Toxic Family Members: What to Do About Them

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

Do you have toxic family members? The folks who make you feel worse and worse every time you talk to them? You need to read this.

Most of the time, a family is bursting with support and love for each other. For example, grandparents make our lives so much better. If your kids are lucky enough to be surrounded by grandparents, they will be all the better for it.

Toxic Family Members: What to Do About Them

Toxic Family Members

There may be relatives in your life right now that are causing you to feel almost constant upset and stress. Whether it’s a parent, sibling, cousin, or that weird uncle everyone tries not to sit by at the family reunions, people we’re related to can hurt us pretty badly.

Let me give you an example. 

Once upon a time, there was a woman who had two sisters. One sister was awfully good to her. She always had her back. When the woman’s husband cheated on her, her sister asked for permission to beat him up and leave his head on the lawn as a warning to other cheating husbands.

Even though the woman declined her offer, she absolutely believed her sister. She would defend her to the end. Those kinds of sisters are everything. If you have one, call her right now and thank her. (READ: 7 Reasons Sisters Are the Best Ever.)

The other sister? Not so much. She seemed to almost take pleasure in the drama. Somehow she finds a way to make the situation even more painful. She brings up the woman’s past failed relationships. She reports seeing the husband laughing and having a good time with his new person.

In short, her superpower is the ability to make people feel bad about themselves. Are there people in your family like this?

How to know whether you have toxic family members.

It’s one thing to occasionally say or do the wrong thing. We’ve all done that! But, it’s so much more than that with toxic family members. Here are some things to watch for.

1. If you don’t do what they want you to do, they get angry and criticize. They don’t understand, won’t understand, and aren’t interested in your reasons.

2. They report things you do to other family members. Because of them, your Grandmother knows you had one too many drinks at girl’s night.

3. They call your names either to your face or behind your back. You would think that adults stopped calling people names when they graduated from middle school. Unfortunately for you, your relative didn’t get the memo.

4. No one does ‘passive-aggressive’ better than they do. These are the folks who post things on Facebook like, “Some people shouldn’t think they’re better than everyone else. Just saying.” They aren’t brave enough to speak to you directly. They show their jealousy on social media hoping you’ll read what they say and feel bad.

5. They are sicker than you, sadder than you, and they hurt more than you. I don’t even have to explain this one. If there are people in your life that do this, you’re well aware of it.

Do you have the right to remove toxic family members from your life?

The short answer is yes. You have the absolute right to cut out anyone who makes your life miserable just by virtue of their connection to you.

This is your life, and not to be a party pooper, but you only get one. How do you want to spend it? Encircled by people who are good to you, or by people who make you feel bad every time you speak to them?

There are plenty of people who will tell you that you should never cut family members from your life. If that’s your opinion, that’s what you should do. Always be true to your own conviction! But please find other ways of protecting yourself from the damaging emotional erosion they can cause.

How do you remove family members from your life?

Draw a hard line. If you feel miserable, and talking it out hasn’t worked, perhaps you should simply close down the channels of communication. Block phone numbers and social media accounts.

Have a conversation. Talk about how you feel. Listen to how they feel. Discuss what the two of you can do to make it better.

Draw hard lines. You don’t have to answer the phone when they call. Voicemail can be your go-between. You don’t have to share your personal life with them. You are under no obligation to include them in anything you do.

We wish you luck and hope you’ll share your own experience with us. How do you handle toxic family members?

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating: 4.3 from 137 votes

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Leave a Review!

We LOVE hearing from you! Submit your question or comment here.

Your email address will not be published.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

17 comments on “Toxic Family Members: What to Do About Them”

  1. I have 2 sisters, exactly as described above. I did cut them both off, blocked! I didn’t want to hear from one about what the other was saying. I have recently just started talking to them again, two years later. We’ll see how long this lasts.

