YOUR MENTAL HEALTH: recognise poisonous parenting

By Linda Hamilton, Cognitive behavioural therapist

EVERYONE makes errors, so it’s flawed to count on dad and mom to be excellent. Nevertheless, some kids may be notably unlucky – they have to take care of poisonous parenting.

The time period ‘poisonous mother or father’ was popularised a few years in the past in the past in Dr Susan Ahead’s basic guide Poisonous Dad and mom. I’m considerably cautious about utilizing the time period. Labels may be reductive, and plenty of apparently ‘poisonous’ dad and mom could also be deeply regretful over errors they made years earlier, once they had been in emotional ache and coping with their very own psychological points.

On the similar time, the time period resonates with many who endured a dysfunctional upbringing. Moreover, some dad and mom don’t attempt to make amends; as an alternative, they proceed to mistreat their grownup kids, taking part in video games which might be, nicely, poisonous.

So what’s poisonous parenting? In her guide, Susan Ahead refers to 6 differing kinds. These embrace some apparent classes, like sexual abusers, bodily abusive dad and mom, in addition to alcoholics who’re in denial and whose dependancy leaves them little vitality for parenthood.

Extra widespread, maybe, are the opposite varieties listed within the guide. These embrace the controllers, ‘who use guilt, manipulation, and even over-helpfulness to direct their kids’s lives’; insufficient dad and mom, who’re centered on their very own issues and who flip their children into ‘mini-adults’ who deal with them; and verbal abusers, who could also be overtly abusive or subtly sarcastic, however who invariably ‘demoralise their kids with fixed putdowns and rob them of their self-confidence’.


No matter about Susan Ahead’s classes, there are a variety of widespread indicators indicating you’ll have grown up in a poisonous setting. These embrace:

• Routine criticism which left you feeling unhealthy about your self; feeling nothing you do will likely be adequate.

• Being negatively in contrast with siblings (‘why can’t you be extra like your brother/sister?’).

• Parental splitting behaviours, the place siblings are turned towards one another.

• Dad and mom not respecting your boundaries (for instance, studying your diary, textual content messages or emails; routinely strolling into your bed room with out knocking, regardless of you asking them not to take action).

• Being remoted or ignored.

• Routinely listening to your dad and mom bond by complaining about you.

• Being routinely invalidated. Your considerations and experiences are trivialised or denied. You get the message your feelings are bizarre or flawed.

• Risky, reactive and poor at regulating their emotions, the mother or father is an emotional unfastened cannon. You’re feeling nervous round them.

• There’s a tradition of blaming and scapegoating in the home. As an alternative of recognising the dysfunctional household setting, one or each dad and mom take their unhappiness out on you.

• Controlling behaviours, whether or not by routinely telling you what to do or by utilizing guilt to manage you. It’s possible you’ll be rewarded while you do what the mother or father desires, however affection is withdrawn in case you make unbiased choices.

• Parental anger, whether or not within the type of aggression or sarcasm, or in a extra passive-aggressive manner (getting the silent remedy, not replying to messages, intentionally ‘forgetting’ one thing vital to you, and so forth).

• Some dad and mom supply help in powerful instances however aren’t there for you in joyful moments. As an alternative, they dampen your expertise, whether or not by not congratulating you on a private achievement or findings explanation why your nice information isn’t actually that nice. They might compete with you and get jealous when issues are going nicely for you. Usually, you don’t inform them excellent news for worry it should immediate a damaging response. There’s an unwritten rule, “Don’t be too blissful”.

• The mother or father habitually engages in manipulative behaviour, twisting information or omitting key particulars so as to get sympathy from others and to make you look unhealthy.

• A demanding mother or father might present little regard for what you need and count on you to vary plans at quick discover.

• They might search to alienate you out of your different mother or father. It’s possible you’ll really feel responsible or nervous in case you are seen to be too near the opposite mother or father.

• Lastly, and mostly, you’re feeling worse after spending time together with your mother or father(s). An grownup baby might really feel emotional and responsible for days after such encounters, even once they can’t pinpoint what, if something, went flawed.

In my subsequent column – the second in a three-part collection inspecting poisonous parenting – I’ll discover explanation why a mother or father may select to behave in such damaging methods.


Linda Hamilton is a Kinsale-based cognitive behavioural therapist.

If you need to get in contact along with her,  name 086-3300807

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