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7 Red Flags Your Family Members May Be Taking Advantage of You

A relationship expert reveals the signs to look out for, just in time for the holiday season. 

The holidays are approaching, which means you will likely be spending a lot more time with friends and family. While there are many benefits to gathering with loved ones, there are a few drawbacks as well: Family can be overwhelming and can easily cross personal boundaries. According to Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., author of Fragile Power: Why Having It All Is Never Enough, you need to be hyper vigilant about the emotional boundaries when it comes to relationships with family. "Because our closest family members such as parents, siblings and children are genetically hardwired into us, it is often difficult for us to objectively see when we are being taken advantage of by the very people we feel we can trust the most to have our best interests at heart," he explains. Here are major red flags to look for.

They Don't Change, and You End Up Enabling Them

young black couple sitting next to each other at a coffee shop and not speaking or making eye contact

Sure everyone needs a helping hand from time to time, but there's a huge difference between helping and enabling, says Dr. Hokemeyer. "While the first empowers someone to change their life for the better, enabling keeps you and them trapped in the same old sob story," he says. 

They Take Advantage of Your Generosity

giving hostess gift
ASDF_MEDIA / Shutterstock

Your generosity can backfire, says Dr. Hokemeyer. "In spite of your attempts to help, you find yourself having to defend your actions when you can no longer sustain the level of help you are providing or realize the help is enabling them to stay stuck in their problems," he says. 

You Are Left Feeling Drained, Anxious, Or Depressed

Close up of pretty sad woman feel upset after family fight, spouses avoid talking after disagreement, offended wife angry having dispute or misunderstanding with husband, mad spouses ignore each other

If being with family is leaving you feel drained, anxious and depressed, it could be a sign you are being taken advantage of. "If you have relatives who the mere thought of fill you with a host of negative mood states, your body is giving you important information. Pay attention to it and honor your personal well being," Dr. Hokemeyer says. 

Other People Are Telling You That You Are Being Taken Advantage of

A young woman comforting her sad friend while sitting on the couch.
nensuria / iStock

If many other people in your life are telling you what you'd prefer not to hear — like a family member is taking advantage of you — listen. "Sure one or two people might have their own agenda and a personal grudge about one of your family members, but more than two? It's doubtful. If you have more than two people telling you a family member is taking advantage of you, pay attention," Dr. Hokemeyer says.

You Are Being Attacked

Young married black couple having fight, guy yelling at crying lady, gesturing at home.
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

If you find yourself being irrationally or unfairly attacked by the family member in question, you are probably being taken advantage of. "Parasitic people are masters in what is known as the narcissistic cycle of abuse. Through it, they manipulate relationships where they use irrational anger towards you to change the power dynamic of the relationships and make you feel obligated to help them," says Dr. Hokemeyer. 

You Are Being Love Bombed

woman laughing as her husband tells her dad jokes – Yuri A / Shutterstock

If you are being love bombed, there might be an ulterior motive. "Another tactic parasitic family members use to manipulate you to their advantage is known as love bombing," explains Dr. Hokemeyer. "Through it, they focus their gracious attention on you in a very intense and intoxicating way to manipulate you into thinking you are the most important, most loveable person in their world."

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You Keep Setting Personal Boundaries, and Allowing People to Break Them

man showing stop gesture

If you keep saying enough, only to give more, then you are being taken advantage of. "It feels crappy to be taken advantage of, especially by people who are family members. Because it feels so crappy and because we are built not to feel crappy, we easily let down our guard and relax our boundaries when we are being emotionally manipulated by our flesh and blood," says Dr. Hokemeyer. "Sure we can all fall into unhealthy patterns with family members but we can also learn to set and hold clear, consistent and enforceable boundaries with them."

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more
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