How to Survive a Toxic Family

by Laila Winters

When you consider the word toxic, you think of all the things that are harmful to your health or wellbeing. You think air pollution, radiation, or the hazardous chemicals used in cleaning supplies that merit a warning label on the bottle. Things considered toxic are things we take caution to avoid, though sometimes such poison comes wrapped in the guise of another person, and avoiding them is like severing your own arm; it’s easier said than done.

Most of us are taught from a young age that family is at the core of who we are. We’re meant to love and cherish such relationships, told our loyalties are to lie with the people who share our blood. We’re also taught to turn the other cheek, that your mother means well when she pinches your stomach and calls you fat. “Since when did you get so many rolls? I’m only asking because I love you.” 

Our first instinct upon hearing the word ‘toxic’ isn’t to point fingers at family. They love us, they mean well, they want the best for us. And while sometimes it may be true, these are blanketed statements that only serve to make us feel better; yes, your mother just insulted you, but that’s okay because she loves you.

Yes, your mother might love you, but no, it’s still not okay.

Abuse comes in two primary forms: 

Anyone can partake in either form of abuse, and this means that your family isn’t exempt; their role in your life does not negate how they treat you. Whether you’ve already realized that the people in your life are toxic, or you’re just starting to question their intentions, there are ways to survive their toxicity. 

Before moving forward, please note that these toxicity survival tips have been drawn from personal experiences, and that may differ from your situation or circumstances. If you or someone you know is in immediate or life threatening danger, please go through the proper channels to get help. Contact your local authorities, or reach out to one of these organizations

6. Walk Away / Leave The Room

Today’s society harps on the weakness of walking away; if you block an ex-anything on Facebook, be it a friend, romantic partner, or foe, it means that they’ve won and you’ve finally succumbed to defeat. This isn’t true even where social media is concerned; there is nothing wrong with taking a break and simply walking away. 

Go for a run, take a drive, do anything that puts space between you and your abuser. Give them a chance to calm down, give yourself a chance to breathe, and realize that you’re under no obligation to stand in their line of fire. Sharing blood is not an excuse for anyone to treat you like shit

5. Refrain From Stooping To Their Level

Often, this is easier said than done. But snapping back with a witty retort won’t help you, and neither will lashing out with a comment just as harmful as the ones being slung at you by your abuser. Fighting fire with fire only fans the flames, and it only serves to hurt you in the end. 

Never answer an insult with an insult, no matter how tempting it might be, and instead remove yourself from the situation. Becoming just as cruel will not make you feel better. 

Leave the room, hang up the phone, close out of Facebook messenger. Cut off the contact channels you’re being abused through. Out of sight, out of mind, don’t respond. Do something that brings you joy, and realize that the hurtful comments are likely a reflection of a toxic person’s inner self and feelings. 

4. Realize That They Might Be Projecting

The way a toxic person treats you may not be personal. As an example, if your mother prods at you for your weight, it may be that she’s projecting her own insecurities onto you. Discouraging or insulting someone else’s livelihood or physical appearance is a harmful coping mechanism used by abusers to negate their own inner feelings. By projecting those feelings on to you, they’re acknowledging a part of themselves they’re insecure about, but are still ultimately refusing to face such realities. It’s easier to point out someone else’s stagnation in life than it is to realize that you yourself are stagnant. 

Realize that a toxic person’s hurtful comments may not be about you at all, but are their own inner reflections. As with the previous tips, remove yourself from the situation and refrain from responding in a negative manner. 

3. Don’t Respond To Text Messages / Take Their Phone Calls

If your mother is anything like mine, she’s always prepared to insult you via telephone, be it through text messages or phone calls. Now that I’ve left home, I receive several calls and text messages a day, most of them either criticizing or infantilizing me in some way. I can’t do this, I’m not capable of doing that, I need to move back home for (x) reason. 

I’ve learned to just simply stop responding.

By not responding, or by choosing to decline a phone call, you’re not giving your abuser what they want. They want to rile you up, they want to make you feel bad or upset. If you don’t answer their texts or send them straight to voicemail, you’re saving yourself the trouble of falling victim to their abuse. Cut the contact when you know they’re prepared for an outburst.

2. Express Your Concerns Using “I feel” Statements

Just like with tip number 5, this might also be easier said than done. Opening up to your abuser can be difficult, fearful, and it can put yourself on the frontlines of a firing range. But it’s also incredible brave, and explaining to your family just how toxic they’ve been can open their eyes in ways you might not realize. 

As a wise woman once told me, speak to your abuser using “I feel” statements, and avoid accusing them of mistreating you. Doing so will only make them angry, and it’ll negate what you’re trying to accomplish. Explain to them, “I feel you’ve been too hard on me recently.” If it’s well received and they’re open to hearing about your feelings, continue the conversation. If they immediately go on the defense, remove yourself from the situation in whichever way works best for you.

1. Distance Yourself 

If you find yourself in a position where all else has failed, distance yourself from toxic family in whatever manner you’re able. Blood is not thicker than water, and you are not required to stay in a hostile environment for the sake of maintaining family relationships. 

If ever you’re in the position to move away from home entirely, this is my number one survival tip. This allows you to control the amount of access that your toxic family has to you, and it’ll give you a sense of independence that you likely never realized you were missing. It also gives you the chance to try and heal from the harm your abusers have caused you. 

Bonus Tip

Create a new support system for yourself, one of your choosing. 

Surround yourself with people who love and appreciate you, who understand where you came from and why you might need time alone or little extra patience on some days. You deserve that, even if the ones you’re distancing yourself from say otherwise. 

You deserve to be happy, to live, and to have a life away from toxicity. 

Laila Winters
Laila Winters (she/her) is an anxious, cosplaying YA author of science fiction and fantasy. Also an avid reader, she squeezed a small library into her 600sf apartment and continues to add to her collection, much to her fiancée’s dismay. Laila is part of the LGBTQ+ community and identifies as both a lesbian and asexual. When she’s not writing, Laila enjoys cosplaying, crocheting, and watching documentaries. She’s a shield maiden at heart, has a love for snarky pirates, and is distantly related to Blackbeard. She lives somewhere deep in the Midwest with her fiancée and bulldog, Moo.