As an adult, you might not remember too much about your upbringing as it’s all in the past now. But your family environment growing up can influence you in ways you don’t even realize. With the exception of clearly abusive situations, many people don’t realize that they had a toxic family environment when young.
Even if we don’t remember them exactly, the early years of our lives are very instrumental in shaping how we think and feel. Your family, especially your parents, are also instrumental in shaping your worldview.
But, what if your parents didn’t give you the emotional support you needed as a child? What if they ignored you and/or mocked your thoughts and feelings? Perhaps they repressed you and kept you from experiencing things out of fear for your safety.
These are all forms of a toxic childhood, which can have a lot of negative effects on you as an adult.
How do you know if you had a toxic family? There are definitely some signs you grew up in a toxic family.
Let’s Take a Look at Eight Signs
Toxic Sign 1 – You Often Feel Manipulated
Toxic families often have one or more members who are very good at manipulation. This toxic family member can be one of your parents or it can even be your sibling. The manipulation is usually done through emotional abuse or threats. As an adult, you might feel less trusting of people and be constantly afraid that someone is manipulating you or wants to manipulate you.
Toxic Sign 2 – Social Difficulty
A toxic family often cultivates a stressful atmosphere that includes various types of abuse. This can take different forms. Your parents might have been abusive or simply emotionally unavailable. Maybe they made fun of your ideas and thoughts when you expressed them. As an adult, you might feel on guard a lot. It might be hard for you to trust others and reveal yourself to them. It can make you fear attachment because you constantly expect people to let you down, demand something from you, or blame you for something.
Toxic Sign 3 – Failure Really Hurts
Everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. But failure shouldn’t destroy your self-esteem or make you freak out. However, a toxic family environment often includes parents that made excessive and unrealistic demands on their kids. They may have blamed and punished their kids inordinately for failure. As an adult, if you feel like one small mistake or failure is the end of the world, then it’s probably a sign you grew up in a toxic environment where failure wasn’t an option.
Toxic Sign 4 – Lack of Self-Identity
Your family is important for building your self-esteem as a child. Your family should be your rock, your core, and your safe space. If it was none of these for you, then it’s likely that it was actually toxic. Emotional and mental abuse can make a child lose their sense of identity and lower their self-esteem. As an adult, this can result in problems like anxiety and depression.
Toxic Sign 5 – You’re Really Self-Critical
If you had a toxic parent, then it’s likely you experienced constant criticism for everything you did. They probably made you feel stupid and unworthy of good things. This kind of toxic abuse eventually builds up inside a person, which leads to rampant self-criticism as an adult. You might feel like you’re inherently worse than everyone else and deserve to suffer or experience bad things.
Toxic Sign 6 – Your Emotions Come Last
If your toxic family member was one of your parents, then it’s likely you experienced a lot of emotional neglect as a kid. You might have learned to hide your emotions for fear of scorn or further mistreatment. Getting used to suppressing things like anger and resentment is not a good thing. It can lead you to prioritize other people’s emotions over your own. Emotional suppression also hurts your self-identity and can keep you from developing goals and priorities of your own.
Toxic Sign 7 – You Feel Helpless
It’s common for toxic parents to keep treating their kids like kids even when they get to be adults. This can take different forms. Your parents or parent might try to make decisions for you, invade your privacy, or give you a lot of unsolicited advice. If you get used to this treatment, it can seriously affect your mental health. You might develop anxiety, be afraid of anything new and have a difficult time fitting in with your peers.
Toxic Sign 8 – You Have a Lot of Anxiety
People who come from a toxic family are very commonly diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Perhaps you’ve noticed that almost every sign mentioned here leads to some kind of anxiety. Lack of security, instability, a tense environment and abuse combine to make you feel irritable, anxious, worried and stressed.
How To Deal With a Toxic Upbringing
If you grew up in a toxic family and these signs apply to you, you’re probably wondering what you can do about them now as an adult. Some of it depends on how toxic your family still is and whether you have continued contact with them. Your toxic family can still manipulate and influence you as an adult if you allow them to. If you have limited or no contact with members of your toxic family but are still dealing with the effects, then therapy can be a big help. Recognizing that your issues are a result of a toxic early environment and not because there’s something intrinsically wrong with you can help you work through them.
If you still have contact with toxic members of your family, it’s not too late to practice detachment. You don’t have to cut them off entirely if you don’t want to, but you can use the following ways to minimize their influence:
• Don’t participate in messy situations or family drama
• Avoid topics and situations that bring up strong emotions
• Keep any conversation with them light and casual
• Be prepared to end conversations or leave situations that become toxic
When you’re trying to stay clear, it’s important to have a plan. Know in advance what topics you want to avoid and know what you can say to change the subject. You can also be upfront and let your family know that there are certain things you don’t want to talk about. Setting boundaries can feel weird and scary at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it will feel.
Find a Family Therapist in Los Angeles through Menachem Psychotherapy Group. We specialize in family and relationship counseling as well as therapy for mental health conditions. We can help you work through the issues created by a toxic early environment. Reach out to one of our therapists today!