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?

 

Relephant read:

Why Some Parents & their Children have Great Friendships.

Bonus:

 

About Tanya Lee Markul

Luring the magic of what is natural back into our daily lives, Tanya Markul is a freer of creativity, of inner beauty + power, and an enthusiastic igniter of the wild spirit! She re-writing the wild flower sutras, and offers a refreshing & badass view on spirituality, wellness & authentic living. Sensitivity is her tree trunk, flower stem, and nucleus. It is her belly, and her heart. Tanya is an artist of life, a faery of trees, a wanderer of the dark, a writer of heart, a misfit yogini, and an Urban Priestess apprentice. She believes in the power of your personal weird, quirky, magic, and that only path toward inner freedom & light, is through the dark — eyes closed, heart open. Tanya is the creator of The Urban Howl, Yoga Write Now & Waking Wild. Join her free forum for monthly yoga & writing practices here. Join her free forum for 30 days of exercise for 30 days here. Join her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & get her free weekly & quirky newsletter here.

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Comments

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

  1. Kellie says:

    I love you my sweet girl. Unfortunately you have unlimited expertize on this one. I love you to the moon and you are always in my heart!

  2. Roo says:

    Yes. I know this to be true.

  3. Irene says:

    thank you for this timely article…story of my life.

  4. @nalini_kim says:

    I am going through a family breakup right now – I think. The emotional see-sawing back-and-forth has been the most draining. Thank you for a much-needed article.

  5. Melody says:

    I was just having this conversation with my husband over morning coffee. How to we deal with the negative, disrespectful and overly critical siblings that constantly drag us into their blackhole. One breathe at a time! Thank you for this piece….perfect timing. Namaste.

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  7. […] Boundaries sound like a bad word, it’s not, it’s just a form of clarity. […]

  8. […] 12 Ways to Deal With A Toxic Family/Family Member. (elephantjournal.com) […]

  9. Javi says:

    I was on Skype talking with my girlfriend about the chat I had the morning before with my mother and this article pop up on my laptop. I know that my parents and some of my brothers are toxic and even knowing that after more than 5 yrs of treatment, sometimes I find myself still in anger and with an armor when I chat with them. I know that I’m not going to change them and try to accept it but some stuffs still hurt. Nice to read an article like this. Fully identified. Thank you

  10. rebecca says:

    This piece is stocked full of excellent, thoughtful advice. I have been here and done this. I am thankful and blessed to have moved through each of the 12 steps you suggest here, and still feel saddened at times that every single thing on the list of "things to indicate" can apply to more than one member of my family. The great part is that having left those relationships behind, my relationships (including those with 'non-toxic' family) are better, stronger, more loving and joyful. I hope people struggling with toxic family and the decision to limit contact with them can find your article- maybe it will help them to move through this part of their lives with greater ease.

  11. […] 12 Ways to Deal With A Toxic Family/Family Member. […]

  12. […] involving someone with your issues, watch that your words and thoughts are not toxic and are coming from a place of detachment and observation. If you are not there yet, then you are […]

  13. Katie says:

    Thanks for sharing. I've been struggling for 29 years with 3 toxic family members (everyone in my immediate family). I'm just now taking the steps to remove myself from this toxic situation. I struggle with not allowing them to make me feel like I am a bad person for being true to myself. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think those 12 steps will help a lot.

  14. […] 12 Ways to Deal With A Toxic Family Share this:PrintEmailFacebookDigg Posted by Shock Girl on Oct 14, 2012 in Not Otherwise Specified | 0 comments […]

  15. Olivia London says:

    I have woken up this morning looking for advice on toxic relationships with family members. I am so pleased to read this post as we are all too well aware the subject is normally taboo. My story is of two siblings in a very small family. They have throughout my life ganged up on me with emotional abuse and sabotage and my desire to better my life and future. They have deliberately stopped talking to me after the death of my parents to make me feel I am the bad person. This has always been a control tool. I have decided this time not to go back and try and repair the relationship, they left me alone to deal with the clearance of my parents property and all the financial but where quite happy to take thier equal share. I have a very good life which I have worked hard for and that is always a source of jelousy for them both. Their lives have definately not turned out well. I am now taking control of my life and concentrating on my immediate family. I now see I am not bound to put up with emotionally abusive behaviour for the rest of my life. This will be done by distancing myself and realising its not my job in this life to change them. Its thier Karma not mine. Love and light X

