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Family obligations- tolerating toxicity

white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

All families differ. With some families and particularly when we are teens or young adults, we tend to view family as a obligation, a mandatory requirement, to get along, the persevere with them or "my world will fall apart" or "I'll hurt them" or "I'll be alone".

For others that dont have this level of anxiety about family incompatibility, we can treat those abrasive family members in other ways am be content- anywhere form ceasing all contact to keeping them at arms length.

The real problem escalates when the relationship becomes toxic. What is "toxic"- very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.

Toxicity can be temporary which is ok to take time to find remedy. Remedy can be possible as people/situation change. Over time people develop, have kids, gain maturity, have regrets and so on so there is merit in considering if the situation is workable down the track.

With toxic people (to you) when it goes on for decades and has no measurable reduction in behaviour, if that relationship is still affecting your happiness then it could be beneficial in some decision making. Such decisions have various levels of action. For some it can be best to drift away without letting that person know and this has many advantages - you can still attend major family gatherings like xmas, kids birthdays etc and avoid the person. Major family developments mean you can still talk. This might seem the mature thing to do and some people claim that but for sensitive people or those that dwell on past poor experiences, it isnt always possible.

Severing all contact can be the ultimate escape for some of us victims. I did it with my mother and a few friends that I found to be intolerable. Forgiveness is a great quality but self preservation is logical and can make life more calm and less controversial.

What do you think about tolerating toxic family members? What action have you taken and are you happy with how it turned out?


9 Replies 9

Community Champion
Community Champion


Thanks for another thoughtful thread.
I suppose the word toxic is seen differently but many people.

I am living with someone who is controlling is this person to toxic. Much of the behaviour is kind and friendly but sometimes the put downs and swearing and other unpleasant behaviour really upset me. The unpleasant behaviour is unpredictable so I feel like I am walking on egg shells.

so I live with it until the bad behaviour out weighs the good.
I live in hope life will get better.

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

That sounds really challenging Quirky. I hope things get better for you.

I tried the arms length approach with my family, but it still wasn’t good for my mental health. I cut ties around three years ago now and feel better off for it. It’s still difficult though, because I’m lonely and would like a family - just not mine. Sometimes there’s not a perfect solution, only the preferred option.

I agree Katy, in fact my mother's "golden children" her granddaughter and nephew sided with mother with no chatting with my sister and I.

So what is family? To me family is compatible caring relatives AND people you've connected with for over 10 years that care for me and I them, add to that loyalty.

Prior to my split with mother I'd taken breaks from her no less that 4 times up to 12 months duration. Each time I returned all was good for 3-4 months then it would start over.

I think toxic family members will never be the answer to loneliness.


They say two wrongs don't make a right? I'm not so sure. To hit home to someone at times a taste of their own medicine works.

I had a relative couple older than I, he controlled her, gambled her money away and each time she tried to get answers he called her names and made up stories. Eventually when she was called "useless" or "lazy sod" (she was in a wheelchair with Parkinsons) she'd call him a "bully". He hated it to the point he brought up topic one day and I agreed with her "you are a bully in fact worse in suggesting she is lazy in her condition".

He did improve for a few months then back to how he was.

If you don't equalise bullying you'll be bullied more. Sadly



thanks for your comments.

In my experience when one agrees and is compliant with a controlling person things don’t escalate but when one stands up to the controller things escalate . I know many people like me who want to avoid conflict .

If you are not a bully or a name caller it would be nearly impossible to suddenly change.

I understand where you are coming from, I am hoping to make the person more like me with the way I show respect etc and not to become like them.

So maybe I am naive and of that has a personal cost.

The story of the elderly couple shows he only changed for a short while.

Thanks again for this thread.

Hi Quirky

Yes, I understand, that two wrongs arent possible as you and many of us, arent capable of dishing out the same treatment to the bully.

In that case there is two more alternatives- Wit and counselling

Wit- written here- https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/online-forums/staying-well/wit---the-only-answer-for-torment-

I first came into contact with WIT and its affect with sitting in court as a warder minding a prisoner. I'd observe lawyers questioning witnesses. A lawyer grilled a witness for hours before the defence lawyer stood, asked a short question, the witness said "no" to the question...then the lawyer sat down. It was remarkable because all the questioning for hours was destroyed in one answer.

