Note: This post contains mentions of abuse, suicide, and sexual assault.
While we all wish our families could be perfect, sometimes we lose the family lottery by being born into a toxic family. Of course, this is no one's fault. Families — or certain family members — become toxic for a variety of reasons.
But when one becomes aware that their family is toxic, it can be an incredibly heartbreaking experience, especially during the holidays — because sometimes, people don't have a choice to separate themselves from their difficult loved ones. Or, if they do, it can unearth a complex emotion of loneliness, even when they know it was the right choice to make for their mental health.
Whatever your situation may be, it's important to remember that you're not alone during the holidays, especially if your family may not be the way you wish they were. So to help people feel less alone, we asked the BuzzFeed Community to share the exact moment they realized their family or a family member was toxic and how it ultimately affected them.
We gathered a few answers for you to read below:
1. "My parents saying, 'Don’t do this to me' whenever I establish boundaries. I continue to remind them that the best way I can love them is if I love myself first."
2. "My father suffered from a progressive illness. My mom was tired of taking care of him and asked me to move in with them to help with his care, which was 500 miles away from my own family. When I said, 'No, but I could try to visit every other weekend,' she told me, 'I was a terrible daughter and she didn’t raise me like that.' My kids were eight and six at the time, and I worked full time."
"Oh, she then tried to divorce him, but the lawyer I hired informed her she would lose access to his pension and house."
3. "We were out at a restaurant with extended family when I was about seven, and the servers didn’t place my order with the kitchen for whatever reason. When I pointed it out, the staff apologized saying that they would put the order in now; however, my family said not to bother as it would take too long and they didn’t want to wait as 'It’s only her, she doesn’t matter,' a phrase that was met with great laughter from the rest of the family. I’m nearly 40 now and that phrase has been used repeatedly ever since. The last time it was said was three days ago."
4. "When I was fully an adult in my mid-30s and my mother told me she and my father had talked and wanted to tell me they were okay with me no longer communicating with the uncle who'd groped me when I was a teenager."
5. "When my toxic uncle was continuously abusing my mom on social media. He did this multiple times, and I would tell her how it wasn’t right and she should call him out. She didn’t — but then one time, he attacked one of my mom's friends on social media because she made a supportive comment on my mom’s post. I lost it and told him, I am not nearly as nice as my mom is, and I’ll be glad to tell him to shut the fuck up and that he is an abusive mother fucker. I also told him he needs to take his abusive shit somewhere else, and that I have zero respect for him. Then I asked, how many times has he filed for bankruptcy then asked my parents for money?"
"I ended the post by reminding him what a piece of shit he is and that I hope to never speak to him again. My mom followed my lead and blocked him from all forms of communication. This was in 2018, and she still talks about how much more peaceful her life is without him in it."
6. "Call me old-fashioned, but it was probably when, as an adult, I realized the beatings weren't normal."
7. "It took me years to realize that my mother’s egocentrism isn’t 'normal.' I should have known when she left me at a train station at 3 a.m. in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, after taking my money and all the information about where we were staying and how to get there (because I took too long getting off the train to pack up my laptop that she’d used to watch TV on and fall asleep to)."
8. "When my brother and I tried to ask for our father to apologize for hitting us as kids. No matter how we phrased it or explained why we didn't deserve to be hit as children, he found every excuse under the sun to explain why he reacted the way he did and why he basically had to hit us. It's the story of his life — he has never been to blame for anything he's done or sought our forgiveness. My siblings and I have all mostly cut contact with him, and he still wonders why we don't call him. Like you've got all three kids in therapy, you did a shit job as a parent, that's why!"
9. "When they tried to send me back to Catholic school after I came out to them as bisexual. As revenge, I got my Pfizer vaccine behind their backs when they begged me not to. No regrets."
10. "My parents knew I was extremely stressed about my upcoming AP exam, and that I had stayed up really late to study the night before. When I finally fell asleep around 2 a.m., they woke me up at 3:30 a.m. because, in the midst of my studying, I had forgotten to vacuum the house. I tried to say that I was very anxious and tired, and I would do it after my exam that day, but they insisted that my forgetfulness needed to be made up in that moment. So, as I vacuumed around the whole house, I began to cry, realizing how often they did this — ignoring when I was feeling anxious or upset and just asking me to do more things for them."
"There’s not much I can do to handle it right now. They also refuse to get me a therapist — but I’m looking forward to the future."
11. "I ended up being the oldest of five kids. The two youngest have many toxic issues — from narcissism to mental and physical abuse. I asked my mother why they turned out that way. She straight out told me it was my fault because I traveled a lot when I should’ve stayed home and took care of her kids. It broke my heart. She didn’t realize I left home specifically for that reason. She had me take care of her kids while she had a social life."
12. "My mom was terribly jealous of my wife and would do snarky things to demonstrate it. The specific event was one Thanksgiving when my mom was still angry about my wife and I spending the previous Thanksgiving day with my wife’s family (we went to my parents’ house the day after for leftovers). My mom told us dinner would start at 2:30 p.m., which had been the tradition for many years. However, when my wife and I showed up at 2:15 p.m., the rest of my family had already finished dinner. No one thought to ask why they started dinner without my wife and I there. My wife and I were angry and offended and it was obvious what my mom had done. To make things worse, she made up some cock and bull story as to why they started Thanksgiving dinner without us."
