By definition, the word toxic refers to something extremely harmful, harsh, or even poisonous. It doesn’t take much more than a quick google search to see the word toxic in relation to family members. My question is; how did we get to this view? And can it be doing more harm than good when it comes to self-care, growth and being at peace in one’s life?

This blog aims to shed light on a different viewpoint toward ‘toxic’ family members and will hopefully act as a tool for self-reflection and a step closer toward inner-peace.

There is no denying that serious offences and issues, including abuse and abusive behaviour may take place within a family unit. However, at times we must go beyond blaming and look inward to understand why we are seeking the need to label a family member as toxic, and more so, why the trend seems to lean toward cutting out family members and never looking back.

It is important to take time to reflect on whether cutting a family member out of your life truly solves the emotions being experienced. After the person is gone, in life and in death, does the pain and frustration leave with them? Or does the anger linger and never find a place to settle? Could it be that a ‘toxic’ family member’s actions are stemming from their own flaws and unresolved issues?

This is not to say that the pain caused by certain behaviours or patterns is not real. Families are made up of individuals; individuals who go through crises, mental health episodes, addictions, loss and so much more. Yet, do we really want to believe that labelling a person as toxic, harmful, poisonous, will bring any inner-peace to ourselves?

From my own experience, I have learnt that while certain behaviours cause pain and are far from acceptable, the person behind them are fighting their own harsh battle and may still be good, loving family members at their core. At times, we are not ready to embark on the journey of self-growth, reflection or therapy, and we may need distance from those around us, even from family. It is ok to not accept a family member’s behaviour, to need distance, and to love them at the same time.

Everybody should feel safe within their own home, and should take steps toward finding this safety. Sometimes, we think this safety may come from acting out, getting far away from some people, and placing labels such as ‘toxic’. Yet, when the angry words have been said and the distance has been set, are the scars created from all the experiences not still visible and painful? Are we not still wounded, carrying around the heaviness on our shoulders?

As challenging as the thought may be when you are hurting, true inner-peace relies on our own growth and our own effort. It relies on understanding how our beliefs and actions may have also played a damaging role in our own sense of safety, on finding ways to learn from our family’s past and from our own past, in order to create a more serene present and a brighter, healthier future generation.

While therapy is truly and ideal space to reflect and heal from these scars, it is not always the right time in one’s life to embark on a therapeutic journey. So, if you do not yet feel ready to take the step, just start by reflecting, and being open to the possibility of different routes toward finding safety and inner-peace before deciding to live the rest of your life by the mantra of ‘my family is toxic’

Michaela Pace is a Psychology graduate from the University of Malta. She has worked with children and adolescents within the social sector and currently works as a Triage Officer and Volunteer Manager within Willingness Team, while pursuing a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy.