Families are complicated. And while disagreements are totally normal, it’s important to know the difference between a little family feud and a straight-up toxic family member.
If you’ve experienced a toxic family dynamic, your feelings may go beyond frustration or annoyance. Instead, interacting with or even thinking about your family might cause significant emotional distress. But how can you tell which one you’re dealing with?
Here are signs of a toxic family/family member:
You don’t feel love, compassion, or respect.
It’s normal for family members to have occasional disagreements. But at the end of the day, you should still treat each other with love and kindness. In a toxic family dynamic, you might feel contempt or disdain instead of love.
A toxic family member might:
- mock or belittle your choices
- attack your vulnerable points
- chip away at your self-esteem
Your family may not agree with everything you say or do, but they should still offer love and respect as you find your own path.
You’re harshly criticized for your best efforts.
If you are harshly criticized in your day-to-day life — especially for your best efforts — you may be in a toxic family situation. You may be victim to this kind of criticism if you feel you can never do anything right around your family.
Most parents reprimand or criticize their children’s behavior sometimes. But these remarks should be constructive and focus on the behavior, not on the child. They should never make you feel inferior, unwanted, or unloved.
You have consistent blowups.
As mentioned earlier, conflict is totally normal when it comes to family life. That said, when you have a toxic relationship with a family member, even the smallest disagreements can turn into a major argument. There’s a feeling you have to walk on eggshells so you don’t trigger a fight, but try as you may, you can’t always predict what might set them off. Toxic family members may also engage in the following:
- They take everything you say personally
- Your fights are a result of personal issues and not misunderstandings
- You feel like you’re walking around grenades when you’re around them
- You leave your arguments feeling drained and manipulated
- You’re noticing these signs of gaslighting
- They make personal attacks on your character during the argument
Everything is about them.
There comes a point when a family may start to organize their entire lives around a toxic member. Different standards apply to this person, and people try to keep the peace. The rest of the family is accommodating the toxic family member while at the same time convincing others to sacrifice their own needs, wants, convenience, and values saying it’s the right thing to do. This, in turn, may make you feel forgotten, exhausted, or even worthless.
Here’s what it might look like when a toxic family member takes up too much brain space:
- The toxic family member repeatedly sabotages plans
- They’re never held accountable for their actions
- They rarely say ‘thank you,’ even though you’re always making sacrifices for them
- You find yourself doing things just to get approval or attention from them
- Their inability to consider others always comes at the cost of your needs
They drain your energy.
Do you feel totally exhausted every time you interact with a particular family member? We’re not talking about feeling like you need to be by yourself for a little while, something that can happen even with people we love being around (introverts in particular can find interactions draining). Interacting with a toxic person can leave you feeling defeated since their dramatic, needy and high-maintenance tendencies can suck the energy right out of you.
Family dynamics that cause anxiety and fatigue are usually toxic. In a healthy dynamic, family members feel supported and loved when they’re around one another.
You experience verbal, physical, or emotional abuse.
Any type of abuse is toxic — it doesn’t just apply to physical violence.
Abuse also includes:
- inappropriate touching
- sexual gestures or innuendo
- sexual comments about your body
- physical violence
- sexual abuse
- harsh or extreme criticism
Does any of the below sound like something you’re experiencing?
- Everyone breathes easier when this family member is absent
- They bully or harass you
- They have little to no respect for boundaries or personal space
- Your family member is extremely controlling and hypercritical
- You have received both verbal and physical threats from them
- They have physically attacked you or hurt you in any way
If so, it is time you get help and do what’s best for you before it’s too late.