Is Your Parent Toxic? A Checklist

One of the biggest reasons why psychology’s seen such an incredible surge of popularity in modern-day society is because it can help us deal with a lot of difficult but unfortunately prevalent issues within ourselves and our relationships with others. And toxic families and parent-child relationships are certainly topics psychology can do a lot to help us recognize, address, and resolve.

Because the sad reality is, we don’t get to choose the families we’re born into or the parents we have. And a lot of the time, some of us end up a lot worse off than we ever deserved, with parents who are toxic, abusive, manipulative, and exploitative. But because “they’re family” so many victims of this kind of abuse find it hard to speak out about their struggles and seek help. After all, who do you turn to when the ones supposed to be protecting you end up being those who hurt and harm you the most?

With that said, here is a quick checklist to help you assess whether or not your relationship with your parent is toxic:

1. Are they neglectful, irresponsible, or unavailable towards you?

Now, while we all know that parenting is no easy feat, especially when you have to juggle it with a full-time job or have nobody to share the load with, there’s a difference between being too busy for your child and just not caring enough to show up. Uninvolved parenting has been shown to be incredibly damaging to one’s sense of self-worth, personal development, and ability to relate well to others (Dunham, Dermer, & Carlson, 2012). So if your parent is emotionally distant, unresponsive to your needs, and fails to provide you with any sort of security and affirmation, then they are undoubtedly a toxic parent.

2. Do invalidate or gaslight you?

The truth is, as hard as they might try to seem like it, our parents don’t have all the answers. But some parents would rather dismiss the problems they can’t help you solve and invalidate your feelings if it makes them uncomfortable than admit that they don’t know everything. They might make light of your struggles and negative emotions if they don’t know how to deal with it, but doing so will only make things far worse.

3. Are they overly critical of you and tear down your self-esteem?

Is your parent always pointing out your flaws and making you feel like you can’t do anything right? Are they constantly nagging, humiliating, and criticizing you over the littlest things? This is an example of toxic parenting; making your child think that you’re just looking out for them by giving them “tough love” and “telling them what they need to hear”, when really, you’re just tearing down their self-esteem and cultivating a lot of anger, defensiveness, and mistrust in them (Jurkovic, 1988).

4. Are they in-charge of your life and your goals?

The kind of emotional abuse and exploitation you see so many overworked prodigies and child actors subjected to isn’t just limited to them — this kind of toxic and overly controlling dictatorship of a parenting style can happen to just about anybody. So if your parents are micromanaging everything you do and have your entire life planned out for you without even asking you what you want, leaving you with no choice but to do as they say or else be disowned, then they are without a doubt toxic to your mental health.

5. Are they emotionally codependent and attention seeking?

Toxic parents can be emotionally codependent on their children, and this can manifest in: demanding to be your number one priority; constantly asking you to compromise for them; depending on you to fix all their problems for them; and draining all your emotional energy to rescue them from their own self-destructive tendencies and emotional pitfalls (Levine, 2006). 

6. Do they manipulate/control you with guilt and money?

Another way toxic parents try to exert their dominance and control over their children is through making them financially or emotionally dependent on them. Think about the last time you had an argument with them. Did they threaten to kick you out of the house or take away your allowance? Did they guilt trip you into doing what they want with phrases like, “After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?!”? Yikes, that’s as clear and definite a red flag as any.

young sad woman crying at home

7. Do they disrespect you and your boundaries?

Whether it’s invading your privacy; constantly lying to you or hiding things from you; not trusting you enough to make your own decisions; or taking advantage of your generosity (e.g., with your time, energy, or money), it’s never acceptable for anyone to disrespect you by overstepping your boundaries — least of all your own parents. Doing so shows that they do not value you as a person and have no regard for your personal feelings or well-being. 

8. Do they take their problems out on you?

Last but certainly not the least, if your parents are constantly taking their problems out on you — getting mad out of the blue, punishing you for nothing, blaming you for their mistakes — then it means that they are still emotionally immature and unfit to be parents. Always quick to point their fingers at you and demanding apologies they don’t deserve, parents like this are extremely toxic because they are so unaware or in denial of their own flaws that they end up projecting it onto their children instead (Strayer & Roberts, 2004). 

So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? If you are struggling with a toxic or abusive relationship in your life, especially with a parent or a family member, reach out to a mental healthcare professional today and get the help you need to break free of their vicious cycle. 

And if you’re interested in this topic and want to read similar articles, here’s what we recommend: 5 Types of Toxic Parents, 5 Ways to Approach Your Toxic Parents, 7 Signs Your Parents Are Emotionally Immature, 9 Things Toxic Parents Say to Their Children, and 10 Traumatic Things Toxic Parents Do to Their Children.


  • Dunham, S. M., Dermer, S. B., & Carlson, J. (2012). Poisonous Parenting: Toxic Relationships Between Parents and Their Adult Children. Journal of Family Psychology. Routledge, 2012.
  • Jurkovic, G. J. (1998). Destructive parentification in families: Causes and consequences.
  • Levine, M. (2006). The price of privilege: How parental pressure and material advantage are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids. HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Strayer, J., & Roberts, W. (2004). Children’s anger, emotional expressiveness, and empathy: Relations with parents’ empathy, emotional expressiveness, and parenting practices. Social development, 13(2), 229-254.

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