Toxic Parents and Absent Parents Produce the Same Kind of People

Children inherit the work their parents don’t do

Arah Iloabugichukwu
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readOct 22, 2019

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Photo: Johan Willner/Getty Images

II grew up in a community where you were raised to thank God for your parents, no matter how unworthy they may have been. Because no matter how toxic your parent turned out to be, things could have been worse — they could have chosen to be toxic away from you.

I recently came across a thread that was dedicated to a discussion about which type of parent did the most harm: the absent kind, or the toxic kind. I read through people’s justifications of their parents’ shortcomings and realized that we have been conditioned to view our childhoods through a lens of what our parents lacked. This leaves little-to-no room for the side of the discussion that centers around the needs of the parented.

The more engaged in the debate people became, the more evident it was just how few of us knew what we, as children, actually needed. We were all familiar with basic physiological needs like food, clothing, and shelter. But when it came time to display awareness of our varying psychosocial and psychological needs, the conversation bordered on backward.

Not only do children have needs that extend way beyond the dinner table, but these needs exist regardless of the parental willingness to meet them. According to a 2013 study out of the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences in Mönchengladbach, Germany, all children, no matter their race, gender, or socioeconomic background, have four basic fundamental needs that when met sufficiently, assist them in becoming healthy, confident, well-adjusted adults. When these needs are not met, however, the outcomes are disturbingly predictable.

Those needs include:

1. Attachment

The need to be attached to other humans is arguably the most basic of all human needs — so much so that psychotherapists refer to it as the centerpiece of our neurobiology. The attachment styles we possess as adults are formed during our earliest moments of infancy when our parents or caregivers either satisfy our needs for healthy human contact or leave us seeking fulfillment elsewhere.

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Arah Iloabugichukwu
Human Parts

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