others seek punishment, prostitute themselves, sabotage their work, become delinquents.
Paradoxically, victims of incest often remain attached to their parents, they do not want to give up the myth of the happy family, and will always seek the love and approval of parents.
III. THE FAMILY “SYSTEM”
The family is a “system of people linked by active relationships; each member has a profound influence on the other sometimes unconsciously. It is a complex network of love, jealousy, joy, guilt and other emotions.
The family system represents the whole reality of the child and he makes decisions based on what he has learned in his family. This system is the result of the accumulation of feelings of rules and beliefs transmitted from generation to generation by our ancestors.
– Family beliefs are deeply rooted attitudes, perceptions, and concepts about people, relationships, and morals. They determine how parents behave with children and what to expect from children. If the parents are toxic these beliefs are almost always egocentric, they harm the child. For example “children owe respect to parents in all circumstances”.
Toxic parents oppose any outside reality questioning their opinions.
The child lacks subtlety to distinguish true reality from deformed reality. These beliefs may be in the form of advice: “you should,” “should,” “me, in your place” or they are unexpressed, but perceptible by behavior and transmitted unconsciously.
– The rules are manifestations of beliefs. They cause a constraint.
When the rules are clearly expressed “Do and Do not”, they have the advantage of being challenged. What is not the case for the unspoken rules “do not abandon me”, “do not stop needing me”, it is more difficult to identify them.
Children follow these family rules out of loyalty so as not to betray the family. This unconscious need to obey eclipses their needs and conscious desires. To be able to exercise free will, one must make light in the unconscious, unmask and reject these destructive rules.
Disfunctional families discourage individual expression. There is a fusion, we erase the personal boundaries, we weld together the members of the family. The feelings, behaviors, decisions no longer belong to the person, she is an appendage of the family. In these families, identity and the illusion of being safe depend largely on this feeling of fusion. It creates an almost total dependence on external approval. We are very afraid of being rejected.
– The family balance
Each family creates its own balance to achieve a certain stability. In a poisonous family keeping the balance is a real feat, chaos being their way of life. Often it happens that toxic parents increase chaos to bring the family back to its known, safe, but unhealthy balance. They try to maintain this balance by:
– denial, it minimizes, reduces or debapses destructive behavior (someone who beats his child is a strict educator)
– projection. To avoid responsibility for their own behavior, parents need a scapegoat, they choose the child.
– The sabotage of the disturbed parent’s effort to get out of it in order to bring it back into unhealthy balance.
– The secret is a bond that brings the family together especially when the balance is threatened.
If you have read this article in its entirety, you have taken a huge step towards autonomy and I congratulate you on it.