7 Subtle Signs of a Toxic Family Member

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”

(Richard Bach) 

There is a wide variety of complex feelings that come with the word “family”. Feelings can range from mostly positive to mostly negative, depending on your childhood and current situation.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Is there any way to tell if my family member exhibits unhealthy behaviours?” 

Below are some subtle signs that you can look for in a toxic family member: 

  1. They constantly overstep your boundaries and privacy.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” 

(Brene Brown)

Has your family member routinely crossed the line? Perhaps they treat you in a way that you prefer not to be treated. Maybe your parents rely heavily on you for emotional support and may even try to live their lives through your achievements. Despite clearly delineating your boundaries, they violate them over and over again. If you can resonate with these scenarios, you most likely have a toxic family member. A toxic family member will discourage you from having a life outside of the family, and they pressure you to remain physically close to home. Sometimes they might be too “nosy” of your private matter. 

2. They always demand something from you. 

Do you ever have a difficult interaction with your family member? They have unrealistic expectations or make unreasonable demands. They determine their own rules. “My way or the highway” is what they advocate. It may be that they try to force you to dance to their tune, whether consciously or unconsciously. Perhaps you are the live-in caregiver of your elderly mother, and your siblings are nit-picking and demanding about the care you are giving without showing respect to you. If you notice such behaviours in your family, you are dealing with an unhealthy family dynamic. 

3. They don’t recognise your achievements.

Do your family members applaud your hard work and success? Or do they act the opposite? Maybe you have accomplished many great things, but they never seem proud of it. They never give you credit where credit is due and never celebrate you for your achievements. As a result, you feel unappreciated and unacknowledged. True, while they don’t need to hold a celebration every time you eat a healthy avocado salad over chips or do your house chores instead of sleeping in, it becomes an unspoken rule that a family member should be proud of your big, milestone achievements. 

4. They tell you that you are just “seeking attention” or “finding excuses.”

Have you ever confessed to your family members that you are too overwhelmed with school work and want to have a short break, but they accuse you are just “seeking attention” or “finding excuses”? They compare your experience with their experience and say some of the most hurtful words, “I have also experienced the same thing, but I never think to have a short break. It will be a waste of time. Why can’t you just do what I have done?” Toxic family members will completely disregard your feelings, and they do not acknowledge that wanting attention and reassurance from loved ones is human nature. Requesting your loved ones’ attention does not make you needy or pathetic. When you want attention because you are lonely, sad, or scared, those are perfectly legitimate reasons.

5. They blame you for everything, endlessly criticising you. 

Does any of your family members endlessly criticise you? Do they blame you for everything and assign you negative intentions that are not yours? As someone on the receiving end of the blame, it leads you to feel exasperated and makes you feel tiny. You feel as if nothing you do is good enough or ever will be. Due to this constant blaming, inadvertently, it can cause you to build up resentment and anger towards your family members. 

6. They gaslight and manipulate you, questioning your reality. 

Do you have a family member who routinely causes you to question your perception of reality and second guess yourself? For example, they dismiss your recollection of events, rewrite history to fit their agenda, and deny they ever said something offensive to you, although you have proof. They do this to avoid accountability when it is done frequently, you will start to accept their reality as yours. This is known as “gaslighting”, a form of emotional abuse. 

7. They don’t listen to any of your concerns.

“My mother used to tell me that when push comes to shove, you always know who to turn to. That being a family isn’t a social construct but an instinct.” 

(Jodi Picoult)

Have you ever tried to open up about your problems and concerns to your family members, but they never try to be the listening ear? They make you feel as if your thoughts, feelings, and experiences do not matter. Perhaps they may hear you saying or verbalising your concerns, but they never really listen and give you full attention. Consequently, you feel unimportant, invalidated, and unheard. 

Final thoughts 

As quoted from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “You can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your family.”

Healthy family dynamics do not mean that you will agree at all times and be devoid of conflicts. On the contrary, a good relationship with family members means you are self-aware, actively taking the initiative to work it out and build each other up. In some cases, it helps to address problematic behaviours with your family member. Remember, if that doesn’t happen: you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change.


Roller, N. (2015, December 13). What to do about the people who blame you for everything … Psychology Today. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201512/what-do-about-the-people-who-blame-you-everything

Zoffness, R. (2019, December 20). How to set boundaries with family. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/pain-explained/201912/how-set-boundaries-family

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