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Reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP


The word “family” can bring to mind a complex of emotions. Depending on your childhood and current family situation, these feelings could be mostly positive, mostly negative, or an equal mix of both.

The same incident witnessed by the same family members will be told very differently than the one who got the short end of the stick. Who is usually made out to be a liar...

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. Causing panic attacks just thinking of going to a family gathering.

Toxic or family dynamics can be hard to recognize, especially when you’re still entrenched in them. Let's look at some common signs and what to do if you recognize them in your own family.

Think back to your childhood...

Most people don’t realize the effects of their family environment during childhood until they’re well into adulthood.

The following signs suggest that you may have experienced a toxic family environment growing up.

@. You were expected to meet unrealistic standards

I am not talking about cleaning your room or doing the dishes. It's normal to help out one another or be higenic in your living area. But these tasks shouldn’t have kept you from completing school assignments, playing, or getting adequate sleep.

In a toxic family you may have been asked to:

@ parent or discipline younger siblings or provide most of their care

@. take on responsibilities like cooking meals or doing certain heavy chores before you could safely or capably do so

@. provide emotional support as if you were another adult

@ You were harshly criticized.

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.

@. Your needs weren’t met

Nobody’s perfect. Even parents make mistakes. But being critized about it is toxic especially when it is kept being brought up.

Supportive family members should support your basic needs

setting boundaries

providing discipline and affection

taking care of your health and well-being

making sure you received education

ensuring you had food to eat and clean clothes to wear

Living without one of these for a period of time can be a sign of a toxic family.


Parents who were highly involved in your life and didn’t allow room for growth may have also failed to meet your basic needs by preventing this development.

Personal space, both physical and emotional, helps children develop. Eventually, you need independence and the chance to form a sense of self.

Consider your life right now. If you find it difficult dealing with certain family members... YOU ARE CURRENTLY DEALING WITH FAMILY TOXICITY!!!!!

Katherine Fabrizio, MA, LPC, specializes in working with daughters of toxic mothers. She offers this general rule of thumb:

“If you end up feeling bad about yourself after most encounters with a family member, there’s probably a good reason for that, one worth looking into.

Some more specific things to look for. Keep in mind that you may also recognize these from your childhood as well.

- You feel controlled

Toxic members always expects the worst from you. Your job decisions never meets their expectations

- You don’t feel love, compassion, or respect

It’s normal 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 setting, 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

A family may not agree with everything you say or do, but should still offer love and respect as you find your own path.

- There’s substance use involved

A substance abuser can be very hurtful with their words. But is not always a toxic member of the family. Because for the simple reason you never took it to to heart.


These signs can suggest toxicity:

substance use that negatively affects mood or behavior

emotional abuse or physical violence as a result of intoxication

substance use that’s hidden from outsiders and never discussed

A pattern of enabling addiction or substance misuse can also contribute to a toxic dynamic.

- 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


- Sometimes, abuse isn’t easy to recognize.

For example, you and a sibling might both toss out some pretty nasty names during an argument, maybe end up throwing clothes at each other. But you make up and apologize once you each express your feelings.

If this type of behavior happens repeatedly and there’s never any resolution, it might be a toxic relationship.

- Dysfunction is chronic or persistent

No family don't have their fare share of squabbles. But they work through it.

For example, a family member could temporarily behave in toxic or unhealthy ways because of problems outside the family, such as:

challenges at work or school

trouble with friendships or other relationships

health concerns or emotional distress

financial difficulties

These behavioral patterns should be temporary. The person responsible may apologize, and work to change their behavior once they become aware of it.

Toxicity typically doesn’t change or improve easily. At least, not without professional support.

- How to respond to it

There’s no right or wrong way to deal with toxic family members.

Some people choose to cut off contact entirely. Others try to work with the situation by limiting contact with toxic family members and taking steps to protect their emotional well-being when they do see their family..

Hints to deal with toxic family members

- Decide what you want

- Identifying what you want from the relationship can help you develop a clearer idea of the boundaries you want to set.

Example you decide what you will discuss and what not. When they start in on something you don't want to discuss. Tell them don't just let them carry on!!!

- Having limits around interaction can empower you and help you feel better about the contact you choose to maintain.

-Toxic people want to get a reaction, so the best way to respond is none. If you are really pushed for a response do so in a calm and concerning way. That you are concerned for their emotional and mental state. If they don't get it tell them straight that it isn't doing any of you any good. But do keep calm....

- Cutting of family is hard. You love them but you have to do this for your own well being you have to live yourself more.

Make sure you are ready to fight for your own sanity because cutting them off is going to get them defensive and they are going to make you feel bad.

By attacking your integrity bringing up your past mistakes. Delibritly condemn anything you do or did.


Stay strong

And find yourself


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