Healthy VS Toxic Family Dynamic – How To Tell The Difference

A family should feel like a sanctuary, like a place where you feel loved and safe. For some lucky people, it feels just like that, but for some, a family home is everything but a sanctuary… 

Since you spend most of your time with your family, your everyday life feels just… normal. It feels like, since you live that way, everyone does. That is the reason why sometimes, you may be living in a toxic family, without even knowing it. You may feel like something is wrong, but you’re so used to living in a toxic environment, it doesn’t cross your mind that other families have it better.

For this reason, it’s important to be able to tell the differences between healthy and toxic family dynamics. This article explains a few of many clear differences between these two types of families.

1. Communication

Healthy

In a healthy family, you can communicate your needs and opinions. You are not afraid to say what’s on your mind, and you are happy to listen to your family members. If there is something bothering you, you know they are always here for you to help you with whatever you need. 

Toxic

But if your family is toxic, things may be a bit different. Your opinions and feelings can be invalidated, and you can’t even think about talking to your family about your problems. If you do try, it just turns into yelling or fighting, or they simply ignore you. And since it keeps happening over and over again, you learn to ignore them as well, since not communicating at all feels much better than being put down for having feelings.

2. Respect

Healthy

Being respected, and respecting people around you, is something that is being taught from an early age in healthy families. Parents that care for their children know they are not their property – they are small people with their own mind, and they treat them like that. They know their kids need validation and respect to grow into healthy and functional adults. And as their children grow, respect is something they learn to pass on to their parents, other people, and finally, themselves.

Toxic

Unfortunately, some families don’t see respect as such a big deal. Sometimes they think it should be one-sided: parents demand respect from their kids, but they don’t remember to give it back. Children are taught not to talk back, not to demand anything, and to just listen and do as they’re told, often without any explanation. This can have opposite effects as they might listen out of fear of punishment, but they rarely feel real respect – instead they may actually start to resent their parents.

3. Criticism

Healthy

When you care about somebody, you want to be honest with them, even if the truth is not always the prettiest. Healthy families know that, and they are not afraid to give constructive criticism to their family members. When they critique, they do it gently, by emphasising good things about the member and giving suggestions about the bad behavior that could be changed. They want their loved ones to be the best version of themselves, and they want to help them on that path.

Toxic

In a toxic family, criticism is often used as a weapon to attack and belittle other family members. It is harsh, excessive, and extremely hurtful. In families like these, everyday you can hear comments like “you can’t do anything right”, “just look at yourself”, “you’re stupid, what do you know”. In this situation, you can’t really grow as a person, and it can take a toll on your feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.

4. Privacy

Healthy

Privacy is an important aspect of a child’s life – it helps them develop into a strong, mindful person. Good parents in healthy families always try to keep that in mind. They knock on their kid’s bedroom door, they don’t listen to their conversations with friends, they never go through their things. If there is a reason when privacy really needs to be invaded, they make sure to explain to their child why that needed to happen, and they apologize for it.

Toxic

On the other hand, toxic parents don’t think twice when it comes to invading their children’s privacy. They ask too many (often unnecessary) and over-interfere. For example, they might be reading their kid’s diary, demand to go through their phone or find excuses to stay in their child’s room when they have friends over. If a child tries to be assertive and ask for their boundaries to be respected, they laugh at them and make them believe, since they are “just” kids, they don’t get to have privacy.

5. Affection

Healthy

In a healthy family, family members love each other and they are not afraid to show it! A kiss on the cheek, a long hug or a word of kindness are not something unusual. Even more so, they don’t want to leave the house without doing those things. No matter what happens, you always know that you are loved, and you always make sure others know you love them. Even if directly saying “I love you” is not a thing in specific families, small acts of kindness may speak louder than words.

Toxic

This is not the case in toxic families. Even if they do love each other, in their own way, they don’t know how to show it, or they don’t feel comfortable showing it. They ignore that important aspect of family life, and it may seem like they take their family members for granted. You wouldn’t get a hug or a kiss in that family, so you often might seek that love outside of your home.

Closing thoughts

In which category would you put your family? Do you feel like you may not be perfect, but you’re still okay, or do you see the signs of an unhealthy dynamic?

If you just realized (or confirmed) your family is toxic, I’m sorry. Dealing with this is surely very exhausting, and it can be very difficult to distance yourself and protect your mental health. If you feel like you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for professional’s help. 

And remember: it won’t always be like this, and you’re never alone!

Thank you for reading!
Written by:
Stela Košić

References:

  • Faubion, D. (2018, June 13). Toxic Family Dynamics: The Signs And How To Cope With Them | ReGain. ReGain. https://www.regain.us/advice/family/toxic-family-dynamics-the-signs-and-how-to-cope-with-them/
  • Parvez, H. (2021, October 8). Toxic family dynamics: 10 Signs to look for. PsychMechanics. https://www.psychmechanics.com/toxic-family-dynamics/
  • Raypole, C. (2019, October 25). When Family Becomes Toxic. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/toxic-family#signs-in-adulthood

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