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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163 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. Michelle says:

    I thought my sister and i were almost alone about these kind of problems. My sister cutted all contact to our father around 1 year ago, and i am thinking about doing the same. I'm 20 and she's 15. I really don't know what to do.. The last time i was talking with him was before my graduation. I didn't wanted him to show up the day i finished my last exam, which i told him. I had invited him to show up at the graduation where everybody gets their certificate.
    At first it was his girlfriend who asked what day i was finishing my last exam, but i didn't wanted to tell her and she reacted like i had slapped her in the face.. It had nothing to do with her first of all and for second of all, it wasn't towards her, but she understood it as was it personal. The day after, my father called me and we talked calmly to eachother for around 5 minutes until he asked the same question as his girlfriend had done the day before; What day do you finish your last exam? Again, i didn't wanted to give the date and he accepted it at first.. Then suddendly he went really angry and said it wasn't my decision, but i was my mom who had told me to say that. When i said to him, it was my own decision and had nothing to do with my mom he said to me we could talk some other day, where i would be able to talk with. (He blames my mom for everything that goes wrong when it's about my sister and i. It began after he got the girlfriend.) I was so frustrated because he just wouldn't listen. I know him well enough to know, that he doesn't trust me and therefore i haven't trusted him for.. I can't count how many years now… He hasn't really been there for me and he has rarely trusted me – it's a very long story. When i'm around him and his girlfriend, who btw. always has to be near him, it feels like being with strangers. I can't really be in the same room with my own dad anymore. It's so awkward; i don't know what i can say or how i can act. I'm scared of meeting him and when i'm waking up in the morning, i've begun to think "he might call today." It gives me stomachache. Last week i went over to my best girl-friend, who lives in the same city as my father. When we went down to the store to buy some food for dinner, i kept looking over my shoulder thinking; "Is he there..? If yes, did he see me?" It was horrible.. I can't really take this anymore.. This article and the comments below has helped me getting the strenght i need. Hopefully, within the end of this month, i no longer have to fear getting a phonecall from my father.

  6. Emmy Logandorf says:

    I came from a history in which there was horrific physical, emotional and sexual abuse. At a certain point, you have to say to yourself, "This person will not change, cannot change, is unwilling to change." Then you disconnect from them. Their correspondence goes unopened into a paper shredder. Their calls are dodged with caller ID. If I get ambushed by them and discover them on the end of an active phone line, I hang up. I want to do NONE of these things. But I must foremost protect myself and my children. Face it, when the people around you are all damaged goods (to put it nicely), their pathology becomes and remains infectious. You can be left with no other choice than to shut them out.
    If that's what it takes……DO IT.

  7. Emmy Logandorf says:

    What made the biggest impression on me was how the vicious bunch of vampires I was born into reacted when I finally stopped appeasing them and reacted to their viciousness. I immediately became the monster, not them. And I became the one who needed to be rejected, shut out, rebuked, etc.

    They distanced themselves from me. And I have concluded, despite overtures, that I would be out of my mind to let them back into my life. When it becomes necessary, I yank out two important words: "Restraining Order."

  8. Emmy Logandorf says:

    I need to shut up. One last thought. When your family or a relative becomes so toxic your mental or physical health is being affected, you need to start distancing yourself from them. If the situation can't be repaired, distance yourself from them greatly. If they begin doing real damage to your mental health, finances, reputation, etc., break off the relationship completely. Whenever my siblings come to town and request contact, I meet them at IHOP. If that. They visit with me for an hour, and then they're gone. My phone, fax, and email work for me, and not the other way around. Restrict access whenever necessary, or use your delete button. I have found some of the attempts to "get at me" to be bizarre; there was a line of gossip for a time suggesting "my problem" was that I'd been molested as a child by another family member. It was all vicious lies, intended to provoke responses and create communication. I failed to respond to it. That was the correct course of action. Bottom line: most of these people aren't worth having as tenants in your head. Shove them out of your life, and let them feed on each other. Engage them, and you end up in an endless cycle of conflict, debate, and drama, none of which are worth your energy. LOSE THEM. If they earn their way back into your life later, that's a different matter. But be aware many people do the latter, in a cyclical manner, repeatedly entering and leaving your life. After a point, what's the point?

