Coming from a toxic family can change your perception of the world around you, and usually not for the better.
If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you’ve had to deal with more than your fair share of bad times. Deciding to stop talking to them altogether, or even to learn to protect yourself with strong emotional boundaries, is one of the hardest things you will ever do.
But it is an extremely important part of rebuilding your life into something healthier and more positive.
If you have already taken this step, congratulations. I know it was difficult. But the hard work isn’t over yet. Your toxic family has caused damage that cannot be repaired by stopping communication, or even by walking away. You carry this on your shoulders and it projects itself in the form of mental and emotional health problems.
Now, I’m not saying that every person who has grown up in an environment like this ends up with debilitating mental or emotional problems. However, research has been done that has found a common link between those who had a difficult childhood and the psychological impact. A study by Dr. Giovanni A. Salum confirmed that children from dysfunctional families are more likely to suffer from mental health problems. The study said that these problems are usually caused by internalizing or externalizing conflicts experienced during childhood.
So if you grew up in a dysfunctional home with a toxic family, you may have tried to suppress a lot of anger or resentment, or even sadness. This can lead to more than just a few mental and emotional health problems like those mentioned below. Know that you are not alone if any of these common problems seem familiar:
It is not surprising that one of the most common mental health problems is anxiety. However, those who have grown up in a toxic environment experience anxiety disorders in very different ways. A study from Ben-Gurion University in the Negev in Israel found that a “significantly higher” percentage of adults with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) come from families with dysfunctional households.
You may not have been allowed to attend social events or go out with friends. Or perhaps not being able to experience things that a normal child should contribute to your own anxieties at a young age.
Susan Forward is the author of Toxic Parents, in which she writes:
“Children who are not encouraged to do, try, explore, master, and risk failure often feel helpless and inadequate. Overly controlled by anxious and fearful parents, these children often become anxious and afraid themselves.
- Communication and interaction with others are difficult.
Whether it is physical, like a hug, or emotional, like a relationship, if you come from a toxic family, letting others get close to you is almost impossible. And it’s not that you don’t want this kind of connection, but trusting someone to hurt you is a risk you’re just not willing to take.
Children who grew up hiding away from friends because they were afraid to show the world the total dysfunction that lived in their homes are turning into adults unable to form healthy relationships. They never learned to talk about their problems, and if they told their parents, ridicule probably followed.
However, the opposite was also true. This is because of the emotional imbalance that is created at a young age when you are surrounded by “unpredictable love. If getting your parents’ approval was spontaneous, chances are you are now trying to find it in every friendship and relationship, you can. Getting too close to others, far too fast, is the ultimate setup for a continuous crash and burn.
A psychological study from Texas Woman’s University says:
“Adults raised in dysfunctional families frequently report difficulties in forming and maintaining intimate relationships, maintaining positive self-esteem, and trusting others; they fear a loss of control and deny their feelings and reality.”
Another excerpt from Toxic Parents:
“Most adult children of toxic parents grow up with a great deal of confusion about what love means and how you are supposed to feel. Their parents have done extremely unpleasant things to them in the name of love. They understand love as something chaotic, dramatic, confusing, and often painful – something for which they have had to give up their own dreams and desires. Clearly, this is not loving. Loving behavior does not weaken you, throw you off balance, or create feelings of self-hatred. … Genuine love creates feelings of warmth, pleasure, security, stability, and inner peace.”
- Narcissistic manipulation and abuse make them question what is real.
If you grew up in a toxic household, the way you experienced reality differed completely from the way your parents saw it.
Have you ever been accused of something you never did and then punished for it, even when you were sure your parents knew you were innocent? Your family distorted your reality and distorted your opinion of what is and what was real, leading you to distrust your own emotions and thoughts.
An informational report prepared by Texas Woman’s University states: “In most dysfunctional families, children tend to learn to doubt their own intuition and emotional responses.”
This is what we call “gaslighting”. It is when someone deliberately tries to confuse another person in order to control them. If you come from a toxic family, then I’m sure you can understand. Whether it’s to make you doubt that your partner really loves you or to question the existence of a missing coffee cup that never existed, this behavior can prevent you from trusting your own feelings and thoughts every day of your life.
Now, it all sounds pretty sad, but there is something you can do to take control of your life. There is no such thing as perfection, and your life will never be simple. Things are getting better though. We just need to recognize all the ways we are hurt and allow ourselves to begin the healing process.
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