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Live talk available at the below date and time. The Electrical Industries Charity presents a wellbeing series of inspirational speakers and leading experts in mental health, law, and reliance. The series is uplifting and educational on a range of issues impacting our industry. Format of the series will be a 50-minute virtual presentation followed by 10 minutes of questions and answers facilitated by the Charity CEO, Tessa Ogle.

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Jamie is a senior solicitor in our Employment team. He provides advice on all employment law matters to clients across a range of sectors, including: day-to-day employment advice and HR support, contracts and changes to terms and conditions, discipline and grievance, absence and performance, discrimination, whistleblowing, mental health, sexual harassment, restructuring and redundancies, TUPE, drafting and negotiating settlement agreements and corporate support. He also regularly represents clients in the Employment Tribunal and has appeared in Scotland, England & Wales and Northern Ireland.

Burness Paull LLP is a leading independent law firm, based in Scotland and acting for clients throughout the UK and internationally. They have both Scottish and English qualified lawyers and act for many household names. Our employment law team is the largest in Scotland, with significant experience dealing with all aspects of employment law and HR advice and employment tribunal representation. The employment law team is top ranked by the legal directories (Legal 500 and Chambers) and acts for clients throughout the UK and internationally.

Jamie worked in the electrical industry for 5 years before starting his legal career.

Banter v Bullying – He often advises clients about the difference between banter and bullying in the workplace and has been involved in tribunal cases where one leads to the other. He will talk about the difference between the two, (in)appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and how managers and employers can stay on the right side of the law.

You can contact Jamie by emailing him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. before or after the event.

July 2022

This July we shine the spotlight on relationships. Our entire life is formed of relationships whether that be with partners, family members, colleagues or friends and our relationships can have a huge impact on our mental and even physical health. We explore how to remove toxic relationships from your life, how to ensure relationships are positive and different ways to keep relationships working for you.

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A toxic relationship is defined as a relationship between two people who don’t support each other, where is the conflict, competition, a lack of respect and cohesiveness. This means toxic relationships can exist romantically, platonically and professionally and when a relationship is toxic it can poison everything else around you. Of course, relationships can have ups and downs but when the negative aspects outweigh the positive consistently the relationship can be a huge drain.

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Fundamentally, toxic relationship behaviours are the result of a lack of empathy. Whether that be demanding your partner live up to your expectations, or refusing to see things from their perspective, toxic behaviour often represents an inability to feel genuine understanding and compassion for the other person. While it may seem like empathy is something people are born with, it’s actually possible to become more empathic by consciously practicing empathy in our daily lives, the same way we might practice a sport.

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The most serious warning signs include any form of violence, abuse or harassment, which should be dealt with immediately. But in many cases, the indicators of a toxic relationship are much more subtle.
The first, and simplest, is persistent unhappiness, Glass says. If a relationship stops bringing joy, and instead consistently makes you feel sad, angry, anxious or “resigned, like you’ve sold out,” it may be toxic, Glass says. You may also find yourself envious of happy couples. 

1. Lack of trust
A partner is someone for you to rely on, to be vulnerable with, and to have in your corner. In the absence of trust, none of these things are possible.
"When I see people in a mostly healthy relationship, there is a security that they have in the stability in their relationship," says Jeni Woodfin, LMFT, a therapist at J. Woodfin Counseling in San Jose, California. "Without trust, and not just trust that their partner will be faithful, but trust that their partner will behave in the best interest of the agreements of the relationship, there cannot be a sense of security."

2. Hostile communication

Forms of hostile communications include:

  • Yelling
  • Name-calling or other hurtful phrases
  • Throwing and breaking things
  • Using your body for physical intimidation or force

According to Woodfin, subtler signs of hostile communication include:

  • The silent treatment
  • Using 'you-statements' or blaming statements
  • Constantly interrupting
  • Listening to respond instead of listening to hear and understand your partner

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Hostile communication can cause tension and create further distrust between partners. Rather, healthy relationships rely on open communication, cooling down before things get too heated, and respect.

3. Controlling behaviours
Your partner doesn't have the right to control your actions or beliefs. According to Woodfin, one controlling behaviour to look out for is threatening loss of something, such as financial stability, time with your children, or companionship. "These threats strike fear in many people, and I find these are the reasons many, many people stay in unhealthy, unhappy relationships even when wishing for the relationship to end," she says.

