9 Signs of a Toxic Family

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I have provided 9 signs of a toxic family as there are a number of things that can happen within the home where the child is living, that can and will affect them.

It’s not possible to stop most things from happening as being a parent is the hardest job but a child needs their parents to be healthy in order to take care of them.

One thing to consider when listening today is that none of these are black and white and with most things they are usually on a spectrum. By that, I mean from mild to very intense.

What can also make some of these things worst is if more than one of these points is happening at the same time. Which they often do.

Another thing here is that the points the issues don’t need to be experienced by the parents, it could be by anyone that is close or influential in the child’s life.

This could be a sibling or grandparents etc. they will have an impact on the child as well.

Let us get into it.

1. Addiction in a Toxic Family


This could be an addiction to alcohol, prescribed benzodiazepines or opiate-based pain killers, illegally sourced medication or substances such as heroin, crack cocaine or more recently legal highs etc.

As a parent, you could also be addicted to gambling, shopping, hoarding, sex etc.

The level of addiction we are talking about here is where it’s not necessarily about how often the substance is used, it’s about the impact and strain it has on the family.

Also, in circumstances where one parent is addicted the other parent feels the strain and weight of the family and is often preoccupied with the addiction. Here the impact on the child is that the child or adolescent can often experience emotional and physical neglect.

Which I will go more into later as children in families where there is an addiction are particularly more vulnerable to the different types of abuse.

Addiction can often change the person as it affects your mood. In particular, alcohol which is a depressant it will affect your mood if you are addicted, whether or not you are drinking at the time. The cravings will affect how you feel, and the intoxication will affect how you feel as well.

Then you have substances like heroin which is another depressant. This tends to numb out your emotions and block out any difficult feelings.

A child witnessing that on a regular basis, even if they are not watching you use, will not learn how to regulate their own emotions.

All this does not include the often chaos of the addiction itself to the family lifestyle.

You can’t give your full self to any relationship let alone a relationship with a child so they could get their needs met. A child is often left blaming themselves also for how their parents are.


2. Untreated mental health issues


By untreated mental health we mean when there isn’t support there to support the individual experiencing mental health issues.

Unfortunately, especially in the UK with our overburdened mental health system, this happens far too often when someone could be waiting a year at least to get some sort of support.

What happens to the child and family whilst this is happening?

This also does not include the time when symptoms start to the point where the individual feels able to ask for help. This time-lapse could also take a while.

Untreated mental health could be that the parent could also be getting some support but it is totally inadequate for what they need. In this country, unless you can afford to pay for it, long-term in-depth therapy is rarely available.

This is not about blame but explanation.

Also, if the parent is highly medicated either they are on strong sedatives or benzodiazepines prescribed by the doctor. These could alter their moods are even at times, some really strong sedatives could take the parent out of action.

Again also the parent who is experiencing mental health issues would be pre-occupied with their symptoms also the other parent would be pre-occupied with the parent’s untreated mental health and trying to keep the household together.


3. Co-dependency

We often talk about Narcissistic parents but Codependency could cause problems as well (I did a separate blog on Codependency here).
Codependence is, taken from John Bradshaw’s book – Homecoming:

“A dis-ease characterised by a loss of identity. To be codependent is to be out of touch with one’s feelings, needs, and desires.” Page 8

The co-dependent parent or parents often enable other toxic individuals (i.e. some of the issues raised here) behaviour as they often struggle to set boundaries.

Co-dependents can often be so preoccupied with other people that they neglect themselves. The child here doesn’t learn how to set boundaries and can often become co-dependents themselves or as the parents can enable their child’s behaviour, the parent can end up spoiling the child.


4. Narcissistic

A lot of us feel we know and understand what a Narcissistic Parent is but in reality Narcissism is on a spectrum and we are all on it to some degree.

Full-blown Narcissism is also very rare and only occupies around 3.9% of the population. This could be because they rarely go for help but in reality, just because you feel you are experiencing some of the traits from your parents doesn’t mean they are.
Taken from her book, Will I ever Be good enough by Karyl McBride, she identified 9 traits of narcissism. The more traits there is, the more on the spectrum of narcissism your parent could be.

