Although we love them, sometimes it’s best to keep them at distance.
There is no such thing as a perfect family. I grew up in a small town of wealthy families, in the home of an emotionally-absent widowed mother. I thought that all the rich kids who were always on the coolest vacations, and who had parents that were so chill, had everything that I wanted. That was until I came to realize that the true dysfunction under our roof had nothing to do with finances and trips to Disneyland.
For some, holidays and family vacations are bonding, drama-free experiences. But for others, even simply seeing a call from a family member can trigger massive anxiety and dread. What can you do when caught between wanting to be a loving family member, and needing to set boundaries to keep yourself safe?
This is our list of toxic family dynamics that you’ve probably been overlooking.
#1. A House Divided –
“A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”
These words were first spoken by Abe Lincoln during his political campaign in 1858 and can be interpreted in very many ways. We can take this right back to our own homes, too.
A healthy family with healthy dynamics understands that in order to fully function, taking sides during an argument or against someone’s opinion is a strict “no-no”. When a child is made to feel like an outcast, or attacked and told their views and opinions are wrong, they feel emotionally severed from their parent, and eventually, may act out of anger or pain to achieve some kind of attention from their parent. To make matters worse, some of us had a toxic dynamic with our siblings, who also stood against us, taking full advantage of our deepest insecurities when we were in a deeply vulnerable state.
This toxic dynamic usually stems from a space of pain and rage, but the parent/sibling tends to temporarily achieve what they want to: “You’re wrong, and you’re no longer welcome here.”
#2. Critical Speakers
No matter how hard you try, it’s hard to please an overly-critical family member. No child ever wanted to feel like they had to boast about their accomplishments in order to receive some amount of recognition or a pat on the back. But unfortunately, that is oftentimes the reality in a toxic family dynamic.
To realize it has nothing to do with you is hard to imagine, especially when you’re young. This is why as some people grow, they develop habits and behaviors to seek validation from others, and sadly are shamed for this too. But really, all we ever wanted from our family was to be seen and appreciated – no extreme celebrations or hierarchical praise necessary.
Your parent(s) may have struggled with the self-limiting belief that they could no longer chase their dreams and accomplish their goals because they have children, and then projected that pain onto you. Sometimes this manifests as an extreme emphasis on the child to go out and accomplish a dream based on the parents’ desires and blueprint, regardless of whether the child has a different desire for their path in life.
#3. Lack of the “T-Word”
Yeah, we’re talking trust.
It’s no surprise that living under a toxic roof can negatively impact your ability to trust for years, decades, and for some… their whole life. When the people you love, and should trust the most, do you wrong…
I can’t imagine a deeper pain.
A Brown University study on dysfunctional family relationships stated, “Children raised in toxic families will have difficulty trusting the behaviors of others as adults.” — Learning how to set healthy boundaries with everyone you come across as an adult is essential to healing such a deep wound.
Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em? You Don’t Have to Choose.
Sometimes, distancing yourself from the toxicity in the family is just what you have to do. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cut them off for good. The cool thing about being an adult is that now, you’re not obligated to hang out with your family because you’re under the same roof. Set boundaries that work FOR YOU — maybe it will look like calling mom only once a week — and remind yourself that it’s perfectly okay to keep as much emotional distance as you need to.