Family is supposed to be one of the most important relationships we have in life. But for some families, this may not be the case.
Sometimes you grow apart from your family and you will feel the “I don’t like my family” syndrome. It’s very common for people to dislike their family at some point or another during their lifetime.
Recognizing and Dealing with A Toxic Family Environment
A family that fights at every holiday get-together. The mother who gaslights her adult daughter because being a stay-at-home mom isn’t “good enough,” and she’s “wasting her potential.” The in-laws who constantly compare you to your spouse’s ex.
The adult brother or sister who only comes around when they want something or need to borrow money. The grandparents that shame you because your life doesn’t look the same as theirs forty years ago. The parent who doesn’t take an interest in your life and isn’t an involved grandparent but still judges everything you do.
All these negative experiences with your family may make you resent them.
Relationships within the family can often take on a life of their own, but this does not mean you should let them rule your life.
The above scenarios are only a few of the situations toxic family members exist and thrive in.
When your family environment is toxic, it becomes almost impossible to enjoy them, visit them, or involve them in your personal life. You feel bad about yourself when you’re around them.
You stop telling them things about what’s going on in your life when you’re around them. You shut down mentally and emotionally when you have to see them or interact with them.
Blood is thicker than water. We’ve all heard it. It used to be the motto of many families, and while it could mean something supportive and sweet for a happy and loving family, it takes on a much more sinister meaning when the family in question is toxic.
Many of us have been brought up thinking and being told that we are stuck with the family we are born into.
We have to deal with scrutiny and abuses they subject us to. If we don’t like the way things are, or if we don’t like our family, well, that’s our problem. We have to be there not because they deserve our help or our love, but simply because they are related to us, no matter how toxic they can be.
If you are born into a family that runs a business being passed down from generation to generation, you are expected to go into the family business when it’s your turn to take over. It doesn’t matter if you have dreams. It doesn’t matter if you have talents elsewhere. You do what is expected because family is supposed to come first. You are less important than the family unit, and what the family says is what goes.
Things Are Changing
Things have changed in recent years.
We have dragged these old ways of thinking out into the light and shone a beam of truth on them. We can recognize unhealthy behaviors for what they are now.
The mother who is overly critical of her daughter when she has children of her own is no longer “trying to help.” We understand now that she is controlling and possibly narcissistic. If we don’t stop the behavior by calling it out when we see it, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves.
We have found that we have a voice, and we have discovered that regardless of the family dynamics present, we need to do what is best for our well-being and our own mental health.
If that means walking away from an unhealthy or harmful family, then that’s what needs to happen. No longer are we expected to deal with or put up with the people in our lives who cause us the most frustration and pain, simply because they share a common ancestry.
When Your Own Family is Toxic
Toxic relationships take a toll on everyone who is subjected to one. The issue is made even worse when it’s a family member. When your own family is the problem, your emotional health, as well as your mental health, is at risk.
You dread having to spend time with them. You start to make excuses to leave early or not show up at all for family gatherings. You tell yourself that you are better than the people in your family tree, but deep down, you wonder if you are destined to become just like them.
Your family is supposed to be loving and supportive, right? They are supposed to build up your self-esteem and encourage you to go down your own path in life to find happiness and make your own decisions.
There is supposed to be mutual respect in practice, and you should always feel safe to be yourself, knowing that you will have the support system of a family to help you with any obstacles you encounter.
There is no such thing as a perfect family. Still, unhealthy dynamics encourage an environment of toxic family relationships that can push us to cut ties with family members and ultimately lead to total family estrangement.
So how do you know when enough is enough and cutting ties is the right move for you?
Signs of a Toxic Family
Toxic family members exist in every family. There are always a few family members, sometimes in the extended family, sometimes in the immediate family, who seem to exist to wreck your self-esteem and tear you down as a person. They will make you feel inadequate.
But what happens when it goes too far or becomes too much to handle. What happens when things get so bad that you don’t want to be a part of the family anymore?
Toxic Family Dynamics
You don’t speak out of turn. Children are to be seen and not heard.
The oldest male is the family’s patriarch, and no one speaks or acts against him or his wishes. Traditions are to be observed, and any deviation from the old standards of society is harshly dealt with and judged.
The black sheep of the family isn’t invited to events. You do what is asked of you by family, even if it causes you turmoil.
“Blood is thicker than water” is the family’s motto, which seems to give the toxic people clearance to treat everyone however they want.
Each family dynamic is different, and family members learn early on what their role is expected to be. The toxic family thrives on making you fit into the mold that they have set for you, even when it can be detrimental to your mental health and well-being.
These family members will disown their children when they make decisions that they disagree with. Other toxic behaviors they may include:
- Name-calling when a person feels threatened rather than talking out or appropriately solving disagreements
- Spending time with members of the family but leaving you out because they don’t agree with you about something they can’t control
- Telling you how to raise and manage your own family
- Treating your children poorly and not caring about your feelings while demanding you cater to theirs.
These are only a few of the markers that signify a toxic family. These families often do more harm than good when subjected to them, leaving you feeling unhappy and angry.
You may even feel guilty over time that you don’t fit the idea they have of what and who you are supposed to be.
Relationships break down over time in toxic families and become less about love and family and more about the individual toxic person and what they want.
When the family becomes abusive, it is time to seek the help and support of an outside source. You won’t find peace within an abusive family, and you will find yourself facing strong emotions that you have trouble controlling.
It is essential to realize that physical abuse is not the only type of abuse. There is also emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse.
A need for self-preservation is also a part of an abusive family relationship.
