By the time you reach adulthood, you probably have some serious thoughts about your upbringing. Most parents legitimately try their best, but there are unfortunately some exceptions to this rule. Knowing the signs you have a toxic father can help you heal from past trauma, as well as refrain from repeating these mistakes with your own kids.
First, though, it’s important to understand what makes a relationship toxic in the first place. “In the context of parenting, the word toxic means they are hindering their child’s development and causing harm,” Dr. Kelly Campbell, professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino, tells Romper. Often these parents experienced neglect or dysfunction while growing up, then go on to replicate these maladaptive behaviors when raising their own children. “Toxic relationships are marked by disrespect and devaluation,” Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at Michigan State University and director of the Family Communication and Relationships Lab, tells Romper. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when around this person.
Fortunately, you aren't doomed to repeat your father's behaviors. Simply knowing the signs of toxic behavior, and being aware of your own actions, can go a long way toward correcting them. Plus, you don’t have to give the toxic person a place in your current life. “Establishing and maintaining distance may be the healthiest choice in a toxic relationship that is not likely to change. Distance can be physical (you do not see them) or mental (certain topics are off limits or mental boundaries are drawn to protect oneself),” says Hall. You can also explore the option of counseling to address these pain points and find a healthier way to parent your own children. Growing up with unhealthy family dynamics is rough on any child, but you can identify the signs of a toxic parent and move on to a happier future.
Having toxic parents leaves a major psychological impression on a child — one that can carry on into adulthood. Knowing the signs of a toxic parent can help you identify whether you potentially grew up with a toxic father and heal the cycle. The best way to assess and improve your personal family dynamic is to find a good therapist who can help you navigate the situation.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Schiffrin, H.H., Liss, M., Miles-McLean, H. et al. Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being. J Child Fam Stud 23, 548–557 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-013-9716-3