May 5, 2012

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

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.

Image: Flickr



The Simple Buddhist Trick to being Happy.

What to do when our Relationships get Tough.

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chasepoore Apr 2, 2019 5:10pm

My sister is like this. She lies about everyone, make up stories to get people to do stuff for her or give her free stuff, does illegal stuff and when she gets caught she blames it on our father’s death. She does any and everything she can to try to get family members to think bad stuff about me because they all know that she has been a prostitute to get drugs, abandoned all of her children, beat our mom etc.

She wants everyone to see bad things about me to take some of the spotlight off of her for all of those things, plus showing up to every holiday event completely out of her mind and arguing with people about Christmas gifts. Begging people for their gift cards etc.

It has got to the point where now even my own mother is doing it with her. They feed on drama and love talking bad about people. Specifically me. If I don’t do everything they ask they start talking crap.

What they don’t know however, as soon as I can get my feet back on the ground, I am leaving and will probably never see any of them again. I won’t put any effort into speaking to any of them. I honestly hate them all.

Another reason they treat me like trash is because I am gay. I don’t really care what any of them say, I know that’s why. I truly hate my entire family and I daydream about the day I can leave and never look back or have to see their faces again.

sharonlynnrock Dec 20, 2018 12:39pm

My step daughter is a sociopath. I never want to see her and don’t as much as I can avoid her. However Christmas is one of the days that I cannot. I have anxiety because I know I have to spend the day in the same house as her. Time and time again she hurts a member of the family and uses her child as a pawn to manipulate whenever she can. She doesn’t have custody and has only supervised visits. I am the only one who refuses to tip toe around her feelings and I tell her like it is. I could write a 1 million page book with stories of her abusive and narcissistic behavior. But I absolutely cannot understand why the rest of the family enables her. They continue to support her in every way financially, emotionally etc. She lies to everyone and they know it but never say anything. I don’t want to be a part of this but i am the one who is blamed for “disrupting “ family get togethers.

Laura Dunham Nov 23, 2018 1:18pm

My older sister is the toxic one in my family. My younger sister and I have tried for over a year to get her to go to counseling, to meet us to talk, to move forward. She has refused. The holidays are rough because I won’t see her kids at all – even though I have a good/healthy relationship with all of them and practically lived at her house when they were growing up. But.. the stress of having a toxic person in your family is unreal. My mom does NOT SEE IT or is too afraid to confront my sister who has split apart the family because she is afraid of my older sister’s wrath – which is legendary and unforgiving. With only two sisters and no dad, my family is small. Now, with no relationship with my sister, it’s even smaller. Without a doubt, the worst heartbreak of my life.

My question: what to do when most of the family covers their eyes and refuses to acknowledge the person who is toxic and unforgiving? It’s classic bullying bystander behavior and it hurts like hell.

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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.