Is Your Family Member Toxic? Sneaky Signs You Shouldn't Ignore

Do you ever find yourself lingering at work or school to avoid heading home? Perhaps you feel more on edge at your parents' house than you do at your friend's place. Or maybe you feel more comfortable speaking out in your 800-person lecture than you feel talking with your grandparents. If you find yourself more uneasy with your family than with other social circles, Dr. Tracy Hutchinson suggests that you may be living with a toxic family member.

Of course, no family does gets along 100% of the time — even Dr. Hutchinson acquiesces to that. As we get older, we develop unique identities and personalities. We form new views and perspectives that may conflict with those of our family. Having dissimilar views isn't harmful in and of itself. Healthy debate of contrasting viewpoints helps mold our beliefs or expand our horizons. 

The problem, according to Hutchinson, is that not everyone is able to communicate effectively and amicably — even the people we love. Our own family may say and do things that are hurtful, and sometimes these words and actions are signs that they don't have our best interests at heart. Look out for these sneaky signs that may signal that your family member is actually toxic. 

They never ask you about you

Your family is supposed to care about you. As you grow older, guardian care transforms from primarily meeting physical needs like feeding and bathing to emotional needs like support and guidance. In order to meet those needs, family members need to show interest in your life. Asking questions at dinnertime or checking in during drives are excellent ways to learn about each others' lives and thoughts. 

When you think about these conversations, who usually initiates them? Do you often find yourself burdened with having to ask your mom, aunt, or brother about their life, hoping they'll return the favor? Are you often met with disappointment? According to Kendra Cherry, who wrote for Verywell Mind, disinterested family members don't take the time to ask about what's going on in your life, whether it be with friends, at school, professionally, or romantically. This precludes them from lending an ear or providing guidance when you need it.

Cherry says that disinterest may be a symptom of other problems. Perhaps your parents, cousins, or aunts and uncles are very busy. Or, perhaps they don't have the emotional wherewithal to provide emotional support. Family members should look forward to learning about the person you become as you grow up. In fact, according to a 2004 study, this is a hallmark of healthy attachments within families. Healthy families are excited about exploring new experiences together. On the other hand, family members who show no interest in you may be too preoccupied with their own lives to ensure they show compassion in their relationships — a sign of toxicity. 

Their 'teasing' goes too far

Embarrassment is a part of life, as is learning how to shrug it off, but if your family members are the ones constantly putting you in embarrassing situations, this may be a sign that they are the problem, says Jennifer Wolf on Verywell Mind. Often, this teasing happens in public settings. Maybe it's your parents negatively commenting on your weight at a party, or your grandparents regaling your friends with a revealing tale you've repeatedly asked them not to share. If you're the butt of the joke and you're not laughing, it's not funny. 

Sadly, Valentin & Blackstock Psychology observes that guardians who shame or publicly humiliate their children may do so because they believe public shaming is an effective tool to achieve their ends. Parents may believe this is an effective form of discipline, despite the fact that it could result in negative self-talk down the road. Siblings may be too young to understand the consequences of shame, or they may purposefully use it as a method to put you down. When someone weaponizes public shame to manipulate you into behaving the way they want you to, they are more vested in their own power and demonstrating it than they are in your well-being.

They are constantly gossiping

Do brunches with your aunt constantly involve a gossip sesh about the behind-the-scenes of the family reunion? Or do weekends at your grandparents' home come with catty remarks about your parents' choices? Gossip is a normal social phenomenon — researchers believe it has evolved to allow us to create supportive social networks. The problem comes when gossip breaks down trust or is based on lies.

Some family members gossip to pit members against each other or tarnish other family members' opinions. They do this as a way of building stronger alignments with certain members and destroying others, according to research.

Excessive gossiping can be a sign of insecurity and inferiority, according to Insight Therapy. While the gossiper may feel better temporarily, this may have negative effects on other members of the family. Families are supposed to be reliable and trustworthy social units. When this trust is broken down, no one is certain where they will receive reliable guidance. You may feel unsure of who to lean on for support, or question someone's motives when they do ask about the goings-on in your life. 

They force their dreams to be your dreams

No guardian has kids without having at least some vision of their child's future. Everyone wants happiness and success for their family. Dr. Emily Edlynn says the problem lies when someone's vision for you becomes restrictive. This may be an expectation of support through retirement, or pursuit of education or profession in a certain field. It may even be a silent promise to only form romantic attachments with individuals from certain communities. 

Parents who don't let you follow your own dreams or punish you for pursuing your own passions don't understand or respect that your identity is separate from theirs. These guardians often believe that they are owed some type of reward in return for raising you. 

Growing up in such a household, acceptance may have been conditional, based on an article from Healthline. Dependents in these homes learn to perform in ways to gain approval. They have a hard time separating their own happiness from relief gained through validation. The guardians have placed their own identity on their children so much so that when these children grow up, they may struggle to make their own life decisions and discover their individual identities. 

They snoop through your belongings or social media

It's natural to be nosy. We all get the itch to probe deeper when we are intrigued by a certain piece of information. The problem arises when we seek this information through deceitful means. Perhaps your brother read through your diary, or your mom created a fake Facebook profile to keep tabs on what you're tagged in. While it is healthy for family members to be informed about each others' lives, the means through which they gain this knowledge is an important part of familial relationships. 

Verywell Family says family members who snoop often do not respect privacy. They are unable to understand that, even with a family, boundaries exist and should be maintained. In fact, without those boundaries, relationships fall apart. This is one reason why snooping is toxic — it can deteriorate a family relationship. 

