Identifying Toxic Family Relationships

Identifying Toxic Family Relationships

How to Identify a Toxic Family Relationship with a Narcissist 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

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. 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. 

Need more help? Don’t miss my books on narcissism

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