The harmonious family environment is a source of well-being, a place where we always want to return because in it we find the peace and support we need. A toxic environment creates malaise and makes us more vulnerable to physical and psychological illnesses, it is a place where we feel bad and from which we want to escape as soon as possible.
Mentally toxic environments
The concept of "mentally toxic environment" was proposed by Kalle Lasn. About 30 years ago, the "green" movement was born, motivated by the growing concern that environmental toxicity could be harmful.
A group of psychologists transferred this concept to mental health, analyzing how our lifestyle has changed in recent years and the rise in mental disorders. In fact, in the more developed Western countries, disorders such as schizophrenia have increased by 45% since 1985, according to WHO data. In the United Kingdom, the depression in teenagers has gone from 6% in 1987 to 18% today. Today, if you ask anyone in the street, they will probably confess to feel anxious, stressed or depressed.
Some psychologists suggest that these mental problems are caused by a profound cultural change that is reflected in a lifestyle marked by consumerism, lack of emotional intelligence, a change in the scale of values, and the growing difficulty in maintaining assertive interpersonal relationships. The family is usually the environment in which everything begins, or where these toxic behaviors are perpetuated.
Coexistence is not without conflict. But we must not allow certain behavior to end up transforming our home into a mentally toxic environment. Our life is at stake. This is confirmed by a study at College London University, where over 10,000 people were followed for 12 years. These psychologists have found that those who maintained negative relationships had a greater risk of suffering heart attacks with fatal consequences.
Attitudes and habits that we must eliminate from our home
Screaming begins as an exceptional event and ends up becoming the norm. It happens without noticing it. One day you scream because you think they do not understand you the next day because you think they do not listen to you and the other because you want to be right at all costs. So screams become the daily bread. However, screams hide the seeds of violence. They imply the desire to impose our will and subdue the other. The consequences in children are even worse. A study at Harvard Medical School revealed that screaming can significantly and permanently alter the infant brain structure by affecting the integration between the two parts of the brain, which can cause personality problems and affect emotional balance.
How to fix the problem? In our home there should be a simple rule: do not scream, never. Every member of the family must remember that screaming won’t give him more reason. It is important to cultivate empathy and assertiveness. Screams are always a sign of the incapacity to handle the situation.
If you come home and feel as if a weight suddenly falls on your back is probably due to the fact that you perceive hostility. There are houses where there is no enthusiasm, where people rarely smile and, on the contrary, show hostile attitudes and act as if the others were enemies. In these houses prevails the law of the strongest, so it is very difficult to relax, rest and find tranquility.
How to fix the problem? When the house becomes a battlefield, there are no winners, everybody loses because there is no harmony. Therefore, it is important to focus on the problem solving rather than seek the guilty.
3. The drama
In life, we pass through dramatic moments. However, when the family turns into a daily drama, despair, frustration and depression take root. The drama usually comes from people who always find a problem for each solution, focusing only on the negative aspects of life and the lament becomes their lifestyle. These people end up "infecting" the family, spreading an atmosphere of pessimism.
How to fix the problem? Adopting a more positive attitude, that will end up being contagious and will counteract the negative attitudes of the others. It is important to show these people, without attacking or criticizing them, as their attitudes harm everyone and create a very negative emotional climate.
4. The chaos
The space where you spend several hours a day ends up influencing your mood. Therefore, an unorganized and chaotic space may end up causing itself mental chaos, it is a place where is not pleasant to stay and that generates stress. It has been seen that when we spend time in disorganized and chaotic environments, our brains have more difficulty in processing information, so we have a feeling of saturation that affects our productivity and increases anxiety and stress. But this confusion does not only refer to physical space but also to the lack of rules that ensure a harmonious coexistence between family members.
How to fix the problem? It is important that in every home there is order and some rules of coexistence, even implicit, so that everyone knows what are the limits they must not overcome.
5. The denigration
If family members do not appreciate and respect all members, it is difficult for them to develop a good self-esteem and have the confidence they need to deal with life. There are many forms of denigration, from not recognizing the person's efforts to minimizing their achievements or even ignoring them. In some families there are very harmful dynamics in which one member is labeled as the "black sheep" of the family or the scapegoat. Obviously, these dynamics are not only negative for those who are blamed but also for the rest of the members, as it prevents them from assuming their responsibilities and get more mature.
How to fix the problem? Every person is unique, and therefore should be valued. We do not have to ask apples from an oak, but we should learn to focus on his/her strengths and what makes them specials. Everyone shines with their own light, we have to make this light nourish, not turn it off.
Wang, M. T. & Kenny, S. (2014) Longitudinal Links Between Fathers’ and Mothers’ Harsh Verbal Discipline and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptoms. Child Developmental; 85(3): 908–923.
De Vogli, R. et. Al. (2007) Negative Aspects of Close Relationships and Heart Disease. Arch Intern Med; 67(18): 1951-1957.
Teicher, M. H. et. Al. (1993) Increased prevalence of electrophysiological abnormalities in children with psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci; 5(4): 401-408.