"After that incident, an emotional wall went up between my wife and I and my family that never came down and we spent less and less time with them."
13. "When I started having serious relationships and realized arguments could be resolved without screaming, tears, and abandonment."
14. "I was 15 and my mom gave me the silent treatment for three months because I had sex for the first time but didn't go about it the way she wanted (i.e. talking to her first, having it with someone I loved, etc). I'd downplayed this situation until we had an argument in 2020 — and when I bought up this and various other similar scenarios, she told me I had made them all up and that 'she would never do something like that.'"
"I've had minimal contact this year, and I've felt more like myself than any other point in my life."
15. "Due to the pandemic, we never had a baby shower or really celebrated my newborn son. So, when he turned one in May and everyone was vaccinated, we were stoked to have his first birthday party. However, we wanted it to be a dry party because I’m practicing my own boundaries with alcohol as a new parent. Most of my family hid in the garage the entire time drinking, and when confronted, I got berated about my religion (which had nothing to do with it) and was told I was controlling other people’s alcohol intake and ruining everyone’s time at the party my husband and I threw. Since my husband stuck up for me, he got told to fuck off. Everyone’s justification was that we didn’t put it on the invitation but trusted my parents to tell them."
"We chose to stay home from the holidays this year and no one understands why. I still haven’t quite decided how my future looks with that side of the family, but we’ve got another baby on the way and it seems more important to focus on that."
16. "When my infant son died and my mom would call me every day to tell me about how much weight she’d lost. She wouldn’t ask how I was doing or how I was handling things; she only wanted to tell me that she was wearing a smaller size than she could last week."
17. "My two aunts have always been the most self-centered people ever. As I got older, I realized how negatively it impacted my grandmother. They would pop into her house unannounced and demand she make them food, drop their kids off for her to babysit, or borrow money. They would also fight with each other on Facebook and try to force my grandmother to pick sides. They are in their 40s and 50s doing this. It was absurd, and I finally said something when I was in my late 20s. They could NOT handle being called out because they’re never wrong, and there was a permanent rift after that."
"They refused to congratulate me on my engagement a year after that trip, no one acknowledged me for finishing grad school, etc. Meanwhile, they post pictures of them attending my other cousins’ life events; it was very deliberate. After all of this, I didn’t invite them to my wedding. So they flew to my grandmother’s house the week of my wedding for a surprise visit and tried to convince her not to attend my wedding. My other aunt and uncle had to step in and tell my grandmother she needed to come to both my wedding and rehearsal dinner and not listen to those two crazy bitches."
18. "My mother died when I was about to enter 7th grade. After that, my father left my older brother and me to fend for ourselves while he dated. One year, he called saying that he was spending Christmas with his girlfriend (whom I had never even met) and to just 'go ahead and open your stuff without me if I'm not home.' He later married that girlfriend on New Years' Day in a mass ceremony in another state. I had no idea any of this was happening until he let me know that he'd be gone for 'a while' and that I needed to take care of the house."
19. "One of the first things the aunts and uncles always say is: 'you gained weight' or 'you lost weight' — pretty much anything about our weight! There are plenty of other things you can say or simply don’t even mention it. That’ll be the day when I ask them kindly not to make comments on my appearance because they don’t help my mental health."
20. "My older brother was someone I looked up to all my life. As I got older, I realized that he was extremely manipulative and would gaslight me whenever I called him out on it. Any time we had a disagreement, which could be resolved with a simple conversation, he chose, instead, to just stop talking to me, sometimes for months on end and would only reach out when pretty much begged by my father. I once got into a fight with a guy he knew tried to grope me in a party after I told him to stop quite a few times. My brother got mad when I punched the guy in his face and even made me apologize to the guy citing that my behavior was uncalled for and that I should have told him and he would have handled the situation."
"My last straw with him happened when I had a panic attack at his home a few months ago and stated this and said that I needed to leave. His girlfriend, with whom he lives, claimed that I slammed the door in her face on my way out (I did not) and stopped talking to me. My brother then stopped talking to me when I refused to apologize for the incident that never happened! We no longer speak. I am hurt because we are each others' only siblings but it is definitely what is best for me. Looking back, there are so many times I betrayed myself for his approval and the sake of peace."
21. "When my now-husband stopped me from cry-cleaning the floorboards before my mother visited. We were having an outdoor picnic—why was she going to see the floorboards in my bedroom? I realized I was raised in an environment of perceived perfection based on appearance of self and home."
22. "My son is highly allergic to peanuts and tree-nuts. Prior to and beginning of every family gathering, we remind the whole family about the allergies. My husband's family constantly brings food that has peanut and tree-nuts. We have spoken to them privately, individually, and in group settings. I am not one to 'take away' my kids from family members; however, if they’re going to not respect our request of being aware of his life and death allergy seriously, I choose my son's life. We have not gone to any of their gatherings if my husband's family is hosting."
