Toxic Parenting

Toxic Parenting

What is toxic parenting?

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Toxic parenting is parenting styles that inflict on-going and repetitive trauma, abuse, humiliation, ill-will, disparage, shaming, belittling, and defaming children. They are the parents that lack insight, compassion and nurturing abilities to foster healthy emotional growth in their children. They are also the parents that are fearful of abandonment and thus control and manipulate their children so they are conditioned to depend on them. Just as toxic chemicals break down vital cells that keep our bodies from getting sick, so does toxic parenting erode a child’s self-esteem, confidence and self-worth.

Once the spirit of a child is broken, the child believes he/she is worthless and unlovable.

Parenthood is a responsibility no parent is ever adequately prepared or equipped for, but is executed based on adults’ experiences during their own childhood. Parents are only human and have many problems of their own. Most children are able to deal with an occasional outburst of anger but need reassurance, love and understanding to counter its negative effects.

Children have a need to bond with their parents or caregivers, but this need makes them vulnerable to being parented by people who were wounded during their own childhood years. Adults often promise to never behave or react towards their children in the way their parents did towards them. Unfortunately they often struggle to learn from the past mistakes of their parents and repeat their parents’ dysfunctional toxic parenting patterns.

Why does toxic parenting cycles continue?

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Adults who have suffered at the hands of a toxic parent are almost always unable to recognize toxic parenting characteristics in themselves. These wounded children develop into wounded adults, passing on the dysfunctional patterns to their own children – sometimes without even recognizing the behaviours as problematic in the first place. Our prisons are full of people who had toxic parents.

A child’s home and style of upbringing is to him the norm for upbringing and believes that is the way it is been done in all other households. They will therefore often not even look for alternative ways of doing.

Children will rarely do what you TELL them to do – but they will always do what you DO. Children are meticulous observers and duplicators of behaviour, especially the people they most frequently spend their time with, such as parents or caretakers. Research indicates that parent-child attachment constitute the basis of all future relationships.

Parents attempting to climb beyond their own toxic upbringing may simply not have the tools to find and adapt more positive ways in which to relate to others.

Types of toxic parents

The Inadequate Parent

Constantly focusing on their own problems, these parents turn their children into ‘mini-adults’ who take care of them. Some parents disclose their deepest feelings and thoughts to their children, using their children as buffer or a crutch during emotional situations.

The Controlling Parent

They use guilt, manipulation and even over  helpfulness to direct their children’s  lives. They are convinced that their children are incapable of doing anything and therefore dictate and control their children’s feelings, decisions and even thoughts. They will punish independent decision -making by using guilt, shame, humiliation and excessive lecturing. This continues into adulthood when they still treat their children as minors.

The Substance Abusers

Their addiction leaves little time or energy for the demands of parenthood and they usually require the family to deny and hide the problem. They are easily angered, unpredictable, aggressive and withdrawn. They blame others for their problems and lack of personal responsibility.

The Verbal Abusers

These parents frequently hurl verbal attacks on a child’s appearance, intelligence, competence or value as a human being. They demoralize their children with constant put-downs and rob them of their self-confidence.

There are 2 types of verbal abuse:

Direct verbal abuse: verbal attacks delivered directly, openly, viciously. They call their children stupid, ugly, worthless, etc.

Indirect verbal abuse: teasing sarcasm, insulting nicknames, and subtle put downs, hiding abuse behind humor.

The Physical Abusers

Incapable of controlling their own deep-seated rage, these parents often blame their children for their own ungovernable behaviour. Child abuse is defined as ”infliction of physical injuries such as bruises, burns, welts, cuts, and bone and skull fractures.” Physical abusers may also be considered as those who allow or permit  abuse; even if that parent omission is due to fear or concern about the status quo of the family.

The Sexual Abusers

Whether flagrantly sexual or covertly seductive, they are the ultimate betrayers, destroying the very heart of childhood – its innocence.

List is from the book ”Toxic Parents – Overcoming Their Painful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life” by  Dr. Susan Forward.

