“ Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Very often, it’s the place we find the deepest heartache.” ~Iyanla Vansant
Most people encounter some obstacles to finding their so-called bliss in life. 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. It’s one thing if the narcissist in your life is a coworker, neighbor, or friend. But what if the toxic person in your life isn’t just a friend, but a family member?
What is a toxic family relationship?
Many toxic relationships involve malignant narcissists or people who might be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. Toxic family members are generally at the mercy of one individual person who acts as the center of the family and the one who must be obeyed, pleased, and otherwise satisfied by the other members of the dysfunctional family.
In most cases, toxic families are lead by a narcissist and/or an enabler. The issue so many narcissistic abuse survivors struggle with as they become adults is that they end up feeling like “toxic” is normal – so they may also end up in marriages or other romantic relationships with narcissists and other toxic people. This leads to their ongoing self-esteem issues and people-pleasing behaviors, assuming they don’t just become narcissists themselves.
See, being part of a toxic family causes more than just childhood stress and trauma. It causes lifelong effects that continue to plague you for your whole life. This is especially true when you continue to have a codependent relationship with the other members of the family and don’t recognize what you’ve experienced before you get married or move into other adult relationships. Self-identifying as an adult child of narcissistic parents can often be the first step to your overall recovery from narcissistic abuse
Toxic Family Dynamics
Narcissistic parents tend to create toxic families. From the inside, toxic family dynamics can be hard to recognize. This playlist can help you to identify a narcissistic mother or narcissistic father, as well as toxic family dynamics. Remember that if your family consistently makes you feel unloved, unwanted, worthless, not good enough, or even if they just make you feel bad about yourself, you’re dealing with an unhealthy, toxic family. While no family is perfect, a healthy family will allow you to feel safe and loved, at the very least. In this playlist, you can find 29 videos offering detailed insight into toxic families, the roles involved, and how to both identify and deal with your own toxic family. Some of the roles you’ll find members serve in a toxic family include the golden child, the lost child, and the scapegoat.
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 members, 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
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.
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. Or, they may say you’re not allowed to do something, but they do it often and without apology. And you’re not allowed to mention or even notice that discrepancy without unleashing the narcissist’s rage and 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.
Were you raised by a narcissist?
Do you have a toxic narcissist in your family? The lifelong effects of being raised by a narcissistic parent are profound and significant. Here’s the surprising evidence that your parent may have been toxic. The signs of narcissistic parenting are sometimes unexpected, but you can overcome having been raised by a narcissistic mother or father. In this video, I’ll share the surprising signs that you might have been raised by a narcissist and what that means for you.
Co-Dependence and Enmeshment in Toxic Family Relationships
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.
Toxic Families: Dysfunctional Family Rules and Roles
How do you know if you came from a dysfunctional family? One easy way to find out if your family was toxic is to consider what most dysfunctional families consider to be the “rules.” Another thing you should consider is where you fall in the typical set of “roles” within a toxic family.
You might think it should be evident to anyone involved, but sadly, the fact is that being part of a dysfunctional family isn’t always obvious to the members of the toxic family.
In fact, mental health aside, even if you are just co-parenting with a narcissist, you can really feel confused by how the dysfunctional family roles play out. While you might love your dysfunctional family, you also find yourself dealing with anxiety and depression as you navigate this kind of family life.
Even family counseling doesn’t always change the situation. In this video, I’ll explain the difference between a healthy family and a dysfunctional one, plus, I’ll share 11 signs that you came from a dysfunctional family. And, if you watch until the end, I’ll share one tip that will help you understand how to manage your role.
Finding Support for Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Are you still not sure you’ve been raised in a toxic family? If so, you might want to take our toxic parents self-assessment or our narcissistic abuse self-assessment to be sure. And if you do think you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, check out this resource page – and don’t forget to join one of our online support groups for narcissistic abuse survivors.
- The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
- Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups – We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
- One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
- Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
- Where Are You in Recovery? You might not be sure exactly where you fit in and what level of recovery you’ve achieved. If that’s the case, you’ll want to check out this self-assessment to help you determine exactly where you fall in the stages of recovery from narcissistic abuse. Once you finish and submit the assessment, you will be given resources for your own situation, along with recommendations of which groups to join.
- Which Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program is Right for You? If you aren’t sure which program you want to utilize to facilitate your recovery from narcissistic abuse, this self-assessment will help you decide.
Need more help? Don’t miss my books on narcissism
- Take Back Your Power: How to End People Pleasing, Stop Letting Life Happen to You and Start Getting What You Want
- Alive Inside: How to Overcome Toxic Love and Narcissism in Relationships
- Take Back Your Life: 103 Highly-Effective Strategies to Snuff Out a Narcissist’s Gaslighting and Enjoy the Happy Life You Really Deserve
- Your Love is My Drug: How to Shut Down a Narcissist, Detoxify Your Relationships & Live the Awesome Life You Really Deserve, Starting Right Now
- See more of my books at BooksAngieWrote.com. Like QueenBeeing, each is geared at somehow improving your life.
Helpful Related Articles for Survivors of Toxic Families and Narcissistic Abuse
Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy.
She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.