How To Know If Your Parents Are Toxic?

*We may earn a commission for purchases made using our links. Please see our disclosure to learn more.

Parents are supposed to try to provide their children with a healthy and happy upbringing. Some parents are unable to do this because of toxic narcissism. 

Any parent will make some mistakes, but parents with mental conditions like narcissism go beyond an occasional mistake. They often fully embrace their toxicity, and unfortunately, their behavior frequently escalates through time. 

It can be difficult to ascertain if your parents were being intentionally toxic, but that doesn’t change the effects their behavior had on you. If you were a victim of narcissistic abuse, you likely have issues with hypersensitivity and may even become a narcissist yourself. 

The mental damage done to children of toxic parents is something that follows them well into their adult life. It can also affect how they interact with their own children. Recognizing toxic parents can be difficult, but read on to learn several signs that you have narcissistic parents. 

How Can You Tell? 

Particularly with narcissistic parents, you might not fully realize just how toxic they were, but the following behaviors are red flags that you had toxic parents. 

Were They Overly Critical?

Every child receives some criticism from their parents occasionally, and without that, children don’t learn how to do things properly. They also don’t learn how to process criticism appropriately, something they will need when they go out into the world. 

What’s different with toxic parents, however, is that they take criticism to the extreme. They are overly critical about every little thing their child does. They almost never give their child praise, and when they do, it’s often tempered with some level of criticism. 

This kind of toxicity causes you to develop a very harsh inner critic. Instead of looking on the bright side of a situation or viewing it as a learning opportunity, you harshly berate yourself. That can cripple you as an adult by keeping you from growing and taking the normal kinds of risks to better yourself. 

Did They Affirm Your Worth and Help You Feel Secure?

One of the most important roles of a parent is to provide their children with affirmation and a sense of security. Affirmation means they showed you the love they felt for you and affirmed your value as a human being. This gives you a secure foundation for handling life’s challenges. 

If you received that kind of love, you’ll likely recognize the positive effect it has had on your life. If, on the other hand, you find that any perceived failure or rejection causes you to fall apart, it’s likely you were not provided with that affirmation and sense of security. 

Your parents might have called their treatment of you ‘tough love,’ but if that was their only approach, their toxic, one-sided behavior likely kept you from becoming a well-rounded adult. 

Did They Demand All the Attention?

Parents should dote on their children rather than expecting you to become a parent substitute. If your parents were constantly demanding your attention, that’s exactly what they were doing to you. You might have thought this was the way you bonded with your parents, but it was a toxic tactic. 

That kind of a bond between parents and their child quickly becomes parasitic. The parents drain the child’s energy and time. It keeps their child from focusing on other things they should be learning. 

Healthy parents allow their children the space they need to grow. They let them be kids so they learn about themselves and how to interact with other people. Toxic parents, on the other hand, demand constant interaction from their children for their own needs. 

Did They Make Toxic Jokes?

Teasing can be a normal interaction between parents and children, but if your parents made you the butt of their jokes all the time, that may be a big problem for you as an adult. It undermines your self-esteem and can make you reliant on external sources for validation. 

They may even continue this kind of behavior into adulthood. The jokes may take the form of critiquing your life choices, looks, or behaviors. It’s an insidious tactic designed to make you question yourself and feel the need to seek their approval. You’ll never get it. 

Did They Justify Their Bad Behavior

Justification of Bad Behavior

Another tactic that toxic, abusive parents use is to convince you that you deserved any bad treatment they doled out to you. Any abusive treatment they engaged in was your fault because you did or said something that provoked it. 

That can follow you into adulthood where you may still be justifying the bad behavior of others at your own expense. This is because, as a child, you only had two choices: accept that your parent is wrong or accept the blame. 

Because most children have yet to develop the cognitive abilities to understand how and why their parents can be wrong, they choose to accept the blame. They take that blame with them into adulthood and are constantly criticizing themselves and accepting blame for the behavior of other people. 

Did Their Feelings Always Come First?

With toxic parents, their feelings are first and foremost when it comes to family matters. This continues into adulthood as well, and it creates great stress in the family dynamic. 

To foster positive family relationships, it’s important to consider everyone’s feelings, but not for toxic parents. They force their children to suppress their feelings and adopt whatever they feel as the right path to take. 

As an adult, this can cause you to question your own ability to make good choices in life. It also makes you feel as though you simply don’t count. 

Were You Allowed Express Negative Emotions?

Particularly if your parents were toxic narcissists, you likely weren’t allowed to express negative emotions. Your parents may have made you feel it was unsafe to do so either by ridiculing or minimizing those emotions or with the threat of repercussions for expressing your feelings. 

They also might have simply dismissed your negative feelings which can lead to depression. By not allowing you to express and process your negative emotions, they kept you from learning how to deal with those emotions. That can cripple your experiences as an adult. 

Final Thoughts

If one or both of your parents acted in these ways, it’s likely they were toxic. Good parents seek to put their children first and help them grow into productive adults. 

That’s not the goal of toxic parents, and if they are narcissists, their goal is exactly the opposite of that. Narcissists don’t want their children to become independent. Instead, they want them to rely on their parents’ approval their entire life. That way, the children can continue to validate their parents and replenish their narcissistic supply. 

To tell if your toxic parents are narcissists, learn more about the characteristics in the article, “7 Characteristics of a Narcissistic Person.”


If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel


Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

More to Explore

Free Roadmap

Want To Stop A Narcissist From Pushing Your Buttons?

Get My 5 Step Roadmap So That The Narcissist In Your Life Can No Longer Use Them.