5 Ways Toxic Families Affect Children

Hey Optimist Minds!

When you’re at home, do you tend to feel uncomfortable? Is it easier to be your authentic self when you’re alone or away instead of when you’re with your family? If you answered yes to both these questions, it may be that you live with a toxic family.

The word toxic has been trending for a while now and is used to describe dysfunctional patterns of behaviour. When you call a family toxic, it could be because there have been instances of addiction, trauma, mental illness, or abuse. It could also be because a household is too controlling, manipulative, negative, or neglectful. 

Regardless of the kind of toxic behaviour, there are some typical ways that a toxic family affects children. In this video, we’re going to talk about five such ways. 

Please note that this video is purely for educational purposes. In no way is this information adequate to diagnose any psychological issue. If you do find that you or someone you know displays these effects, it’s best to consult a licensed mental health professional for further action.

So, let’s begin.

Number One

The child grows up to become a people pleaser.

Have you ever met someone who lets others treat them like a doormat? Does this person never stand up for themselves when they’re being taken advantage of?

One of the aftereffects of traumatic experiences in life is the need to avoid conflict and confrontation. Perhaps a parent posed as a potential threat and was unpredictable. The child may be utterly confused as to what behaviour might trigger an unpleasant experience. In attempts to pacify the authority figure, children learn to obey at all times.

They might grow up to be submissive and deferential adults who need approval from the people around them. Since toxic families usually make children feel inadequate, they seek the validation they were deprived of in their adult relationships.

Number Two

They might develop anger issues.

Social psychologist, Albert Bandura demonstrated in the famous bobo doll experiment that children learn aggressive behaviours through observational learning. Children were more violent with the doll if they had been exposed to aggression than those who weren’t.

Anger outbursts are pretty common in toxic families as they never learnt healthy ways to deal with negative emotions. Children growing up in these families see grown-ups being either hostile or passive-aggressive, so they develop these habits. 

Moreover, these families are more susceptible to the displacement of anger, which results in children acting out. Displacement happens when an individual lashes out at a less threatening person around them in response to an aggressive authority figure. 

For example, an angry boss may yell at a man. The man may scream at his wife. The wife then yells at the child, and the child ends up displacing his anger at school.

Number Three

The child struggles to establish healthy boundaries.

In toxic families, there may be regular violations of all kinds of personal boundaries. Your folks might think nothing of invading your personal space or rummaging through your material possessions without permission. They’ll probably tell you that since you’re financially dependent on them, they can do whatever they want. 

Abusive family members sometimes overstep sexual and intellectual boundaries as well. For example, sexual boundaries can be violated with unwanted touch, pressure to engage in sexual acts, leering, or sexual comments. Likewise, intellectual boundaries are violated when someone criticises, belittles, or invalidates another person’s feelings.

Repeated violations of personal boundaries can blur these lines for children. As they grow older, they aren’t able to assert and establish healthy boundaries with other people.

Number Four

They find it difficult to trust people.

When you’re in daily contact with someone who manipulates you, you anticipate that same treatment from others as well. This is especially so when the manipulation comes from a caregiver. We expect our guardians to take care of our needs. So, when such loved ones betray us trying to control us using deceit and trickery, we lose our trust.

Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson gave the concept of basic trust. It is a belief that is formed in early childhood that tells us the world is a safe place. A child’s interaction with its mother decides whether the child will develop basic trust or mistrust.

If the child’s needs are not met, which is typical in toxic families, basic trust is either shattered or underdeveloped.

Number Five

They struggle with chronic anxiety.

Circumstances are generally uncertain in toxic homes. You never know how things will turn out or what might happen next. Such a volatile environment can harbour a persistent feeling of fear in a child’s mind.

Even when things are going well for them, they might be plagued with thoughts about all the possible bad outcomes. Anxiousness can become a default state of being. Chronic anxiety leads to all sorts of mental illnesses as well as physical conditions. 

These children can experience cardiovascular problems, low immunity, skin rashes, and body aches along with anxiety and mood disorders.

Did any of the effects explained here resonate with you? Have you been experiencing these problems for most of your life? You’ve likely been raised in a toxic family. Let us know in the comments if you think this video helped you in any way.

A link for further reading and the studies & references used in the making of this video are mentioned in the description below.

Thanks for visiting optimist minds, take care. Until next time.


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