Are Your Parents Toxic? A Guide Finding Out

You are an adult, or at least the law says you are, so why are your parents still treating you like a kid?

Growing up was never easy but these days the challenges of becoming economically independent may be confused with the need to be emotionally recognized as an adult. Let’s say you’re visiting your parent’s home for the holidays. Or maybe you are living with them while you look for a job. Your parents impose a curfew on you. Are you kidding me, you ask? You want me home by midnight? What?

And that’s just relatively normal stuff because some perfectly nice parents have a hard time recognizing their job as a parent is pretty much done. Usually they grow out of it as you grow older as long as you don’t panic and argue with them over every little thing. Choose your battles, speak calmly and reasonably (like an adult) and they will eventually come around to seeing you as a peer instead of a kid.

But, what if your parents use a cunning kind of psychological warfare to keep you off balance so that you never trust your decisions? What if they use every opportunity to make you feel stupid or a failure? What if they are experts at using emotional blackmail to make you feel you need to do what they tell you to do instead of what you want?

Then your parents may be truly toxic. When you have truly toxic parents it is best to recognize the fact that you may not have the nice parents you always thought you did and start dealing with having the parents you really do have. Because they don’t hurt you physically does not mean they are not abusive.

Ask yourself these nine questions:

1. Do your parents still treat you as if you were a child?

2. Are many of your major life decisions based on whether your parents would approve?

3. Do you have intense physical and emotional reactions after you spend or anticipate spending time with your parents?

4. Are you afraid to disagree with your parents?

5. Do your parents manipulate you with threats or guilt?

6. Do your parents manipulate you with money?

7. Do you feel responsible for how your parents feel? If they are unhappy do you feel it is your fault? Is it your job to make it better for them?

8. Do you believe no matter what you do, it is never good enough for your parents?

9. Do you believe that someday, somehow your parents are going to change for the better?

If you answered “Yes” to even three of these questions, chances are your parents (or any other close parental figure) are toxic to you. Dr. Susan Forward, author of Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, writes:

“…all toxic parents regardless of the nature of their abuse, basically leave the same scars. For example, your parents may not have been alcoholic, but the chaos, instability and loss of childhood that typify alcoholic homes are just as real for children of other types of toxic parents.”

To begin recovery from having toxic parents Dr. Forward and I agree that:

1. You are not responsible for what was done to you when you were a defenseless child. It is hard to let go of the child’s perspective of responsibilty even as adults. We still think: “I should have been able to keep my Mom from being depressed.” “I just wasn’t a good enough kid.” “If I was better my dad wouldn’t have left.” “I let her down.” Whatever the hurt is that happened long ago it was not your fault. It was the responsibility of the adults charged with caring, protecting and nurturing you.

2. Starting today, as an adult, you are responsible for taking the positive steps needed to liberate yourself from your parent’s toxic legacy. The past is not your destiny. You are an adult and you can learn to be an even better parent to yourself than your toxic parents ever could be. When you hear their abusive, putting down voice in your head, talk back! You are not a failure! You are not stupid! Remember your strengths. Tell yourself you are good, kind and brave.

3. A good therapist can help guide you. Sometimes figuring out if your parents were/are toxic and how to recover from their poisonous influence is too complicated to do on your own. That is not a failure! It takes courage to recognize that it may be time to call in the cavalry.


  • Yes, my parents are toxic.Ialways feel i’m falling short of their expectations.Once they told me they had invested so much money in me.When i told them i am not a bank account, but a human being, they said i was their financial business.Ifelt like an object.

    • redjinx

      I understand how you’re feeling. My parents are divorced now but I’m always feeling like an object or tool because they still keep ordering me around. They have done nothing but double standards on their part of parenting. Keep in mind I’m 19 and transitioning to a young adult. I don’t see them as role models to look up to and from what I’ve faced at home, they’re not good people but in public, they’re pretending to be good parents because they let me see my relatives on a monthly basis. I don’t like the fact that I feel like my personal life feels monitored and whenever I do open up about my problems, I’m always getting the feeling of being watched. To sum that up, they’re nothing but emotionally abusive, manipulative, selfish and narcissistic scum.

