Maybe you are looking at the title to this article and thinking "What the heck? How can family be toxic?". Maybe you are one of those people who know exactly what the title is all about. Whatever your reason for reading this article, I hope it speaks to you and you learn something from reading it.

I became interested in psychology, sociology, mental health in college. I wanted to study archaeology but my college did not offer the subject. Instead, I had to take anthropology courses that were found in the sociology department. Sociology is not just about interaction between different groups of people, it is also about interaction within the same group. Psychology is an obvious minor to a major in sociology. Once a person begins to realize the "why" of what a group of people does, it makes the "how" and "when" even more interesting. Eventually, I started being more interested in psychology and especially in family life and interactions.

People assume that families are loyalty driven. The term "blood is thicker than water" is often quoted when referring to having to choose between a family member and a friend. Actually, loyalty doesn't always mean anything at all. It all depends on the circumstances.

A family is usually defined by its members and their blood relationship to each other. There is usually at least one (perhaps two) set of grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins. There are the inevitable "greats" (great-aunt, great uncle)and close family friends with the designation "aunt" or "uncle" but no blood relationship. As a member of a family there is much to be learned beginning at birth. In the past, grandparents often lived with their children (or vice-versa). Today families are often spread out all over the country or even in different areas of the world. It might be difficult to know everyone in your designated family; much less their hidden secrets.

It is the secrets that cause so much trauma and toxicity in a family. It starts out simple enough. There is something that one person has happen in his/her life that he/she wants to keep secret from anyone else. In order to do that, it is often necessary to enlist assistance from another member of the family. Once another person is asked to keep the secret, it becomes a lie. Once a lie has been told within the family, it becomes the "truth" and replaces whatever "truth" had come before. Does this sound a little strange? Just think about it. People often tell a story in their own way. The story then becomes history; his-story. It probably was told in a harmless way and never meant to hurt anyone else but it is actually a lie. When a lie has been told often enough, the person who has been telling it forgets that it is a lie. History becomes the "truth". It is this way in families. A family lie is the most toxic way to keep a family together. Each person is told the version of the truth (the Family LIE)that is supposed to be public knowledge. Whatever this story is, it is totally accepted as the truth within the family and it is passed down as such from one generation to the next until or unless a family member stumbles upon the truth and challenges it.

Anyone who has ever challenged a family lie knows that it is emotionally disturbing to everyone involved. The person who initially wanted the real truth hidden has the most to lose but anyone who has knowingly assisted in hiding the truth and changing the story will also suffer to some extent. The challenger is the one who will suffer the most. Anyone who challenges the elders of the family and their veracity is, in reality, attempting to undermine the building blocks of the family itself. In many cases, the only manner in which to deal with this is to isolate the challenger from the other family members before the questions can get to them and bring back any memories of the truth that they might have.

Family members can be extremely cruel to each other. The cruelty takes forms that include banishment from the family, lies about the challenger told by the family to any outsider who asks about the person, and other methods that are toxic to the challenger. In one case that I know of, the eldest person in the family who was faced with a challenge to a family lie actually went before the "session" of the challenger's (and the family's) church and made a case for ex-communication of the challenger from the church. The attempt was not successful, but it had a terrible toxic effect on the challenger and caused the person to isolate him/her self from other people in the town. Eventually, he/she would not set foot in a church because he/she became convinced that he/she was "too bad a person" to interact with other Christians and that he/she should not ever be allowed to call upon the name of the Lord for help or protection. The family member who did this has no qualms about what he/she did. He/she was only sorry that the challenger was not discredited with the entire church and town. In a few years, he/she would deny that the request for ex-communication was made. If the challenger had not been well known by several "session" members and had he/she not been told about the request and what was alleged as the reason for the ex-communication, he/she might well have never believed the extent to which a family member would go to hide a family secret.

In future parts we will investigate other toxic methods for destroying a family member from within the family and how an entire family can be turned against one member by lie after lie after lie told by people who had promised to always keep the family secret; no matter what.

Author's Bio: 

Susan Vereen was born and raised in the South.Her knowledge of toxic families has been gathered through many years of research and study. She has been a freelance writer for more than 25+ years. Her specialty is ghostwriting for people who have an idea and just don't know how to put it down on paper. Her work in the field of family mental health is well known and respected in many countries.