6 Signs You Have a Toxic Childhood

The relationship between a child and their parents does a lot to shape a child’s life, even after they enter adulthood. In some cases, these relationships are loving and nurturing, and the child grows up to be a confident, secure, and empowered adult. However, in other cases, these relationships are toxic, and can have a negative effect on the child. Here are six signs that you might have a toxic childhood.

1. You live in fear

Oftentimes, toxic families display authority through fear. This could be excessive yelling, threatening, or even violence from a parent to get their point across. Too much of this removes the security blanket around a child and causes fear to take over their mind. Whether it’s a fear of messing up, saying the wrong thing, being ridiculed or anything else, letting fear guide your life is not a healthy way to live.

When a child is raised in a fearful environment, they can be left with aftereffects that last a lifetime. According to Smruthi Gagh from Pinwheel Place, excessive childhood fear has a range of effects on the brain, such as added stress, a higher chance of depression, and even the potential development of a learning disability in some cases (Ghag 2017).

2. You’ve lost your sense of self

The wonderful thing about healthy family relationships is that anchoring feeling family gives you. Unfortunately, in a toxic childhood, that sense of warmth, love, and belonging may disappear (Georgieva 2018). As a result, you may not feel as emotionally connected to those who are supposed to “your people”. Belonging is so important, because humans are social by nature. When people feel they belong, they may be more likely to take risks, grow, and figure out who they are with a strong support system. Without a feeling of belonging, people may lose their sense of self and have a hard time finding their place in the world.

Without a sense of self, it is so hard to develop confidence, and security within yourself. It can be hard trying to overcome all the challenges the world has to offer without figuring out who you truly are.

3. You have a hard time believing in love

Many people grow up with the idea that their parents are soulmates. After all, we were told that children result when a man and a woman love each other, right?

Growing up in a toxic environment has the ability to shatter that belief. When children witness constant fighting between their parents, or abuse from one parent to another, they begin to realize that their parents might not actually love each other. It’s hard to restore that belief in love when you’ve grown up seeing, time and time again, how unattainable it seems.

This can also result in trust issues in relationships across the board, romantic or not (Thorpe 2015). Whether your childhood consisted of a toxic relationship between parents, or between parents and children, the effect is the same. The child may feel a violation in that security and protection, making it harder for them to trust others later in life.

4. You are quick to blame yourself when things go wrong

A lot of toxicity is rooted in manipulation. You may feel like the household you grew up in was your fault, or, more generally, you may have been unfairly blamed pretty often as a child. There’s a chance that you feel like your experiences are your fault and that feeling can definitely carry over into adult relationships (Georgieva 2018).

It is so important to remember that no part of what you went through was your fault. As a child, you cannot control the environment around you and feeling that you had any responsibility for your pain can be damaging and unhealthy. And if you are used to excessively blaming yourself, you may find yourself carrying more burdens, blame, and guilt than you should, even in your adult life.

5. You have a hard time with your emotions

This can be a number of things. A toxic childhood is certainly traumatic, and can bring about an overwhelming amount of emotions. They may be hard to identify and even harder to deal with.

According to Peg Streep from Psychology Today, a common coping mechanism for all of these emotions is pushing them aside (Streep 2019). Complex emotions at any age are hard to deal with, and as a child, they can be especially difficult. As a result, if you have endured a toxic childhood, you might find it hard to connect with all of the emotions that were thrown at you at such a young age. Emotional conversations might be tough, thinking about your childhood may make you numb, and even as an adult, identifying complex emotions might be stressful.

Another emotional sign of a toxic childhood is a high frequency of emotional outbursts. Of course, lashing out can be due to other factors such as stress or anxiety, but in this event of a toxic childhood, these may be reactions from buried trauma (Thorpe 2015). It is likely that you will not see these reactions coming, or even be able to explain them, and it might leave you a little uneasy. Remember that if this applies to you, these reactions are not your fault; they just mean that toxicity your mind has kept buried from your childhood may be starting to come out.

6. You’re very self-critical

One of the largest signs of childhood toxicity is negative self-talk. This could be due to the low self-esteem you may have developed during a toxic childhood. Parents who are overly critical of their children and speak to them negatively can alter their child’s perception of their own self (Georgieva 2018). Unfortunately, this can cause a distortion in the child’s mind that lasts through adulthood. Please remember that if you find yourself in this situation, these thoughts are just that: distortions. They come from a lack of positive regard during some of the most critical years of your development, and are not a reflection on you, your worth, or your success.

We hope this helped you learn more about the signs of a toxic childhood. Did anything apply to you? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!


  • Georgieva A. “8 Signs That Toxic Childhood May Be Influencing Your Life as an Adult”. Iheartintelligence.com. 02 October 2018.
  • Ghag S. “Effect of persistent fear on young children’s development”. Pinwheel Place. 05 August 2017.
  • Streep P. “12 Signs of Healing from a Toxic Childhood”. Psychology Today. 09 August 2019.
  • Thorpe JR. “7 Signs You Grew Up With A Toxic Parent & Didn’t Know It”. Bustle. 14 December 2015.

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