  9. No one says:

    I’m late to the party, but I’ll throw mine in. I need to break up with my mother. She has borderline personality disorder, but has refused to get treatment for it. Instead, she’s hated from before I was born, blamed me for every problem that she’s ever had, and purposefully destroyed my life, forcing me out of school at 13 and then basically holding me like a kidnap victim, not allowing me to leave the house or talk to anyone or do anything for years. Everyone knew what she did, and no one did a thing about it. Unfortunately, because I knew I’d never have a relationship with my father (addict, alcoholic, physical neglect) and the rest of my family was so bad (full of addicts and your general apathetic people), and that I heard all my life that everything was my fault (you believe that when you’re young and it’s your parents), I lived in denial with my mother until I was 20, and by then it was too late. I’d developed severe agoraphobia as a result of PTSD, had panic attacks every day, and couldn’t function on a basic level. She knew I had agoraphobia and used it to her advantage to control me, would even scream at me until I would have a panic attack on purpose to show that she was the one in control, not me. On top of that, she remarried, and her husband also used me as a scapegoat, blaming me for his financial problems (when it was actually that he’d been having an affair for years and blew all of his money on his mistress), while also being a total pervert with me (had an affinity for going through my clothing and fondling my underthings). I’ve gotten better with the agoraphobia, somehow, and am trying to get together enough money to leave. I don’t have any friends or family to stay with, and a shelter isn’t really an option with my condition, so I have to grin and bear it.

    What gets me through is the fact that I’ve already successfully broken up with the entire rest of my family, many years ago, and gotten past that. But the hardest is this last, and I turn 30 next year, and could not feel more pathetic.

    • Kiki Unhinged says:

      Please don't feel pathetic. I am just now breaking up with my mother at 49. It's very confusing while she chipped away at me little by little, until she finally made it easier for me. It was her own toxic behavior without any help from me that finally gave me the "ah ha" moment. It still hurts though but not so much anymore. peace be with you…

  10. Lucas says:

    Excellent article. I "broke up" with my family about 30 years ago. I stopped talking to them and seeing them. It was far from easy, but it was the smartest move I ever made. Once this negativity was removed from my life, I began to see other things, observe other ways of being in the world. I observed real love in families and love of children. The path has been very bumpy but so worth it. I have surrounded myself with people who care for me and who are happy to be my friends and I avoid toxic people at all costs. Life is too short.

  11. Sister problem says:

    I have a toxic sister who lies about me. It seems to be jealousy. I am 7 years older than her and I am not into family drama and she stirs up all she can.
    Her business partner sent me a disturbing message on Facebook this week. I didn't know who she was until my Mother told me that she is a family member.
    This is a copy and paste of the message:
    "You should be ashamed. I'm going to pray for you. That you will find peace in your life and let go of all the bitterness. Good day."
    I don't have a clue as to what this is about. She set the link so I could not respond back.
    After this message, I found out that this person and my sister started a business. Apparently the health department received a call from someone and they probably think I'm the one who called. I did not know they were starting a business and if I did, I would not take the time out of my life to do such a thing. Also, my sister is telling people that my husband and I foreclosed on our home and that is why we moved back to our home state. I can not get my sister to respond to me as to why she would tell such a thing. I can not go on any longer with this between us. I would just like to know the reason for this.
    My sister also has nothing to do with our Mother. It really doesn't matter about me not being invited, however they did not invite Mother which hurt her. They invited a former baby sitter and treated that person as as "grandmother of the bride". When one of my sister's daughters had a baby, they kept mother out of that too. Now all of this started before I moved back to my home state. The problem is, we live in a small town and word, truth or not, gets around very fast. I hope people will notice that I'm not the one spreading lies, and I know that will take time. Just hope I live to see it.
    A true Christian would want people to know why they're mad at another person.

  12. Vernon Nielsen says:

    i lived it for 45 years, all i can say is there are other ways if you haven't found them , thats a shame. i got out of being toxic, when one family member does that the rest get jealous and try to match or beat youth it, so i shared how i did it,,viola! massive release of family toxicity, not quite there yet but vastly improved. i just call weak ass bull shit on the duck and run method. face what makes you toxic and use it to detox, end of story.

  13. Lee says:

    This is good advice for anyone, even if they don't live in a toxic situation. While this is good advice, I'm witnessing a situation where an adult child is living in their parents home and is seemingly destroying the harmony in that family one day at a time. She needs to move out before her damage is irreversible (if it's not too late); however, how do you force your teenage/adult child to move out? The reality is that nobody else will take her in. She is aggressive, verbally abusive, depressed, and downright mean, keeping everyone on pins and needles when she is in the house. I've offered suggestions to the mother on how to get her child out, but it seems that if she does something that drastic, she's concerned that something even worse could happen. This child has put her whole family through the wringer for the past 5 years and is lucky that her mother has managed to keep her out of prison and alive. Any suggestions?

  14. marteen says:

    I feel better knowing I am not alone I am 52 my mother is 70 and I have cared for her most. Of my life. She’s all about her an does not care who she walks over to get her way I have had a life time of this. But she all ways manages. To suck me back in. I an full of hurt and anger at the moment and I am walking away for good the last straw was I bought mums car off her for a 1000dollars it’s just a little bomb for a to b paid her the cash in front of family and she came back and stole the car in the middle of the night.

  15. And through much dullness and despair, this rock turned into a diamond. For times such as these it's bets to develop or[han psychology. Autonomous. Detached (does not mean uncaring I am caring just selective because I am a limited resource). I couldn't have done it with ought therapy though… so if you are in trouble get help asap. Psychoanalysis helped me the best. It helped me detect, and rewrite my responses. Bets of luck ppl send love to everyone stay strong, do what you must do and live. It is your life, you matter, what you do matters has importance and can make a difference so get the toxicity out.

  16. Nate says:

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!! I'm glad I found this article! I felt like it was me against the world and no one understood why I don't want to see or hear from my family again. My mother and adult kids have mentality drained me. My mother not only deliberately destroyed my relationship with my kids but she destroyed my relationship with my siblings. She is a control freak! If it doesn't go her way she destroys it with no remorse. She has breast cancer now and I feel no pity.

  17. Linda says:

    My family uses me as a "whipping person" many times, and are not very nice to me. So last Christmas, and last summer, we did not go up to be with everyone else when my sister from out of state came to visit my parents.. Three siblings, and their children, but not my husband and me. I really have no other family. What no one really goes into is, when you separate yourself, how to deal with the extreme sadness and loss of people that are your closest family. I'm in my 50's and I never expected to have no family at this age. The sadness is very hard to deal with. It is like they all died.

    • grieving says:

      Linda,

      I have been thinking the same thing. After closing ties with my family, whom I always adored, and would (did) do anything for, the feeling that they have all died and the feeling of being completely alone is challenging. I personally feel as though I am an orphan…

      in those moments, I remind myself that we all (even our family members that we have disconnected from) have a divine beauty within. That we are deserving of love, and I try to remember to ground myself and feel my energy rooting through the soles of my feet to the top of my head. That my love will never stop for any of them, but to honor my body, mind, and spirit, they cannot be in my life right now. I remember that it is a choice that ** I ** have made.

      As it is thanksgiving and being without family around the holidays sometimes is more difficult, (although in all of our cases, probably a blessing), I am so thankful for everyone who has shared. It reminds me that it isn’t just happening to me, and that we have virtual families, and that we are very able and deserving to create families that our not blood related but choosen, because they are loving, supportive, those that are happy and willing to see our divine light and see the dark but love us to pieces either way.

      Oriah Mountain Dreamer wrote the Invitation, one of my favorite poems- a quick and powerful read, that may bring hope and strength for all of us who make these hard decisions to release from our blood related families.

  18. Meow says:

    After 44 years of trying to fit in with my crazy, conservative, overly religious family, they completely disregarded my children by not inviting them to 2 of their cousins weddings(within 2 months of each other) while all the other 12 cousins over 13 were invited- even the ones who lived so far away there was no way they would attend- I cut them off. My 3 brothers and their wives and their kids could not find it in their heart- if they had one- to stick up for me and my kids and say that this was wrong. Apparently money is more important than family. I'm glad though that this happened now so my kids don't fall for any of their lies and fake care and concern. This has actually liberated me from having to keep trying to have a relationship with any of them. It feels like a a huge weight lifted but it's also a heavy sadness because all those years I trusted people who didn't really care as much for us.

  19. Seanín says:

    My mother physically and emotionally abused me and my younger sister for years. I got it worst. I didn’t tell my Dad until second year of university.

    He cried. But he doesn’t talk about it. She is vile to him- he’s lost his spirit.

    I started having panic attacks two months ago. I told my dad I’m being tested for a disorder of the mind similar to what we expect my mother has. I also told my sister.

    No response.

    So last week I contacted them again, said I wasn’t coming home for Christmas, and that I was done pretending I havenr suffered enormously at the hands of my mum. I said she needed professional help and until they do something about that, I’m not bothering with them. I’d rather have no family than continue suffering like I have all this time.

    Still no response.

    It doesn’t matter. They were never there-only my youngest sister trusts and acknowledges me. The middle one is cold and competitive, also pretending none of it happened. And my Dad has always responded to the things mum has done by saying ‘So? She does worse to me.’

    Where’s the adult here?

    In order to release my youngest sister from the guilt, shame and self hate I have endured, I’ve ended my relationship with them. She needs someone to set an example- to show her this is wrong. And I need to get well again so I can continue with the rest of my life.

    Food for the soul- LIVING your TRUTH.

  20. KEVIN says:

    The hardest thing about dealing with a family "break-up" for me was dealing with the guilt. I viewed myself as "the bad one", the problem. Then I had my AH HA Moment – I wasn't being difficult or bad – I was protecting myself by refusing to live in a denial system that no longer held things together for me. It wasn't ME who didn't invite family members to weddings – it was my family members not inviting me. It wasn't me who forgot to send birthday wishes to his twin brother – it was my twin brother who didn't send them to me. And it wasn't me seeking to continue living out my life ignoring abuse, neglect, and pain – in fact, there was no abuse or neglect because my family said there wasn't any. My advice: Trust in your truth. Decide what the groundrules are going to be with your family members. And, if they cannot deal with those groundrules, remind yourself that it is YOU that needs protection; they are a colossal ball of dysfunction that you no longer play along with,

  21. lxie says:

    I have been trying to hold on to the myth that my family comprises of normal genuine people with human flaws,but the truth is that I come from a dysfunctional family. It has been too much, to hold on and to cope with so far, in every possible way, when you are buried in miserable emotions of those around you, self pity, demotivating talks and communication, not to miss the unbearable dose of sadness n emotional drama… have tried so hard to be there help, give solution, but am tired, i give up and all i want is a way out- quietly with minimum damage..

  22. KIM says:

    HI EVERYONE. THANK YOU FOR BEING BRAVE ENOUGH TO SHARE. I DIDN’T SPEAK TO MY MENTAL/PHYSICAL/VERBAL ABUSIVE FAMILY PERSON FOR MORE THAN TEN YEARS. I AM NOW A YOUNG SENIOR CITIZEN. I AM CHRONICALLY/ CRITICALLY ILL. DISABLED. WHILE HOSPITALIZED THAT PERSON WENT INTO MY HOME UNDER THE PRETENSE OF HELPING TWO OF MY FRIENDS CLEAN AND GET THINGS READY FOR ME. MY FRIENDS WERE DOG SITTING. THIS FAMILY PERSON STOLE A BLANK CHECK BOOK AND LEFT MY ACCT. NOT JUST EMPTY BUT IN THE RED. I DID PUT THIS PERSON IN JAIL BECAUSE OF AN A CHILD WHO WAS ADOPTED BECAUSE THE BIOLOGICAL PARENTS WERE CONVICTED FELONS IN AND OUT OF JAIL. I HAVE INFORMED CHILD SERVICES AND OTHERS WHO ARE TRUSTWORTHY TO KEEP THEIR EYES AND EARS ON THIS FAMILY PERSON AT ALL TIMES. AND I HAVE INFORMED THIS FAMILY PERSON OF THIS.

  23. jojo says:

    I have a toxic sis who uses her son to do whatever she want an get away with it whether it be stealing from me an my husband destroying our property an lieing about doing . just recent she got pregent 3 month or so she say an she said she lost it with a guy older then our dad choice the guy over her son an family..but keep on her about coming back an she did an I made her take a pregnancy test came back negative.. The same day she left the guy older then my dad she got with another guy an I told her to get on birth control she didn’t an know is pregent again ..tired an feed up with her she hasn’t spent one night here with her son an only come back when he working an this boyfriend tried to tell me how I should treat my sis an get Into our family buissnes . So when I move she will not be moving with me an will not talk to her for a while because from all the things she has done over the years I am done with her an also our other sidling don’t talk to her either because of what she has done to them over the years.

  24. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thanks girl!

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