12 Ways to Deal With A Toxic Family/Family Member.

Via on May 5, 2012

Breaking up with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend is one thing and there’s a lot of advice out there for doing it, but what about a family break-up?

Most of us are not in a position to “just leave” nor do we feel we want to, or that it’s the right thing to do. So what do we do when a toxic family member (or members) is literally ruining our lives? How do we deal with the feeling of obligation, guilt, confusion and heartache?

It is important to note that not everyone’s family is there for them to lean on, to call on or to go home to. Not every family is built on the premise of interconnectedness, support and stability. Sometimes family simply means that you share a bloodline. That’s all. Some families build you up and some suck your energy dry.

There are relationships and friendships that just aren’t fixable—this includes family. There are situations that you can endure for only so long before you’ve outgrown them. There may come a crucial time when you have to separate yourself from your family in order to do what is best for you and possibly for them.

In many respects, the way we were treated by our family ends up being the same treatment we offer the world.

Often times the signal and energy we put out into the world is similar to or exactly what we have experienced by others. And for most of us, this influential force has been our family. Think about it. Think about just how much the interaction, or lack there of, from our family, sets the tone for the quality of energy we give off during our lifetime.

What is unacceptable treatment?

Rejection, abandonment, not taking the time to get to know you or to be in your life, making you feel unwelcome, someone being competitive or hypercritical of you, pressuring or forcing you to be someone you are not, blaming, ostracizing, manipulating, belittling, neglecting and abusing you…the list goes on and on and on. These types of experiences can make a deep imprint on our hearts and inhibit our ability to react without them being present in the back of our mind’s. Our reactions to life become skeptical, doubtful, fearful and we more often see the dark instead of the light in both people and situations.

These negative experiences can jade us for a lifetime, unless we learn to do whatever it takes to get ourselves into a positive nurturing environment and replace negatively influenced reactions with positive ones.

What are the signs indicating that you could use a break or change?

-Your own health and mental well-being is damaged
-You feel emotionally, physically and/or spiritually injured
-The relationships with your immediate family/spouse/partner is suffering
-There is violence, physical and/or emotional abuse
-There is substance abuse
-There are constant struggles for power
-There is unnecessary distrust and disrespect

What to do, how to get out…

1. Get group help. If it’s possible and your family/family member is up for it, get counselling.

2. If it’s possible move out. Move in with a friend, your partner, an extended family member. Get to a place where people want to be with you, try to move into a nurturing environment.

3. Accept your parents or family member’s limitations. Know that you don’t have to repeat their behaviour. You are not them.

4. Allow yourself to get angry. Use it productively. Exercise. Do sports. Use art and creative expression. Write in a journal. Don’t withhold your emotions.

5. Seek guidance for yourself. Talk to someone, a counsellor, a life coach, your yoga teacher—anyone who will listen, someone you feel comfortable with. Ask for help with change and with taking risks.

6. Limit your time. Do whatever it takes to limit the amount of time you have to spend with the toxic family/family member. Limit visits, holidays, do what you can to prevent as much conflict as possible.

7.  Set healthy boundaries. Try to not allow yourself to get sucked back in. You can love and wish them the best from a distance.

8.  Learn ways to protect yourself. Practice meditation. Learn to be patient with yourself and others.

9.  Become aware of yourself. Observe your reactions. Become more self-aware in order to break negative patterns as much as you can.

10. Practice doing good things for yourself. Do things that build self-esteem. Do things you enjoy. Invite others that love you along.

11. Create balance in your life. Take care of yourself physically and eat a balanced healthy diet. Be aware and be cautious of things you may do compulsively (eating, shopping, drinking, etc)

12. Take charge of your life and your happiness. Don’t wait for others to give it to you.

Is it wrong to hold grudges (is life too short)?

Letting go can prove to be more helpful (even life saving) than grasping at toxic strings, looking for what ifs or chasing disillusioned beliefs. At the end of the day, we are all certainly in this together, but each of us have an honest obligation to do what is best for ourselves. You can be a lantern of hope, you can lead by example but you can’t force anyone to change.


Have you experienced a family break up?

Do you have any suggestions?

