Home is the place we turn to for happiness, warmth, comfort, safety, solace, and more. This is where we go to find ourselves and be ourselves. Home offers us a refuge from the world. Home, they say, is where the heart is. It is always described as a “sweet home”.
The picture we painted above is what a home is supposed to be. Only for a fortunate few, home means all these things. For far too many, home means just the opposite – a place of shame, exploitation, manipulation, pain, and misery.
Toxic environment at homes and dysfunctional families are hard to recognize, especially if you grew up in one. You would consider this as the norm and not an aberration. Unfortunately, the mental health consequences of growing up in a toxic environment are deep and long-lasting. It can continue to affect your personal and professional life long after you have left the toxic environment.
So, you may ask, what is the way out? The one and the only way to escape from such an environment unaffected is to learn to recognize it, shield yourself against it, and move away at the earliest opportunity. As long as you are equipped to identify the signs of a toxic family, you are giving yourself a chance to get away unhurt.
This article explores the world of toxic and dysfunctional families and offers common signs to recognize them. In this article, you will find listed signs you grew up in a toxic family. Here, you will also find steps you can take for escaping a toxic family.
What qualifies as a toxic environment at home?
When more than one person lives together as a unit, there are bound to be disagreements, arguments, and even fights. Do all these translate to a toxic environment?
Not exactly. Your family may evoke a range of feelings in you – positive or negative. Usually, it will be a mix of both. If your feelings towards your family go beyond irritation, annoyance, frustration, and short-lived and milder forms of anger, you need to sit up and take notice. Your family, after all, may be toxic.
A toxic family environment will result in deep emotional distress and serious mental health issues. You would detest the very thought of coming back home at the end of the day. You would want to avoid interacting with other family members as much as possible.
Here are some telltale signs to differentiate a toxic relationship at home from just harmless troubles and skirmishes.
Signs of a toxic family environment
1. No private space
Every moment you are at home, there is a constant demand for your attention. You find yourself in the middle of one storm or the other. Someone is always breathing down your neck. There is a lot of confusion, urgency, stress, and conflict. All you want is to escape from this madhouse.
2. Family members playing the victim
It is typical for one member to dominate the household and wield power over others. This person can be an authoritarian or play victim. Manipulation, insults, outrage, arguments, and backstabbing are common tactics of a toxic person. Playing the victim is usually used by a toxic person to gain sympathy and make you feel guilty.
3. Playing one against the other
A toxic person will use the “divide and rule” tactic to gain control of the household. Unhealthy competition among toxic family members will make you feel isolated as if no one is on your side. You will be constantly feeling inadequate, low on morale, and bitter.
4. Criticized and judged
Members should accept each other without judgment in a healthy family. Constant criticism, disapproval, and censure can rob you of your confidence and positive attitude. When you are told again and again that you are not good enough and you can do nothing right, you tend to lose interest in setting goals and achieving them.
5. High expectation
Setting the bar too high can also destroy the enthusiasm in a person. When you are expected to behave beyond your years, you may find it too taxing and stressful.
6. No encouragement
When you get zero support and encouragement for your achievements and goals, the motivation to improve and do well will be absent. In case you are ignored, derided, mocked, or gaslighted, it can get worse.
7. Nobody cares
When no one in the family acknowledges your presence and needs, it can be hard. Neither is there anyone to help you nor are they bothered about your welfare. Your contributions go unnoticed. This is not a good situation to be in and may result in mental health issues.
8. Non-stop drama
There is always so much going on in the household, whether you are actually involved in it or not. It is as if no one has time for you but at the same time demands your time and attention. All conversations turn into arguments and trading insults.
9. Limited and conditional support
Support and encouragement are almost non-existent but if some family member is kind enough to offer you support, it is always conditional. A toxic person will expect more from you for the limited support they can offer.
10. Disregarded and disrespected
Your opinions and contributions are almost always disregarded. Your beliefs and ideas are disrespected. Your viewpoints and thoughts are usually mocked by other family members. Unless you toe the line of the dominant family member, you are made to feel worthless.
