As we travel along the road to personal fulfillment, most of us encounter obstacles along the way. Sometimes, the obstacles are within our own selves, and other times, they come from external sources. Toxic relationships, in particular, can be an extreme source of stress and discord in our lives–and can even lead to our own lives spiraling out of our control.
As many of my readers are probably aware, I published a series on toxic friendships back in September of last year. But what if the toxic person in your life isn’t a friend, but a family member?
How do you know if you have a toxic family relationship?
In general, if you feel like you’re being emotionally, physically, spiritually or otherwise abused, manipulated or mistreated by any family member on a regular basis, there is an element of toxicity. These family members can include your spouse and other nuclear family members, but also extended family such as parents and in-laws, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents and other relations.
Your toxic family member may over-criticize you or openly judge you for your personal choices, or they may be a little sneakier about it by gossiping or telling lies about you (or your choices) behind your back. Some family members may take it to a whole other level and actually attempt to wreak havoc in your life or even to control, destroy or alter your nuclear family, domestic situation or other outside relationships.
Other Signs of a Toxic Family Relationship
- Overstepping Boundaries–Psychological boundaries are defined as perceptions or beliefs that people hold in relation to their social group memberships, including but not limited to families, as well as their own identities and overall self-concepts. In part, boundaries help us to distinguish ourselves from other people–you know, that thing which separates “I” from “We.” Boundaries also help us define how we are linked together within our families and extended families. Toxic family members often have trouble with boundaries. That is, they will often feel entitled to involve themselves in your life on an unhealthy level. They may try to make you feel responsible for their emotions or their circumstances, blame you for things that you have no control over or try to control you and your choices.
- Unfair or Unrealistic Requirements–Toxic family members generally have different beliefs or perspectives than you when it comes to things like trust, responsibilities, money, time and attention. They may become angry if you don’t do as they wish, even if it doesn’t directly affect them–but especially if it does. For example, if you are unable to attend a family gathering, a toxic person might try to make you feel guilty or simply stop speaking to you.
- Double Standards–Many toxic family members hold tightly to their own double standards. For example, they may expect you to keep their secrets or “have their backs” when other people gossip negatively about them, but they can’t or won’t offer you the same courtesy.
- Manipulation–Toxic family members are master manipulators–and they will deny it if you call them on it. They will use every manipulation technique at their disposal in order to control you. They may cry, scream, argue, beg–anything they can think of to get you to do what they want, even if what they want isn’t what’s best for you. And, if the first technique doesn’t work, they’ll often move down the list.
Co-Dependence and Enmeshment
Enmeshment and co-dependency are two unfortunate byproducts of toxic family relationships. In a co-dependent relationship, one or both family members involved are psychologically influenced or controlled by the other–or they may need that other person to help fulfill their own needs or even to feel whole. While the term “co-dependent” was originally coined by the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery group, it has since been adopted by psychologists and other mental health professionals.
“A co-dependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior,” says author Melody Beattie, in her book, Codependent No More.
Enmeshment goes hand-in-hand with co-dependence. When you are enmeshed with another person, it means that you depend on that person to define your identity, your sense of being good enough or worthy of having good things in your life, your overall sense of well-being and even your own safety and security. Or, to put it more clearly–you are enmeshed when you can’t feel like a whole or satisfied person without the approval or presence of another person.
Being enmeshed with a toxic family member is unhealthy for all involved–it isn’t compatible with being an individual. Enmeshment takes away your personal power and the ability to manifest your true desires.
- Just Can’t Get You Out of My Head (And Not In a Good Way) (inpursuitoffulfillment.com)
- New Year’s Intentions: Why I’m Boycotting Resolutions in 2011 (inpursuitoffulfillment.com)
- Relationship-strengthening class improves life for new families (eurekalert.org)
- The Quick Fix: How to renovate an important relationship (psychologytoday.com)
- How to Handle Toxic Relationships (everydayhealth.com)
- Soul Suckers: On Toxic Family Relationships (inpursuitoffulfillment.com)