It is important to clarify this from the first line: Trying to give an answer to the question of what is meant by “toxic family” means simplifying a concept that is quite heterogeneous and complex.. For starters, the term itself is poorly worded. The toxic friend, toxic partner, toxic family member… Experts tackle the tagline that has become popular in recent years and defend its replacement with “dysfunctional.”
Therefore, there are many types of dysfunctional families, “those, in a way, prevent the healthy development of the individual in the mental aspect,” said Marina Díaz Marsá, vice president of the Spanish Society of Psychiatry and Mental Health (SEPSM), who insisted on the idea that It is necessary to analyze each aspect and personal situation, because there are many types of this type of bond within the family.. “Perhaps it is due to lack of or excessive care, in the case of mistreatment or abuse, or in an environment that is relieved of expectations,” for example the psychiatrist.
Before continuing, it might be good to explore the concept of family further, without the surnames attached to it. “It is a natural social group, an open system in constant change with flexible and permeable limits. where the development of personal and interpersonal skills and the freedom of the members are emphasized, where each of them occupies a place and is considered in their individuality and as part of that system,” explained Rocío Goitia González , psychologist. and member. of the Governing Board of the Official College of Psychology of Castilla-La Mancha (Copclm).
The expert calls a dysfunctional family that maintains strict limits internally (with strict rules or a distant and authoritarian hierarchy) and externally (everything revolves around the family without allowing other types in the relationship). Besides, Goitia agrees that this type of family bond occurs whenever “the optimal development of the individual identity of the members is not allowed” according to their evolutionary stage.. “Therefore, if a woman is ready to walk on her own, we should not stop, because of fear or overprotection, but rather encourage her attempts to achieve it. In the case of an adolescent who needs to distance himself from his parents in order to achieve his own identity, a healthy family will give permission to do so without causing guilt. or too much conflict with him,” he said.
On the other hand, Díaz explained the need to have family relationships, so “we must try to work so that relationships are good, not to avoid them.” yes, “In cases where these relationships cannot be renewed because one of the members is weak and the other causes special harm, we can advise avoiding that contact.””, he stated.
There are many types of families with possibilities for group interaction. However, according to Goitia, They all share a common sense of belonging”the contribution of individual and collective identity, considering each of the members in their deepest essence and a series of flexible rules that help them act as a group, at the same time that allows them to develop of adaptation skills to the outside world.”
How to recognize a toxic family environment
The Copclm psychologist points out that in the family environment there are harmful patterns of interaction when:
- There is discomfort in one or more limbs because they do not feel considered in their individuality, as well as an important part of the family group.
- Communication styles include secrets, threats, attacks on the individuality of members, damage to self-esteem, dominance, isolation and, of course, violence in any of its forms.
- Autonomy or respect is not encouraged.
- No flexible limits promote self-control and adequate interaction with other family members and the environment.
“Family is our primary source of identity and self-esteem.. It is in a healthy environment where we establish ourselves as valid and valuable beings and where we learn social skills and patterns of interaction that we bring to other social spaces. To him, we receive continuous interpretations about ourselves, the world and others”, said Goitia, who added that our mental health will depend on the social interactions that are known in the first years of life.
What should we do if we have a toxic family relationship?
As mentioned earlier, family relationships are very important for our development as individuals. According to Goitia, “sometimes we know the source of our discomfort, while other times we have symptoms that are difficult to associate with a particular situation.” The psychologist elaborated on this If we discover that the patterns of our family interactions are harmful, we can try to change them.”developing healthier styles, more aware of the way we communicate, of the fears behind harmful acts such as violence, control, overprotection or neglect, lack or excess of limits.”
Finally, he advises that, if necessary, we can turn to a psychology professional which helps us identify and change these family patterns. “We must remember that the family works like any other system where it is enough to make changes in a small part to change the functioning of the system as a whole.”