Some lucky people are born into families they adore spending time with—their loving mutual bonds make holiday gatherings and multi-generational vacations a drama-free joy. But for others, simply seeing an incoming call from a parent can trigger an anxiety that dates back to childhood, and get-togethers leave them hurt, angry, or exhausted. What can you do when their behavior inspires an impulse to protect yourself? Here are signs of a toxic family member, and an expert's advice on how to handle being around them—because "drink all of the wine" is not a sustainable plan.

They make cruelly critical remarks.

No one's known you longer than your family members have, which means they've got a rich back catalog of job loss, personal failures, and exes to draw from when commenting on your life. Their blunt criticism can wound like a physical jab.

"Toxic parents exhibit a chronic lack of empathy towards their children," says Shannon Thomas, trauma therapist and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse. "These behaviors can manifest through biting remarks about appearance, relationship status, mental or physical health, financial struggles, or career challenges."

Even if they insist they're just teasing, those comments may (even subconsciously) be decimating by design. "It's hard to imagine a parent intentionally taking cheap shots at their children, but it happens when they're toxic," she adds.

They channel Jerry Springer at the dinner table.

Maybe they flat-out ask you why you can't be more like the brother you've always felt competitive with, or they praise his successes in ways that emphasize where you fall short. They might share something another family member said about you, effectively sowing the seeds of conflict. "Unhealthy parents will pit their children against one another, or against other members of the family," Thomas explains. "They set up scenarios where jealousy and resentment can flourish."

They give you the silent treatment.

Yes, words can hurt—but so can their absence. Whether it's refusing to speak to you for hours (or even days) following an argument, or they passive-aggressively express displeasure by shutting you out as you wonder what went wrong, it's a form of manipulation. And this is true regardless of the family member.

"Toxic family members are notorious for using silence as a form of punishment and emotional control," says Thomas. "They find power in being pursued for a relationship."

Read the full story here: Is Your Family Toxic?


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