Other signs of controlling behaviour include:

  • Telling you what's right
  • Threatening to out you
  • Needing to know everything you do and who you're with
  • Trying to manage your money
  • Secluding you from loved ones or always being present when you are with others
  • Acting like you don't know what you're talking about
  • Requiring access to your personal devices such as phone or email accounts

4. Frequent lying
"Lies — no matter how small — erode credibility over time," says Romanoff.
When a partner lies to you, it signals they don't respect you as a mutual partner who deserves honesty and care.
"Lying to your partner indicates your allegiance is to yourself, not the relationship," says Woodfin.

5. All take, no give
If your relationship consistently revolves around what makes your partner happy and ignores your needs, it can be a sign of toxicity.
"Being considerate of your partner is one thing, but if you find yourself saying no to yourself frequently to say yes to them, you might want to consider setting some boundaries," says Lewis. "If they dismiss, belittle, or bulldoze your boundaries, that could also be a sign of a toxic relationship."

According to Woodfin, signs of a one-sided relationship include:

  • Always being the first one to text
  • Long gaps between sending a message and receiving a response
  • Conversations that are choppy
  • Finding yourself asking over and over for your partner to change their behaviour
  • Having a significantly unequal division of labour, responsibility, or contribution to the relationship or household

6. You feel drained
Think about the last time you did something for yourself, spent time — even virtually — with a loved one, or slept soundly.
"It is helpful to examine how your connections outside of the relationship and with yourself have been affected," says Romanoff. "Usually, self-care and self-prioritization are neglected. Time and mental energy in toxic relationships will often be spent on the other person — either directly or indirectly through the backlash of unremitting discord and strife."
Try shifting some of your energy to take care of yourself and see how your partner reacts. If their response is negative, that signals toxic traits in the relationship.

7. You're making excuses for their behaviour
Do you often find yourself forced into a position to defend your partner? While it's easy to fall back on the mentality of 'you don't know them like I do,' an outside perspective from someone you know loves you— such as a friend or family member you trust — may be able to clearly see your partner's negative characteristics that are hard to acknowledge yourself.

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Our entire life is formed of relationships so it’s no surprise they can hugely impact our mental and physical health. A relationship between two people who don’t support each other is termed a ‘toxic relationship’ and can occur with a partner, family member, friend or colleague. Toxic relationships can be hugely damaging. In 2020, the Office for National Statistics report that an estimated 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 in England and Wales experienced abuse in their relationship with a partner. 26% of the instances reported to police were committed against men. Yet only 4.4% of victims end up being supported by local services, with 11% of male victims and 7.2% of women victims saying they’ve considered suicide as a result.

A few years ago, Steve was in a relationship with an abusive woman who struggled with alcohol addiction. He stayed with her longer than he should have done simply because he insisted she had 'a lovely side' that he believed in. After years of abuse, Steve finally made the decision to leave his partner. He got a new flat and eventually formed a new healthy relationship. But his ex-girlfriend refused to let Steve be happy. She couldn't allow him to move on with his new partner, and over a series of months, she did everything in her power to break them up, loitering around his new flat and shouting death threats through his letterbox.

On one of these occasions, she physically assaulted both Steve and his partner. The police were called and an injunction was taken out to protect them both. Although this stopped the abuse, the months of trauma had become too much for Steve’s new partner and she ended the relationship. Up until this point, Steve had been motivated at work, active at the gym, and generally had a positive outlook on life. But the trauma caused by his ex-girlfriend left him struggling to get out of bed and resulted in him being signed off work and feeling on the verge of a mental breakdown. He started medication prescribed by his GP but he was placed on the end of a long waiting list to access any form of counselling.

His manager visited him at home and advised him to seek support, so Steve contacted the EIC through the helpline. He spoke with a caseworker on the phone and relayed the traumatic events of the last few years. The EIC sourced a therapist just days after the first contact. After only one session with this therapist, Steve has said he is starting to feel better and more positive about the future. The help Steve was able to access is due to the support of the EIC and the powerLottery. It means he is getting the support he needs to access therapy, put the abusive relationship behind him and start the process of moving on with his life. Without powerLottery, the EIC would not be able to offer this support to people like Steve. That’s why we need you to become a powerLottery player to help EIC to continue supporting our industry members.

powerLottery is the only lottery made for our industry by our industry. It gives players 40 chances to win cash prizes ranging from £50 to £1,000 every single month. A £10,000 draw bi-yearly gives you even more opportunity to win BIG. A new car, a holiday in the sun, a kitchen re-fit or a brand-new wardrobe… Think of all the different ways you could spend £10,000.
To sign up to play the powerLottery today, click here:

