Five signs of a toxic family member and how to deal with them

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

adult children discussion with older parents

Like many other living beings, humans soak in their environment from the very early stages. Our family is the first “safe” environment where we find ourselves, so building healthy relationships with the people closest to us is necessary for a long, healthy life

Unfortunately, a toxic family member hinders our chances of having a safe and happy childhood. Being in a toxic environment or having toxic family members can lead to trauma, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and more.

Toxic family members are not always abusive physically, but their presence is enough to put others on edge. Our way of coping with such toxic people affects all the relationships we build in life.

Read our article to find out if you have a toxic family member and some tips on how to deal with them.

1. They always criticize you

Many of us have received criticism from our parents or other family members when growing up. Whether they were comparing you with a sibling or a friend who was more successful at school or criticizing your appearance, their words could damage your self-confidence.

A toxic family member may insist their criticism is corrective feedback. However, constantly nitpicking about you is toxic behavior. Especially if you warned them and told them to stop, but they continue despite knowing it hurts your feelings. Some may blame you for being too sensitive.

2. They don’t take responsibility for their mistakes

Toxic people often act entitled and have a disregard for rules when they are being constrained. For example, they may break a rule without feeling any remorse but lecture you harshly on the small mistakes you make. They may often use phrases like “I’m your parent, you’ll do as I say” without providing a logical explanation. 

Most toxic people see themselves as superior to their children and others. Therefore they don’t ever think they are wrong. It’s rare to hear an apology from a toxic parent or family member. When confronted with their wrongdoings, they tend to come up with excuses, twist the story, lie or deny any accusations.

3. They don’t respect the boundaries of others

young daughter not listening to mother

Since toxic people feel entitled, they rarely respect other people’s boundaries. They may repeatedly violate your boundaries even when you confront them about it. For example, they may invade your space, ask for money without paying you back, and violate your privacy by discussing your personal issues with others.

Another common trait of toxic family members is always demanding more than they give and refusing to make compromises while expecting you to make them your number one.

4. They act passive aggressive

Toxic people may show their anger in various ways, whether they have mood swings, rage sessions, or act passive-aggressively. Generally, people who have difficulty maturely expressing their emotions engage in passive-aggressive behavior. 

For example, a toxic family member may refuse to address something they are upset about and become resentful over time, gradually behaving poorly towards you. Then, when you confront them, they may blow up on you and blame you for things you didn’t even know made them upset.

5. They play the victim to manipulate

daughter arguing with mother

One of the most challenging parts about dealing with a toxic family member is when they try to guilt-trip you. Toxic people often play the victim to gain an advantage over you by demanding sympathy from you and others. They may blame others for their mistakes while portraying themselves as someone with good intentions or helpless.

For example, a toxic family member may try to pit others against you if you refuse to do something they want. They may act hurt and blame you for disregarding them. 

So, how should you deal with toxic family members to protect yourself? 

Build a healthy support system

A healthy support system makes dealing with life’s challenges – including toxic family members – much easier. You can share your experiences, seek advice from friends who care about you and strengthen your relationship with family members who show genuine love and care.

Set clear boundaries and stand your ground

Setting clear boundaries gets easier if you are an independent individual who earns a living and doesn’t depend on your family too much. If that’s the case, you should confront your toxic family member and explain to them which behavior you won’t tolerate from them. Let them know you will take a safe distance from them when they engage in toxic behavior.

Keep your distance

Distancing yourself from toxic family members may be tricky until you have your own house and have gained independence. However, you don’t have to be physically apart to keep your distance from someone toxic. You can disengage by not reacting to their toxic episodes and acting neutral instead of resisting or agreeing with them.  

Don’t try to please others or explain yourself

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Sometimes, you may doubt yourself or feel you are going against your nature. If you’ve learned people-pleasing as a coping mechanism with a toxic family member, don’t worry. Listen to yourself and understand how that person makes you feel. They may use phrases like “You used to be so good, I don’t know what happened to you,” but know that you’re changing for the better by setting healthy boundaries and protecting yourself.

Let go of your past and feelings of blame or guilt

The best achievement is successfully moving on. Whatever experience you endured with a toxic family member, know that you can heal and feel safe and happy again. Letting go of blame or guilt is imperative to start healing. So forgive your past, accept it as it is, and don’t let it define your future. You deserve a life with fulfilling relationships with people who love and protect you.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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