Do You Have A Toxic Family?

Our families can be our greatest source of support and joy or our most significant sources of stress and fear.

Sometimes you’re born into a toxic environment full of struggles, anxiety, and tension that never seems to lessen over time.

It’s commonly suggested that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but that often isn’t true.

Childhood adversity leads to increased vulnerability to physical and mental disorders in adulthood for many people.

Different Types of Stress

Stressors are impossible to avoid entirely, but not all stress is bad. There are three types of stresses to be aware of:

Positive Stress

The good kind of stress – the stress that helps us learn and grow – is infrequent, short-lived, and mild. With the support and reassurance of those around us, we can safely respond to this stress and achieve greater confidence, self-esteem, and resilience.

Tolerable Stress

This stress is more severe, more frequent, or longer-lasting, but often manageable. Divorce and grief are common forms of tolerable stress. Once the adversity is removed or coped with, or enough time has passed, it no longer causes distress, and the body and mind can fully recover.

Toxic Stress

Toxic stress is prolonged and severe, without support, buffers, or space for recovery. It will likely result in long-term behavioral problems and lead to depression, PTSD, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. It can also increase vulnerability to learning disabilities and impaired brain development and can increase the risk of infections and adult chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, stroke, and even cancer.

Toxic stressors include physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, extreme poverty, and food scarcity. 

Healing Toxicity

Toxic family dynamics are difficult to change, and often, these problems are cyclical. Many people will carry the adverse experiences of their childhood into adulthood and then bring these same issues into their own children’s lives.

Signs of toxicity might be hard to recognize from the inside. It’s easy to rationalize, deny, or make excuses for toxic relationships, even when it’s hurting your health. People may say, “It’s just part of our culture,” “It works for us,” or “I turned out ok, so it must not have been so bad.”

Ultimately, the person’s response to stress and adversity determines how much damage is done. The key to gaining resilience often comes down to identifying and avoiding stressful situations and learning healthy coping mechanisms.

If you recognize toxicity patterns in your own family or relationships, take steps to set boundaries, improve communication, or cut ties, if necessary.

Find healthful ways to cope with stress. Mindfulness meditation, prayer, therapy, and progressive muscle relaxation, are a few helpful ways for promoting physical and emotional well-being amid stress and toxicity.

A family counselor can help you, and your family members work through the painful past and start building a healthier present and future.

While stressful struggles are unavoidable, high-quality and supportive relationships can help us find hope, confidence, and strength to withstand the toughest challenges together.