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Toxic dynamics can be mended with conscious time, effort, and self-awareness. But both people need to be willing to change and accept responsibility to move forward. Here's exactly how to fix a toxic relationship:

  1. Understand whether the relationship actually can be fixed:
    Yes, toxic relationships can change. But that comes with a very big if. A toxic relationship can change if and only if both partners are equally committed to overcoming it with lots of open communication, honesty, self-reflection, and possibly professional help, individually and together. It will require each of you to examine your actions and do inner work. If you or your partner is not willing to truly put in the effort, the relationship will not change and should be ended.
    Additionally, if you don't see any improvements after going through these steps, the toxicity could be too much to overcome, and it may be better for you to move on.

  2. Be willing to walk away:
    "Before you attempt to confront a toxic partner, make sure your self-esteem and self-confidence are good enough for you to know that you will be all right if they end the relationship with you, or if you end up having to end it with them. If you're not there yet, seek support," trauma counselor Mily Gomez, LPC, tells mbg. "If you want to improve your relationship with a toxic partner, you have to be willing to leave that relationship if nothing changes. If you're unwilling to do so, your partner will ultimately know that regardless of what they do, you really won't leave."

  3. Look for the ABCD's:
    "Someone can recognize a toxic relationship if there is a constant presence of ABCD—accusations, blame, criticisms, and demands," Li says. If these behaviors are rampant in your relationship, talk to your partner about them and agree to work together to end this cycle. When you find yourself falling into any of these behaviors, notice how you are escalating the argument by resorting to these toxic behaviors. It's helpful to remember that it's not you versus your partner; it's both of you versus the communication problem. This collaborative mentality can help you reconnect with your partner naturally.

  4. Use your voice:
    Often in toxic relationships, you find yourself walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting your partner, which over time can build up resentment. If you feel anxiety about communicating something to your partner because you're afraid of their response, take note. In a relationship, it's essential you feel relaxed and that you are able to be yourself and bring up concerns as they come up. Your partner might not be aware that their behaviors are causing you to tread lightly. When you are upset about something, resist the urge to sweep it under the rug. Instead, take the time to thoughtfully exercise your voice (it's a muscle, so keep using it!) and share how you're feeling and how it may be creating distance in the relationship. Ask them to recognize how their behavior is affecting you so you can rebuild trust in the connection.

  5. Start taking up space:
    In toxic relationships, one person is often not honoring themselves or their own needs. "You have opinions, likes, and dislikes, but you find yourself constantly doing something other than what you feel is right," Gomez says. "You don't want to hurt their feelings or get them upset." Over time, the relationship can shift into one-sidedness, and your needs become less visible to care for. If you've observed this dynamic in your relationship, it's necessary to speak up so you don't continue perpetuating this behavior. "Help your partner recognize their toxic patterns and cycles, which includes triggers, feelings, and behaviors," Li says. Express how you're feeling with your partner, and let them know that you want to take up space in the relationship so you feel included too.
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  6. Seek out help:
    "Someone can recognize a toxic relationship if one or both partners feel worse about themselves when they're in the relationship. It can be self-worth, confidence, or body image," Li says. Being around them doesn't feel stable; in fact, you feel like you live in a constant state of unease of trying to be better to feel good enough. Healthy love—real, nurturing romance—doesn't involve any acts of earning. You are good enough simply by being who you are. If it's reached this stage in your relationship, things have eroded enough that you may need to bring a mental health professional into your interactions to give you perspective. "In a therapeutic setting, we help each person heal from unresolved injuries such as personal or intergenerational trauma. It's important couples practice new, healthier cycles to communicate and connect," says Li.

  7. Learn to trust yourself and stick to your guns:
    Toxic relationships often involve gaslighting, a cognitive strategy that creates a subtle, unbalanced power dynamic that seeks to control the moment in the relationship. If you continually question your sensitivity level and judgment, it can rapidly devolve into you distrusting your own feelings and thoughts. Cultivating mindfulness practices can be key to learning how to trust yourself and your own experience. Your truth is not up for debate. A few ways to do that: Take down notes or keep a journal to notice the inconsistencies between what you're being told and what is actually happening. When you are fully present and do not second-guess your reactions, a gaslighter will have a harder time distorting reality. Let them know that their perception is not your experience, and if they continue to speak to you disparagingly, you will not engage until they're willing to listen to you.

