Toxic Things Parents Say And What They Really Mean

If you grew up with toxic parents, you’ve probably been told a lot of hurtful words. Hearing those awful things could have left you feeling sad and confused, and wondering why your parents say that to you. While there is no excuse for their actions and the things they said to you, sometimes the toxic things parents say carry deep psychological meaning behind it. Those hurtful things they say could be projections of their own psychological trauma or issues. While it’s not enough to help you heal your wounds, understanding the meaning behind it could help you understand it wasn’t your fault.

Here are 6 toxic things parents say and what it really means.

1. “I gave you everything, I sacrificed so much for you!”

Sometimes your parents feel the need to remind you that they were the ones to give you food, water, shelter, clothes… And while it is true that we should be grateful for what we got, it is a parents’ job to ensure their kids are taken care of. By saying this, they aren’t making you feel grateful for them raising you, but instead they make you feel guilty and undeserving.

But these words actually mean that they are deeply unsatisfied with how their lives turned out. They feel like they didn’t achieve enough, or maybe they feel they could’ve given you and the whole family more than they actually did. By emphasizing how much they gave to you, they want to suppress those feelings of underachievement.

2. “Why can’t you be more like your siblings?!”

Comparisons between siblings are very common in toxic households. Parents can show open favoritism by comparing one sibling to another. This can hurt the compared child and make them angry or jealous of their sibling.

What they’re actually doing is trying to manipulate the child to do what they want, just so the child could feel they are able to get their parents’ love. It is a divide and conquer technique – both siblings want to be the ones who are their parents’ favorite, so they compete against themselves. In a way, the parents succeed in their attempt to motivate the child to behave better, but they do so by toxic manipulation.

3. “I’m saying this for your own good!”

After they insult you, berate you and yell at you, they tell you “it’s all for your own good”. They make it seem like they just want to help you become a grown person who can handle criticism, but we all know it’s a bad excuse. 

When they say this, they are actually using a defense mechanism called rationalization. Somewhere deep down inside them, they know what they are saying is wrong, but facing it would be too much for them. Instead, they make themselves believe they only want the best for you, and it helps them justify their cruel and degrading comments.

4. “How can you be so selfish?! You only think about yourself!”

If you happen to do something they don’t like, they make it seem as an attack against them. 

Maybe you went out with friends one night instead of hanging out with them at the house. Automatically, they declare you as selfish just because you didn’t make them the center of their world.

But why do they react that way? It’s probably because they don’t feel like they’re enough. They feel like they were deprived of love and affection from people in their past, or even their own parents. They probably hoped having a child would mean they would have someone to love them. So, when you don’t show them you love them (or at least not in a way they want to), they act out and call you selfish.

5. “You are so fat and ugly!” or “You are so skinny and weak!”

This is a terrible thing to hear from your parents, but unfortunately not uncommon. Most often it is said by mothers to their daughters or fathers to their sons. Mothers call their daughters fat, they tease them for the clothes they wear or punish them for wearing make up. On the other hand, fathers try to humiliate their sons by telling them they’re not “manly” enough, that they are weak and skinny, and how they would never grow up to be a real man.

These words are said by parents who are deeply unsatisfied with themselves, and see their children as their opponents. Since their children are growing up, they are becoming adult men and women, while they are getting older and losing their good looks. Watching their children grow and flourish makes them feel jealous and afraid of the old age that’s before them. So by saying those hurtful things they want to empower themselves and make their children feel like there is just no way they could be better than their parents.

6. “I had it worse than you when I was a kid and I turned out fine!”

If your parents are abusive, they probably justify themselves with this phrase.

They insult you? Their parents used to insult them too.
They hit you as a way of discipline? Their parents hit them more.
They make it seem like it’s just a part of a normal childhood and like there’s no other way for them to raise you.

But behind those words are years of child abuse they probably experienced as kids. They say they are grateful for their parents and the way they raised them, and they truly believe they are “successful” because of their “good upbringing”. But, how they treat you clearly shows they did not, in fact, turn out fine. They just don’t know it because they never had the opportunity to see how healthy parenting actually looks like.

Even if you’re an adult now, the wounds those words inflicted probably still hurt every now and then. Finding out about the meaning behind your parents’ words is not meant to excuse their behavior. They should have known better, and it is not your fault for what you went through as a powerless child.

But right now you have the power to take life into your own hands and cut the threads that connect you to your parents’ toxicity. If the memories get to you too much sometimes, talking to a therapist or a doctor could be a great place to start. Good luck!

Thank you for reading!
Written by:
Stela Košić

References:

  • Forward, S. (2002). Toxic Parents. Bantam.
  • Summersault, A. (2021, December 16). 5 Things Toxic Parents Say And What They Really Mean. Medium. https://medium.com/be-unique/5-things-toxic-parents-say-and-what-they-really-mean-b2bbfaec1536
  • Toxic Things Parents Say to their Children. Times of India Blog. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/social-saga/toxic-things-parents-say-to-their-children-32741/

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