11. Heckled and trampled
If you reveal your weak spot, you are in for it. Your insecurities and vulnerabilities are magnified and made fun of. You are taunted and ridiculed for your honesty and sensitivity.
12. Focus is solely on whom to blame
Every time something goes wrong, there is an eagerness to identify the person to blame instead of trying to find a solution or work on how to prevent it from happening again. Every family member is focused on avoiding the blame and passing it on to someone else.
13. Negativity is amplified
You may be feeling low and depressed. You may be indulging in negative self-talk. Your family, instead of helping you overcome negativity, makes it worse. While no one notices anything good happening in your life, they seem to pounce on your smallest of errors and setbacks.
14. Exploited and taken advantage of
If you are doing well despite zero support from your family, they will approach you to cash in on your success and bleed you dry. Sponging off you and expecting you to clean up their dirt seems to be the norm. Being asked to share without a fair exchange is not healthy.
15. No appreciation
No matter how good you are or how much you achieve or help others, you are taken for granted. No sign of encouragement or appreciation of your achievements or contributions. This is not all. You may even be accused of not doing enough for the family and not being devoted enough.
Signs you grew up in a toxic family
The effects of growing up with toxic people don’t end with you leaving them. It would have shaped your behavior and responses and can end up wreaking havoc in your relationships all through your life. Recognizing the toxic home environment you grew up in is important to change your attitude and behavior later on in life as well.
For someone who grew up with toxic people all their lives, it is hard to come out of the shell and recognize the toxicity. If you suspect that this may be the case, here are a few steps you can take to gain clarity.
Retrace your life back to childhood
Often the environment you grew up in plays a huge role in shaping your future. Here are some signs to look for to ascertain toxic family relationships in childhood.
- Unrealistic expectations from you
- Harshly criticized
- Unfulfilled needs
- Lack of personal space
- Stifling and overprotective parent/s
Present state of things
Though you are no longer living with your family now, you dread meeting them even for short visits. You come out of every family gathering feeling bad about yourself. These are some signs you can use as pointers.
- Feeling of being controlled
- Lack of love, respect, and compassion
- Substance use, addiction, or intoxication
- Physical, verbal, or emotional abuse
- Chronic dysfunction
10 ways to survive a toxic environment at home
There is no right or wrong way to do this. What works for one need not work for another. For some, cutting off ties is the only choice, while others manage by limiting their contact with toxic family members. For at least a few, taking the initiative to have an open conversation works. Or get a third party to mediate.
Here are a few tips for dealing with a toxic relationship.
- Know your mind and decide what you want
- Learn how to stay detached and not get sucked up in unnecessary matters
- Select what you want to share
- Teach yourself how to say “no”
- Don’t expect others to change or try to change them
- Take charge of the situation and not allow others to dictate to you
- Meet your family in a neutral venue of your choice
- Seek help from people you trust
- Get professional help
- Limit contact or cut ties if need be
Related: Tips For Setting Boundaries with Toxic Parents
The worst thing about a toxic environment is the inability of the victim to identify it. When this is the only family you have ever had, you are incapable of knowing the dynamics of a healthy family. You can look out for signs like being unwanted, unloved, or feeling bad about yourself to know that your family is toxic.
Just because there are a few skirmishes, arguments, or raised voices among family members doesn’t mean that your family is toxic. If you still feel loved, valued, respected, and supported, there is no cause for concern.
If your family is indeed toxic, you should take immediate steps to secure your mental health and ensure that you stay unaffected. If indeed you are unfortunate to suffer the consequences of growing up with toxic people, you should rope in the support of people who love and care for you to help you get rid of the aftereffects. You may seek professional help if needed.
Ignoring it and continuing as if nothing is wrong can only worsen the situation.
- How to Deal with Family Members that Disrespect You?
- How to Deal with Toxic Parents When You Live with Them?
- 8 Signs You Were Raised by a Toxic Mother
- Signs that your mother is negative and depressing
- 4 Steps to Recover from Emotionally Unavailable Parents
- Why Am I Toxic And How To Change?
- Signs Your Family Doesn’t Care About You
- 6 Signs You Are Dealing With A Toxic Person
- Signs of Emotional Abuse from Parents