“In addition to the right to physical care, children have the right to emotional care: to respect their feelings, to adequate treatment, in which they can develop and cultivate a sense of self — esteem,” writes psychotherapist Susan Forward. Toxic relationships with parents, on the other hand, throw children off balance, make them despise themselves and live with a constant sense of guilt. We understand how such relationships work and what a child of toxic parents feels.
How to understand that parents are toxic?
Toxic parents are people who feel bad around them, and who feel bad themselves. They are unable to cope with their pain and dump it on the child in the form of threats, manipulations, depreciation. In essence, toxic communication is an attempt to address your pain to another person, but since the feelings are not realized,the message is ambiguous. Young children do not understand the subtext, but they are very good at reading the emotional charge of the phrase.
Most often, toxic parents themselves were victims of psychological violence in childhood and” along the chain ” convey distorted ideas about what care, support and love look like. Unfortunately, they do not know how to do otherwise and are rarely ready to change something.
By the way parents interact with their children, you can see their own psychological history. Toxic phrases always hide injuries, defenses, distorted attitudes, and internal conflicts of the parents themselves.
- Adults do not allow the child to make a decision and make a choice. They do not respect its boundaries: they enter without knocking, check correspondence, forbid to be friends with “unsuitable” children.
What does an adult feel? Fear of losing control. Such a person feels confidence and self-worth only by suppressing those who are weaker. Any manifestation of independence is perceived as a threat to authority.
What happens to the child? He lives with the feeling that his opinions and desires do not matter. Often such people grow up weak-willed, not ready to be responsible for their own choices. They do not know how to hear their desires, they do not trust themselves.
- The parent always knows best.
What does an adult feel? Fear of loneliness and the desire to control at least one area of your life. Such an adult does not feel his own boundaries and is often in a codependent relationship. It seems to the mother that she knows better what the child wants, she seeks to please and anticipate his desires. The consequences of such treatment are best described in the anecdote ” Mom, am I cold or hungry?»
What happens to the child? The child is robbed of his own “I”. It is as if he does not have a psychic space in which at least some aspiration could be born. He can not always distinguish his own desires from those of his parents. He does not need to overcome difficulties to achieve something. A person grows up with the awareness of their own helplessness, and at the same time there is a lot of rage against their overprotective parents.
- Adults openly criticize the appearance of the child or his habits, shame him for his actions, impose invented norms.
What does an adult feel? Shame and, as a result, the fear of condemnation and rejection. The encounter with their own shame is so painful that the parent looks for the source of shame anywhere but in themselves.
What happens to the child? A child who is often shamed considers himself unworthy of attention. He either tries to earn the love of his parents, or closes in on himself, believing in his own uselessness.
- Parents devalue the child’s achievements, often comparing it with other children or with themselves in childhood.
What does an adult feel? Unfulfilled ambitions, shame at their own failure, fear of exposure. The child is simultaneously broadcast two messages: “I did not succeed — so at least let you succeed” and “You can not be better than me”. The child in this case is not perceived as a separate person, but only as a narcissistic extension of the parent or, worse, its competitor.
What happens to the child? His needs and abilities are not taken into account. The child thinks that the parents do not like the way he is. Its task is to reach the parent standard. He tries to prove to the parent that he is worthy of his love and approval.
- Adults forbid the child to show certain feelings: to be angry, to cry, to rejoice too much.
What does an adult feel? Fear of facing your own vulnerability.
What happens to the child? The child feels uncomfortable, ashamed of his feelings. He learns to suppress aggression and other “inappropriate” behavior in order to conform to the parent’s ideas of “normal”.
- The child is the meaning of life. Parents are overly helpful, they make themselves indispensable in the lives of children.
What does an adult feel? Fear of loneliness, despair and frustration, loss of meaning. This is one of the most insidious types of psychological abuse: it disguises itself as caring, although its ultimate goal is to make the child completely dependent on the parent.
What happens to the child? The child is taught that he owes everything to his parents, he cannot take a step without them. Such a person grows up independent, lost, not ready to make decisions.
- Parents change their emotional roles with the child, making him an ally in the confrontation with other relatives.
What does an adult feel? Powerlessness, inability to resolve the conflict on their own. The child is made a kind of family diplomat, shifting the responsibility for resolving disputes to him.
What happens to the child? The child takes on the role of an adult, develops the ability to anticipate emotions, smooth them out, and learns to deceive and use people.
- Adults impose conditions, manipulate with the help of accusations, blackmail, money. The child is forbidden to object to the parents.
What does an adult feel? Desperation, fear of losing control. Parents go to extremes of powerlessness. He abuses the attachment and dependence of the child.
What happens to the child? He is afraid of being rejected, feels disenfranchised. He thinks that the attachment is unreliable and can end at any moment. He wants to make amends urgently, to get rid of this fear.
- Adults shift the responsibility for their well-being or mood to the child.
What does an adult feel? Lost. Such an adult does not know how to contain his own emotions — he places them in the child.
What happens to the child? He has too much responsibility that he should not bear. They are essentially taking away his right to be a child.
- Adults accuse the child of selfishness.
What does an adult feel? Fear of being ignored. Such parents believe that the child should think about their interests. Perhaps they were ignored as children, and they want to have the child’s undivided attention.
What happens to the child? He is forced to put his needs on the back burner and build his whole life around the needs of his parents.
These cases are almost harmless if they happen once. But if a child is systematically neglected, it takes root in the child’s psyche and affects his way of interacting with the world. Psychotherapist Nancy McWilliams describes these processes as follows: “If the initial source of knowledge for a child is a caregiver who is deeply disturbed and primitively protected, who, having given up trying to feel safe or important, uses words not to express true feelings, but to manipulate, then the child’s subsequent relationships with people cannot be undisturbed.”
What to do? How to deal with toxic parents?
Adult children of toxic parents always try to find explanations for what is happening, trying to make it less painful. Blaming yourself is easier than realizing the horrifying fact that your parents neglected you. It’s hard to believe that a person you trust implicitly is actually ignoring your feelings, competing with you, using you for selfish purposes. Accepting the blame for abuse is a way for a child of toxic parents to survive. He is forced to play by the rules that adults impose on him.
In psychotherapy, it takes a lot of time for the client to admit that the closest people in childhood treated him unfairly. The next task is to stop taking the phrases of toxic parents at your own expense and learn to see what fears are behind these words. A relationship with a therapist gives the client a sense of secure attachment. The client gradually learns to trust his perception of reality, ceases to seek the approval of his parents and takes the path of separation.
In the book “Toxic Parents” by Susan Forward, there are excellent lines: “You are not responsible for what your parents did to you as a child. But it’s in your hands to change your life now.”