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance, e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions).
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of her.
  • Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes.


5. Authoritarian parenting style

Very often, Narcissistic Parenting could be confused with an Authoritarian parenting style.

This is otherwise known as strict parenting where if a child violates any of the often many rules in the home, there would be decisive punishment. The parents often display a lack of flexibility and are rigid.

The child may be held to really high standards where often it is really difficult to uphold. The child is then left with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. The focus can also be on the achievement or the task at hand rather than the personality and character of the child.

The child then feels invisible and not seen or heard as the saying goes.


6. Passive Parenting Style

The Passive parent or the Permissive parent as its sometimes called is almost the opposite of the Authoritarian style.

Very often children who are bought up in the Authoritarian style of parenting adopt this child in an attempt not to make their children experience what they had to.

Here the parent is laid back and doesn’t have any or few boundaries for the child. The child is allowed more or less to set their own rules. Or if there are rules, when the child breaks them, there are no consequences.

This could be things like:

  • Letting the child go to bed when they want to
  • Eating as many sweets and junk food as they want how much they want
  • Giving into your child’s temper tantrums and not having consequences
  • Letting your child be rude to you again without any consequences.
  • We all need to know what consequences are and where boundaries are, as this helps us in life, work, and also in relationships. Whilst children whose parents are passive tend to be less anxious or depressed with higher self-esteem.
  • They often struggle with relationships and fitting in with others, working etc.


7. Child Abuse


The most common forms of child abuse Sexual, physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse goes across some of these categories I mentioned today.

For example, a child growing up in a family where there is an addiction would be more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse either at the hands of their parents or other people due to the preoccupation with the addiction.

A child that has Authoritarian parents, can sometimes experience spiritual abuse if they use the bible or whatever religious text to justify their actions.

Child abuse is common in most troubled families. Even though severe physical abuse and overt sexual abuse are easily recognised as abusive towards a child, other forms of abuse mentioned here are often difficult to spot.


8. Domestic Abuse

Many parents can still parent effectively if there is domestic abuse in the home.

However, for many, these experiences could leave the parent exhausted physically and emotionally and not able to attune to the child’s needs. Higher levels of substance abuse and mental health issues often occur here.

I worked in a substance misuse service for many years and the circumstances where there is domestic abuse, mental health issues and substance misuse would have been defined as the Toxic Trio and an immediate Child protection referral would have been made.

It was well documented at that time that all these factors in place will have a detrimental impact on the child.


9. Parentification


My final one Parentification was defined by Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark in 1973
The word Parentification means that children have to grow up too quickly and take on the role of the parents.

This could be a number of reasons.

The child could be part of a single-parent house

They are refereeing their parent’s arguments and disputes – this is more or less known as triangulation which I will explore in a separate video

The child could be a Carer of a parent with physical or mental health issues.

There is addiction in the family where the children are neglected so the older siblings take the role of the parents.

There could be a number of reasons but the problem is that children miss out on developmental stages that they need to become a well-rounded adult.

Adulting ain’t great at times when you are an adult with all your skills and knowledge as an older person let alone a child whose brain isn’t fully developed yet to understand things fully as we can.

This is naturally on a spectrum where low levels of parenting for short bursts of time would be fine but if its constant and the role of being a caretaker for the family is fixed, then it would be difficult.

In my future blog, I will go into different family roles and explain the role of the caretaker in the family and the consequences.

I will look at different Roles, which are often fixed and difficult to change. I will explain what these different roles ad have affected you

So today I covered 9 signs of a toxic family could be toxic which are

Some families may have a combination of these points which may make things even more challenging.

What to do next

Feel free to share with someone else that you believe needs therapy. You never know that this may help them to make their minds up!

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Do you have a Toxic, Emotionally Immature, Narcissist, Co-dependent, or Parent with an Addiction? Have you struggled with their behavior for most of your life? Maybe your Childhood wasn’t the best but you want to make sense of why it still affects you now.

You may find yourself struggling in so many ways.

I am an experienced and qualified Online-Therapist based in the United Kingdom helping you on your road to healing from your Toxic Parents. 

Healing is Possible! I’m here to walk with you on your Journey

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