What is a Toxic Family? Characteristics, Identification, and Ways to Break Free

Children living in toxic families are always filled with emotional and personality gaps. The way a family educates plays a crucial role in both the mental and material lives of individuals.

What is a toxic family?

Family is supposed to be a spiritual support, a safe and stable harbor for each of us. In reality, every parent wants their children to receive the best and most valuable things. However, there are still many parents who use the pretext of love to engage in negative behaviors, inflicting hurtful words on their own children.

Knowing that each family is a microcosm, each parent will have different ways of raising their children. In family life, conflicts, differences in opinions, and contradictions are inevitable. However, some families engage in harmful behaviors, disregarding the privacy of each individual, each member within the family, known as a toxic family.

Children born and raised in toxic families often suffer deep emotional wounds. They feel confused, controlled, and uncomfortable in their own homes. At the same time, children are unable to fully develop their abilities, are not respected, and are unable to make decisions about their own lives.

If children do not escape from a life with a toxic family early on, it will seriously affect their psychological well-being and increase the risk of developing dangerous psychological issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, functional disorders, alcohol addiction, or many children will become toxic parents and build toxic families in the future.

Common types of toxic families

In reality, there are many cases where parents have inappropriate methods of raising children. This is considered quite normal because not everyone has experience in raising young children. However, there are still many differences between healthy families and toxic families. Children living in toxic families constantly face negative behaviors, offensive words, and severe criticism that gradually damage their souls and self-esteem.

There are various types of toxic families, and each family will have its own unique expressions. Below are some common types of toxic families today.

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Families with normal parents who do not value their children

Usually, parents believe that young children need to obey the instructions of adults. Although this is not entirely wrong, children still have their own thoughts and opinions, and not always do adults have correct viewpoints.

For children living in families where parents belittle and do not recognize their efforts, they become timid, fearful, and hesitant. These types of families will never acknowledge the efforts of their children and constantly criticize, humiliate, and belittle them.

Many children are not respected and are frequently disregarded by their own parents.

Many children are not respected and are frequently disregarded by their own parents.

Children who put in effort and strive to the best of their abilities are often met with mockery, disdain, and the blame placed on close family members. According to a sharing from a boy who has experienced living in a toxic family, when he went for a medical check-up with his mother, he opened a book to read while waiting, and everyone around praised him. However, his mother did not acknowledge it and immediately said, “He’s just pretending to be diligent.”

The family with a “tiger mom”

“Tiger mom” is a term commonly used for mothers who are overly strong, strict, and rigid within the family, especially towards their children. These mothers often have characteristics such as arrogance, always considering themselves right, being critical and strict. They demand and enforce their children to obey their words, while also having a tendency to control and even manipulate their children’s lives.

“Researchers say that the ‘tiger mom’ – a term used by Yale Law Professor Amy Chua to describe her own parenting style in her 2011 memoir ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ – can be harmful to children’s well-being and academic success,” according to the American Psychological Association.

The “poverty and hardship” family

While not every family has the means to provide well for their children, fundamentally, poverty does not equate to harsh material conditions. Parents should teach their children how to become stronger and more independent.

If a family constantly dwells on “poverty and hardship” with their children, it will gradually make them internalize poverty from an early age. As they grow up, they will become overly focused on money and finances, neglecting essential aspects of life. Young children will tend to become stingy and calculating, even when they become wealthy and financially stable.

The family with alcoholic parents

This is a highly prevalent form of toxic family in today’s society, referring to families where parents or household members have a habit of excessive alcohol consumption. If the members of a family continuously drink alcohol, come home in an intoxicated and uncontrolled state, it can create a negative and gloomy atmosphere.

Moreover, parents who are only concerned about alcohol are unlikely to possess good parenting and educational abilities. Furthermore, being frequently intoxicated, they tend to engage in violence and use inappropriate language towards their children.

Family with excessive expectations on children

Every parent desires their children to be intelligent, talented, and achieve outstanding accomplishments. However, each child possesses different talents, and placing excessive pressure on them can create significant burdens for young children.

This type of family refers to parents and family members who have excessively high expectations for their children beyond their capabilities. Parents constantly push their children to study day and night, to achieve expected achievements, and set unrealistic goals for them.

Typically, these types of families are not deeply concerned about their children’s emotions and desires. They only want their children to achieve what they expect and continuously enforce compliance, even when those expectations do not align with reality.

Family with perpetual conflicts

This type of family experiences frequent conflicts and arguments among its members. In reality, family life inevitably involves differences of opinion and occasional conflicts. However, these toxic families engage in constant arguments over trivial matters in life, with each person having their own perspective and lacking respect or active listening.

Consistently witnessing family disputes and conflicts increases children’s stress, anxiety, and a sense of insecurity. Young children tend to develop shy and withdrawn personalities, or some may adopt their parents’ behavior and solve problems through verbal abuse and frequent swearing at others.

Family with domestic violence

Many families follow the saying, “Love is sometimes expressed through physical discipline.” However, it’s important to understand that there is a distinct difference between disciplining and physically abusing children. These toxic families often use the pretext of love to physically assault and torment their children using corporal punishment.

Child abuse is one of the harmful forms of family dysfunction that needs to be addressed and remedied.

