The people who form your family circle are likely among the more influential people in your life. However, that influence may be for good or for ill. Your family, which may be comprised of people related to you by blood or otherwise, forms the first community that you are part of. That community shapes you in significant ways, including shaping your values and outlook on life, especially where a dysfunctional family is involved.

As you age, how you relate to or understand your family may change. You may become more aware of the various dysfunctions within your family. Alternatively, as you grow older, you may also grow in your appreciation of your family and the values they instilled in you. Some people choose to walk away from their families for various reasons, while others remain in contact with their families for their own reasons.

If you’ve chosen to remain connected with your family, and if you’ve become aware of the ways in which your family is toxic, how do you handle those toxic or dysfunctional family members?

Some signs of a toxic family relationship

It is important to understand what makes a relationship toxic or dysfunctional. We function differently and have varying levels of tolerance for things such as criticism or conflict.

Additionally, people have different communication styles which affect how they express themselves and how others receive what they have to say. All of that complicates how people relate to one another. It’s possible for constructive criticism to be read as a critical spirit.

In other words, a person’s dysfunction can make them read the behavior of others as toxic or dysfunctional when it isn’t. For example, if you’ve been in codependent relationships with others, the assertion of healthy boundaries may be read as cruelty or neglect of your needs. However, that assertion of boundaries exposes the dysfunction in the relationship.

The following signs of a toxic relationship indicate behavior that is truly toxic in any relationship, regardless of the personalities involved or the circumstances people find themselves in. Some of these signs of a toxic relationship include the following:

Constant criticism and lack of support

This may be criticism of a person’s weight, fashion sense, personality, looks, choice of career, or romantic partners. If the criticism is constant, and if it isn’t balanced with healthy support of another’s legitimate interests, that’s a sign of a toxic relationship.

Exhausting encounters

If you feel exhausted whenever you engage with someone, that could point to a relationship with toxic dynamics. It may be because there are poor boundaries, or because of poor communication that may result in conflict. If the relationship doesn’t bring joy but is instead often associated with conflict and discomfort, it might be a toxic relationship.

Emotional and verbal abuse

If the relationship is marked by manipulation, control, gaslighting, being humiliated or made fun of, that could indicate a toxic relationship.

Uncontrolled anger and an unsafe space

Anger is a powerful emotion that can do damage to others if it isn’t well-regulated. If anger erupts into shouting, and physical or verbal violence, that can create an unsafe environment in which there is little to no emotional and physical safety. If people feel like they can’t express their opinions because of another person’s angry response, that may mark a dysfunctional situation.

These are just some of the signs of a toxic relationship. Dysfunction can make a relationship unpleasant to be in, and it can stifle flourishing in those relationships. When that dysfunction is within your family, it can affect you in ways you may not even be aware of. Sometimes, it’s only when you’re in relationships with others that you begin to see how your family’s dysfunctions have affected you.

Handling dysfunctional family members

Times when families gather, like during the holidays or in situations of mourning a loss, can be flashpoints for family dysfunction. Old arguments, deeply felt resentments, and fresh frustrations can make those situations unbearable. Instead of looking forward to spending time together, those occasions become something to dread and avoid altogether.

There are several ways to handle dysfunctional family members. You can limit how much contact you have with those family members that cause problems. Instead of being home with your family every Thanksgiving, maybe you can go every two years instead.

In certain situations, it’s appropriate to set boundaries about the topics of conversation that tend to cause flare-ups. In other cases, there may be another family member who is adept at handling the dysfunctional family member. They can be a helpful buffer in your interactions with that dysfunctional family member.

Another way to handle dysfunctional family members is to limit what you share about yourself. If there is no context for safe emotional intimacy, then don’t share parts of yourself that are vulnerable and that can be leveraged against you.

You can also seek help and support outside of the family. Friends can be helpful, as can a professional counselor. A counselor at Simi Valley Christian Counseling can help you process the complicated emotions associated with dealing with a dysfunctional family.

Your counselor in Simi Valley can help you to understand your family’s dynamics and develop tools to cope with the emotions and reality of a dysfunctional family. Reach out and speak to someone at Simi Valley Christian Counseling to receive the support you need.

“Tension”, Courtesy of RDNE Stock project,, CC0 License