On the other hand, family members, particularly guardians, may snoop because they don't trust their dependents to make safe decisions for themselves. They believe they are doing the right thing by "keeping tabs" on their loved ones. Unfortunately, according to Nautil, if the snooping is discovered, this destroys any semblance of trust previously existed between these members. It sends incorrect and harmful messages to young family members about boundaries and consent. These toxic beliefs can affect them for the rest of their lives.

Vacations aren't relaxing with them around

Do you ever find yourself wishing you were on a holiday with friends instead of your family? Even worse, maybe you'd simply rather be at work. Sometimes, it's hard to 'be ourselves" around family. Not all of us are spitting images of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings. Sometimes, we develop thought patterns or behaviors that are in contrast to what our families would approve of. These behaviors aren't wrong — in fact, you don't have to hide them from your friends, peers, or coworkers — but they fall under the scope of things your family would be judgmental of.

Dr. Seth J. Gillihan tells Psychology Today that when family members are hypercritical, we learn to hide certain parts of ourselves around them to protect ourselves. We may stop sharing information about other aspects of our lives with them. Or, we may not engage in actions that we really want to around them — it may feel like you have to be a completely different person around them. 

Perhaps you have formed an entire identity outside of your family that you aren't comfortable sharing because you fear they will not accept your likes and dislikes. Walking on eggshells around your family is a sign that they are overly critical of you. If you can't be comfortable with your loved ones, their viewpoints may be doing more harm than good. 

They control too many parts of your life

When individuals are overly critical, they often act out on their judgmental thoughts too. They may meddle in affairs that don't involve them, playing puppeteer in others' lives. Controlling family members do not allow others to express their autonomy, according to Eggshell Therapy

Maybe you need to ask permission to do mundane things like grabbing coffee with a friend, or maybe they want to play a role in every other aspect of your life outside the family home, even engaging in guilt trips. Controlling members of the family may make you feel like you are suffocating, with no room to step out without a leash on. 

People who live with controlling families tend to develop the same insecurities and fears that the controlling members have. Since individuals were given no space to think independently, they often mirror the same thought patterns and behaviors of their loved ones. You may see yourself inadvertently developing into the very member who shadowed your every move. 

They never apologize

One of the earliest lessons we learn in daycare or kindergarten is how to say sorry. Apologizing is an important skill. Beyond uttering the words, we learn to be accountable for our actions in responsible ways. Unfortunately, not everyone pays this sort of respect to the people around them, even their loved ones. 

Family members who never say sorry may feel that you aren't deserving of an apology, according to Dr. Iskra Fileva on Psychology Today. Maybe they believe that being a family member precludes the necessity of an apology. If they are older than you, maybe they don't believe they need to apologize to people younger than them at all. These are signs of narcissism. Regardless of how you know someone or how they wrong you, apologizing is a necessary sign of accountability. More than that, it shows that the individual respects you and cares that they have wronged you. If they don't recognize this, then your family isn't paying you the respect you deserve.

Other parents may acknowledge a wrong has been done but shift the blame to an innocent party. Psychology Today says this sort of behavior shows their dependents that they do not have to take accountability and grow if they feel they can get away with it. Growing up in a household where you are never apologized to when you are wronged may make you feel as though you are never worthy of apologies in other relationships as well.

They're more concerned with social appearances than your well-being

"What will other people think?" We all often wonder what impression we are making on others, but some families take it too far. Some individuals impose harsh restrictions, or expectations that are outdated or culturally irrelevant for the sake of appealing to the members of their community, according to researcher Khusboo Jain.

These parents show children that their individual needs and desires matter less than the opinions of those around them. Children from these households have a harder time making decisions for themselves or focusing on their own needs and tend to prioritize others. 

These family members may also fall into the comparison trap, Lisa Sugarman tells Healthline. In their attempts to motivate you to succeed (or do better than other members of the community), they will use comparison as a tool to instigate behaviors they want to see. Unfortunately, parents who do this tend to be out of sync with their children's development, or even tend not to care. It also breeds an unhealthy competition mentality in children who will carry this form of thinking into other social structures as they grow up.

They are hypocritical

"Do as I say, not as I do" is antithetical to healthy guidance. Guardians are role models and role models should do exactly that — model the behaviors they want to see in their dependents and loved ones. Perhaps you were always forced to eat the vegetables that even your dad wouldn't touch. Or, maybe you were not allowed to refuse requests from your uncle, but they didn't award you the same courtesy. 

Most often, Samantha Bailie declares that this hypocritical behavior is seen in family elders who create and enforce rules on younger members of the family but don't pay heed to their own rules. Whether it's due to feelings of superiority from age or because of differential power dynamics, they adopt a "rules don't apply to me" attitude. Sometimes, these individuals grew up in very restrictive households, so now, as adults, they flaunt their freedom by not giving their dependents any. 

They capitalize on your milestones

Does it feel like your family members bring you around only for the purpose of flaunting your success? It can feel nice to be bragged about. After all, it's a sign that our loved ones are proud of our accomplishments. But, sometimes, they may take it too far.

In the digital age of social media, some parents overshare about their children's lives, posting everything from first-step videos to recordings of how their children react to learning of a loved one's passing. Researchers have termed this phenomenon "sharenting". According to a 2019 study on this phenomenon, children cannot always voice their frustration with not being allowed to experience moments privately, or they may be raised to believe sharing online is an appropriate way of celebrating success. Adolescents who have a deeper understanding of the ramifications of online posts may grow frustrated over time. 

Researchers find that parents who overshare may not understand or respect boundaries. They showcase an "I can do anything I want" attitude which sets an unhealthy precedent for teens and adolescents who are navigating the formation of separate identities and boundaries. Even before social media, perhaps your parents only spoke about your successes to their friends and would voice disappointment when there was nothing new to brag about. Unfortunately for dependents in these households, they may grow to associate love with pride and seek validation by continually seeking new milestones.