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  • Writer's pictureDana Arcuri

The Devastating Toxic Family Legacy

According to, legacy is defined as “A gift by will, especially of money or personal property. Something handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor.”

Legacy is also known as your birthright, endowment, inheritance, and tradition.

A toxic legacy is a destructive pattern of harmful, painful, and damaging behaviors, which have been handed down from one generation to another. It’s when one or more parent’s and relatives repeatedly interact in a family system in an unhealthy way.

These dysfunctional family members imprint their children with toxic behaviors, words, and actions. Intergenerational trauma significantly impacts the structure of each family. Instead of children growing up feeling secure, cared for, respected, and loved, they are raised in a poisonous environment feeling rejected, emotionally abandoned, criticized, and unloved.

Here are 10 devastating results of a toxic family legacy:

1. Lack of Trust – From early on, children who are abused by a parent and/or other relatives, learn to not trust anyone, including their family. They unconditionally learn that their own mother, father, grandparents, and siblings are not safe. As their narcissistic parent bullies them, they start to question their own selves. They may second-guess their own reality and sanity. Having a lack of trust is a normal response to trauma.

2. Silence – The lethal family system has a code of silence. The abused child will become withdrawn, quiet, and may be very shy. If they dare speak out and protest the unfairness of the abuse, they will oftentimes experience corporal punishment. Through time, they learn that silence may protect them as a child. However, as a grown adult, silence may not keep you safe. Silence may prevent you from seeking help. Silence steals your voice and takes your life hostage.

3. Codependency – A toxic home goes hand in hand with codependent relationships with your parents, siblings, relatives, and even future relationships with intimate partners. According to Merriam, “Codependency is a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition.”

Here’s a quote that is spot on about codependent relationships. “Codependence is an imbalanced relationship pattern where one partner assumes a high-cost ‘giver-rescuer’ role and the other is the ‘taker-victim’ role.” ~ Shawn Meghan Burn, PhD., author of Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide for overcoming Codependence, Enabling, and Other Dysfunctional Helping

4. Another devastating result of a toxic family legacy is victim-shaming and blame-shifting – The narcissistic parent and/or siblings dump all of the shame and blame onto the family scapegoat. They accuse the scapegoat of being “the problem.” They claim, “It’s your fault and you deserve to be mistreated.” The narc and flying monkeys will never take responsibility for their own hurtful words, actions, and behaviors.

Dr. Brene Brown is the world’s leading researcher on shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy. One of her powerful quotes says, “Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare. If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”

5. Perfectionism & Control – Due to the malignant narcissist being extremely controlling and abusing their power, it’s common for their children to grow up feeling inadequate and powerless. In addition, in most cases, the abused children feel the need to be perfect in order to win the love, acceptance, and approval of the narcissist, toxic siblings, and other relationships.

6. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – The most-deadly impact of the toxic family legacy is to cause severe long-term damage to children. According to the Center of Disease Control & Prevention, “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACEs can include violence, abuse, sexual assault, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems.” Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect how the body responds to stress. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, CPTSD, addictions, and trauma.

7. Betrayal Trauma – When you’re growing up, you expect to be supported, protected, loved, and taken good care of by your family. However, in an abusive home, there is betrayal of an innocent child’s trust of his/her parents, siblings, and relatives. Physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect, and invalidation scars the child with a deep sense of betrayal. Your core sense of who you are is destroyed. It undermines your self-confidence, self-esteem, and belief that the world is a loving, safe place. Therefore, your trust is shattered.

8. Addictions – Dr. Gabor Mate’ who specializes in additions and trauma believes that there is a direct correlation between the two. When the trauma is repressed or suppressed, the person may unconsciously try to numb, detach, and dissociate from their abuse. They may not even be aware of how their addictions are connected to their intense pain.

Dr. Gabor Mate’s intriguing quote shares, “Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper, and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there.”

9. Deep Rooted Anger – If you are the black sheep in your toxic family or the scapegoat, you may experience anger. Based on your history of being abused, bullied, and manipulated, you may have what I refer to as “righteous anger.” Considering everything that you have suffered and endured, you have every right to feel your authentic human emotions, including anger.

The National Center for PTSD confirms the link between anger and trauma. They said, “Anger is often a large part of a survivor’s response to trauma. It is a core piece of the survival response in human beings. Anger helps us cope with life’s stresses by giving us energy to keep going in the face of trouble. Yet, anger can create major problems in the personal lives of those who have experienced trauma and those who suffer from PTSD.”

10. Broken Relationships & Going No Contact – It is no surprise that when you are raised in a dysfunctional family unit where there is ritual abuse, you can experience one or more broken relationships. Another name for going no contact is estrangement.

A recent British survey defines family estrangement as “The breakdown of supportive relationships between family members. The heartbreak of family estrangement is that those who are supposed to support you, don’t. Those who should be on your side, aren’t.”

In the British study, over 50% of those estranged from a parent said that they cut off the contact. When asked why they went no contact with their parent, the estranged adult child stated, "We could never have a functional relationship again."

Whether you have been grey rock or full no contact with your toxic family, you may have dozens of logical reasons why you made this decision. In my personal experience with my own dysfunctional family, I went no contact with my narcissistic mother, toxic siblings, and relatives in 2018 due to the chronic bullying, gaslighting, manipulation, triangulation of relationships, and ongoing psychological abuse.

Ending the cycle of intergenerational trauma was the key for me to start my healing journey. Self-preservation is necessary. It helped me give voice to my pain. I finally spoke the truth when I started sharing my true story on YouTube in 2018 and then in my memoir, Soul Cry: Releasing & Healing the Wounds of Trauma. I discovered that I was not alone. Countless hurting abuse survivors shared, Me, too.

Your new motto is: IT STOPS HERE WITH ME. Your children, grandchildren, and future generations deserve so much better.

If you grew up in a toxic family, have the courage to break your devastating legacy. Turn your pain into determination to end the dysfunctional patterns. Be the brave soul who breaks the abusive cycle of intergenerational trauma.

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