Toxic Relationships with Family

Toxic Family Relationships: When Enough is Enough

Dealing with toxic family members is never an easy feat, especially when it comes to the family members that are closest to you—whether by relation or location! Here, we’ll discuss the different kinds of toxic family relationships, recognizing the signs of toxicity, and cutting family off when enough is enough.

Toxic Parents

Though not everyone gets along with their parents, there’s a difference between having disagreements and having toxic parents. You may experience toxic parents as an adolescent growing up in their house or even later on into your adult years. No matter when you begin experiencing a toxic relationship with your parents, it’s important to know the signs of toxicity so that you can properly handle the relationship.

Traits of Toxic Parents

Blaming children – Your parents won’t accept blame and pass it off to you or your siblings, even when it’s not your fault.

For example: Your mom and dad get into a huge fight. Later, your mom says that they wouldn’t have to fight so much if you and your siblings behaved better.

middle-aged mother hugging her daughter

Manipulation –  Your parents may consistently undermine you or your plans and continuously get their own way.

For example: You tell your mom that you want to quit playing football because you don’t enjoy it. Your mom begins to cry and tells you that you can’t quit because you’ve always loved football. Once you agree not to quit, she’s instantly better. 

Breaking boundaries – Your parents don’t respect boundaries that you have specifically put in place.

For example: You may set a boundary that your parents cannot comment on your weight, body, or appearance. If your parents continue to ask if you have lost weight or disapprove of your looks, they are breaking your boundary.

Physical/verbal/emotional abuse – Any abusive tendencies that your parents display are signs of a toxic relationship.

For example: If your parent physically harms you, screams at you or calls you names, or gives you the silent treatment for days at a time, these can be signs of abuse and a toxic relationship.

What Does a Healthy Parent Relationship Look Like?

It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with your parents. Here, we’ve compiled three signs of a healthy parent relationship:

  1. They love you unconditionally: Being a family isn’t always easy. There will be arguments and tough times, but, through it all, your parents should still love and support you. Your parent’s love should not be dependent on your failures or successes.
  2. They show you respect: Parents should be in charge, but they should also respect the opinions and feelings of their children. Parents should make their children feel heard and respected, even when they have to make a decision that their kids may not like.
  3. They make you feel safe: Parents should make sure their children feel safe with them physically, emotionally, and mentally. A healthy parent relationship has no abuse, and the children should know that their parents will provide safety and comfort.

Toxic Siblings

Siblings are supposed to be your friends for life, but, unfortunately, even these relationships can develop toxic tendencies. While some sibling arguments are natural, if your sibling relationship features any of the traits below, it may be time to consider the health of the relationship.

Traits of Toxic Siblings:

Overly Critical – Your sibling may consistently belittle you and make negative comments about your appearance, personality, or other areas of your life.

two women looking away from each other

For example: Your sister tells you every week that you’re too fat and that you need to lose weight.

Blaming others – Toxic siblings will never want to be at fault. If there is an issue, they will put the blame on you or others.

For example: Your brother forgets to buy your mom a present for Mother’s Day. Rather than accepting fault, he yells at you and your sister for not reminding him that the holiday was coming up.

Betraying confidence – You may tell your siblings things in confidence, but they proceed to spread your secrets elsewhere.

For example: You tell your sister that you didn’t like the birthday gift that your mom bought for you. You tell your sister not to tell anyone because you don’t want to hurt your mom’s feelings. Later, you find out that your sister told your mom anyway.

Hypocritical tendencies – If you do something, you are in the wrong, but if they do the same thing, it’s perfectly okay.

For example: Your brother yells at you for not feeding the dog. You try to tell him that you were going to after work, but he continues to scream at you. Next week, your brother forgets to feed the dog. You approach him about it, but he tells you that it’s not a big deal and that you need to calm down.

How Does a Healthy Sibling Relationship Look Like?

Often, sibling relationships are some of the longest relationships you will have in your life, so it’s important to make sure that they are in a healthy place. Here are three signs of a healthy sibling relationship:

  1. You can trust them: You should be able to trust that your sibling won’t tell your secrets and that they will keep their word when they commit to something.
  2. You support each other: In good times and bad, siblings should be willing to support each other with empathy, encouragement, and assistance when needed.
  3. They’re your friend: Sibling rivalries may be common, but that doesn’t make them healthy. Even if you have occasional arguments, there should be an underlying sense of camaraderie and friendship in your relationship.

Toxic In-Laws

Relationships with your in-laws can be tricky, whether you’ve been married for just a few months or even decades. If your in-laws are exhibiting the toxic traits mentioned below, it may be time to set clear boundaries to protect the emotional health of you and your partner.

