What It’s Like Having A Toxic Family
I may or may not be someone who comes from a toxic family. They don’t know that I believe them to be toxic because, well, telling a toxic person they are toxic rarely goes well. People who are actually toxic will throw a fit, begin tossing out hurtful and non-productive statements, and just drag you down into the exact pit you were trying to stay away from. The tricky thing about family is that, you sort of have to stay connected to them. You can try to cut ties and burn bridges but, somehow, you always end up a little worse for it than if you’d just tried to make it work, no matter how hard that is. Maybe it’s our biology that just won’t let us walk away, even when our family does us more harm than good. If you saw me and my family together, you almost wouldn’t know anything was wrong, but that’s only because I’ve mastered the art of surviving those interactions. Here are realities only people from toxic families understand.
First dates asking about your family
When first dates say, “So, tell me about your family” you cringe, get annoyed, change the subject, or just look terrified. You can’t tell them everything—it would terrify them. But you need to tell them enough to let them know why exactly you don’t rave about your family. And you can’t be too harsh yet—this person is still getting to know you.
Partners meeting your family
When you bring your partner to meet your family for the first time, he’s taken aback. You told him about your family, but he didn’t really believe everything you said. He thought you were perhaps being dramatic. He was wrong. He has a newfound respect (or pity?) for you after meeting them.
Limiting information you share
Your conversations with your family are highly edited. You’ve worked hard to build a life for yourself full of healthy relationships and activities and people and hobbies. You’re careful not to let your toxic family touch any of that too much, so you limit what you tell them about your days.
Going elsewhere for comfort
Your family is not where you go for comfort after a trying event. Some people don’t understand that but you’ve learned the hard way that you can really only handle them when you are feeling strong; they are not the people who give you strength when you need it.
Going elsewhere to rejoice
Your family is also not where you go to share great news. They have a way of spoiling things. You tell your trusted friends, whom you know will respond the way you want, first. You usually wait a long time to tell your family good news—you wait long enough so that if they say something harmful, it’s not really fresh to you anymore and you can take it.
Limiting and timing out phone calls
You have rules regarding how often and for how long you talk to your family. You know that phone calls that run too long leave you feeling drained and depressed. And you need a full week to bounce back from phone calls.
Making those calls at specific times
You don’t call your family before an important meeting, or in the middle of a fun vacation. They’ll say things that kill your confidence for your meeting or ruin your vacation. You call them during neutral times when they can’t ruin anything.
Having a pick-me-up after those calls
You plan pick-me-ups for after your phone calls. You may even text a friend to say, “I’m calling my mom now—can you pick up when I call you after to cheer me up?”
Having a pick-me-up after those visits
And after you visit your family, you really need reinforcements to cheer you up. You make sure you have some activity or social engagement planned that will make you happy again.
Exhausting your partner with complaints
Sometimes you complain to your romantic partner too much about your family. You’ve found yourself going too far, and clearly just depressing him.
Having graduated therapy
You’ve been to a lot of therapy and eventually became smarter than the therapists. You already came to all the conclusions they come to, a long time ago.
Knowing something lurks beneath the surface
You never really enjoy times of peace with your family because you know about the emotional disease that lurks beneath the surface. At any given moment, everything could change, and you’re prepared for that.
A massive capacity for forgiveness
You are tremendously forgiving and patient. You’re an expert at kissing and making up. You don’t necessarily think your family will ever change but, you’ve learned to let them apologize for things you know they’ll do again, just to earn some times of peace.
Always doing a balancing act
Your relationship with them is a delicate balancing act. You’re always making sure you don’t let them get too close, while still maintaining the relationship. It is not a relaxing relationship for you and it is never on autopilot.
People thinking you’re weird/broken/mean
People who don’t come from toxic families believe you are dramatic, immature, or just broken. They think you’re too hard on your family. They insist you should try to get closer to your family. You nod and smile: it must be nice to be so ignorant.