heal from toxic parents

5 Signs of Toxic Parents and Healing the Damage They Caused

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The term “toxic parent” was invented to describe parents whose own negative behaviors inflict devastating emotional damage which wrecks their children’s sense of self.

Toxic parents are those who abuse their children verbally, psychologically, physically or sexually, as well as parents who aren’t present or sensitive to their children’s emotional needs.

You may have been raised by such a toxic parent who caused you untold emotional and mental suffering. If you came from such a home, healing from your childhood wounds is essential if you wish to enjoy and lead a normal life.

5 Signs of a Toxic Parent

So, what are some of the signs of a toxic parent?

1. They Never Affirm or Praise You

You may already know this from experience but a narcissistic parent is often self-absorbed and most likely didn’t take the time to affirm or praise you while you were growing up. Their needs came first, and they expected you to meet and cater to those needs. The consequence of this behavior is that you may find yourself often feeling inadequate and with an unhealthy, obsessive desire to please others.

2. Toxic Parents Expect Their Children to Take Responsibility for Them

No child should ever have to bear the burden of parenting their own parents. Toxic parents don’t see it that way. To them, you existed to serve them all the time. This relationship is wrong and parasitic in nature. As a child, it took away your childhood and forced you to grow up and take over responsibilities you had no business bearing.

3. Toxic Parents Condemn their Children and Force them to Justify Unacceptable Behavior

Toxic parents blame their children for their own mistakes. You may have grown up repeatedly hearing things like, ‘If it weren’t for you, I’d be ABC.’ This made you believe that you were to blame for your parents’ mistakes, your parents drinking problem, substance abuse or whatever unacceptable behavior your parents engaged in.

As you have grown older, you may have developed something known as co-dependency. A modern definition of co-dependency is someone who enables and supports the destructive behaviors of another, such as manipulative narcissists.

4. Their Children Have an Abnormally Elevated Sense of Fear

This is common among children who came from toxic homes. If you haven’t yet dealt with your past, you probably still have a certain level of fear of your parents.

Children raised in loving families tend to have a healthy fear of their parents which stems out of respect and love. The fear you bear, on the other hand, is not one of respect, but one of dread. You were probably never allowed to express your feelings or receive the love you deserved. You may even have experienced the pain of being on the receiving end of harsh words, physical and emotional abuse. So, the mere mention or image of your parents brings back overwhelming fear.

5. Your Feelings Don’t Matter to Them – Only Theirs Do

In a normal family situation, parents are concerned about how their children are doing, and what they are feeling. Narcissistic parents, on the other hand, don’t care about your feelings at all. Only their feelings matter. Consequently, as a child growing up in this toxic environment, you learned to suppress and hide your hurt, your anger, and your sadness. 

The Damage Toxic Parents Do to their Children

The damage inflicted by a toxic parent is often evidenced in the behavior of their children. Even as an adult, you may have found yourself struggling with behavior, personality and character issues. Below are just some of the examples of the damaging results narcissistic parents can inflict.

1. The Child Grows up to Become Co-dependent

Do you find yourself in constant need for approval from other people and as such often develop dysfunctional romantic relationships? Does your self-worth come from others, and as a result have you become reclusive and co-dependent? As a co-dependent, you may enable or inadvertently encourage your partner or spouse’s destructive behaviors. You do this because you don’t know how to help your partner or spouse in healthy ways and because you don’t know what normal relationships are like.

2. The Child Develops a Character Disorder

According to German-American psychoanalyst Karen Horney, if you grew up in a toxic environment you may develop character disorders. Some children-turned-adults fall into depression and others experience mental problems. Some attempt to gain and win love and power unhealthily. You may even harbor a subtle desire to execute revenge.  If you don’t allow yourself to heal before you start a family, you may find that you are no better than your toxic parent.

3. Create a Cycle that Threatens to be Repetitive

Alice Miller points out that a toxic parent is responsible for instilling in their children the potential to reproduce their narcissistic abuse, thereby creating an intergenerational cycle. If you were brought up by tyrannical narcissistic parents it’s highly likely that your parenting style will be similar to that of your parents. 