Traits of Toxic In-laws

Pitting you against each other – Your in-laws use miscommunication and games of ‘he said, she said’ to cause arguments.

woman looking away from her angry mother-in-law and husband

For example: Your mother-in-law tells your partner that you said something unkind about them. This isn’t true, but now you and your partner are having an argument.

Inserting themselves – Your in-laws insert themselves into decisions that should just be between you and your partner.

For example: You and your partner are buying a home, and the decision comes down to two different houses. Your father-in-law is adamant that you need to buy the house closer to your in-laws. He refuses to listen to your opinion and repeatedly brings this up in different conversations.

Disrespecting space – Your in-laws constantly invade your home or time with your partner when you don’t want them to.

For example: Your mother-in-law keeps dropping by the house unannounced even when you tell her that you have plans or don’t have time to see her.

Freeze you out – Your in-laws ignore you entirely.

For example: Your partner takes you to your in-laws house for a family dinner. While there, none of your in-laws say a word to you, and they even talk about you like you’re not there.

What Does a Healthy Relationship With Your In-laws Look Like?

Just like with parents, having a healthy relationship with your in-laws is possible. Here are three signs of a healthy in-law relationship:

  1. They show you acceptance: In-laws should respect that your partner chose you. They should welcome you into the family and treat you with kindness.
  2. They show you support: Marriage can be hard! Your in-laws should support the decisions and boundaries that you make as a couple. They should have your best interests at heart.

They respect your values (even if they’re different!): With in-laws, you’re never going to agree on everything. However, your in-laws should recognize that you and your partner have different values and priorities as a married couple. Even if they don’t agree, they must respect how you feel.

Cutting Family Off

It’s never easy to begin cutting off family; however, sometimes it’s necessary to improve your mental health and rid your life of toxic relationships.

When Do I Cut Off Family?

There’s no specific answer for when it’s officially time to cut off toxic parents, siblings, or in-laws; however, there are certain signs that may be pointing toward this reality. While not an exhaustive list, below are three signs that it may be time to move on:

  • There’s a severe impact on your life: There comes a point when you can’t take it anymore. If your family constantly ignores your boundaries, gaslights you, or has a negative affect on your life, it may be time to let go. You deserve a happy life with healthy relationships.
  • There’s abuse: If your family abuses you physically, emotionally, or mentally, it’s time to cut ties. 
  • They refuse to change: You may make your family aware that they have toxic or abusive tendencies and ask for change or to set boundaries. However, if they call you crazy, refuse to change, or promise to change and never do, it may be better for your mental health to cut them off.

How Do I Cut Off Family?

If you’ve realized that a relationship is no longer good for your mental health and made the decision to cut ties, there are a few steps you can take to complete this process in a healthy manner.

  • Let them know: This first step may depend on your situation. In some instances, it may be better for you to go no-contact with no warning if you’re worried about further manipulation. However, if you want to make your family aware of the situation, you have two options:
    • Face-to-face: If you plan to have this conversation in person, meet on neutral ground, like at a coffee shop or park. Let your family member know that you need some space. You can say things like “I’ve decided that it’s best for my mental health if we don’t see or talk to each other anymore.”
    • Text, letter, or email: Take some time to plan out your words. You can still use language like the example above. Make sure to keep a copy of your letter or message if you’re worried they’ll try to twist your words.
  • Blocking toxic family members: If you plan to go no contact, it may be beneficial to begin blocking family members on social media and on the phone. This ensures they can’t contact you without your permission and keeps you from reaching back out to them in any moments of weakness.
  • Have a support system: Cutting family off will be no easy feat, so it’s important to make sure you have a good support system during the process. This can include your friends, a trusted counselor, and other family members who don’t display toxic behaviors.
  • Focus on moving on: It does no one good to dwell in the past. After you cut ties, it may be easy to forget the bad things your family did and focus only on the good things that you miss. Instead, focus on your life moving forward.
  • Make changes: After cutting family off, use this situation to better inform your future relationships. Practice setting healthy boundaries in current and future relationships. Keep an eye out for the toxic traits we’ve discussed to avoid them in the future.

Dealing with toxic family members can be tricky, so it’s important to have all the help and resources you can get. If you need support while dealing with a toxic relationship or before cutting family off, it may be beneficial to consult a
licensed counselor.

No matter when or how you decide to end these toxic relationships, always remember the importance of healthy relationships in your life. Family should support you and make your life easier, not the other way around. If the relationships in your life are doing more harm than good, prioritize your mental health and remove these family members from your life.

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