Even though we like to feel that our past is behind us and our childhood relationships are just memories, our character and worldview today can be greatly shaped by how we were brought up.

Our childhood experiences hold even more power over our present selves when we had experienced toxic relationships. Whether it has been our mother, father, siblings, or extended family, our childhood wounds can cut very deep, taking a large amount of conscious effort to heal.

What are toxic childhood relationships?

Below are just a few of the characteristics of a toxic childhood.

  • You were always compared to your siblings or cousins’ successes
  • People compared how you look constantly. “You’re fatter than your so-and-so, or you’re shorter than so-and-so.”
  • You were not allowed to have an opinion on any matter, including decisions regarding your life. If you spoke up, you were seen as “disrespectful.”
  • You were support for an adult, even though you are still a child going through your own difficulties. For example, your mother often confided in you due to your father’s infidelity or physical abuse.
  • You were expected to give everything for your family, even if that meant sacrificing your own mental health and well-being.
  • Whenever someone said that they didn’t like you, you were told that it was your fault for being undesirable.

How does a toxic relationship from childhood manifest in your life?

I’ve had a toxic childhood. Thus the above signs hit home. If we don’t resolve these issues from the past, they will haunt us in our adulthood (for life.)

  • You always feel like you’re giving too much in a relationship. You feel an emotional burden.
  • You are overly intimidated by authority and unable to communicate your needs.
  • You feel like you’re always too skinny or too fat.
  • You always second-guess your own opinions or feel like your opinions don’t matter.
  • You constantly seek validation from others.
  • Other people are seen as a competition rather than a support.
  • Feeling that you are only valued if you prove that you offer something materialistic to a relationship
  • The constant need to be praised by others
  • A strong feeling that you’re never worthy enough or that your success is never satisfying enough
  • Not feeling loved no matter what you do and no matter what your partner does.
  • Viewing any kind of feedback as criticism and taking it as a personal attack.
  • Seeing any sign of vulnerability in yourself is an unforgivable weakness.

How can you heal from harmful childhood relationships?

Below are some tips that will help with your healing journey. But this journey, remember can take years if not forever.

  • Think about some toxic behaviors you have been exhibiting to others and yourself, and list them down. Be aware of them.
  • Give yourself permission to let things go. You may not have the perfect parents or siblings, and it’s no fault of yours, let it go.
  • Grieve if you wish to, for the relationships with parents or siblings that you wished you had.
  • Forgive yourself for those toxic behaviors; we are humans after all. We don’t get to be perfect or right all the time.
  • Accept your rights to believe, respect, and to love yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself even when you feel that you don’t deserve it.

Healing from traumatic or toxic childhood relationships takes a lot of reflective work. We often internalize our parent’s talk and treatment as we grow up. To push back against what we have learned about ourselves is to fight against our automatic tendencies.

Often working with a professional counselor can help you recognize and reshape your automatic negative thought processes and embody a more positive, self-validating worldview. Healing takes time and practice.

But with patient effort, recovery, and change is very possible!


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