Toxic families are woven together by lies and deception and gaslighting, where abusive behaviour is hidden and disguised and people may feel unsafe and unheard. Toxic families have inevitably been shaped by a parent at some point—often in order to serve their own interests. Many narcissistic parents create toxic family environments as they embroil their children in their dramas and do all that is necessary to present a perfect face to the outside world—no matter what impact that has on the children.
A toxic family environment tends to remain a toxic family environment—no matter how much time passes. And yet, everyone within that family is part of a wider world. They may be happily married, have interesting jobs, get involved with the community or a network of friends and they may be good parents.
But put them back in the toxic family environment and, no matter what they’re like the rest of the time, they quickly become lying, cheating, aggressive (or passive aggressive) and downright nasty people. Why is that?
They revert to their previous roles
As we grow older and hopefully grow as people, although we may retain a core personality, we move on from our childhood selves. What happens when you’re put back in that toxic mixing pot is that you may revert to “type.”
If you were always the sneaky, passive-aggressive kid you’ll likely act that way because you don’t know any other way to act around your siblings and parents. Even if you have changed considerably, your other family members will expect you to act as you always have done and may unconsciously or consciously manipulate you into that position. No matter what you’ve learned about life and how much you’ve changed, you may quickly slip into a role which doesn’t generally fit with you.
You’re forced to respond to lies, cheating and aggression
As an adult, you have the choice to surround yourself with the type of people who reflect your values and who you are comfortable with. Your birth family may not represent people who you would choose to have in your life. If your toxic family thrives on lies, cheating, gaslighting and abusive behaviours, unless you’re going to sit silent, you’ll be forced to respond in some way.
If your family supports openly aggressive or emotionally abusive behaviour, you may find yourself resorting to passive-aggressive tactics and lying and cheating yourself in order to stay safe—however much you may deplore this type of behaviour. When you’re with your family, you might find yourself turning far nastier and more manipulative than you are in your usual life.