  16. […] your childhood was abusive…did therapy play a role….and when did you learn about most all families being dysfunctional on some […]

  17. Stacie says:

    Unfortunately, my toxic family has played a big part in a rift between me and my oldest son. I pray everyday to be able to forgive them. It’s so hard. He blames me for everything because he doesn’t know the truth and if I would try to tell him everything they’ve done, he won’t believe me because he knows I hate them so much.

  18. em says:

    I needed to stumble over this today… thank you for existing. Suddenly I feel understood.

  19. Actually mate I am so pleased and can say that it would come to help us more in the future. Thanks for the share.

  20. Kevin Velasco says:

    <3

  21. Tara says:

    I've made successful exits from two toxic family member relationships. I still have one that needs addressing and I think I've been putting it off for a long time. I hope I can find the strength to let go of it as I have the others.

  22. RGS says:

    I have a toxic family member who was using his elderly mother to get back at my family – got himself on her account after she went into the nursing home, moved her money out, refused to pay her bills, lied to the nursing home, tried extorting my parents to take her in or pay him back the money she lent them years ago… it was exhausting. He's manipulative, neglectful, and very narcissistic. He tried pitting me and my siblings against our parents, so when we told him our perspective he swore us off and said we're dead. I'm so glad he did. It's like this huge burden was lifted off of my shoulders. I didn't know what to do for the longest time, but I now I know I should've written him off a while ago. It would've saved a lot of stress and anger. Some people are just not worth your energy.

  23. octavio says:

    me and my girlfriend dealing with this as we speak, im trying to find ways to work it out with my family its important they support me and my girlfriend because we are planning to get married …it really do hurt to have toxic family trashing you're relationship. i catch my self, not sleeping good

  24. devastated today says:

    Thanks for this article and blog. At 52, I too am dealing with this devastating issue right now. It's my mother's 70 birthday TODAY. We've always had a pretty good relationship, and I had plane tickets to be there for her, couldn't imagine not being there. My younger half-sister and I have always had a toxic relationship, as she has with the rest of our family. In fact she was estranged from my Mom and our whole family for almost 10 years for causing a huge breach in what was once a very close-knit family. But…she just had a grand-daughter, making my mom a great-grandma. So my mom and sister started patching things up, which I applauded. When I invited my sister to be with us and mom for her birthday (we all live in separate states far from each other), she was clear she did not want to come. Now, today SHE is there and I am not. Somehow she got my mom's ear, started pouring accusations and lies about me, and my mom is listening. My Mom's younger brother has been receiving hateful stuff too suddenly; with her rage, profanity, etc. we're worried she's showing signs of dementia…and it appears my half-sister is taking advantage. In a very short time she's convinced my mom to will everything to her great-granddaughter AND to be angry with me, even telling me to stay away and don't come home. This is sudden, shocking, devastating. They've both been sending me nasty, even profane texts. Have never seen such rage from my mom. I'm prepared to end the toxic relationship (finally) with my sister, but don't know what to do about my mom. Any texts or emails I send trying to reason with her are immediately forwarded to my sister, then my mom responds simply with "Bye." My biggest fear is my mom will pass away before all this can be resolved. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks

  25. Guest says:

    My relatives treat me like a "nobody" on social media, so I've resorted to ignoring them to where I cannot see anything they share. I've found the only way to cope with such toxic hostility is to make them invisible and pretend they do not exist.

