Dealing With Toxic Family Members
I recently received a question on my previous blog ‘Don’t Compromise Yourself For Toxic People‘:
“What can one do to avoid this kind of toxicity if it is your loved ones or those close to you? And what is the best way to keep yourself out of their influence when it is not really possible to just avoid them outright?”
Toxic Still Means Toxic
If you’re thinking that the word “toxic” sounds a bit harsh to describe family members, you’ll see that it will make sense when you understand how their negativity can affect your health. They can cause a lot of pointless stress on you with their manipulation, drama, jealousy, and criticism. They drain you emotionally and make you feel bad about yourself.
“Some of the most poisonous people come disguised as family.”
We are often blinded to reality, especially when dealing with family members and other close ones. We tend to be optimistic towards them and smooth out the surface and make all kinds of excuses in the hope that they will change.
Now, before you come to any conclusions, I want you to make sure that you’re actually dealing with a toxic family member.
So, the first thing I would recommend is to get clarity. We need to take a deeper look at ourselves to see if we’re blinded by resentment from earlier events. Maybe we’re ignoring their efforts to reach out because we’re the ones holding a grudge. We think they’re being toxic or aren’t capable of change. Often that’s true, but sometimes it’s not.
Therefore, start by trying to see situations as they really are. Maybe make a list of good times and bad times. By putting things on paper, we make the situation clearer for ourselves.
Here are four real signs, and if at least three of the following signs connects with you, then your family member is toxic to you.
- I feel depressed around them
No matter what you do or say, they make you feel bad about yourself. Their comment won’t attack you directly, but they are meant to make you feel guilty, regretful, hurt, ashamed, and send you down a spiral of depression.
- I feel angry being around them
You feel like beating the living daylight out of them, because of how they act, talk, and behave. It may be that they are behaving in their normal manner, but it is one of a pretentious victim or a real asshole. Dealing with them is making you stressed.
- I feel drained around them
People you love make you feel great about yourself and give you energy. If you’re feeling exhausted in their presence, even after leaving them, then they are toxic to your health.
- I can’t be myself around them
Something is happening to make you feel as though you can’t be yourself. You feel weird as if you are someone completely different when being around them. You may find yourself unable to speak up when you normally have no problem saying what’s on your mind and show your true attitude or behaviour.
How To Handle
Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen suggests three ways to put a little or a lot of space between you and a toxic family member.
1. Find New Ways Of Engagement
There are many ways to control how we interact with them, such as you can set limits on the size of the group, duration, and location.
Here is what I sometimes do: I’m willing to see him/her only at family dinner, or I’m willing to send him/her an email instead of a long phone call.
Whatever new ways of engagement we decide on, also include plans to build relationships we otherwise risk missing out on, such as the toxic family member’s partner or child.
2. Get To Know The Pattern
Drama with toxic family members often come in predictable patterns, such as after two glasses of wine, or halfway a conversation about money. Once you get to know the pattern, you can plan for it to keep you from getting caught in the storm.
3. Cut Ties
I hate to say this, but just turn away and cut ties. It’s surprisingly common that we do this, but most people keep it hidden. It’s drastic, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do. It’s a choice we have to make. Not an easy one, but still a choice.
If we go this route it’s okay to feel conflicted. You might feel tremendous relief, but you might also feel sadness or grief, especially if you’re turning yourself away from a close family member. Just remember we’re not crazy if we find ourselves missing someone we never want to see again.
It’s important we surround ourselves with kindness and support while doing this. It’s never easy, so it makes sense not to walk it alone.
Sit tight because I’m going to get real honest here. Some people reading this are actually the toxic family member in the relationship.
We need to look at the perception of ourselves and then decide whether we are the toxic person in the relationship. We possibly will feel angry, upset, drained, or mistreated by other people, but that may simply be because we are toxic persons who have very negative viewpoints of others.
Honesty will help us feel much better about ourselves and our family. If we can take the time to get honest about our toxic contribution to other people’s lives, we can make time to find ways to fix it. When that happens, maybe we’ll realise that all our relationships are much more loving, energising, and rewarding.
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