23. "After 18 hours of labor, an epidural that didn’t work so I felt everything, and giving birth at 4 a.m. to my first baby, my mom wanted to come visit but it was taking awhile to get to an actual room; most of the day I was in recovery. We got a room too late for her to visit, and then the next day, there was a breastfeeding class during visiting hours, so I asked my mom to come a little later than we originally planned. She texted me: 'I get the feeling you just don’t want visitors. See you when you get home.' I was hurt so I texted my sister as she had just had a baby, too, and I figured she’d know how I felt. She told me I was wrong and that I was hurting our mom’s feelings by not letting her see her new grandchild. I lost it."
"All I was asking was for her to come a little later. I flipped out at them because I realized this kind of guilt-tripping happens all the time with them. If things don’t go their way, they play the victim and make everyone the bad guy. I’m just over it. I still see my mom as she eventually apologized, but when she starts acting up again, I give myself space. My sister has never changed, so I limit contact with her as much as possible and only see her at family events. She keeps trying to force a relationship with me, but I’m done."
24. "One day, I was casually minding my own business, taking a shower when it hit me: Any time I did anything wrong as a kid, my dad would get sulky and say things like, 'I’m failing you as a parent,' and 'If I was a good parent, you would know not to act out.' I was just washing my hair when I realized how toxic and manipulative that is, and I don’t know what to do."
25. "When I was 11 and I got to secondary school, my family have some controversial beliefs (they're full-blown bigots) and I grew up thinking this was correct. I spouted the same crap in school and all my friends informed me that's not how normal people think. I started educating myself and developing my own beliefs from then on and my whole family have tried their hardest to stop me from moving on from them and their toxicity."
"Since moving on, I have grown to love myself more and I've gone on to make some wonderful friends as well as keeping a lot of the ones who helped me grow when I started secondary school."
26. "My three sisters and two brothers take the cake. I lived with my dad till he died on Christmas Day in 2014. I helped him in every way I could — but they said I was a freeloader. They had him write me out of his will and prevented me from keeping the home I lived in my whole life after I did lots of remodeling. I was harassed at all times of the day to get out of the house; I couldn't even grieve. I packed my stuff up and lived out of my car for a few days until I found a safe place to live. It was bad. My younger brother attacked me after the funeral while he was intoxicated. They knew I have bipolar and kept telling everyone I fake it and that I am a hoarder, lazy, dumb, fat, broke, dumb, etc."
"Looking back, I don't know how I did not end my life and sometimes, those feelings return. I am better off far away from them. Estrangement is not a bad thing."
27. "We were on a big family trip. I don’t remember exactly what put me in a bad mood, but I was trying to cool off and not make a scene around my family (which, in retrospect, made me look like I was pouting) when my aunt came over to scold me. She essentially said I couldn’t act cranky because she has to deal with her husband (my uncle) going through cancer treatment. I’m not denying that my mood was less than stellar, but that moment made me start to recognize that 'you cant be upset because I have it worse than you' attitude that has persisted throughout my adult life."
"I mention how hard teaching teenagers is, she thinks talking with lawyers on the phone is worse. She and my brother both lose their jobs due to COVID, but his feelings don’t matter. She and her family have definitely had more adversity than mine but I don’t feel like that should lead to a contest of who has it worse, especially since I’m twenty-some years younger than her."
28. "I’m Korean and adopted, and I realized my family was toxic when I finally understood they were white and were raising me to be white with no thought for my culture, language, foods, traditions, or heritage. It has affected every aspect of my life from feeling like an imposter to experiencing being 'othered' everywhere."
29. "I used to be so close to my cousin that her kids called me aunty. When my husband met her, he didn’t say much though he did point out she liked to put me down by telling stories that make me look bad. I started to notice, but I’ve always been too much of a people-pleaser to speak up. Things came to a head when we went out for drinks and she brought up a story that embarrassed my husband. I told her he doesn’t like it and to please stop sharing it. All was good, until the next day: She’s at my house and out of the blue, she brings up this story, acting like I didn’t just specifically tell her not to. The audacity of her meanness opened my eyes to the relationship I’d had with her and it wasn’t one I wanted anymore. We haven’t talked in five years and I don’t miss her."
30. "My brother told me that I needed to 'stop being childish' when I was having a panic attack. He has a doctorate in psychology and has his own practice."
31. "My family all had big plans that I'd go to college right away, make big money, have the perfect body and be an object that they could brag about. They would discuss my downfalls with each other right in front of me, and act like I wasn't there. So, I quit worrying about appearance, moved across the country, married the first person who had ever really supported me in life after only 12 weeks of knowing him (16 years married and going strong, BTW), and I never went to college. I have a job now and it pays more than a lot of jobs that require a college degree, and I don't have any student debt. My family, however, has more or less cut me out of their lives."
"I knew when I moved away that I would never be good enough for any of them and 16 1/2 years later, I thank God every day that I took the risk and moved away from them because they were unsupportive and toxic to my mental health. I was never free to be me until I left."
Was there a pivotal moment when you realized your family was toxic? How did it make you feel? Tell us in the comments below.
The US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).