  26. Carla Oehme says:

    Wow, this is so good and so true – thanks for sharing this! You have no idea how much others need to hear this. I myself needed this. I grew up my whole life in a VERY toxic, abusive family. My dad had rage issues & was physically & emotionally abusive to my mum & older sister, & after my parents split when I was 6, it seems both my mum & sis turned all their unresolved negative emotions/energy towards me, possibly due to resentment at the fact I wasn’t treated badly by him (I think because of my age). Both my mum & sister became emotionally & verbally abusive towards me, my mum became neglectful of her relationship with me all the while seemingly favouring my sister (who’s 7 years older). I’ve never had a good relationship with either of them, never had any real emotional connection with any family member really. I grew up feeling blamed & scapegoated for all the problems & fighting within our family. I even at times felt like even extended family members thought of me as the “black sheep” of the family. Ever since I was about 7 I grew up with generalised anxiety disorder & depression, chronic stress, & now dealing with digestive problems that seems stress-induced. I’ve cut myself off from my mum but still have some contact with my sister (who seems to have “grown out of it”). Occassionally I have bad dreams about fighting with my mum, in fact I just had one last night.

    I’ve had to deal with making the rough decision to cut my mum from my life & most people who I’ve told about it usually don’t get it nor agree with it. They seem to think that because she’s my mum it’s somehow blasphemous to cut her out of my life like it’s wrong for me to do that. That’s also something I’ve had to struggle with, is what if it’s wrong to do so….for the longest time, I felt like because she’s my mum I’m supposed to just put up with it & take it. Same as with my sister’s negative behaviour towards me. Only now have I begun to put up boundaries with what I won’t allow from my sister.

    Thankfully I’ve learned to surround myself with good, supporting friendships, & I do notice positive effects of cutting my mum out & limiting time with my sister, & had gone through some major healing, but it’s still a long process of finding full healing. I’ve had to learn a lot of things for myself, & the points in this article are things I’ve unfortunately had to learn the hard way. I wish someone had told me years ago that sometimes it’s ok to make these kinds of decisions I had to make. So I’m very relieved to see that there’s others out there who have come to the same conclusions I’ve had, to see positive affirmation of the choices I’ve had to make and I’m very encouraged by this. Thanks so much for writing this. Bless you.

  27. lmad5989 says:

    This is a great article. I feel like it's time to do this with my family. My older sister is great and amazing, I would never break apart from her. But the rest of them, parents and other sister, are so wrapped up in negative, hypocritical and judgmental feelings. When I'm around them, I change into this ugly person and get so negative.

    It's going to take some effort, but I need this to happen. Thank you for this article, it had helped me immensely.

  28. Julie says:

    What about when your teenagers are toxic? My daughters are little fricking brats that suck the life out of me. I know that sounds terrible but I could be having a wonderful day, then when I’m around them I feel the negative energy, moodiness, sulkiness, brattiness, negativity, ughh!!! And I’m widowed so there’s no where else for them to go.

  29. Karine says:

    I broke up with my parents more about 10 years ago. It have been hard and heart breaking at times but it is also the best decision I could have take for myself. My father was abusive, my mom choose to not see it even after I exposed him for what he was. At some point I realized that I would never have a “normal” family, mine was toxic and I had to let go of anger, grief what would never be and moved on with my life. The best decision I ever took. I’m happy theses days, most important I’m at peace and know that I’m a good person.

  30. Patricia says:

    This article is heartbreaking and full of so much truth. Sometimes all we share as families is a bloodline. I finally get that … took a long time but I get it. It took letting my family go and wishing them well for me to move on with my life.

  31. sadaea says:

    I think that too much emphasis is placed on our "blood" families. I do believe that we choose to whom we will be born, however, Ialso believe that sometimes they are just the vehicles we need to bring us to the earth plane. We can choose our own families..those people who teach us, support us, and love us unconditionally without all the toxic games, etc. Let go of those who breed hostility and choose again.

  32. Josie says:

    Thank you- it is comforting to know that I am not alone. I have not seen my mother for 12 years. I know I am judged by other family members but I am healing myself.

  33. Katrina Kunstmann Katrina Kunstmann says:

    Sweet holy mother of life, I really, /really/ needed this. I had been contemplating writing about my experiences with a toxic family member and serendipity floated this into my life. Thank you, so much. Blood makes relationships so very muddled sometimes and its difficult to get a clear view. I think the only thing on the list I've yet to employ is therapy and moving. Letting go is something very hard to do, and that is also something I'm struggling with—this family member has been mentally, physically, and emotionally abusive and forgiving is something hard for me to do under the circumstances.

