Toxic Families and How To Survive Them

protectyourlight-copyToxic families are those that put you through the blender, so to speak, and then smile and carry on sunny and bright like nothing ever happened.  It’s the abuser who, while staring at the bloodied nose acts like, “Well if I’m happy, everybody should be happy.” Only it’s not a bloody nose.  Toxic family members cause wreckage that is not in plain sight.

Toxic families cause you to feel dirty, unwholesome, shame just for being there.  Fear, run-away anxiety that has no visible cause.  And you can never quite put your finger on how and why and even a sense of “WTF just happened?”

Maybe you get these sensations by just thinking about the toxic person.

That head-spinning, stomach-knotting sense of dark shame and overriding dread is not your fault.  It’s not even about you.

Borderline personalities and sociopathic personalities are really slick about getting others to carry their load for them.  All their inner violence and lack of empathy gets shifted onto you within minutes of interacting.  It’s a rehearsed and slick manipulation that these two types have gotten away with for so long they no longer see any other possible way of relating.

And they get very angry when these patterns are revealed or challenged or, heaven forbid, accountability and consequences are required.  Their punishments can stick with you for years.  Even make you stay away from relationships or intimacy from that toxic residue. Or, cause you to gravitate to new toxic people to try and figure it out and get some control back.

Borderline and sociopathic personalities require specialized mental health therapy.  The awareness of how they hurt others is not a motivator for personal change, but rather, feeds their self-pity, low self-esteem and sense of entitlement to act-out.  People in personal relationship with them can do little to help them change and grow.  Talk to a mental health specialist about some kind of intervention.

People who are married to or dependent on these types, like say a child, or a spouse, have typically learned NOT to challenge or confront or hold the borderline/sociopathic person accountable out of fear.  The punishment, the emotional fangs and daggers that they have finely honed and how they have come to find your unique soft spot to target is an amazing feat. These are highly intelligent observers who can read you in a minute and know just how to play you based on that personal demographic they have just exhumed.

So, know this:  It’s not about you, but you will be punished by the toxic family member for refusing to accept their game-playing, mind games, manipulations and how they try to live through you, hijack your personality,  or get you to carry their pain and confusion for them.

Hand in blender sensation?  They’ve got you carrying their pain.

Head spinning?  They’ve got you carrying their confusion.

And this transfer happens in minutes.

Borderline personalities need and feed on constant chaos, crisis, conflict.  The intsensity is what rewards them.  Sociopath personalities have an arrogant sense of control and of being above deep or complex emotions.  Empathy and a conscience make them uneasy because these cannot be controlled so easily.  Smug satisfaction of control is what rewards them.

In a nutshell, don’t try to fix these personality types at home.  Find a skilled and experienced mental health professional to do that, emphasis on skill and experience.

I have heard these two types say to the people they have hurt, “But I love you.”

I challenge that.   Is need really love?  Is control really love?

Are these personality types capable of love?  I don’t know.  What I have seen over and over re borderline personalities displaying strong sociopathic traits.  When I see that combination, I really doubt it and I recommend self-preservation.

The problem is that on the surface, these two types can be living a really normal – looking life, and be rather good at a number of things such as their job, or a hobby. And that is deceptive and causes those around them to question their reality.

I have seen a family punish an abuse victim for speaking out against her mother’s abuse:  “She loves you! She loves you more than anything in the world!”  they all ganged up on the victim, mocking and shaming the shambled victim of an untreated borderline personality.

I have seen a judge and a lawyer refuse to grant a restraining order to a beaten wife because her husband was a successful computer software programmer and wore finely pressed Ralph Lauren button – down shirts everyday. “He doesn’t look like ‘Joe Six Pack’ they both laughed at her in court.

If you are being affected by these abuses, you are not alone and I encourage those who have been through it and come through intact to help those who remain trapped by these two personality types.

So, in the meantime, how does one survive the borderline or sociopathic toxic family member?

  1.  Get yourself to a safe place both physically, and emotionally.  Stay away from them.
  2.  From that insulated space, set boundaries and limits so they cannot invade or use or abuse that space. You do not have to answer their phone call, or reply to their texts or emails.  You can unfriend them on social media.
  3. Make a place of peace for yourself and celebrate the beauty and joy of calm, comfort and conflict-free people and places and things.
  4. Use really pointed self-care.
  5. Invest your time, money and work in your talents, skills, hopes and goals.  Both philosophically and tangibly.
  6. Be around normal people.  Normal meaning people who may have problems but still manage to be self-responsible and safe and appropriate and who do not violate you with emotional abuse, extortion or manipulations.
  7. Be around people who raise your self-esteem and recognize your ownership of your Self. Be around people who are truly interested in you just for yourself,  without invading you.
  8. Get angry that you and your personality have been used and stolen and abused.
  9. Use that anger to respect yourself and protect yourself and your future.
  10. Grieve the loss of what could have been, the family you would have liked to have had.  It is truly sad to have that vast wasteland of sharp, barbed and broken bones instead of the safe, warm, inviting family life we all deserve.  Don’t put lipstick on the pig — accept reality for what it is.  Don’t pretend it’s better than it is. Be sad for it.
  11. Move on and don’t look back.  Don’t go back to the toxic relationship.  Don’t set yourself up for a new toxic relationship. Be creative in building the better adopted family life you really want and can, in creative ways, have.


_______________________________Heidi Hansen, M.A. is a Mental Health Advocate in private practice in Vancouver, Washington and is available at a sliding fee scale for those who struggle economically.  Heidi Hansen believes that everyone, regardless of their economy, deserves quality mental health care and this is the core of her practice.  Call (360) 892-5218 or email her at to discuss. Thanks!bizcardpic




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