An example-

Controller: "you shouldnt be crying, look a round you, all the things you have"

victim: "I need to cry, its the anniversary to that accident I had"

Controller: "get over it, that was 2 years ago"

victim: "so what is your view on a time period for grieving"?

Controller: "oh, a couple of weeks"

victim "so why are you still angry over your daughter that argued with you 10 years ago because you mentioned it yesterday"

Controller: "that's different"

victim: "indeed, I had an accident where someone died and you had an argument with someone 10 years ago yet you are as affected as me...do you want to go to counselling my love"?

A bit of sacrcasm not intended, but you can see how past events that the bully experienced can be turned towards him/her.

Counselling- I've always suggested in my reply posts that a couple should attend counselling (as you have) but if the bully doesnt want to attend then one should attend alone on one condition- that one day the bully will ask how the sessions are going...the answer is "progressing well". No details should be included in the reply. If he persists then the answer is- "if you are so interested then join me next session".

Finally, if he attends counselling and refuses to return and- labels the counsellor useless or other word, then that give you something to work on. Some BPD sufferers do that often.


  • General controlling personality
  • Developed into a controller due to what he sees as deficiencies in his partner
  • He has a undiagnosed issue or part issue? https://childhoodtraumarecovery.com/bpd/4-types-of-borderline-mother-witch-hermit-waif-and-queen/ or general anxiety
  • Mid life crisis?
  • Is grieving himself but processes it differently
  • Is intolerant of you processing grief and loss
  • TonyWK

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member


I wander if the myth of caring families leads kids to be abused further

I was told, even by so,e therapists, that if I behaved differently, or worked hard at it, I could somehow elicit true care from my toxic father,

I was told to forgive, accept, let go, move on, be gentle, not look at him, try this, try that.

I think it's important to tell ppl to protect themselves from toxic ppl, that they didn't ask for or warrant the harmful behaviour in any way, and if it comes down to their own personal safety, it's ok to cut ties.

And also its important -and empowering- to educate oneself on red flags.

Hi Sleepy, I like your post.

The resistance in removing toxic people from our lives is understandable, it's a giant step and if can occur several times before one finally breaks off forever. Such is the bond that can be ...well unbreakable. Almost.

What is also crucial is to remind yourself that you are entitled to a toxic free life, that the abuse you've been tolerating is unacceptable and you have choices.

I was 54yo when my sister and I parted ways with mother. So the abuse had continued for decades. One aspect of the abuse was my mother's triangulation. Pitting her children against each other was a technique she saw as acceptable behaviour- it was Normal for her but it was others that were the victims. My sister and I made a pact, that we would never allow anyone to ruin our delicate but caring relationship. A few weeks later that was put to the test and the rest is history.

Mother is 90yo. She has her golden children that can never do wrong. She's openly told us they are her "favourites".

She has her favourites in her life, I hope they fulfilled her as much as her children did.

Since 2011 I've adopted 2 ladies as my pseudo mums. One knows it. I wrote her a poem, the last line said

"You're too young to be my mother...but you'll always be a mum to me"

The other lady lost both her adult children due to crime. She doesn't know I look upon her warmth and care as a mother figure, funny, she's younger than me!

So, there is a life after removing toxics from your life. It's the reverse of freedom

With freedom you only know what you've lost when you lose it

With toxic people you only know the relief and contrast once you've parted ways...


Hi Tony, Ur post really helped me.

Ur story is so powerful.

I have a surrogate mother figure, I don't know if other ppl find it odd, my friend is decade's older than me, vibrant and committed to caring for ppl without family, she's done and does so muc good.

I think though, for a woman to find a father figure is hard.

It's not about age but sometimes rhe vulnerability of having no father, means ppl can exploit.

I have a note on my medical file saying I have a vulnerability with older male authority figures, and shouldn't see q therapist too much older, who is old fashioned or paternalistic.

I think it's because my father is abusive so a person could recreate this....

Finding safe parent figures can be empowering and rich, it's a good change to see someone who doesn't have any motives , and is free of the triangulation tactics, elictimg shame or fear, or devaluing us, that those of us with toxic families know so well.

Hi quirky, I am still recovering from a toxic partner and it was very hard for my self esteem

I hope u have space outside the relationship or person u live with to keep Ur self esteem strong and not take it on.

Toxic ppl will say anything to shift the focus off their own terrible behaviour, and their insults or swearing are only a reflection of their own shame.