  34. Tanya says:

    2 years ago I took the decision to disconnect myself from my father. He has emotionally and mentally abused me my whole life. It took a long time to realize that this kind of abuse is just as valid as physical abuse. My sister and mother really struggle to accept my decision and we have decided to go to family therapy together to try and figure it out. My life has been absolutely for the better since I made the break. I have more self esteem and confidence in myself where there was always self doubt and degradation. I refuse to allow myself to be manipulated into feeling worthless anymore. I am so very thankful for the many friends who I have discovered have also had to make decisions to cut toxic family members out of their lives, for the better. They have shown me I am not alone and it's ok to take this extreme stance. There is a lot of social pressure to accept abusive relationships within family. One needs a lot of strength to stand in the face of it and do what is right for oneself.

  35. Teresa says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I am going through this exact thing. Last year about this time, I was violently attacked by surprise by my younger half sister as I was trying to leave my parents’ house. Since then, the family relationship has been on the edge of a cliff. Within the past month, I cut ties with my own mother. She enables my younger half sister as well as she has shown great disrespect and embarrassed me in front of friends and my in laws. It’s like when I’m in the room, I’m the elephant in the room. It hurts to cut ties with family but I’m sure I’ll be ok later when I see the impact of them no longer in my life. I will be sharing this on my blog!

  36. Carol says:

    This describes my brother in law and his wife perfectly. My marriage is suffering because of the way they ignore our kids, including the infant since the day she was born. They infuriate me, and my husband gets angry at me when I try to discuss or even if he sees that something they had bothered me by the look on my face. It’s affecting me to where I want to treat their child that way, and that’s not who I am. :(

  37. Rhonda says:

    Great post. I have two sisters who are abusive towards me. My Mom told me its because they are jelous. (sp?) The last straw was at Thanksgiving last year, my older 43 yr old sister was screaming at her 13 yr old son in the bedroom at my parents house and all 25 of us (the rest of the family) could hear it and were very uncomfortable, the inlaws were nervous and the kids were shocked and scared by her screaming. I went to the bedroom to ask her to calm down or take it outside and she flew into a rage and started screaming at me like a crazy person – this went on for a good 10 minutes. I vowed to never again waste my precious holidays with her or her family. She has terrible anger management issues and ruined thanksgiving for 3 families. I decided to cut ties with her and my other sister who is not as toxic but very negative to be around. My mom said I dont offer forgiveness, but is not that I don't forgive them its just that the pyschological abuse is too much for me. It causes me to have bad insomnia, stress and anxiety. So I guess I look at it this way, I would rather sleep and not suffer from anxiety then be their friends. Being in a relationship with both of my sisters causes me a lot of stress/worry/anxiety/insomnia. Is having a stressful relationship with them worth it? Not if I can't sleep – no. It upset me that I could not focus at work and would only sleep a few nights a week. I am a high strung sensitive person, when people are hyper critical or abusive towards me I suffer. My younger sister told me to get over myself and that I was too sensitive, but I am 42. I can't change the fact that I am sensitive to screaming or drama. I can't take it. I like calm friendships. Is that wrong? No. Life is too short to be stressed out by relatives. I would rather just see them at weddings and funerals. Thats enough.

  38. Yenelli says:

    Toxic parent, disabled sib. Forty years of hell–bickering, being blamed and blocked, being undermined if you call a doctor or having no followup which is why you (I) start to "intervene" (HELP) in the first place.

    And that 86 year old embittered hateful manipulative–crushed, afraid, confused–blaming, dismissive, abusive parent continues to suck breath out of a sunny day, even when helping.

    IT IS SO HARD TO FIND SOME KIND OF BLESSING, GRATEFULNESS, I'm filled with poison just being near, yet am prevented in EVERY way from interacting or helping the disabled sib unless it goes through the steel jaws of that parent's bear trap poised seething razored black pus and poison.

