The environment you grow up in can have a dramatic effect on who you are as a person later in life. While psychologists debate whether nature or nurture is more important in determining personality and behavior, it’s undeniable that your family and your upbringing shape your character. If you grew up in a toxic family, you might face struggles in adulthood that people who were raised in healthier environments can’t relate to.
Understanding how your childhood influences your emotions and decisions as an adult can help you navigate your life with more peace and confidence. When you’ve recognized and come to terms with your toxic upbringing, you can start shaking off its hold on you. Processing and overcoming a difficult childhood may take months or years of effort in therapy, but it can feel so good to know that you’re no longer letting your toxic family stop you from becoming your best self.
Here Are Eight Effects of Growing up in a Toxic Family
1. You don’t know who you are.
Your childhood experiences can affect your personality traits as you grow up. If your childhood was chaotic or inconsistent, you may never have had the chance to discover who you truly are. This is especially likely if you were always expected to take on a helping role for others and were taught that your own needs were less important.
Many people who grew up in a toxic family struggle with their sense of self. You might feel like you absorb the personalities of the people around you out of a desire to fit in, or you may feel like you’re an entirely different person each day. Unstable self-image is one of the most common signs you grew up in a toxic family, and it can lead to a great deal of mental and emotional health issues.
2. You keep everyone at arm’s length.
If your toxic family was always emotionally distant, you may have a hard time getting close to people as an adult. When you didn’t grow up around emotional vulnerability, opening up to friends or partners feels completely foreign. Talking about your feelings may make you very uncomfortable, and you might prefer to keep people at a safe distance rather than risk getting hurt.
3. You’re always walking on eggshells.
Emotional volatility is a hallmark for many toxic families. Sometimes, parents with unchecked anger or other mental health issues will fly into a rage at the slightest provocation. If you got used to seeing these reactions from your family in childhood, you may develop an intense fear of making someone angry. You might hesitate to correct someone or confront them if they upset you because you’re used to seeing strong reactions to conflict.
4. You seek out toxic relationships as an adult.
Choosing or staying in unhealthy romantic relationships is a key sign that you grew up in a toxic family. This is one of the most challenging and harmful traits that toxic family members can instill in you, and some people need a lifetime to recognize that they have this issue.
We seek out the love that we’ve been taught to accept. If your parents only expressed their love for you under certain conditions, you may look for a partner who is similarly withdrawn. If your parents were extremely overprotective and kept you from living a normal life as a child, you might find yourself with a partner who is obsessive, jealous, or controlling. As painful and heartbreaking as these relationships can be, the dynamic can also feel strangely comforting because it’s so familiar.
5. You constantly blame yourself.
Sometimes, parents who have unchecked anger will blame others for every little thing that goes wrong. In many cases, their children become the scapegoats. You may have learned from a young age to accept responsibility for every mistake in an attempt to keep the peace within your toxic family. Even if you’re not at fault in any logical way for a mishap, you can find a way to blame yourself.
6. You can’t stand failure.
Difficulty accepting failure is a common trait among people who grew up with excessively strict and demanding parents. If your family made you feel like you were never good enough, you may still struggle with perfectionism as an adult. Failure is a part of life, and it can be a great opportunity to learn and grow. However, when you’ve been taught that failure equates to weakness or unworthiness, it’s not easy to brush off your losses.
7. You struggle to remember your childhood.
There are a number of reasons why you may have gaps in your memory or a foggy recollection of your childhood. Sometimes, stress and trauma can result in memory loss. If you can’t remember large chunks of time or prefer not to reminisce on your childhood at all, this may be your brain’s way of coping with the toxicity of your upbringing.
8. You feel exhausted after spending time with your family.
Your toxic family can continue to influence your life after you grow up. If you always feel mentally or emotionally drained after talking to your family, there may be some unhealthy dynamics at play. Ideally, your family should be a source of support and comfort. When you have toxic parents, though, spending time with family may feel more like a chore than a blessing.
How to Heal After Growing Up in a Toxic Family
Coming to terms with your problematic upbringing isn’t easy. You probably have a wide variety of thoughts and emotions regarding your family and your childhood, and you might not be able to make sense of them all. It’s absolutely normal to have conflicting or ever-changing opinions about your family if you had a troubled childhood, and you should never feel guilty for being angry, sad, or hurt.
As an adult, you get to choose whether or not to keep your toxic family in your life. While some people believe that you must be civil with your family no matter what, you are under no obligation to be close with anyone who has caused you pain. If your path toward healing involves cutting all contact with your family, allow yourself to make this decision.
Setting clear boundaries and limiting your communication with your family can be an effective way to give yourself space to heal while keeping them in your life. By detaching from your family emotionally, you take away their power to control, belittle, or shame you. If they make comments or ask questions that you don’t appreciate, try to redirect the conversation by changing the subject.
Therapy is your best resource for working through the emotional wounds your toxic family has left. You may have to unlearn certain thoughts or beliefs you have about yourself and your relationships so that you can form healthy bonds with others. It can also be very cathartic to express your anger, grief, or sadness about your upbringing, and therapy provides a supportive environment for you to do so.
If you’re ready to move on from your traumatic childhood, The Beverly Hills Therapy Group is here to help. Our licensed therapists understand the complicated dynamics involved in toxic families, and we are ready to work with you while you heal. You can contact us today to schedule an appointment with a therapist in Los Angeles.