  8. Together, explore healthier ways to express criticism:
    Constructive criticism can be a healthy expression in all contexts of a relationship. But if someone habitually criticizes you in a judgmental or condemnatory way that is no longer helpful, it is crossing the line. "There is criticism about everything. Every time you do something, they always have a comment about what you did wrong or how you could have done it better. Ultimately, you feel unappreciated," Gomez says. To counteract this, Li advises it may be as simple as both of you learning how to express criticisms in a "compliment sandwich" or how to construct a dialogue where you can both listen to each other's point of view, so it's not just one person's monologue.

  9. Be OK with having uncomfortable conversations:
    Gomez points out that toxic relationships tend to be filled with little white lies—on both sides. If your partner tends to have caustic reactions when things don't go their way or when you disagree, you may have gotten used to simply telling them what they want to hear because you "don't want to waste time explaining the truth." But healthy relationships are two-way street, and honesty is paramount for you to meaningfully connect with your partner. (And for you to be able to speak your mind!) When you feel like you are about to tell a white lie, take a moment to consider what would happen if you told the truth instead. If you feel yourself hesitating to bring up something or your instinct is to avoid the discomfort, take this as an opportunity to lean in. This is the perfect time to practice effective, clear communication so these small lies don't become bigger lies and spread out of control.

  10. Don't move on from conflicts without having a plan for change:
    "There is a pattern of escalation (emotions intensifying) and rupture (fighting and conflict) without proper resolution. Partners may move on, without a plan in place for change and how to approach conflict differently," Li says. Does that sound familiar to you? If there is a history of conflict avoidance and lack of personal accountability, Li recommends establishing a safe space where each partner feels like they can share their feelings, needs, and desires without resorting to ABCD. If you or your partner grew up in a home where those issues go unaddressed, it's possible you may not have learned how to honestly and directly talk about an issue. With patience and positivity, these conversations can be initiated and become a natural way of approaching conflict without any of that toxic energy.

    Fixing toxic relationships is no easy task, but it is possible with hard work from both parties. Make sure you have buy-in from your partner, and pay attention to whether meaningful change is happening over time as you do the work. Remember, you deserve to be in a healthy, happy relationship that makes you feel good. Don't settle for anything less.

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A toxic friendship often feels exhausting, frustrating, and disappointing. It may seem as if the entire dynamic is one-sided. It may also seem like whatever you give just isn’t good enough. Toxic friends may be pessimistic, hurtful, or manipulative within the relationship. At the same time, they may not be aware of their behaviour, adding further complications.

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In a healthy friendship, both friends tend to respect and support one another mutually. There’s an inherent sense of trust within the relationship. In most cases, both people seek to be loving and generous with their time and resources. Toxic friends, however, often present as selfish and challenging. They may struggle with healthy communication and become aggressive, passive-aggressive, or dismissive when they don’t get what they want. They may also depend on you for validation or comfort. Everyone has their moments, but toxic friends tend to stir drama and cause problems on a regular basis. If you constantly feel annoyed, disrespected, or guilty when spending time with a certain friend, those feelings may be key indicators of an unhealthy dynamic.

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No two toxic friendships look identical, but similarities do exist within these dynamics. Most of the time, toxic friendships result in chronic negative feelings. As a result, you may find yourself making excuses to avoid spending time with your friend. You may also feel guilty if they don’t have other forms of emotional support.

Here are 13 key signs that your friend is toxic:

  1. They Tease or Insult You Regularly:
    Friends should lift each other up. While the occasional joke may be harmless, chronic put-downs are a red flag. You shouldn’t feel like you’re being consistently criticized in a friendship.
    The next time your friend insults you, let them know it hurts your feelings. A genuine friend will apologize and stop the behavior. A toxic friend will likely accuse you of being sensitive, insist you’re overreacting, or keep emphasizing that it’s just a joke.

  2. They Want All Your Attention (On-Demand):
    No one friend can fulfill every emotional need. But a toxic friend may try to convince you that you’re the only person in the world who can understand them best.

    They may try to seek your attention by:

    • Texting, calling, or reaching out to you incessantly.
    • Feigning crises or exaggerating other life issues to obtain your support.
    • Insisting that nobody else relates to them.
    • Lavishly praising and boasting about how wonderful and helpful you are (to reinforce the behavior).

