Toxic family dynamics

We can all use a little more peace and happiness in our lives.

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We don’t get to choose our family

We get to choose our friends, and if we have a falling out, we can end the friendship, but families are different in that we don’t get to pick our family and for good or bad they will always be attached to us in some way.  Every family has its problems, and there are many ways that relationships and communication between family members can become less than ideal.  

red flag

Red flags of toxic family dynamics

An environment that includes blaming, punishing, controlling, criticism, dismissal, or any form of abuse may be red flags that indicate a toxic family dynamic.  

Blame and victim mentality 

Sometimes family members may start blaming other people for their problems and not taking accountability if the problems are their fault. They usually see themselves as the victim and refuse to accept any accountability for mistakes or wrongdoing. Others may not even know they’re misplacing blame and may need to be corrected.  

“Punishment” rather than “discipline”

Often the blame is accompanied by a punishment.  Don’t confuse punishment with discipline.  Discipline is meant to teach a child right from wrong.  When a child performs an undesirable trait, they need to be corrected.  Sometimes, discipline is enforced through punishment, such as grounding a child.

Toxic punishment is when there is no lesson being taught.  Some parents will punish children because they’re having a bad day and a child unintentionally said something to make them angrier so they respond excessively and the punishment doesn’t fit the offense. 

In your adulthood, if your parent is still trying to punish you, such as not talking to you when you do something they don’t like, then it’s toxic behavior. 

They Are Controlling

Here are a few signs of a controlling family member.

  • They are always meddling in your adult life, and they won’t stop bothering you about your decisions despite the fact that you’ve told them your two cents.

  • They used money or another offer to try to control you. 

  • They install tracking apps on your devices without you knowing.

  • They control every move you make, even down to how you dress or look.

  • They may make threats all the time as a means to control you.

They Are Always Critical Towards You

A toxic family member never seems to be satisfied.  They criticize every action and withhold praise.  Some people choose to use comparisons as part of their criticism, “Why can’t you be more like _______?”  

They Dismiss Your Feelings

Family members don’t have to agree with everything you say, but any person should show the decency and respect of hearing you out and putting themselves in your shoes. Meanwhile, a toxic relation may just dismiss your feelings or wave them away. A toxic person never wants to be accountable, and when they are confronted, they will dismiss it in any way.


Abuse in any form is unacceptable.  Not all abuse is physical or sexual.  Abuse may also be mental or emotional.  Psychological abuse involves a person’s attempts to frighten, control, or isolate you.  It’s in the abuser’s words and actions, as well as their persistence in these behaviors.  Please click the link below to see a list of 64 signs of mental and emotional abuse.

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What to do about it

One way to deal with toxic family members is to establish and maintain boundaries.  The level of boundaries will depend on the level of toxicity.  For some relationships, setting expectations will be enough, but for other situations, additional measures may be necessary.

Set expectations

Every person deserves to be treated with respect.  Let family members know that you expect to be treated respectfully.  Hold them to it.  If they treat you disrespectfully, remind them that you deserve to be treated with respect and, if necessary, leave until they’re ready to interact with decency.  Toxic people often behave like bullies, and most bullies will back down when you stand up for yourself.  In turn, make sure that you set the example by treating them with respect.  Treat them with at the least the same amount of dignity that you would give to a complete stranger. 

Phone etiquette 

You may need to set limits on your interactions with toxic family members.  One advantage of smartphones is you can see exactly who is calling.  Remember, you are under no obligation to answer your phone, ever.  

If you’re feeling mentally strong enough to deal with that toxic relative who’s calling, by all means, answer.  If not, don’t.  If they leave a message, review it.  If they sound angry and unhinged, you don’t need to feel guilty about not returning the call.  In fact, this may become a way to “train” the toxic person into understanding that you won’t respond to drama but will communicate when they treat you with the respect you inherently deserve.  

Texting can be incredibly useful in that you can very carefully think about and craft what you’re going to say.  It also gives you a record of exactly what transpired in a conversation, so the toxic person can’t twist your words back on you later.  And just like phone calls, you are under no obligation to answer abusive texts.  One suggestion is to send a text that simply says, “I’m not feeling respected.  I will communicate when I’m treated with the respect I inherently deserve.” 

If necessary, you can block the number of the toxic person and the phone will automatically take care of that for you.  You can always unblock them later if you change your mind. 

Meet in public

People often behave better around strangers than they do behind closed doors, so meeting in public place might be to your advantage. 

Another advantage of meeting in a public place is that if the person decides to misbehave or become abusive, you are free to leave.  Just make sure to drive your own vehicle so you have the power to make a quick escape if necessary.  

Make arrangements for seperate spaces

If you have to spend a holiday with a toxic person, don’t let them stay in your house and don’t stay in theirs.  Get a hotel room. Get them a hotel room if you can afford it.  Make sure you don’t give them the opportunity to be in close physical proximity to you for extended periods of time. 

Manage your social media and shared information

Try to keep conversations light and general. There’s no need to expose yourself by sharing personal information.  Don’t give them ammunition to use against you later.  

You are under no obligation to share your social media with your toxic relative Remember that Facebook allows you to block individual people from seeing certain posts, and if things get too bad, you can block them altogether. 

Sever ties if necessary

Depending on the level of toxicity, this could look very different.  In some cases, it may just mean that you need a break from each other, and you may be able to repair the relationship down the road.  For others, this may mean being willing to get the authorities involved.  Remember the first priority is your safety.  If securing your safety means leaving an abusive situation, click the link below for a guide that includes actionable steps for creating a plan to leave, financial and housing resources for different stages, and even legal resources to help you know your rights.  

work on yourself

Work on yourself

Although we cannot control how other people choose to behave, we get to choose for ourselves, and our choices can influence those around us as well. 

Don’t take it personally

One thing that may help is to not take things personally.  In general, people who are hurting tend to lash out and hurt those around them.  Tina Gilbertson, a Denver-based psychotherapist and author of “Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child: Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship” says, Many of us walk around with unmet needs that we unconsciously place on others.  This lack of awareness of our own needs is what creates toxic behavior.” 

While this isnt an excuse for their behavior, hopefully, some added insight helps us realize that their behavior isn’t really about you, it’s about them, so try not to take it personally.

Finding peace through personal healing

Regardless of your family upbringing, it is possible to live a happy, fulfilling life.  It is also possible to break the cycle of toxic family dynamics.  You have more power than you may realize.  Through personal healing you can strengthen feelings of happiness, confidence, and self worth and choose to live joyfully.

Click on an image below to learn more about tools and resources to promote personal healing.

You Got This

You Got This!

Am I good enough?  How do I forgive myself?  How do I stop stressing about  money?  How do I find solutions to my problems?  How do I get the help and support I need?  How do I stop worrying about my kids?  All these questions and more are answered in You Got This! 

, Toxic Family Dynamics & How to Establish Healthy Boundaries

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