When you grow up with toxic or emotionally abusive parents, it can be very difficult to understand what is going on. The indoctrination begin from the moment you are born, and your frame of reference is entirely controlled by your family of origins, because we are genetically programmed to accept the truth of our parents. Even if a child realizes that what happens within their family makes them feel sad, they are likely not going to be able to escape, or even know how. In fact, even as adults we often do not feel we can escape our family. After all, they are our FAMILY!
Realizing the true extend of the toxicity, and understanding that what happened was in fact abuse is a long and difficult journey. It is only the first step on our road to recovery, but it really is the most important one. That first step toward a better, more healthy life.
Here are some of the signs that helped me understand something was not right.
#1 When I Grow Up…
Even when I was in my 30s I would quite often say: ‘When I grow up, I will….’ It may seem like just a random little remark or even a joke, but it is indicative of something greater. No matter that I held a management job, paid my mortgage and was in a long term relationship, I still not not feel like “an adult”. By that I don’t mean normal insecurities about our finances or a sensation that we lack some sort of control over our lives. I mean that I still felt like I needed my parents to look after me, that I was incompetent to make my own decisions and choices.
Any abusive parent will want to keep their offspring in a perpetual state of youthful dependency. Not because they like caring for you, but because it makes it easier to control you. By not teaching you life skills like managing your personal finances, practicing good emotional and physical self-care or looking after your home. It is a careful balance between not teaching you skills, and keeping you sufficiently insecure so you do not trust skills you do have. On top of keeping you from feeling or functioning as an adult, they will find ways to comment and criticize the fact that you are not “acting like an adult”. My father especially did that, even after I had cut contact he wrote a letter that stated: you really need to grow up and start acting like a young adult woman.
#2 Gossip Girls
I always thought that I was close to my sisters, we were always talking. I realize now though that we mostly talked about each other. Not just that, it was next to always negative comments. It was about problems, bad attitudes, and how our sisters should start behaving better. My parents were good at feeding the gossip enough to keep it going, and always in terms of “real concern”. The amount of gossip in my family was enormous, and confidentiality did not exist. My sisters believed for years that I was a recovering drug and alcohol addict, because my mother had told them this. Nobody ever spoke to me, because my mother had indicated it would be too painful for me.
Even with all that talking about each other, I really do not know my sisters that well. I only realize that now that I have a family of choice. The way we speak to and about each other is very different. I suppose the big difference is that I would be more than happy for them to hear anything I have to say about them.
#3 Hours of Judgment
After I finally got away from my toxic boss, my partner and I decided to sell our home and move back to his country of origins. With the house on the market, my sister agreed to rent it until we could find a buyer, so we could make our way to our new life abroad. She was staying with my parents at the time, and was not sure she wanted to stay in the region so she did not want to commit to getting her own place. We agreed on a rental price that covered my mortgage, but I would take care of the amenities. Every time we agreed on a move in date for her, she would postpone. So the house remained empty and no rent payments were made. After about 4 months away, with no new jobs and double rent/mortgage starting to really kill our savings, my partner and I decided we needed to move back. My sister made sure that she paid all the rent for the months that she had been supposed to, but did not stay in our home. I found out just after getting the payment that she had said to my other sister: I am not going to do it, I refuse to aid the worst mistake she will ever make in her life. But what was I going to complain about? She made the payment, didn’t she? Never mind it was too late, and we were back living in the same town as my family.
I tell you that story, because it shows just how judgmental her decision was. She agreed to rent to home, she agreed on the price and the move in date… but because she felt I was making a mistake she decided to sabotage our plans. Every life decision we made was met with such judgment and scorn.
#4 1+1 = 13
Do you know that lovely meme that has been floating around social media? If things do not add up, it is because the truth is not part of the equation. That is how my family works too. The information that is shared is not consistent, and never complete. This is how opinions, responses and actions are manipulated.
I think it is also a result of lying. Because there were so many exaggerations and lies floating around the family, it became hard for the instigators to remember what they told who. The story about my drug and alcohol dependency issues is a good example of that, but there are many examples some tiny, some huge. Like when I was on a holiday with a girl friend. I had been home suffering a break down after dealing with an abusive boss. My partner mentioned to my sister that it was good he could do a deep clean of the house with me out of the way. My sister then commented: “Yeah, she is so dirty and messy. As a kid she would always leave dirty plates under her bed“. Now, I remember that my mother found a dirty plate under my bed ONCE, and even if I was messy as a teenager (which I was, after all I was a teenager!!) I was now in my late 20s.
#5 Who Will I Be Dealing With Today?
Toxic People and a toxic dynamic make that people are playing parts, it also means that people can seem to have different personalities at different times. Not just because they are tired, or the difference between a formal or informal setting, but really like you are dealing with different people. I pretty much never knew what person I would be dealing with when it came to any of my sisters and of course my parents.
Like I said, people can be tired or frustrated which will influence only their mood, but it will not change their whole person. I once went over to my sisters house to pick up the car keys, since we shared the use of the one car. Out of the blue she started screaming about the moving plans that my partner and I were discussing. ‘You are not thinking about moving again are you? I am not okay with that!’ To this day I don’t even really know how she knew we were considering a move.
If you want to read more traits of toxic people, and find out how they may relate to your situation, read 20 Traits of Toxic People.
Do You Think You May Have a Toxic Family?
Are you wondering if you have a toxic family? There are many articles on SwanWaters that will help you figure it out. So start reading to learn about toxic, narcissistic and abusive behaviors. As you learn, you will be able to begin analyzing your own situation too. Join us on Facebook or on the forum, and talk to other people who are dealing with the aftermath of emotional abuse.