  3. They Make Themselves the Perpetual Victim:
    No matter what, it seems like the world is out to get them. Nothing can go right, at least in their opinion. Toxic friends often seem like they’re always in a crisis. But even if the problems are real, they rarely take any initiative to control their reactions or improve the situation. As a result, they often present as helpless and needy, making you feel concerned, frustrated, or even resentful.

  4. They Peer Pressure You Into Doing Things You Don’t Want To Do:
    Peer pressure isn’t exclusive to teenagers. Unfortunately, most of us have succumbed to peer pressure to be accepted and fit in with others. But toxic friends often thrive on influencing others to stoop down to their level. For example, if they struggle with drinking, they may encourage you to order more drinks at Happy Hour. Or, if they keep hopping from relationship to relationship, they may subtly dig at you for staying in your long-term relationship.

  5. They Disrespect Your Boundaries:
    Boundaries can be challenging in any relationship, but supportive friends will work hard to understand and respect your limits. Toxic friends, however, often believe they’re exempt from your boundaries, especially when they need your support. As a result, you may feel conflicted about setting boundaries. You may feel like you’re the bad guy for creating such rules. And, you also may feel frustrated with yourself when you can’t implement your intentions.
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  6. They Are Jealous of Your Other Friends:
    A toxic friend will feel jealous and frustrated by the other people in your life. After all, they want to know they’re the most important, trusted person! Subsequently, they may insult your friends. For example, if you vent to them about another person, they may try to convince you how you’re so much better off without them. In extreme cases, they may go behind your back and lie or smear you to others to sever your reputation.

  7. You Give Way More Than You Receive:
    No relationship is truly 50/50. But if it seems like you’re always the one giving your time, money, or other resources, you probably have a toxic friendship. Your friend may be taking advantage of your generosity instead of reflecting on how they can contribute to the relationship. As a result, they may assume that it’s no problem for you. Furthermore, they may also believe they’re simply entitled to have what they want- even if it’s at someone else’s expense.

  8. You Love When Your Plans Get Cancelled:
    If you feel more relief than sadness when you can’t spend time with your friend, that’s a cause for concern. But, generally speaking, you should want to connect with your friends! If you find yourself dreading upcoming events- or if you keep making excuses as to why you can’t attend- it’s probably a critical indicator that you’re growing weary of the friendship.

  9. You Often Withhold Telling Them Your Real Truth:
    If you’re in a toxic friendship, you might already be pulling back without realizing it. Typically, this happens when you don’t feel safe with another person. If that’s the case, you will keep your guard up and avoid sharing anything that can be used against you. Of course, this pattern can be frustrating. The toxic friend may not even notice, but they will continue using that time to talk or focus on themselves.

  10. You Keep Lying or Covering for Them:
    Maybe other people have raised concerns about your friend’s problematic behavior. Perhaps they have pulled you aside to express their worry or anger about a certain situation. If your knee-jerk response is to defend or minimize their actions, pay attention. You may be enabling their toxic patterns without really knowing it.

  11. You Feel Trapped or Obligated to Be Their Friend:
    Some toxic friends use emotional abuse tactics to maintain their relationships. Emotionally abusive relationships often feel chaotic and frightening.

    Some common signs of chronic emotional abuse in friendships include:
    • Making jokes or threats about hurting themselves if you weren’t around.
    • Putting you down often (and then making you believe you’re overreacting).
    • Acting differently when you two are in public versus in private.
    • Consistently shifting the blame to make it seem like you have the problem.
    • Testing your loyalty and devotion often

  12. You Feel Like You’re In Competition With Them:
    Genuine friends are happy for one another. They revel and celebrate each other’s successes. Even if some jealousy emerges, it typically coincides with feeling happy, proud, and excited for your friend’s good fortune. But toxic friends tend to make it seem like everything is a game. This is especially true if your toxic friend is your coworker. They present as wanting to win, and they will likely put you down (either directly or subtly) when you obtain something they want.

  13. You Feel Completely Drained:
    How are your other relationships right now? Do you feel emotionally exhausted? Do you feel like you have nothing left to give? You may be experiencing a sense of relationship burnout.
    Toxic friendships can undoubtedly take a toll on your well-being. Because you spend so much time trying to please them (or read their mind), it can take away from other important relationships or activities.