Assessing the toxic levels in your parenting behaviour

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It is not always easy to figure out whether your parents are or were toxic. A lot of people have difficult relationships with their parents. That alone does not mean that your parents are emotionally destructive. Many people battle with the question whether they were mistreated or whether they were just being over sensitive.

Dr Susan Forward in her book Toxic Parents, designed questionnaires to help parents take the first steps towards resolving that struggle. Some of these questions may cause anxiety or discomfort. That is okay. It is always difficult to tell ourselves the truth about how many our parents may have hurt us. Although it might be painful, an emotional reaction is perfectly healthy.

Get help

Take a Quiz:

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Parenting Quiz 1

The quiz will help you to examine YOUR relationship with YOUR parents when YOU were still a child – was it toxic or healthy?

“Children who are not encouraged to do, to try, to explore, to master, and to risk failure, often feel helpless and inadequate. Over-controlled by anxious, fearful parents, these children often become anxious and fearful themselves. This makes it difficult for them to mature. Many never outgrow the need for ongoing parental guidance and control. As a result, their parents continue to invade, manipulate, and frequently dominate their lives.”
Good read:   Susan Forward, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

Result: If you answer yes to even one third of these questions, you suffer from the legacy of toxic parents. All toxic parents, regardless of the nature of their abuse, basically leave the same scars. Seek counsel from professionals and spend time with mature healthy individuals. The truth is you are not responsible for what was done to you as a defenseless child, BUT you are responsible for taking positive steps thing about it now.

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Parenting Quiz 2

The quiz will help you to examine YOUR adult life and how it was INFLUENCED by your parents  – was it toxic or healthy?

“Most adult children of toxic parents grow up feeling tremendous confusion about what love means and how it’s supposed to feel. Their parents did extremely unloving things to them in the name of love. They came to understand love as something chaotic, dramatic, confusing, and often painful—something they had to give up their own dreams and desires for. Obviously, that’s not what love is all about. Loving behaviour doesn’t grind you down, keep you off balance, or create feelings of self-hatred. Love doesn’t hurt, it feels good. Loving behaviour nourishes your emotional well-being. When someone is being loving to you, you feel accepted, cared for, valued, and respected. Genuine love creates feelings of warmth, pleasure, safety, stability, and inner peace.”
Good read:   Susan Forward, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

Result: If you answer yes to even one third of these questions, you suffer from the legacy of toxic parents. All toxic parents, regardless of the nature of their abuse, basically leave the same scars. Seek counsel from professionals and spend time with mature healthy individuals. The truth is you are not responsible for what was done to you as a defenseless child, BUT you are responsible for taking positive steps thing about it now.

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Parenting Quiz 3

The Quiz will help you to examine YOUR relationship with your parents now that YOU are an ADULT – is it a toxic or healthy relationship?

“Unhealthy families discourage individual expression. Everyone must conform to the thoughts and actions of the toxic parents. They promote fusion, a blurring of personal boundaries, a welding together of family members. On an unconscious level, it is hard for family members to know where one ends and another begins. In their efforts to be close, they often suffocate one another’s individuality.”
Good read:      Susan Forward, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

Result: If you answer yes to even one third of these questions, you suffer from the legacy of toxic parents. All toxic parents, regardless of the nature of their abuse, basically leave the same scars. Seek counsel from professionals and spend time with mature healthy individuals. The truth is you are not responsible for what was done to you as a defenseless child, BUT you are responsible for taking positive steps thing about it now.

MOBIEG Helpline

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You can chat to an online counsellor on the MOBIEG Helpline LIVE CHAT, for more help and support. The service is free and you may stay anonymous.

 

Book a Counselling Session

You can book individual counselling sessions with the following therapists:

 

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Article was written by Adele du Plessis & Mariaan Maartens / Auksano Issue 12/ 2103.

Mariaan Maartens is a therapist at Auksano since 2006 and is also the editor of the Auksano magazine.

Adele du Plessis is a social worker specializing in the assessment and therapeutic support of children and teenagers.

If you want to read and print articles from previous Auksano magazines, go to www.auksano.org and click on the Auksanopedia button.