  2. Joyce Murotani

    My oldest son, I had to block from my phone and block from all of my social media, my mother passed away and left me her car, and when I gave it to my brother, he became furious with me because he thought I should’ve given it to him, he and my brother do not get along and haven’t in many years But he seems to forget that my brother was also my mother’s son, and he said horrible things to me things that I’ve yet to forgive I hate being a strained from my son, but I am not the one that said these horrible things it was him. I loved him then I love him still , I just cannot have him in my life right now and it makes me sick, I hope for better days sometime in the future but not now

  3. Had to cut off my in-laws cold turkey. MIL was toxic and possibly mentally ill – she’s gone to 3 different ‘counselors’ with no improvement. When she didn’t have me to kick around anymore she focused on her other son’s wife. Allegedly my BIL HAD to divorce her because she was bi-polar but I think my MIL drove her crazy. Before I cut ties my SIL was ‘perfect’.

  4. My daughter is married to a very controlling and manipulative individual. He has convinced her that I said and did things that are not true. He twisted the truth to the point that she has now told me as far as she is concerned I am no longer her mother. I have tried to talk with her but he will not allow her to be with me if he is not present. It has been over a year and I never hear from her. It breaks my heart that he has brainwashed her into believing I don’t care about her or love her. I have been told to “wash my hands” of this awful situation but she is my daughter and despite everything I do love her!

  5. I have had this experience, unfortunately. My own sister started befriending my ex and his new wife. She knew I was in an abusive marriage when I was with him. She hated him. But now for some reason she has changed her way of thinking. I was confused and asked her about it and was accused of being jealous and “triggered”. I haven’t talked to her since then.

  6. I absolutely agree with cutting toxic family members out of your life. Sometimes you just have to, if for anything, your own sanity.

    My toxic family are some of my in-laws. My f-i-l has been this way ever since I’ve known him. If you don’t do or say what he wants he will treat you like garbage. Last week I asked for help with something. He yelled at my husband (his son) and was quite nasty to him so I said something. He got pissed at what I said so he even stopped sending his son daily reminders to take his epilepsy meds. Nice!!

    One of my s-i-l’s is a toxic piece of work. Everything is always about her. For the past two years we have avoided going to our family Christmas Eve gathering because of her. Last year I was trashed and bashed for making a suggestion to add better gifts to the dice game for adults. She went so far as saying “Clearly you don’t know this family at all.” This year the EXACT same thing was suggested by someone else and it was received as the greatest idea ever.

    I keep telling my husband that he and his mom (she passed away 3 years ago) are the best of that family.

    1. Me and you shared the same experience. I went through the same thing with my in laws. Especially the dad(f-i-l). Just yesterday we got into a fight with the in laws bc I wasn’t getting along with the sister(hubby’s sister) and he wanted me to come around more often, he complains about several things in the household and they always makes me feel like I’m not welcome here.. At this time we are still living under the same roof and I feel like moving out bc of it! I am never going to come here ever again !

  7. Jane Hernandez

    I have a daughter that thinks I owe her the world, and she always thinks I have to cater to her. She is 30 yrs old. When things DNT go her way she gets mad and takes things out on me. She brings up dumb things and thinks I have to deal with this stuff. No I just will not deal with her at all. She needs to get her life on track