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If you're not sure whether you should end the friendship, Squyres suggests first talking to other people to get a "reality check" on the relationship. An outsider's opinion can draw your attention to red flags you didn't notice or have brushed under the rug. "You could also try setting limits with this person," Squyres adds. She did this herself with a friend who would always monopolize the conversation whenever they talked on the phone. Whenever that happened, she would just say, "I need to hang up now"—and she would actually do it.

Lombardo agrees and adds that once you "establish boundaries, stick with them." If you have a friend who's always calling you and begging you to bend over backward to help with her projects, tell her you can't—every time. When you're just #overit, you can "slow fade" out of the friendship, says Bonior. "That's the easiest, most comfortable way to extract yourself," she explains. But, it "only works when both parties recognize what's happening, and both parties take a step back naturally." If your toxic friend has no clue that they're radioactive, they might push back harder, get offended, become accusatory, or just totally miss the hint, cautions Bonior. "If you have to be more direct, you have to be more direct," she continues. "Nobody wants to do this— it's totally awkward—but sometimes... you just have to be clear." She recommends saying something neutral yet firm, such as: "Hey, I know you've noticed that I haven't been able to spend as much time with you lately. To be honest, my life's moving in a different direction. I value the friendship that we've had, but I just don't see being able to spend as much time together."

Best case scenario, they accept your decision. "But in a really toxic relationship, all bets are off," says Bonior. "The person could start a huge argument, and when that's the case, all you owe to that person is just be clear about what you're doing. You can be respectful, but you gotta be firm." To stay firm, she recommends going into this conversation with a clear sense of what you want to get out of it. This will help you keep your emotions in check if it starts getting into a confrontation. When that happens, all you have to say is,"This discussion is upsetting to me. I've told you where I stand. I'm not going to be able to spend much time with you in the future. I am not going to be in touch." At that point, both Bonior and Squyres say you have the right to cut the toxic friend off. "You can't have a constructive conversation with this person, so the ordinary rules of engagement no longer apply," Squyres says. "You just need to exit as gracefully as you can and just realize that's your answer."

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The word “family” can bring to mind an array of complex emotions. Depending on your childhood and current family situation, these feelings could be mostly positive, mostly negative, or an equal mix of both.
If you’ve experienced a toxic family dynamic, your feelings may go beyond frustration or annoyance. Instead, interacting with or even thinking about your family might cause significant emotional distress.

Toxic or dysfunctional family dynamics can be hard to recognize, especially when you’re still entrenched in them. Here’s a look at some common signs and what to do if you recognize them in your own family. Think back to your childhood. Many people don’t realize the effects of their family environment during childhood until they’re well into adulthood.

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The following signs suggest that you may have experienced a toxic family environment growing up:

  • You were expected to mee unrealistic standards
  • Family members take on different roles from time to time in order to help each other out. Maybe it was your job to clear the plates from the table after Sunday dinners. Or maybe you occasionally helped out with watching younger siblings. These are all normal.

But these tasks shouldn’t have kept you from completing school assignments, playing, or getting adequate sleep.

If you were raised in a toxic family, you may have been asked to:

  • Parent or discipline younger siblings or provide most of their care
  • Take on responsibilities like cooking meals or doing certain heavy chores before you could safely or capably do so
  • Provide emotional support as if you were a partner or other adult
  • You were harshly criticized
  • Most parents reprimand or criticize their children’s behavior sometimes. But these remarks should be constructive and focus on the behavior, not on the child. They should never make you feel inferior, unwanted, or unloved.
  • Your needs weren’t met
  • Nobody’s perfect. Maybe your parents weren’t great about picking you up from school on time, leaving you to wait. Or maybe they forgot to pay the electric bill once and the power went out for 2 days.

But supportive family members should support your basic needs by:

  • Setting boundaries
  • Providing discipline and affection
  • Taking care of your health and well-being
  • Making sure you received education
  • Ensuring you had food to eat and clean clothes to wear

While there could be other factors involved, regularly going without any of the above can strongly suggest a toxic or unhealthy family dynamic.

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Identifying what you want from the relationship can help you develop a clearer idea of the boundaries you want to set.
Say you like spending casual time with your sister on weekends, but not when she asks about your love life. You know she’ll share those details with your mother, who will then call to criticize and tease you. You still want to maintain a relationship with your sister, so one solution might be limiting your visits with your sister to once a month and telling her ahead of time that you won’t discuss dating.

Practice detachment:
When you do spend time with family members, don’t let them pull you into the family issues you’d prefer to keep separate. You don’t have to get involved in anything you’d rather avoid.

