How To Cope With a Toxic Family

how to cope with a toxic family


When it comes to family members, we’re always making excuses for their toxic behavior. After all, they’re blood, so that means they get certain leniency when it comes to poor behavior, right? Whether the people in your life are blood relations or not, toxic behavior is toxic behavior. Simply sharing a bloodline does not excuse abuse or toxicity.

Toxic family can make you doubt yourself, question your purpose, and experience a general sense of dread and poor self-esteem. So, how do you cope with a toxic family? What’s to be done? Do you walk away? Set more firm boundaries? Ignore it?

Here’s your guide to coping with a toxic family.

Recognize Toxicity and Stop Excusing It

The problem with toxic behavior aside from it being toxic is that it’s not always immediately obvious. Behavior like gaslighting, guilt-tripping, and lying can often be disguised as good intentions, which makes you second-guess yourself and make excuses for the toxic person.

How do you recognize toxicity? Let’s look at some toxic behaviors…

    • Always lying, distorting facts, or embellishing the truth
    • Never have anything good to say about you or your accomplishments
    • Always finding a reason why you’re inferior to them
    • Constant accusations
    • Guilt-tripping
    • Name-calling
    • Building you up just to tear you back down
    • Physical abuse or violent tendencies toward you
    • Constant drama
    • They’re always right
    • Emotional leeching

These are just a few indicators of toxic behavior, but you should pay close attention to any of these patterns that you notice in family members. Once you’ve identified toxic behavior, you can create a plan to address it.

Don’t Fall Into The “We’re Blood” Trap

A dysfunctional family isn’t always a toxic one, but usually one breeds the other. Dysfunction comes in many forms, but for the sake of argument, we’ll focus on toxicity. Since we’re dealing with family, the old “we’re blood” argument is going to come into play. Whether the family has flat out said it or the general attitude is that “blood is blood no matter what”, it’s a mentality that is truly flawed.

Excusing abuse in the name of blood relations is simply unacceptable. Just because someone is family and related to you by birth does not mean you have to accept their abusive behavior. People often use the blood argument to ensure the people around them won’t ever leave, regardless of their behavior. Here’s a newsflash: you don’t owe an abuser any loyalty simple because you’re blood-related.

Set Boundaries

The first step to combatting the toxicity in your family is setting firm boundaries. Boundaries are the hard no’s; your line(s) in the sand. These boundaries must be protected by you and respected by others, and you must communicate them effectively. If someone doesn’t know they’re stepping on or over your boundaries, you can’t fault them for it.

Let’s say your sister is someone who constantly says horrible things about everybody else. You can start by setting a boundary that you don’t want to hear these things anymore. Be prepared for some fallout. People don’t always take kindly to new boundaries, but it’s crucial that you stand by the boundaries and continue to reinforce them.

What’s interesting about boundaries is that they can tell you quite a bit about the people around you. A person that loves, values, and cares for you will have no problem respecting a new boundary. Someone who doesn’t respect you will have a harder time, and will likely complain about the new boundary or even actively violate it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

We have a common misconception drilled into our heads from an early age: that family is forever. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The uncomfortable truth is that you can walk away from your family entirely, and you should if they’re not bringing value into your life.

Walking away is probably the most difficult decision you’ll ever make, but if it gets to that point, you’ll feel infinitely better once the process is complete. If your toxic family members can’t respect your boundaries, don’t care about your mental health, and continuously bring toxicity into your life, don’t be afraid to end the relationship and move on.

A family doesn’t have to be blood. Family is what you make it. It can be your best friend. You can choose who your family is. Family should be supportive and encouraging. Sure, they won’t be perfect, but there’s a huge difference between making a mistake and continuously bringing toxicity into someone else’s life.

The Bottom Line

Coping with a toxic family is no easy job, but it starts with firm boundaries. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re being abused or the toxicity doesn’t end. Family doesn’t have to be blood, and you do not have to accept abuse or toxicity as a condition of the relationship!

About Theresa Duncan

Originally from Detroit, MI, Theresa has been offering health and fitness advice for the last 30 years while working as an engineer. She decided to turn her passion into a profession, and finds nothing more satisfying than helping others reach their health and fitness goals.

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