Ways to Begin Healing from the Abuse of Toxic Parents

It is possible to heal from toxic parents, grow and evolve into a better person. Here are a few ways to help you begin your healing and transformation journey.

1. Recognize That Your Parent Has a Problem

The first step to healing is acknowledging that there is a problem, and it’s not you. Once you’ve come to terms with this, you’ll understand that you are not inadequate. You are not unimportant. You are not unlovable, and yes you can love yourself and are worthy to be loved in return. You are not the problem – your toxic parent is.

2. Take Time to Study Toxic Parents

You can’t fix a problem you don’t understand. You’ll need to devote some time to learn about the behaviors of toxic parents. You’ll recognize the traits in your parent. You’ll also see how their warped behavior has affected your life. Once you realize the problem, you’ll be in a better place to understand your own woundings and how to overcome them.

3. Detach Yourself from the Toxic Parent’s Company

This is an absolute must. You need to get away from the source of your hurt and pain. Healing won’t come if you remain in contact with the problem. Just like detaching from toxic love partners, time away from your parent will help you to refocus and look internally and understand your own self, and your parent.

4. Let Go of the Anger and Resentment You Hold

For many people, this part is the hardest. Holding onto the anger gives them a sense of power and a sense of being in control. However, holding onto anger and resentment doesn’t do anyone any good – especially you. After studying toxic parents and taking the time to reflect, you’ll probably have a better understanding of the situation.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to forgive your parent.

Sometimes anger is deeply rooted and it’ll take a lifetime to overcome, but it’s important to take that first step and let it go.  It need not be something elaborate. In the quiet of your room, you can simply say the words, ‘I choose to forgive you, and I am letting go of my anger and resentment.’ You may have to say this a couple of times to yourself and keep reminding yourself daily.

5. Dream New Dreams

Toxic parents may have belittled you, and done great damage to your self-esteem and confidence. This may have caused you to shun the dreams you wanted to strive for because you never felt like you could achieve them. This is the time to dream a new dream or to go after the dreams you have always wanted to pursue.

Turning your energy to new things will help with the healing process. Doing something you love and are good at will boost your confidence. Bit by bit, you’ll see that you are changing and becoming a different person – a better version of yourself.


You can’t change a toxic person and toxic parents may never understand the damage they do to their children. But, you have the opportunity to heal from toxic parents. You don’t need to live the rest of your life bitter, resentful and angry. So, take the first step to your healing journey today.

Get tools to let go of the pain of heartache – and develop new ways of thinking and new, empowering habits – which will lead you to healing and a renewed relationship with yourself. The pain left behind by dysfunctional relationships can be overcome – with the help of  The Essential Break Free Bootcamp My results-proven tools are adored by the folks already in the Bootcamp.  Plus, we have fun together with things like Music Mondays and a Book Club.  Enroll now to start healing today.  

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Leave a Comment:

Olivia says May 5, 2022

No. 4 is so true. My mother used to live near me, then she moved away. The relief was so great! But sometimes I catch sight of someone who looks like her from the back or side, and my stomach churns and I feel very anxious until I realise it’s not her. That’s not a normal feeling about your mother, apparently. I used to think everyone was scared of their mother but they aren’t, are they?

Stephanie says February 11, 2020

Thank you for this article. I escaped an abusive marriage 4 years ago and it feels gooooood. Except that my children are still stuck to see their father every other weekend and half holidays. 9yo boy and 7yo girl, they beg not to see him again but the authorities don’t understand a thing about narcissism. The school asked me to take them to a psychologist as they refuse to be picked up at school by him, asking for help. The psychiatrist, concerned, called the social services, who, after speaking to my children, made a report to the police. In the end the same song: until there’s no physical proofs, nothing can be done: my son came back with a bump on the head; saying that his father grabbed him by the neck and banged him on the wall, I thought it was finally over but no! Lawyer said, it’s not enough, they’re too young to choose where they want to live…. it’s insane, is there any help, association, voices, to make a change? I provide a lot of emotional support and restoration and reparation and focusing on their talents and freedom of expression and creativity, nature, animals but is there anything out there that can be done to not only repair but to stop the damage ?
Thank you for reading, bless you.
Much love