  • Zach

    I came from 8 DIFFERENT abusive sets of parents before the age of 5, each with their own level of abuse (Starvation, beating, neglect, abandonment, rape, emotional, ect.) At the age of 5 I had nothing, no money, no food, no love, no items, weighed less than 30 pounds, mal-nutrient, and suffered from extreme problems of eating disorders, ADHD, ODD, MPS, depression, insomnia, muscle spasms, anxiety, panic attacks, some Neuropathic pain and Fibromyalgia. Highly sensitive nerves.
    I can’t even remember most of my childhood because I have damaged memory and can barely remember anything nowadays. My memory comes and goes at random times, one minute I can remember things, the next they just slip away from my mind.
    Close to the age of 3/4, my blood uncle took me in his home at a military base, though all he could really do was lie on the couch in pain because he was dying of a brain tumor. He could talk, but not much, and already had 2 kids who were a couple years older than me. His wife would starve me so bad that my stomach would get sick and I’d start puking up stomach bile, which I would then have to clean up myself, causing me to puke ever more. Every time I was hungry (which was like never anymore cause of how bad my eating disorder got) i would goto the cupboards to try to get a small pack of food like a rice Krispy bar or fruit gushers, but almost every time I did, She would grab me by whatever she could, and either beat the shit out of me with random household objects or her fists in a corner while yelling at me about what a useless piece of fucking shit I was and that I was doing nothing but ruining everyones lives OR she would pull me to the sink and pry open my mouth to force feed me whatever poisonous cleaning substance she could (if I was lucky it was usually just dish soap). One point I rebeled and stopped the soap from going down my throat and I spit it in her face.
    Lol. I don’t remember what happened after that.
    After a few months/years of moving from house to house trying to find a single parent who would actually care for me, i went to this one beautiful old farmhouse in the middle of nowere which had the nicest parents I’ve ever seen in the world, they said if I wanted to stay here with them that I could (omfg first time I ever heard that, everyone always told me I’d never stay and live with them) of course I didn’t beleive IT at first, I just went through 8 other parents houses all of them abandoned me without the slightest care in the world, what makes these guys different?
    BUT they were different, they cared for me, loved me, fed me, took me to the hospital when needed, took me on some of their vacations, even got me a family doctor and ALOT of mental/physical therapy from countless therapists(10+ years) and gave me pretty much any kind of materialistic thing I could ask for (though I never really asked them for anything because I never truly cared about materialism and was perfectly happy just to be a part of a real family)
    Yes that’s right I actually had a home that I could stay in for longer than just a couple months!!
    Though these parents had a dark secret that I’d never understand until now.
    They weren’t phyically abusive, nor were they normally emotionally abusive. They’re both close to retirement and have had like 16 other extremely troubled kids before me, (all of which that I know of have become bad alcoholics or drug abusers) so they’ve been around the ropes a couple of times. From what I know and have asked, they’ve both had normal happy childhoods with their biological parents getting good grades in school only suffering from a tiny bit of neglect. I loved them, nd they loved me, but for some reason I always felt like I couldn’t tell them the truth about myself, about my pain, and whenever I did they’d say things like “it’s all in your head” or “I don’t want to hear it”.

    But for me I didn’t care if they wanted to truly help me or not, I was just happy to finally have parents who fed, loved, cared, and put a roof over my head. Sure they don’t listen to anything I say and deny my opinions about life and all my pain but they still loved me, (right?) which is more than anyone else did.

    Now I’m 19, still living with them :) I self medicate smoke weed in order to calm my both my mind and tense muscles so that I can do yoga every day sometimes 2-3 times a day to help ease the pain which was so blatantly ignored, only to wake up the next day stiff and sore and in pain again until I smoke weed and do yoga. Again. (I also excercise and walk my dogs at least a mile every day.) Self medicating also helps me so I can rationalize everything I do, and so I can actually eat food, (my whole Life I hated eating food, I’d rather go the rest of my life not eating food because I couldn’t taste food properly and would always make me sick to my stomach when I eat and had severe abdominal pain) ALSO so I can actually listen to people without arguing because of the ODD. AND so I can stop feeling depressed, stressed, and tensed up. AND because it allows me to be social and motivated with continuing life. Lol I could go on and on about how self medicating helps me but now Im in the predicament where I’m slaving away for my parents, and their parents who also live in an extended part of the house, doing as much chores as I could possibly do while trying to stay motivated and relaxed about life (I’ve passed out in pure exhaustion countless numbers of times, always when nobody is at home, so when my parents come home and ask me why everything isn’t done and I tell them I passed out they say it’s no excuse and I can’t sit around the house all day) even though I sit down for MAYBE 20mins to an hour or even two every day, and when I do I usually am doing research on stuff like quantum physics, expansion theory, string theory, space, TED Talks, human consciousness, animal/insect social behaviours/consciousness, psychology and government. Writing this is my few minutes sitting down, I had to decide to not do a chore so I could write this. Also I’m supposed to get a job and start contributing to the house (even though Ive been paying $400 a month + any yoga classes or extra things to my parents ever since I turned 18) im trying to figure out how the hell one is supposed to do all this and get a job at the same time, I already have an online college course which I am doing. I feel like in order to get a job I’d have to remove my parents from my life… But I love them too much to do that. I mean they WERE the ONLY people stubborn enough to take care of me.
    Every time I tell my parents the truth about my life or how I feel they tell me how sad my life is. And that I should go seek therapy (even after 10+ years of mental and pshyical therapy) Lol?
    On days when they’re not home I feel alive and happy and get a lot of things done, but when they’re around I feel like all 9 of these questions on this page.
    They are constantly bugging me 24/7 about doing something and never give me a days rest even if I ask them or try to tell them about my life, and whenever my opinion differs from their own they feel as if they have to change my entire attitude.

    No matter what Ive never let anyone bring me down. Held strong… But it’s hard.


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