20 Subtle Signs of a Toxic Family Member

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By Darryl Henderson

Many people miss signs of toxic family members because it’s something most people associate with partners and friends, but the reality is that toxic family members can be just as damaging. To avoid this, here are the 20 signs to watch out for that indicate a toxic family member.

They’re Always Negative

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Persistent negativity can be completely draining to deal with, which is why it’s also a sign of toxicity. If a family member has nothing positive to say whenever they see you and constantly uses you as a soundboard for their complaining, this can be a worrying sign.

Manipulative Behavior

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Another thing to watch out for is manipulative behavior, as this is always a trait of a toxic relationship. If your family member tries to control you or influence what you do through manipulation, especially emotional manipulation like blackmail, then it’s almost impossible to justify.

They Ignore Your Boundaries

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Boundaries are important for human connection, and your own safety reminds PsychCentral. Everyone, including family, should respect them, so if a family member always encroaches on your privacy and disregards your need to be left alone, it’s a sign they could be toxic.

Signs of Excessive Control

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Another sign of a toxic family member is the need for excessive control when they try to control your decisions or manage certain aspects of your life. This can be more damaging within a parent-child relationship if a parental figure is overly controlling due to their toxic nature.

They Have a Jealous Streak

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You should also watch out for if a family member has any jealous or envious tendencies, especially over any success you’ve had in your life. They might try to downplay your achievements or ruin your confidence with negative and jealous remarks, which is undeniably a toxic mindset.

Emotional Unavailability

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Family members should always be there to offer emotional support, but sometimes, emotional support can be lacking without it necessarily being a toxic relationship. However, if someone always dismisses your feelings and never offers support when you ask for it, that sounds like intentionally harmful behavior.

Always Playing the Victim

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Toxic family members can also play the victim in every situation because they want to emotionally manipulate you into feeling sorry for them or guilty. This reveals a person unwilling to admit the reality of a situation and just wanting to get people on their side, which is toxic behavior in itself.

Gaslighting Behavior

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Gaslighting is one of the most dangerous tools a toxic person has in their arsenal, and the long-term repercussions of gaslighting include trauma and depression, warns Medical News Today. A toxic family member might deny things they’ve previously said or done or try to confuse you, ultimately in an attempt to control you.

They’re Not Reliable

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While you might not think being an unreliable person necessarily makes you toxic, it can actually be very harmful if done repeatedly. If a family member constantly breaks promises, shows up late, or always cancels on you, this is harmful behavior that can leave you feeling mistreated.

Overreacting to Small Issues

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Signs of dealing with a toxic family member can also include feeling as though you’re treading on eggshells because you’re worried about them overreacting. If they’re always blowing things out of proportion, it creates a toxic atmosphere ridden with stressful drama for no good reason. Avoid!

They Have Passive-Aggressive Tendencies

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Passive aggression can be harder to navigate because you may question whether a family member is intentionally hostile. A sign could be if they always make backhanded comments or give silent treatment, which is just as harmful as shouting or being outright angry.

Lacking Empathy

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Toxic people rarely have empathy for others, so a problematic family member may never show any concern for your feelings, nor will they be able to put themselves in other shoes. This sort of toxic behavior can make it difficult to emotionally connect with them, which is unfortunate, as you’re family!

They Never Stop Blaming Others

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If a family member never accepts responsibility for things they’ve done wrong or always blames other people in the family for their wrongdoings, it’s a sign they might be toxic, too. This sort of harmful criticism is just a way to deflect from their own faults, and sadly, they’ll likely never learn.

Financial Manipulation

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Manipulation can also be centered on finances, especially from a close family member who may have some input in what you spend, such as a parent. Financial abuse “involves controlling a victim’s ability to acquire, use and maintain” money, says VeryWell Mind, which we can all agree is incredibly toxic.

Their Love is Conditional

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A family member’s love should be unconditional if you have a healthy and positive relationship, so another sign of harmful behavior can be if they only ever show affection when it benefits them. This means you have to deal with them sometimes being unloving towards you, which can harm your well-being.

They Seek to Sabotage Relationships

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Whether it’s your own relationship with them or the relationship you have with others, toxic people will always seek to sabotage connections in order to cause conflict and even isolate you. This family member might spread rumors about you within the family or make you feel guilty for seeing other people. That’s just wrong.

They Act Arrogant and Superior

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It’s rare to have a toxic family member who doesn’t think that they’re better than all the rest, as a lot of their harmful behavior stems from arrogance. They might be very condescending to you, believe they’re always right, and belittle anything you say or do. No one likes a know-it-all!

Being Overly Critical is Their Nature

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If you find yourself never being able to do anything right in this family member’s eyes, they might be toxic, especially if all they ever do is point out your flaws. They might never let you forget even the simplest mistakes you’ve made, leaving you feeling unworthy.

Drama is the Norm

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Toxicity and drama go hand in hand, as hurtful people will thrive on the chaos they cause. Toxic people can cause unnecessary drama that drains your energy, explains Michael Goedeker for LinkedIn, so understandably, you may feel exhausted after speaking with them. Watch out for that!

They’ll Undermine Your Efforts

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Finally, one key lesson to learn about toxic family members is that no matter how hard you try, they won’t be impressed. They’ll constantly undermine any efforts you make, dismiss your ambitions, or even discourage you from taking a certain path with open disapproval. Sadly, your best bet is to cut them off.

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