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Mental Health

How To Identify and Deal with Toxic Family Members

Sometimes the saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ may be a little complicated when your family dynamics are not the healthiest. Certain relationships with family members may be stressful and upsetting when you can never seem to see eye-to-eye or an argument erupts whenever you’re in the same room. While family are supposed to be your rock, sometimes it’s better to distance yourself from your loved ones if they’re draining your mental and emotional energy. As it may be difficult to detect the toxic red flags in your loved one, here are tips on identifying toxicity in your family and learning to deal with it. 


How to identify toxicity 

1. Cruel critical remarks

Family should be encouraging and supportive of one another but if you are constantly being insulted and degraded by a family member, you may want to steer clear of them. Their cruel remarks may criticise your achievements or even your appearance. Toxic family members like these may never show any form of pride no matter your accomplishments. Remind yourself that this could be because of their own insecurities so don’t beat yourself up over it! 

2. Pitting you against others

Sometimes sibling rivalry can be healthy to help motivate you but when you are continually being compared to as inferior to your sibling by your parents or other family members, those are the red flags. Constantly comparing you to your siblings or cousins can come with negative consequences over time such as feelings of inadequacy and a lack of confidence in yourself. Moreover, if your sibling partakes in emotional manipulation methods like humiliation and vindictiveness, it’s time to assess the situation as your mental health may be at risk. 

3. Controlling 

While it is in some parent’s nature to look out for their children and tell them what they should or should not do, there is a fine line between a concerned parent and a toxic controlling parent. Controlling behaviour especially becomes toxic when you feel you have to tip-toe around their forceful demands, which can cause fear in some children. Some toxic ways parents can control their child are deciding what they can and cannot wear, and, in some extreme cases, demanding to have tracking apps installed on their devices.  

4. Blaming you for everything

Family members are bound to get into arguments and tiffs from time-to-time, but if you realise that a family member never takes the blame or apologises for their mistakes, that could be a sign of toxicity. Refusing to take responsibility and faulting others can create a lot of friction in relationships as empathy and accountability take a back seat while ego and arrogance dominate. If not worked on, it can cause a strain in the relationship to the point of no return.


How to deal with it 

1. Identifying source 

A lot of the time, toxic behaviour stems from past experiences or an unmanaged mental illness, or dementia. Identifying the source can sometimes make you more understanding and empathetic to the situation, but that does not mean you should continue to live with it. Try your best to talk it out with your family member and aid them in pinpointing the reasons for their behaviour. If need be, consult a professional therapist or counsellor to help your loved one through their struggles.

2. Setting boundaries

After having a conversation with your loved one about their behaviour, be sure to set boundaries on what is acceptable and what actions should be avoided. While it may take some time to break their toxic cycle, try to encourage them to try again whenever they slip up. However, some family members may react with hostility if you were to approach them about their toxic behaviour. If that is the case, set physical boundaries and limit interactions especially in situations that trigger them. 

3. Cut them off

If the toxic behaviours persist even after trying everything you can think of, sometimes the only solution is to sever ties with them. While cutting off a family member may not be the easiest thing to do, it may just be the best thing for your emotional and mental well-being. Sometimes that time apart from each other may be the trick to making your family member come to terms with their toxicity. 

4. Seek help

Going through situations like these can really take a mental toll on you. Make your well-being a priority and approach professional therapists if you are struggling with your emotions. 


It is definitely challenging to have to deal with toxic behaviours, especially from your loved ones. But that being said, we always have other relationships such as friendships to get you through these difficult times. In these cases, we should realise that the full idiom is actually “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

Shona Menon

Nanyang Tech '22

Shona is an English undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University and the Campus Correspondent for HC Nanyang Tech. During her free time, you can find her watching a psychological thriller film or searching for yet another alternative band to listen to. She has a passion for advocating minority representation and hopes to one day create her own beauty publication that discusses makeup and skincare tips for brown beauties.
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