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I had a happy childhood, relatively speaking.
Yes, there was trauma, both in my life and within my family: anxiety, bullying, substance abuse, trust issues, mental health issues, toxic relationships, and base-level stress about everyday life stuff, like moving, making friends, and dealing with change.
But, all things considered, I can look back at my childhood in a mostly positive light.
After almost 40 years on the planet though, I’ve learned that whether in the happiest of childhoods or the most traumatic, we are all taught certain beliefs or behaviors that range from mildly unhealthy to flat-out toxic.
Sometimes this occurs subconsciously; our parents (or the important adults in our lives) teach us what they learned, without having the skills to recognize that these beliefs aren’t helpful and, in fact, can be harmful. And sometimes this occurs consciously because our parents are hurt people who hurt people.
Either way, we end up walking through our adult lives carrying the pain and the wounds of those who came before us.
Growing up, my house was like Las Vegas—what happened there stayed there. We were taught that any drama that occurred within our walls, with our family, was not to be spoken about with others. This was never communicated in a threatening or scary way; it was simply stated as an accepted family rule: if something happens, we discuss it with each other, not with outsiders.
As a child, this made perfect sense to me, but as I grew up, it began to feel stifling. So much so that I spent years pushing away the idea of going to therapy, although intellectually I knew that it would help me process some of my trauma. I just could not fathom the idea of sitting in a room with a complete stranger vomiting up my feelings, and worse, spilling my family secrets.
But the day I entered therapy (at 36 years old)? Well, the emotional vomit was endless—and cathartic.
Do I blame my parents for teaching me to keep family business in the family? No, they were only passing along what they learned growing up. What was deemed acceptable in their family and culture. What they believed would keep us safe and healthy.
Am I glad that I realized that talking about my issues, and my family’s issues, was not the end of the world—and was, in fact, the catalyst to opening up a whole new world for me? Absolutely.
Here are 24 other childhood beliefs that Elephant readers now realize were just plain toxic:
1. “That children are to be seen and not heard. This led me to believe my needs were not important and whatever I felt didn’t matter. Took me a long time as an adult to speak up for myself and subjected me to different types of abuse in my life where I felt helpless to defend or stand up for myself. Thankfully this is no longer an issue.” ~ Marcy
2. “Hugging people when you don’t want to. Ugh.” ~ Paula
3. “If you don’t finish everything on your plate, then it means you are ungrateful for what you have. This led to a life-long damaged relationship with food and body image.” ~ Danielle
4. “The ‘what can I do to fix your sadness’ methodology. Toxic positivity was such a strong parenting method in the 80s (this was taught, not parent blaming here). I can’t wait to teach my babies that anger and sadness are just as important and okay to feel as happiness is.” ~ Alyson
5. “That success is measured by finances/income.” ~ Michelle
6. “Santa! He never gave me what I asked for; it was usually a more logical and economical gift, no matter how good I was for the year. Funny, he brought bad cousins awesome gifts each year. Spent many Christmas days crying. Santa culture can be very destructive.” ~ Bevin
7. “That by the time you were 40, you understood all the world that you needed, and learning and curiosity take a back seat to contentment.” ~ Cathy
8. “Thinking a boy liked you because he was mean to you!” ~ Debra
9. “That others’ feelings come before my own. I don’t believe I was taught this, but somehow was made to believe it while growing up. I am now working on wiring my brain at 32 years old. Lots to learn.” ~ Casey
10. “That having an opinion made me ‘difficult.’ That if I didn’t go with the grain I was ‘difficult.’ To always look within for the problem because it was bound to be me. There was a big focus on what other people thought about you. Keeping up with the Joneses was really important. Being the right weight was important. I didn’t realise how much these things affected me until I had children of my own.” ~ Marijka
11. “That you can ‘change’ them if you love them enough.” ~ Michelle
12. “Singing ‘Old McDonald had a Farm,’ reading books about animals, watching movies like ‘Bambi,’ and then having dead animal parts on your plate and forced to eat them baked, fried, and BBQed? It was such a betrayal of childhood innocence because children love animals and would never intentionally harm them.” ~ Janice
13. “Thinking working hard and following the rules and choosing the careful path—not your creativity and passion—will work out.” ~ Linda
14. “Talking about friends to other friends to feel connected. I’m still grossed out about it…” ~ Shoshanna
15. “Boys don’t cry.” ~ David
16. “Keeping family around because they are family. I believed you should be there no matter what, however stepping on me to get what you want is where my sympathy ends.” ~ Kelly
17. “Straightening my hair.” ~ Julia
18. “That thousands of people achieve what I achieved—it’s not a big deal. But as a mom, I realise that every moment is worth celebrating. Big or small.” ~ Charlene
19. “Ultra-independence shows you are strong. What it really shows is that you did not get the support/love you needed, and you trust no one.” ~ Amy
20. “Being ‘pleasant’ at the expense of calling out racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other biases.” ~ Helena
21. “That employers are doing you a favour by giving you work.” ~ Sam
22. “That parents don’t have to apologize. This goes for when the children are young or grown up. Apologies and accountability would have done wonders for me.” ~ Erica
23. “Can I say religion?” ~ Claudia
24. “That I don’t need therapy because I can heal myself.” ~ Kelly