Detachment can involve:

  • Not participating in messy situations
  • Avoiding topics that bring up strong emotions
  • Keeping conversation light and casual
  • Ending the conversation or leaving if necessary

Decide what you’ll share and what you’ll keep private:
You don’t need to share everything with your family. You might find it helpful to keep significant details private from toxic family members who have a history of using them to criticize, mock, or manipulate you. Before seeing your family, consider reminding yourself of what you’d prefer not to share. If possible, come up with one or two ways to change the subject if needed. That said, it’s always OK to simply say, “I’d rather not talk about my health/dietary choices/parenting skills/love life,” and end the conversation.

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Learn when to say no:
Setting boundaries for yourself and saying no to things that might compromise those boundaries can help you navigate difficult or toxic relationship patterns more easily. It’s not always easy to say no to family members. Fabrizio adds, “If you reject any family member’s behavior (no matter how outrageous), you take the risk they may reject you.” If you know a situation will make you feel unhappy, distressed, or uncomfortable, saying “no” might be your best option. You can explain your reasoning if you want to, but don’t feel like you have to. A toxic family member may try to persuade or manipulate you into changing your mind. Have confidence in your decision and know you’re doing the right thing for yourself. Family members who love and support you should also recognize and support that need.

Don’t try to change anyone:
When dealing with toxic family members, it’s not uncommon to hold out hope that they’ll change. You might fantasize about the day they finally realize how they’ve hurt you and get to work on changing their behavior. Sure, people can and do change, but it’s beyond your control. Beyond telling them how you feel, asking them to consider your perspective, and encouraging them to talk to a therapist or other professional, there’s not much you can do.

Plan meetings that work for you:
Giving yourself power in any interactions you have can make a big difference.

Fabrizio suggests the following:

  • Decide where and when to meet. Meeting for lunch in a public place can help you sidestep a host of potential problems.
  • Consider taking alcohol off the table. Alcohol can increase tensions in already charged situations, so avoiding alcohol and gatherings that involve alcohol may help decrease the chance of a difficult or distressing interaction.
  • Be clear about your availability. For example, you might say, “I’ve got an hour for lunch today.”
  • Take care of your own transportation. This way, you have a way to leave when you need to.
    Setting up meetings on your own terms helps you take some power back and feel safer during the interaction.
  • Talk to someone. Whether you’re currently entangled in a toxic family situation or working to overcome the effects of a difficult childhood, sharing your feelings with someone can be a big help.
    This is particularly useful for maintaining a grasp on reality if toxic family members or upsetting interactions make you doubt yourself.
    Working with a mental health professional is ideal, but opening up to a partner or friend can also help. You don’t have to share every detail. Sometimes even giving a general picture of the situation can help you express some of your frustrations and distress.

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Sometimes, cutting off contact is the best move, even if the other person doesn’t intend to cause you harm. If the relationship does you more harm than good, it’s an option worth considering.
Deciding to cut off contact with your family, no matter how much hurt they’ve caused, can be extremely difficult. These tips are designed to help guide your thought process and next steps.

They don’t respect your boundaries or limits:
If you aren’t sure cutting off contact is the right decision, Fabrizio suggests first stating your needs and giving your family members a chance to show they can respect the boundaries you’ve expressed.
If they still can’t do this after a few tries, things likely won’t change anytime soon. Cutting off contact might be the healthiest move in that case.

They physically or verbally abuse you:
It’s generally safest to distance yourself from family members who cause you physical harm. If you have to see them, try to always meet them in public or have someone with you.

verbal abuse

Verbal abuse can be more difficult to recognize, but some examples include:

  • Name-calling
  • Body shaming
  • Rudeness or contempt
  • Criticism of your life choices
  • Hate speech, prejudice, or slurs
  • They consistently lie to you or manipulate you

Family members who lie as often as they tell the truth can make you feel unsettled and confused. You might have a hard time trusting anyone, family or otherwise. If you point out this behavior and it continues, cutting off contact may be the only way to distance yourself from it. Talking to them or seeing them causes emotional distress. When you don’t feel good about seeing your family, or when any contact inspires only negative emotions, it could be time to consider whether taking a break might help improve the situation. If you have thoughts like Why am I putting myself through this? or Do I have to see them? remember that you don’t have to see them or put yourself through anything you don’t want to deal with. Cutting off contact doesn’t have to be a permanent decision, either. You may just need some time away from the situation.

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