What are toxic family members? At best, they can be described as family members who create unhealthy situations. They are also known for not respecting boundaries and creating stressful interpersonal relationships that cause mental and emotional distress. The bad thing about toxic family members? You don’t realize the toxicity until you reach adulthood. By that time, you’re either just as damaged as they are or you’ve grown indifferent to the concept of family.
Children learn to accept their surroundings as “normal” and they adapt accordingly. I was no different. Thinking back to my own childhood, I survived some pretty horrendous situations. Verbal abuse, drug addictions, and domestic violence were just the tip of the ice berg. My parents would fight and it would get scary. Then the next day, everything would be perfectly normal between them and we’d go the park together, etc. My parents had an extremely toxic relationship. I truly believed that it was ok to viciously fight one minute and then be happy the next. The toxicity didn’t stop with my parents, though. My extended family was extremely toxic as well in the form of verbal abusive. If the adults in the family caught wind that one of us children had received a bad grade in school or had gotten into some sort of trouble, they would gang up on us and berate us until we didn’t have a choice but to break down in tears. They literally wouldn’t stop until they saw the tears fall. Then, we would be mocked for crying. It was always 4 or 5 grown adults against one defenseless child. They would take turns yelling, shaming, and flat-out insulting whatever child happened to be in the hot seat. I recall a time in middle school when my brother was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. I remember being proud of my brother and was happy to attend the induction ceremony along side my mother and grandmother. During the ceremony, my mother noticed one of my peers, with whom I had always had an unspoken rivalry with, was going to be inducted as well. My mother, turns to my grandmother and tells her in the loudest voice possible, “That girl has received straight A’s every single year since Kindergarten”. Naturally, my grandmother had to feed into it, and responded with “How nice for her family, they must be so proud”. I knew what they were doing and it worked. I felt terrible at that moment but I refused to let it show. I simply watched the rest of the ceremony quietly and cheered for my brother when his name was called. God help them but they couldn’t be uplifting, encouraging, or a positive influence to any child in the family.
It certainly didn’t happen overnight but I began to recognize the toxic tendencies of the people meant to protect me. I began to realize that they were wrong in certain ways they acted. I have another memory of my family being toxic. There was a time I remember being completely embarrassed by a family member who showed up to church high as a kite off of prescription pain killers. She was so high, she was visibly shaking and could barely remain standing even with the help of a walker. She couldn’t even speak coherently and she ended up making a scene and we had to leave the church service early. When I made a comment about it, I was lectured for being disrespectful to a person with a handicap. The handicap being that they were addicted to prescription pain killers. When I returned home, I was grounded for being disrespectful but nobody wanted to talk about the fact that this family member had taken too many pills that morning. Instead, they chose to toxically deflect onto the “disrespectful” teenager. There were several times when my brother and I were left alone for entire weekends at a time with no parental supervision or basic necessities like a fridge stocked with groceries. When the adults would finally return, I would once again be grounded for demanding to know where they had gone and why they had left us. Most of the time, we wouldn’t be told that my mother and her boyfriend at the time were leaving town, they just didn’t come home. I would stress about it all weekend thinking something bad had happened to my mother. I would call my grandmother in tears but there wasn’t much she could do, other than make sure my brother and I had something to eat. My poor brother would be happy to see my mother come home whereas I would be infuriated to see her walk through the door perfectly fine and relaxed after enjoying a weekend trip at the coast. I knew the things the adults were doing were wrong and I just couldn’t keep quiet about it. I would call them out for their actions even if it meant I would spend weeks confined to my room with every privilege taken from me. Their focus was never on their inappropriate actions, it was always on the fact that I had a voice and used it. The toxicity of it all was just plain crazy! These situations broke my heart but they showed me the kind of person I didn’t want to be.
How did I deal with the toxicity of it all? Quite simply, I didn’t. Once I became a young adult and began to socialize for the first time in my life, the game changed. I made friends, began going out, started dating and truly experienced life in a way I hadn’t before. I wouldn’t dare lie and say that my life was sunshine and rainbows because I distanced myself from my family but I will say that I started feeling liberated. I realized I could make my own decisions and I could control my own life. Yes, that included making some pretty dumb decisions along the way. The most important lesson I learned was that I didn’t have to tolerate a single thing from anybody. I don’t mean that in a high and mighty sense, I mean that to say that its ok to remove yourself from people and situations that make you feel bad. I realized that being a grown adult gave me my own power to step away from those toxic family members. Now that I’m older with my own family, they constantly seek my attention and not always in healthy ways. Showing up to my house unannounced knocking on doors and windows is just one boundary constantly being crossed. Endless phone calls, text messages, and most recently emails. It was actually a recent email that inspired this blog post. I want to be clear in saying that this blog post isn’t to bash anybody in my family. Nobody is perfect, myself included. I have a lot of love for my family but I cannot maintain a close relationship with them. I have to prioritize my own mental health and the bottom line is this: Toxic people will always be toxic. There is no changing them because they don’t want to change. The best thing you can do for yourself is love yourself enough to walk away from any person or situation that robs you of your peace. Thank you for reading!
Con mucho cariño,