Home » Blogs » Relationship Corner » Harmful Family Legacies: 18 Signs
Relationship Corner
with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Harmful Family Legacies: 18 Signs


Harmful family legacies consist of a pattern of hurtful, painful and/or damaging behaviors that have been passed down from one generation to the next through a process called modeling. When adults or caregivers repeatedly interact in a family system in an unhealthy way, they are imprinting this behavior on their children. Many children that have been exposed to a harmful or toxic environment often repeat or mimic the behaviors in adulthood, in their own personal relationships. Interestingly, some adults raised in a harmful environment that do not repeat the toxic behaviors of their caregivers will often marry someone that may share some or most of the toxic characteristics of their childhood caregivers.

All human beings have been — and continue to be — greatly influenced and significantly impacted by our family of origin or the people that raise us. Most of us can identify both positive and negative experiences and influences throughout our life. Needless to say some of these influences have been positive and some of these influences have been toxic. Everything we experience during the course of our life has an impact, both small and large. Our life experiences often alter the manner in which we perceive and engage with the world. That being said, all of our life experiences and influences impact and contribute to the legacy we pass on to our children. For those who don’t have children, these influences impact the personal legacy we leave in the world. 

Harmful family legacies not only impact our individual lives, but impact the lives of others through our relationships with those people. Harmful or otherwise toxic family legacies have a way of transcending time, corrupting our childhood, and negatively impacting our adult relationships. It is often difficult to live a healthy life, adjust to and adapt to the many challenges of life, and maintain relationships when we carry baggage from our past. Before we can unburden ourselves from our baggage we must first recognize when there is toxicity, dysfunctional cycles, and behaviors that may be both contributing to and maintaining the legacy. Typically, harmful or otherwise toxic legacies are unconsciously lived out and sadly passed on from one unsuspecting generation to the next. Unfortunately, many people raised in a harmful or toxic environment will look back within their familial history and see the same insidious, painful patterns that are affecting and creating challenges in their life currently.

  18 Signs You May Be Maintaining a Harmful Legacy:

·         Controlling or chronic manipulating behaviors

·         Drug or alcohol addiction

·         Physically, emotionally, verbally, or psychologically abusive behaviors

·         Co-dependent behavior

·         Chronic narcissism or grandiose behaviors and attitude

·         Menacing, aggressive, and bullying behavior

·         Inappropriate response to perceived challenges

·         Self-isolating or withdrawing behaviors

·         Infidelity

·         Remaining inactive to problems or issues

·         Maintaining family secrets

·         Familial taboos

·         Use others for their own personal needs and benefits

·         Are unable to forgive or move forward

·         Consistently pit family members against each other

·         Create or maintain conflict

·         Do not acknowledge or accept responsibility for role played in familial conflict or legacy

·         Unable to empathize with others

There are many different types of harmful or toxic legacies that continue to negatively impact and permeate the lives and relationships of the survivor. Unresolved toxic legacies have the ability to corrupt both familial and romantic relationships. However, in order to avoid repeating problems and negative behaviors of our past we must first become aware of the harmful and toxic impact they have caused in our lives. We must make what was once unconscious conscious. One of the most significant factors related to maintaining legacies involves being unaware that they exit. Harmful family legacies cannot be changed if we do not know they exist and make a conscious effort to make positive changes personally and in our romantic relationships. Too often we are not cognizant of what we are passing on to our children. Even when we are aware of our caregiver’s dysfunctions, addictions, negative or volatile behaviors, etc., we are often blind to our own. Through identification, acknowledgement, and acceptance true understanding can be attained, appropriate changes can be made, and a reconciliation with the past can be achieved.

Many of us are not in a position to just walk away from our family, or even have a desire sever ties with our family. However, we must be mindful some families may be unaware of or do not accept there is toxicity in the familial relationship. Unfortunately, some families may not recognize there are significant problems within the family or that changes need to be made. As difficult as may be to consider, there are going to be some relationships that just aren’t fixable, salvageable, family or romantic. Sometimes, letting go of toxic people can prove to be more helpful catalyst to moving on with our own life in a healthier manner. Although, we do not have the power to change the attitudes or behaviors of others, but we do have the power to make personal changes leading to an opportunity for a brighter, healthier future.

Harmful Family Legacies: 18 Signs

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

2 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2016). Harmful Family Legacies: 18 Signs. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Sep 2016
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.