How to Deal With Toxic Family Members

Posted on - in Culture & Communication
how to deal with toxic family members

You promised yourself last Thanksgiving to keep your mouth shut when Uncle John started spewing bigoted rhetoric and Aunt Edna began boasting of how by the time your cousin was 29, she was married with two kids, not trying to publish a “silly” novel. Instead, it took every ounce of restraint you possessed to avoid throwing the gravy boat at them and storming off.

Dealing with toxic family members can make the most even-tempered person feel trapped in a maelstrom of insanity. Whether your loved one denies the childhood abuse you endured or they openly criticize anything from your body weight to your life partner, you may find yourself wondering if maintaining the relationship makes sense. Consider these suggestions for how to deal with toxic family members, including severing the ties when necessary.

Consider How You Communicate

Unless you still reside under the same roof, consider whether an alternate form of communication could help maintain the relationship with your toxic relative. Given modern technology, many communicate with distant relations via text, social media and instant message. Even if your family lives nearby, you can do the same thing.

Communicating via text/electronic means works particularly well when dealing with narcissists. Narcissists thrive on making their victims question their very reality by gaslighting them, claiming later that they never said or did such things. These forms of communication give you a written record of exactly what was said.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Have a heart-to-heart with yourself. What behaviors will you tolerate, and which words and deeds cross the line? Only you can decide where that lies.

Once you’ve determined your own metaphysical line in the sand, communicate your feelings to your family. Pick a neutral time to talk when everyone feels calm and rational. Everyone grows a bit defensive when confronted with how their behavior impacts others, but an outright refusal to listen constitutes proof that your relative values their own self-image more than their relationship with you.

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Seek Allies

Just as many families have “that” relative, most also have members who will always have your back. Identify relatives who support you and lean on them during traditional celebrations and reunions.

While encouraging relatives to take sides can create a verifiable family feud, you and your ally can model emotionally supportive behavior. Others may follow your lead, making get-togethers kinder and more pleasant overall.

Protect Your “Spoons”

People with chronic illnesses use the example of having a limited spoon supply to explain to healthy folks how everyday tasks most take for granted cost them a sizable portion of their reduced energy capacity. Dealing with toxic family members drains emotional energy just as constant physical pain exhausts the body, and your soul deserves as much honor and care as your stomach or lungs.

Always plan an exit strategy for family gatherings when a toxic relative also receives an invite. It’s far easier dealing with disrespectful or borderline-abusive situations when you can glance at the clock and count down the minutes like a kid waiting for the school bell to ring. Tell the host ahead of time you’ll need to leave early due to work obligations or an ailing child or pet.

Wave Goodbye

As sad as it may feel at first, sometimes the only way to deal with a toxic family member is to cut ties altogether. This often happens when prior abuse existed, and the guilty relative denies or minimizes what occurred.

You may choose to simply decline invitations to events the toxic relatives will appear at, or you may decide to never have any contact with the offender. Going fully no-contact can prove difficult if other relatives stop inviting you to any gatherings altogether. If you do have allies in your family group, speak with them and, if necessary, plan a coffee or tea meeting just for the two of you.

When no contact remains the best option, bear in mind that you will need to delete and block the toxic relative on social media and also block their number on your phone. As narcissistic family members may manipulate other people to contact you through their accounts, you may need to block the toxic person’s allies as well. If this seems impossible, consider taking a temporary break from Facebook and Instagram.

Making Peace With Yourself

Just because someone shares much of your DNA doesn’t give them the right to turn every family holiday into a dreaded nightmare instead of a joyous celebration. Relatives who challenge your peace with careless disregard value discord more than brotherly love. Those who truly care for you will stand by you and honor your needs and your truth.

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Also published on Medium.

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