13 Signs Your Family is Toxic — and What to Do Next

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April 20, 2024 at 10:53PM UTC
At a certain point in many individuals lives, they come to a realization: they were raised in a toxic family — and they might still be entrapped in one. While some come to this realization thanks to the guidance of a close friend or a mental health professional, others discover it by paying attention to that nagging feeling in their mind that something is wrong. 
Anyone in the U.S. who is affected by abuse who needs support can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
If you're looking for signs that your nagging feeling is right, here are 13 signs that your family is toxic: 

1. You're expected to meet unrealistic standards. 

If your family makes you responsible for unrealistic results, such as their complete and total happiness, or if they hold you to unrealistic standards in your own life, you may be suffering from a toxic family dynamic. These unrealistic standards may include reaching a certain level of achievement ("we raised you better than becoming an [insert profession here]"), putting your life on hold for them ("you can't get married and leave your parents behind"), or other undue burdens. 

2. You're harshly criticized for your best efforts.

Hand-in-hand with being held to unrealistic standards, if you are harshly criticized in your day-to-day life — especially for your best efforts — you may be in a toxic family situation. You may be victim to this kind of criticism if you feel you can never do anything right around your family. 

3. Your physical and emotional needs weren't (or still aren't) met. 

If you are in an environment where your basic needs aren't met when you're with your family, you're dealing with a toxic situation. Whether you are purposefully denied physical necessities like food or emotional necessities like comfort when you're sad, your family dynamic isn't healthy. This is true even if this behavior was passed off as a "punishment."

4. There's constant conflict. 

If your family situation feels like a war zone, if you feel like you're walking on egg shells around your family members or if you're constantly frightened of being yelled at or talked down to, your dynamic is toxic. Screaming matches and derogatory language isn't the baseline for a healthy family situation. 

5. You feel controlled or powerless. 

If your family members are consistently exerting their control over you and your daily decisions, especially to the point where you feel powerless to make decisions for yourself, you are likely dealing with a toxic family dynamic. Controlling behavior can manifest itself in surveillance, not allowing you to have strong relationships outside of the family, controlling your movement and more. 

6. You've been (or continue to be) infantilized. 

Similarly, if you're constantly told you aren't mature enough, intelligent enough or competent enough to control aspects of your own life — and if decisions are made for you as a result — you're being infantilized. This is a tell-tale sign of a toxic family dynamic and is another way for controlling personalities to exert power over you. 

7. Your family situation lacks boundaries. 

There are several signs your family situation lacks boundaries. For instance, younger members are forced to take care of older members, conversations that should be had between peers are had between relatives, personal lives are always expected to be dropped for family  and more. If your family has no healthy separation between members, you may be dealing with a toxic situation. 

8. Your family dishes out ultimatums. 

If your family members use language like "If you do THAT, you're not my daughter," they're using their prestige and your relationship to manipulate your decision-making. That's toxic. In a healthy dynamic, decisions that a relative finds questionable are discussed in an empathetic and practical way. 

9. They compare you to your siblings, friends or other relatives. 

Comparing two individuals to each other in a way that produces shame isn't just unhealthy, it's absolutely toxic. In a healthy family dynamic, individuals are prized for who they are and aren't made to feel lesser to other family members. 

10. Their feelings and experiences are always more important. 

If your feelings are minimized because of your family members' feelings or experiences, you may be dealing with a toxic family dynamic. In healthy families, the thoughts and experiences of each member are considered worthy of acknowledgement and care. 

11. You feel anxious when you're with them and drained when they're gone. 

Family dynamics that cause anxiety and fatigue are usually toxic. In a healthy dynamic, family members feel supported and loved when they're around one another. 

12. You lack a strong sense of self — and it results in perfectionism, difficulty establishing relationships and anxiety.

If you were raised in a toxic family, you likely struggled to make yourself feel heard or supported, questioned your value and autonomy, and struggled with derogatory or dehumanizing experiences. This can result in a lack of a strong sense of self and other struggles, such as perfectionism, anxiety and finding it difficult to make strong bonds with others. 

13. You experience abuse.

If you experience any form of abuse — physical, mental, sexual or emotional — you are dealing with a toxic family dynamic and deserve to feel safe. To read more about symptoms of abuse, you can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline's website

What can you do if you are in a toxic family?

First, find someone you can talk to about your dynamic — whether that is a closed friend, loved one or mental health professional. Come up with an action plan to both manage your (well-deserved) hurt and work towards making things better. There are ways to draw boundaries with toxic family members, but remember that walking away is also an option. If you are affected by abuse and need support, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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