Rather than cutting ties or going to the authorities, too many victims accept it, hoping that a better life will happen at some point. They don’t cut family out because, on some level, they feel responsible for what has happened.
If you have experienced any of the following, cut family out as soon as possible, contact authorities if appropriate, and seek professional advice from a therapist, counselor, or psychologist.
While the punishment of children that involves spanking is a hotly debated topic, acts of physical abuse are definite, clear, and do not qualify as appropriate punishment to any sane and loving person.
A family dispute among adults that ends in a fistfight or a slap is physical abuse. A shove given during an argument by an aunt, uncle, or parent is physical abuse. The physical pain goes away, but the emotional trauma suffered by the victim of physical abuse doesn’t disappear, and the effects are usually lasting. The intervention of therapy of some sort is almost always needed when subjected to physical abuse or violence.
Physical violence is never okay. Suppose you find yourself in a situation with family in which you are hit, kicked, pushed, or treated in any physically violent way. In that case, you need to get away from the toxic family members committing the abuse and consult a mental health professional.
Not only is physical violence dangerous to your physical well-being, but it gives the other person the idea that they can do whatever they want and treat you any way they want to.
Painful and complex emotions are created in physically violent familial relationships. If anyone is physically hurting you, you need to get out.
When you’re upset, and your family tells you to “suck it up,” or they call you names and bully you, making you feel small and unworthy of their support, it’s emotional abuse. If you are treated as though you won’t get acceptance or love by your family unless you do what someone else wants, that is also emotional abuse. If you are told that you will never be good enough no matter what you do, that’s still emotional abuse.
Any time a family member uses your emotions against you, it’s abuse.
When a family member or family members are emotionally abusive, they tear you down by causing you emotional distress.
Emotional abuse often involve guilt-tripping when they don’t get their way, name-calling to make themselves feel more powerful or to gain control over you, and trying to turn family against you so that you feel isolated.
Your self-worth plummets because of the complex emotions you are dealing with due to the abuse from family.
To see if this may be the case with your family, spend some time away and around another family. Try to see how a loving family works.
While no family is perfect, being around one that has respect for its members will help put things in perspective for you regarding your own family.
You will see that not everyone is gaslighted for having an opinion. You will see that endless guilt trips are not common in an average family.
If you stand your ground and demand to be treated with respect and seen as a person by the toxic people in your family and nothing changes, then walk away. Look into in-person or online therapy to deal with the negative family relationships you have had.
It’s a horror that no one wants to talk about and that adults who experienced it as children spend years in therapy trying to cope with and overcome the trauma. We should be able to trust family to keep us safe, protect us, and stand up for us when we are abused.
When it doesn’t happen, and family fails us in these respects, or are the abusers themselves, the family is toxic, and estrangement is often the only option.
Over 90 percent of sexual abuse victims know their abuser and a stranger very rarely perpetrates it. Children are vulnerable to this sort of abuse because they often don’t understand what is happening and don’t realize how serious it is.
Parents often don’t see what is happening right in front of them, so the parents of sexually abused children often don’t realize that their child is in deep distress.
We’re supposed to be able to trust our family, and the relationships are supposed to be appropriate and never sexual.
If you have dealt with this as a child, relationships in all areas of your life may now be strained and difficult to maintain. You may harbor feelings of resentment. You may have a hard time setting boundaries.
You may blame yourself for the things that happened to you. You may feel unhappy anytime you are around your family and have limited contact that no one in the family understands.
Families are typically torn apart by abuse, and when a family should be there to support the victim of abuse, they often abandon or guilt-trip the victim instead resulting in deep-seated trauma.
People who suffer abuse at the hands of their own family are often afraid to speak up out of shame, guilt, or the fear that no one will believe them.
If you have been or are currently being abused by a family member or anyone else, please understand that your safety is more important than anything else and seek help. Talk to someone, contact the authorities and try to leave your situation, if at all possible.
Don’t worry about whether anyone will believe you or not.
Being Ganged Up On
Misery loves company. The most toxic people in a family seem to run together.
They love to be upset, stir the pot, and make you and everyone else as miserable as they can. They do this because their lives are so unhappy that they target others to make themselves feel better.
When there is more than one of them in a family, you can almost be sure that at some point, they’ll team up to create drama that plays off other toxic people in the unit.
Think about being at a family gathering. Everyone in the entire family is there.
You are seated at the table, minding your own business. Your aunt asks you about your family and why your wife couldn’t make it. You tell her that she had to work and unfortunately couldn’t make it to the dinner.
The aunt then starts to ask questions which are close to being downright insulting towards your wife and your family. Passive-aggressive is the most likely route, but you know that she’s being serious with the little “jokes” she’s telling at the expense of your wife.
Before you know it, your grandmother pipes in and adds to it. Then your mother says something negative about your wife. Soon, every toxic person at the table is working as a team and bashing the person who isn’t there to defend themselves.
Birds of a feather flock together, and they’re stronger as a team. They try to gain superiority over you by treating you as though you are less than them.
I Don’t Like My Family. What Can I Do?
When you’ve reached your limit and can no longer honestly say that you like your family, it may be time to seek professional help. In cases of abuse, go to a safe place and call the police.
Therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors have the tools to offer helpful hints and tactics to deal with the toxic family you have to deal with. Options like redirection when confronted, grey rocking, standing up for yourself, and cutting ties are all on the table.
You are not stuck with your family. If you don’t like your family, there are ways to get away from them. If they are hurting you in any way, you owe it to yourself to get away.