18 Subtle Signs of a Toxic Family Member

It’s normal for every family to have strengths and weaknesses. But unfortunately, many of us grow up with toxic family members who can be extremely damaging to our mental health. Here are 18 subtle signs you might be dealing with a toxic family member.

Constant Criticism

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Toxic family members often attempt to undermine the confidence and self-esteem of others through the use of constant criticism. This can take the form of picking on your choices, actions, or appearance. If you express that you are hurt by their comments and they dismiss it as “just a joke” or try to undermine your feelings, this is another red flag that they’re a toxic person.

Lack of Boundaries

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Does your family member consistently ignore or dismiss your boundaries? If so, you’re likely dealing with a toxic individual. These types of people are likely to intrude into your personal space or affairs, do things you have frequently told them not to do, or demand more from you than you’re comfortable with.

Gaslighting Behaviors

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Narcissists and toxic people will often gaslight you into making you question your own feelings and reality. For example, they may intentionally hurt you with a cruel comment and then say that it was just a joke or that you’re being too sensitive.

Emotional Manipulation

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According to Medical News Today, another common tool used by toxic family members is emotional manipulation. They may use a sense of guilt, obligation, or fear in an attempt to gain control over your actions and prioritize their needs over yours.

Unpredictable Reactions

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When you were growing up, did it feel like you always had to walk on eggshells because you never knew when an explosive emotional reaction could be coming? If so, you may have a toxic family member. These individuals can flip from warmth to boiling anger in seconds, creating a state of anxiety in those around them.

Withholding Affection or Support

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The intentional withholding of affection or support is a form of emotional manipulation often used by toxic people. Those who yearn for a sense of control over their family members will frequently use affection and attention as a means of praise or punishment, depending on whether their needs are being met or not.

Invading Privacy

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Invading the privacy of another family member is a violation of their boundaries and personal space. Toxic family members commonly snoop through phones, online accounts, or personal items to gain a sense of power or control.

Neglecting Your Needs

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We all have emotional, physical, and social needs, and we must rely on our parents or family members to meet these needs when we’re growing up. Unfortunately, toxic individuals will often neglect the needs of their children, prioritizing their own desires and dismissing those of others.


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Sometimes, toxic parents will “parentify” their own children, flipping the natural dynamic. These parents will often rely on their kids for emotional, financial, or other forms of support far more than is appropriate, leading to an unhealthy sense of dependency and obligation.


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Do you feel like your family member is constantly pitting other people against you or someone else? If so, they may have a toxic personality. Manipulative individuals often triangulate others to meet their own needs, spreading rumors or starting drama for the sake of turning people against each other or getting on someone’s good side.

Excessive Competitiveness

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There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competitiveness. However, toxic family members frequently create an environment of excessive and unhealthy competitiveness in which they turn every conversation or activity into an unhealthy competition.

Passive-Aggressive Communication

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Nobody likes being openly or aggressively criticized, but there can be something even more sinister about passive-aggressive communication. Instead of confronting you directly, toxic family members will often express their negative feelings or criticisms in indirect ways, such as using sarcasm or backhanded compliments.

Frequent Lying

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Honesty is a core part of healthy friendships and relationships. Sadly, toxic family members fail to create a healthy sense of trust and honesty by frequently telling white or outright lies. These lies will often be attempts to avoid responsibility or manipulate others.

Isolation Tactics

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Many toxic individuals crave a sense of control more than anything else. Because of this, toxic family members sometimes deliberately sabotage your relationships with those outside of the family, keeping you dependent on them.

Blame Shifting

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According to WebMD, toxic people commonly refuse to take any responsibility for their mistakes. Instead, they’ll divert the blame onto others or somehow end up turning you into the “bad guy” by making you feel guilty for calling out their behavior.

Jealousy and Envy

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Families should foster a supportive environment in which their members build each other up instead of tearing each other down. But unfortunately, toxic family members often harbor a great deal of jealousy and resentment for others, leading them to make hurtful comments or undermine your success. As noted by Psychology Today, this will often take the form of talking about you behind your back.

Hyper-Criticism of Your Choices

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Constructive criticism can be a wonderful thing when it’s asked for and appreciated. However, this is not how toxic family members prefer to do things. These individuals may be ridiculously critical of your life choices, fail to offer alternative solutions, and show little support for you or your happiness.

Financial Manipulation

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Toxic parents or caregivers commonly use money as a tool for control. This can create a sense of financial dependency, guilt, or obligation. CF

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