  8. I have a couple of toxic people in my family but the one that struck the hardest was my daughter.  She is the one that I had to cut off completely.  All my life I wanted a family of my own so different from the one I had growing up. There were no grandparents around. My mother pretty much gave me up to a man who I found out wasn’t my biological father.  I found out at age 15 when he got mad at me and told me. I had an abusive stepmother, so didn’t have the greatest parents growing up.  So I wanting things to be different when I started my own family.  I wanted to be the mother that I never had.  Today I have a good relationship with my mother but I do not agree with what she did to me.  I have always been a very forgiving person.  I wanted to be there for my children the way my parents weren’t there.  I wanted to be the grandparent I never really had.   But my daughter shattered those dreams with her toxic and narcissistic personality.  Her dad and I divorced when she was around 11-12. He too was toxic and abusive.  My daughter was a very difficult child.  With her I always tried to do the right thing.  She started showing very troublesome behavior after our divorce and I took her to counseling and the psychologist said it was because of her dad that she was behaving the way she was.  I asked him to go to counseling with her and he refused.  Things got worse and again I asked for his help but his wife told me I needed to handle things on my own.  She started doing things that were inappropriate and sneaking out of the house to where I was getting phone calls from police officers telling me they have her and I need to pick her up.  I feared for her life so I decided to put her into a program where she would get counseling and she couldn’t sneak out.  It was an hour away from where we lived and I had to go to counseling with her every week and sometimes weekends.  She was in the program for about a year before her father found out and only because she asked if she could call him. That’s how much he was involved in her life. He was supposed to get her every other weekend but never got her or called her.  After this he started to get her on his wkds for a couple of months and her behavior started to go back to what it was.  She had been doing so good until this point. He still refused to go to counseling or get involved with the program, I eventually took her out because it was counteracting all the hard work we had achieved for the whole year with his involvement.  He went to not getting her on his weekends again.  No communications to her from him.   She still was very difficult but I didn’t want to give up on her.   It at age 15 things got worse.  So I decided to let her go live with her dad.  He brought her back in less than a month.  I tried very hard to turn things around but she fought me every step of the way.  Her dad never backed me up and that is why she is the way she is today.  He showed her how to lie.  He showed her how to be disrespectful.  He showed her how to be manipulative.  I tried to reason with my daughter and told her about my life experiences but then she used my stories to make them her own.  She lies all the time.  To make this long story shorter she was going through a 2nd divorce. The 1st ended really badly to where her ex moved to the other side of the country and was not apart of their son’s life.  He was no saint but she caused so many problems trying to put him in jail every week that he left and my grandson had no father.  She had a daughter with the 2nd husband and when they split up she tried to keep him from seeing his daughter.  She told lies and more lies and tried to deceive me. I tried to get her to be reasonable to let him see her daughter and she lashed out and accused me of taking his side.  I just didn’t want my granddaughter to be without a father like her son.  My daughter got so mad at me that she told lies and more lies and tried to cause my husband to leave me by lying to him. My daughter has always used me as a punching bag.  She has never been loyal to me.  I gave her all of me because I never had a mother growing up.  She fought me every step of the way.  She always threw her father up in my face and knew which punches to throw and how to push my buttons.  I tried to get her father to have a relationship with her but he refused.  Now my daughter is 30 years old. Because of her toxic behavior I cut her out.  She had done so many things to me and my family and I had been very forgiving even though she didn’t deserve it but when she tried to get my husband to leave me I realized that this child had no love for me whatsoever.  What kind of daughter could do such a thing? What kind of daughter could spread lies and lies about her own mother just to get attention and sympathy from the people she fools?   She is evil!  I’ve prayed for her so many times and she hasn’t changed one bit yet she continues to fool people into believing her stories. So I finally cut the cord.  I was a good mother to her and the best grandmother to her children but that wasn’t enough for her.  So many people told me I should let her live with her father and let him deal with her but I didn’t want to give up my daughter because my own mother gave me up. And the one time I gave her a chance to see what it would be like to live with him, he brought her back in less than a month.  Now she rubs it in my face that she has a relationship with him.  I always wanted her to have a relationship with him but he was the one who wasn’t a part of her life.  He’s lied to her and told stories about me and she believes him.  She blames me and told me I kept her from her father.  So not true.  He never made an attempt.  And funny, she knows this yet she has blocked it for some reason.  When she was 15 he brought her back.  She had her own cellphone and he never once called her or asked to see her or used his visitation rights.  So why she wants to blame me for what he did? A toxic person always has to have someone to fight with.  I always tried to get her to do the right thing by telling her she needs to let her exes be fathers to their children.  She blames me for keeping her father out of her life, yet she is doing what she claims I did.  Her father chose to be out of her life.  She is the one that stands in the way of her children and their fathers.  It hurts that she continues to treat me the way she does when I stuck by her all those years, yet she shows love and respect to her father who abandoned her and lied to her.  Her toxic behavior towards me is why I had to cut her out.  Sick of being the punching bag for her.

  9. I have a future sister in law that picks everything about me apart, I have completely ghosted her. I hope I never see her again. I know that one day I’ll have to see her, I will try my hardest not to engage in her toxicity!