Joanne Nilsson says November 14, 2019

Its not easy identifying that you have a toxic parent. Its taken me till the age of 45 to identify myself as coming from a toxic environment and until age 48 to get it through my own head that I’m not worthless. Even then I would never have a relationship as i will never fully heal. I ruined my children and they think that I am crazy when I try to tell them how I healed and how to heal themselves so telling people to heal themselves before having children seems so way off for so many. Even therapist’s cannot identify Co dependancy nor treat it. We need a truth therapy where symptoms are seen and told to the recipient as well as ways to improve on them. For me it’s just a wasted life.

Janette Cusack says October 14, 2019

My Daughter Grew up with a NARSISTIC father…She has very low selfesteem and has a hard time attracting unhealthy relationships. If you could send me a book I could give her to read…I would So o appreciate it…Thank you

Xavi says May 13, 2018

I wish I’d had these resources available to me years ago, when I was growing up with a toxic covert narcissist mother.
I left home at a very young age, married and had children early, but through sheer will, research, and determination to break the cycle of abuse, I raised three fine children who have grown up to be kind, healthy, independent adults of whom I’m so proud.
It’s only recently, after having gone through an unexpected divorce with a covert narcissist that I’ve been able to see the link between the damage that my mother did to me over the years and my choices in partners who continued the cycle of abuse. As my therapist said, she primed me for relationships with abusive men.
Your article reveals so much of what I experienced throughout the course of my life, the emotional codependency, the denial, the trying in vain to deepen my relationship with a mother who was so damaged that she didn’t know how to love and had no capacity for meaningful connection.
It’s been a long, rocky road but thanks to therapy, CoDa, and programs like yours, I’m starting to feel hopeful for recovery and joy. Thank you so much for the work you’re doing!

Carroll laneulie says May 13, 2018

All of this is so very true! I have self educated over the years through reading amazing books on the subject and living with an alcoholic/ narcissisist terrify article… Thankyou!

Shirley Akpelu says May 13, 2018

Thank you for this article Kim.

Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

I did have toxic parents. I have forgiven them. I am understanding what effect the neglect and narc abuse had on me.

I am healing and my eyes are wide open now. This generational curse will end with me and not be passed on to my handsome son.

Thank you for all you do for survivors.

BeAnne says August 4, 2017

My parents are deceased but I have found that their toxic legacy lives on in my 6 siblings and their families.
I have one sister in revocery but she still wants her children to understand her and they never will…because they are still into control and abusive behaviors.
My daughter and I are considered the Black Sheep of the family because we say “No” and set boundaries; and don’t play by the old family rules.
My husband died at 4l years old of alcholizm.That was the catalyze that opened me to change; and my daughter and I to look for a healthier way to live and relate.
That was 32 years ago and it has been quite a journey to find my real self…and I am still learning.
It has been hard lately to detach from my family of origin. At first I thought I could hold my own…but lately I am getting more and more static from them. My guess is because we wre all getting older and they are trying harder and harder to hold on to the old ways.
So now I need to back off even further, which of course will create more resistence.
I do live in a different state – physically… Mentally and Emotioanlly too.
The only thing was have in common now is a history of abuse (which they deny). And I don’t want to go there any more.

    Kim Saeed says August 8, 2017

    That’s very brave, BeAnne. Wishing you all the best as you move forward into a more peaceful life.

    Kim XoXo

    Dotsy Maher says September 21, 2017


    Carol says May 13, 2018

    I know exactly my ex husband is a Malignant narcissist it was horrible at the end. His mother was also a TOXIC malignant and both sisters suffer mental illness. I tried everything to get this man help, he refused I had to leave the situation’! He now manipulates our two kids against me he need help desperately but refuses.

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