    I cannot imagine what it is like to be that parent, I ONLY know that even the car I drive, the soup I make, the offer to buy groceries is EXACTLY LIKE Danny DiVito's experience w/his ma in Throw Mama from the Train. THE ONLY way to deal with it is avoidance. Seriously, did anyone ever give a sermon on how to bring Christ into Danny Di Vito's character's life?

  39. kimse says:

    This is good article. But not everyone is same. I want to punch my aunt. I can not because i stay at her house in foreign country. One example of her insults “If you were not son of my brother i would cut your head”… How to deal with such aunt? I want to beat her so hard

  40. Stani says:

    Hei Tanya,

    I absolutely love the article. It’s really helpful :). Unfortunately in the past few months my husband and I are going through a really bad experience with his family and we reached the point of not talking to each other anymore. I really want to help my husband through this and sometimes I just don’t know how. He’s a very caring and kind person and have always been helping his family unconditionally. But after they’ve been taking advantage of his kindness forever he got enough and put an end to the relationship with them. Honestly I believe that ppl who are poisoning your life should be out of it. He feels way better now but sometimes I see how sad and disappointed he is and it breaks my heart. I’ll have him read your article and hopefully it will help him overcome the sadness.

  41. Maria says:

    I am currently going through a family break up right now. They are so toxic in so many ways, that it's not healthy for me to be around them or interact with them. A couple of Christmas' ago, I basically mourned the death of my family. Now, there is a huge void in my heart. I work on that daily; some days are better than others. The worst part about it, is that now I feel like I have lost who I belong to. I don't have anywhere to call home, no where to run to when I hurt, and no one to hold me up when I've fallen down. It is lonely; that's for sure. I question my identity regularly because I don't have a pack that I belong to. Anyone else go through something like this? Something this tragic?

  42. Steph says:

    Amazing. Stunning. I can’t express how deeply synchronizing this is for my life right now. Thank you!

  43. Havenice says:

    I feel like my family prevented me big time to achieve my potential while I lived with them. Parents totally absent, brothers and sisters pointing fingers and saying stuff like I was dumb, a rebellious by nature, I always blamed myself. Big family, older had difficult life in the countryside in the military years of Brasil, and always made me feel like I came when they weren't so miserable anymore so I should thank them for having house in a city, food, etc. Always had to work to sustain myself, started at 14, in the family businesses, always being the youngest who was never heard, but ignored and manipulated. And criticized a lot and having everyone sticking their fingers in my poor affairs…Yes, had to get out of their environment, in order to be my fully self, and still suffer to get their approval…it's a high price, to away from the thing that identifies that family represents, but I guess, we have just to get used to it.

  44. nina says:

    What a great article. I have a brother with a special needs child with daunting needs. Because of this, my mom sways in their direction all the time despite the fact that my sis-in-law is just toxic. No other way to describe it. You get to the point where you’re like ‘I can’t sacrifice my life and peace for this’. I have to wonder – if I have no trouble with long-term friends, in-laws, hubby, kids, colleagues at work, am I at fault or is it that I’m just not accepted or celebrated for myself by one or two people? Talk about a wake-up call alright! One breath at a time is sure the thing to do.

  45. kalou says:

    Since my parent's death, some of my siblings makes me feel like they just don't care about me anymore. Like the great Billie Holiday's song « God bless the child that's got his own » 😉 !

  46. Suzanne says:

    My adult daughter hates me. It is tearing me up inside. I think we should have no contact as nothing has worked to date. Am I wrong?

  47. Vratika says:

    Thank you. Dealing with an abusive brother was making me go suicidal. Your article came as a pill of faith and i hope to improve my life and not get bothered with negative beings around me. I really needed someone to calm me down. Lots of thanks.

  48. Superpook says:

    This is so overly simplistic it is close to being wrong in ways. I must add too that if someone is abusive, manipulative, etc….then the option to sever ties with the person who is being abusive should be included. We don’t get to handpick our families and nobody is obligated to remain tied to a person who is abusive to them simply because they share the same bloodline.

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