  10. This article screams my family.
    Those masses filled with tension and awkward small talk ,waiting for the ringmaster to start the shitshow.
    After years of this I dropped many of my family circle,my mom, sister ,cousins,father,and my son.these people have dragged me down for year after year.the weight off my shoulders was life changing,I’m happier and love my life with my wife and close family.
    I tried all areas of least resistance.but some people are just born rotten,jealous,and all those other negatives.
    Dont care,no regrets,you enjoy your life and I’ll enjoy mine this is my right to be free.ive earned it.

  11. My mother is a toxic person in my life. I have not spoken with my mother in almost 9 years and I don’t plan on talking to her any time soon. Her and I never had a good mother-daughter relay at all. She hated the fact that I was born and was always putting me down and making me feel like I was nothing. After years of wishing and hoping for a mother-daughter relationship, I have come to accept that I will never have that and I’m ok with that. When I was pregnant with my youngest child, she told me she hoped my child would be either still born or disabled. That was the last straw for me. How could my own mother wish such ill thoughts about an unborn child? I have blocked her off all my social media and my phone. I have no contact with her and my family knows not to share anything about my life and my family life with her. I live almost 600 miles away from her and still she tries to make my life miserable sometimes. People in one of our cultural communities 600 miles away think I am a drug dealer and an alcoholic. I don’t know how I would be that way if I have never done drugs and only have a drink occasionally with my husband. Anyways, I completely believe in cutting people out of your life if they are toxic. It doesn’t matter if they are family. I look at it like this: if there is a fire we move away from it and no towards it. Same goes for toxic people. Why be close to it when it’s only going to cause you harm. I am a person who gives slot of chances to someone who is toxic towards me but after so many chances, I won’t hesitate to cut you out. I don’t care who you are. I only have one life and I don’t plan on having toxic and negative people around it. 

  12. My mother is my toxic person. Maybe because I’m an only child I expected more but I’m never good enough. I’m almost 50 years old and my mom still talks badly about me. I live 1300 miles away from her but she still talks badly about me. I have no contact with her for over two years now but I’m still a disappointment. I’ve been married for years to same man. Raised 3 awesome kids and have 6 grandchildren that love me like crazy but to her I’ve never been a good parent or daughter. Straight in schools not good enough. Excelled in sports, choir, dance, gymnastics… still not good enough.  I gave up trying to please her because every other person in my life is supportive and love me. But the one person that you think should love you unconditionally makes you feel unwanted and terrible about yourself. My life without her in it has been less stressful and I have grown in self confidence and self live since cutting ties. Yes, I wish I had a real mother but I’ve realized that I have so much love from my kids grandkids and friends that I don’t “need “ her!  I know that we are supposed to honor our parents but I pray I’m forgiven for not being able to. 

  13. I do not agree with completely cuttingba family member out of your life, unless you have exhausted all means of trying to work things up. Too many people these dsys just give up and slam the door on parents, grandparents, sisters, children etc….
    And so many therapists are relling their patients to remove toxic family members when they havent heard the other side of the story.
    I speak from experience. I have 2 adult children. They had a wonderful stable loving childhood, growing up around wonderful grandparents, aunts, cousins etc. .. we have been married 32 years.
    Both children were a delight, we all had so many wonderful memories.
    My daughter went thru a very bad relationship with a boyfriend that had addictions. They broke up and i encouraged her to go into therapy. I offered to go with her. She lives 1500 miles away but we were still very close, tslking daily by ohone and 100 texts.
    Her therapist encouraged her to cut her whole family out of her life. He told her that we were the cause of her anxieties, and especially me in particular! She is 27 and this happened 3 yesrs ago. We all reached out to her in live and asked what was wrong, did any of us say or do anything etc??? No eesponse.
    She walked away from her entire family and childhood.
    Cutting a loving family entirely out of her lufe? No! There was no abuse, no drinking, no fighting. We have no idea other than the breakup with the botfriend. She finished college and is happily married. No kids yet. There is no explanation…..?

    1. Julie LaFlamme

      Have you tried talking to her therapist? That sounds like the toxic relationship. Probably projecting their own family’s problems onto their patients. I’d book an appointment, then if you feel like something is off with that therapist- report them to their governing body.