About Tanya Lee Markul

Yoga Editor, Elephant Journal. I yoga, write, take photos and I investigate existentially. I got a thing for those who have found expression through some form of mastery or artistic fashion, and sincerity. (You set me free I set you). I adore anything that is equally cute and creepy. The most special ingredient you can find, be and put into anything is: yourself. Remember, everything you want, you already have and are. Look within. The more you use it, the more it will grow. For more randomness and love, visit me at Rebelle Lotus and, you don't want to miss the creative rebellion at Rebelle Society. Join us.


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133 Responses to “12 Ways to Deal With A Toxic Family/Family Member.”

  1. Kat says:

    I so needed to read this today, over the last few months I've been dealing with a toxic member of my family and it has been tearing me apart little by little. Now I know what I must do I must move on and do better for myself. Thank you for this and it's so nice to know I'm not alone when dealing with something like this.

  2. APA says:

    I am happy this posts exists!! Feels like I am not the only one :(

  3. jim says:

    I have successfully and rightfully severed all ties with family members who have alienated and manipulated me for years, on top of breeding and spreading brutal lies about my character and my life (about which they know almost nothing, and never cared to know). Feels good to live in truth without such disgusting and immoral people constantly back-stabbing.

    But there is an issue. They attempt to track me, to spy on me – either digitally or otherwise. They try to reach out, but not directly. Not sure if they are spending all kinds of money or what, but they seem to pop up and purposefully try to continue their malicious ways by contacting people in my life presently. It is embarrassing and I have had enough. It is hard enough to build trust again and then I must deal with an inability to just get rid of their lies and B.S. Please help me I cannot keep dealing with this, it is harassment and I cannot keep moving around, changing phone numbers and addresses. I am thinking about getting rid of all my electronics and living in the wilderness without human contact for the rest of my life. How do I get rid of this poison?

  4. Becca says:

    I have read this article several times (normally after I have yet another falling out with family members I shouldn't still be talking to or even trying to help but I feel obligated to) and I've finally worked up the courage to post. My mother, my brother, his ex wife, and his present wife are all very toxic and my father is just downright violent. My mother has been abusive since I was little and informed me it was my job to watch my younger siblings and I was punished when they made mistakes or did poorly in school. My brother quickly caught on to how "the game" worked and would actively blame me for his failings and get me in trouble. My mother told my husband and I this joke on our wedding day: What did the geek do with his first 25 cent piece? He married her. My own mother called me a whore, in so many words, on my wedding day. And, when my daughter died (my firstborn child), she informed me it was God's way of saying I wasn't meant to be a mother. These incidents are 20 years old and still sting like it was yesterday. I've been able to completely cut my ties with my brother (even though my mother intentionally brings him around when I am required to see her without telling me he's going to be there in some warped attempt to make us get along). However, I am finding it impossible to completely cut ties with her and she's much more poisonous than my brother.

    I have also done most of the steps listed and they do work, but it's hard when the toxic people literally show up at your doorstep and accuse you of not "being there" when they needed you or accusing you of helping someone more than you've helped them. I'm one of those people who feels obligated to help anyone in need–especially family and it's tearing me up inside. I've already bailed my younger sister out (she was living with our mother) but now she's living on my husband's and my dime like a queen and refusing to find a new job. There are days I truly wish I could just walk away and not feel any guilt about them suffering, but it's not who I am. So, I'm torn between the knowledge of what I need to do and actually being able to do it.

    I am so sorry to see so many other people here struggling with the same issues I am. To top everything else off, my extremely sweet and understanding In Laws are getting very old and sick and I have to spend time helping them out as I deal with the rest of this. I don't mind helping them. In fact, I enjoy spending time with them, but the added strain is starting to make my physically ill. I hate telling my father in law what's going on because he feels sorry for me and I break down in tears when he hugs me and tells me it will eventually be ok.

    If anyone has suggestions on how to just stop caring or at least not feel obligated to help those who have hurt me my entire life, I would be appreciative. I don't know how much longer I can keep my sanity. We don't have the money for counselling (not included in our insurance) and paying my sister's rent is starting to drain us. I'm very sorry for the rant.

  5. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thanks girl!

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