Child abuse is one of the harmful forms of family dysfunction that needs to be addressed and remedied.

Additionally, there are numerous cases of families where parents engage in abuse and sexual violence against their children. This is considered the most terrible and horrifying experience for young children, as it can deeply scar their minds and cause severe emotional damage.

Recognizing Signs of Being in a Toxic Family

Living in a toxic family inflicts significant emotional and physical harm on young children. To help children escape from this pain, it is crucial to know how to identify and recognize someone who comes from a toxic family. The following are some signs to look out for:

Constant feelings of worry and unease

Individuals who have lived and grown up in a toxic family often suffer from anxiety disorders. They frequently experience feelings of worry, restlessness, and unease. The mistreatment and disharmony in their family life make them constantly feel unsafe. Despite growing up, they still feel tense, fearful, and encounter difficulties in focusing.

Feeling worthless

As mentioned earlier, toxic parents tend to disregard their children’s efforts and contributions, considering them untalented. Consequently, many children gradually internalize these beliefs, perceiving themselves as insignificant, devoid of skills, and burdensome to their family and society. As a result, young children become reluctant to take any action, developing a fear of making mistakes or being criticized.

Underestimating their own emotions

The emotions of children living in toxic families are often disregarded. Even when children try to express their emotions and desires, they are dismissed, ignored, or even belittled. As a result, many children tend to conceal their pain internally, and as they grow up, they prioritize the emotions of others over their own. Some individuals may not even be aware of their own wants and feelings.

Young children living in a toxic family environment tend to withdraw and belittle their own emotions.

Young children living in a toxic family environment tend to withdraw and belittle their own emotions.

Lack of self-evaluation ability

Children with toxic parents often encounter numerous internal struggles, personality issues, and a significant impact on their self-esteem. They appear to lack the ability to assess their own capabilities, as all their activities are dictated by those around them.

Difficulty in communication and social interaction

Living in a toxic family environment leads many individuals to withdraw. They become hesitant to engage with others, tend to avoid social interactions, and experience a decline in their communication skills. These children seem to have few friends and little inclination to make new connections or trust anyone.

The pain of children living in toxic families

Typically, toxic families attempt to conceal their aberrant behaviors under the guise of love. Parents often believe that as the authority figures, they possess more experience and knowledge in guiding and instructing their children correctly, and they claim to do everything out of love for their children.

In reality, it is normal for parents to make mistakes in their methods of educating and raising their children. Moreover, there are generational gaps and differences of opinion between parents and their children, especially during adolescence when young individuals are beginning to develop their own perspectives.

However, there are distinct differences between healthy families and toxic families in how parents and family members handle their mistakes. In a healthy family, even if parents make mistakes, they have the ability to reflect, learn, and rectify their errors. They also respect the opinions of their children in order to foster better development together.

On the other hand, in toxic families, negative behaviors persist over an extended period of time, with a continuous and dense frequency. This leads to deep emotional and physical wounds that are difficult to heal. Toxic parents find it challenging to change their perspectives and approaches to parenting, even with advice and input from others.

Research has shown that children who experience physical punishment from the age of three tend to become more aggressive, easily angered, irritable, and violent by the time they reach five. Another study revealed that children who are frequently subjected to abuse and violence have lower IQ scores compared to their peers. Furthermore, if children living in toxic families are not given an opportunity to escape early on, they are more likely to create another toxic family environment for their own children in the future.

Moreover, when children are raised in an undisciplined environment where they do not receive genuine love and care from their parents and relatives, they are more likely to become undisciplined, resistant, irresponsible, and susceptible to engaging in negative behaviors as they grow older. Conversely, children who are excessively sheltered and controlled by their parents are at risk of developing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance addiction.

How to escape from a toxic family?

As mentioned, living in a toxic family causes significant emotional and physical harm. Additionally, children raised in such an environment are likely to face serious challenges in life, have difficulty achieving success, and even become negative contributors to society.

Whenever possible, try to resolve conflicts and express your own desires to improve the family environment. However, in many cases, despite all efforts, it may be impossible to effect change or endure a toxic family. In such situations, it is important to know how to take care of yourself, maintain your well-being, and balance your personal emotions using the following approaches:

  • Set boundaries for yourself: Avoid becoming overly dependent on others, including family members or parents. You have the right to make decisions and choices for yourself. You can choose whether or not to share with your family.
  • Don’t try to change toxic individuals: It is often difficult to explain and change a toxic family if they themselves are unwilling. Therefore, it is best to prioritize your own well-being instead of constantly worrying about others.
  • Establish physical distance: Creating physical distance from toxic parents can make it easier for you to regain control and balance in your own life.
  • Don’t lose respect: It’s best to minimize conflicts and avoid displaying hostile attitudes. Try to confront conflicts calmly and in a healthy manner, taking action when emotions have cooled down to avoid hurting anyone, including yourself.
  • Learn to express emotions: Instead of suppressing your own emotions, learn to express them outwardly to help yourself feel more comfortable and at ease.
  • Spend time with trustworthy individuals: Make an effort to connect with and build healthy relationships, meet and interact more with friends who bring you joy and comfort.

These are some strategies to help you escape the emotional damage of living in a toxic family. If you feel unable to overcome it alone, consider seeking assistance from mental health professionals who can provide the best support for you.

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