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


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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


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

  1. Sarah M says:

    Carol Hyde,

    Same situation here. Sister who causes a problem then plays victim but was caught on social media in her lie and still not accepting responsibility for it. Blames "something dark" Hello? you are the dark one! Same behavior all her life and will never change and sees nothing wrong with how she is operating. Worked on our mother when her husband passed a few years ago to gain control of her through lies and mother does not want to "rock the boat". I only communicate through email now with her and its to say hi. Oh, and now she has been baptized as if to say that she is not liable for her behavior that caused pain for others and continues to do so. I am glad to be free of her and that the Universe/God takes care of it in her lifetime.

  2. helena says:

    My sister never used to call me unless she had been drinking. On these occasions I would sit up all night chatting. When her daughter would put the phone down it was I who always was there to listen
    Sometimes she would just not call for months at a time. She’s moved back nearer her family and all my nieces don’t talk to me. My parents died a while back and as my sister and i was so close in age (I’m older) but that even worse as I cant share my late parents birthday or Christmas by having a nice talk. My sis lives by the sea but she is always busy going places I summer. But the last time u saw her in march I helped her decorate and pain her new house.
    Wr also watched the lunar eclipse. Since then up to now she has disowned me. She always runs me down and mt grown up children as they still live with me. She boast hers have all left and shed free now. Also told me my kids be living with me until I’m 90. She last text me in April and said I’m good ad dead to her. So after 6 weeks i still called her to make friends again but she started calling me names so I changed my.mobile number. Its been over 6 months shesr not even written. But she can get on a train to visit her old school friend who she has just got in touch on facebook. She I votes her to stay in summer. We are both single. I was upset and lost for losing my sister. But I have moved on I stll start thinking why she hates me and my family. csnt think I did anything major to upset her. I just think my sis mo ed to a nice home and near her daughters. Then left the past including me on purpose. Horrible having it done to me as we are both carers and when she was stressing out she would always call me and i would sit up all night talking about her feelings. She will miss me maybe not now but one day she will realise she lost her soul mate her best friend and the one person she could confine her problems with.

  3. NXS says:

    Been dealing with a negative mother my whole life am 40-years old now my sister just disowned her and left and refuse to help her ever again. If i leave she can't take care of herself and how much negative and controlling she can be i just don't have the heart to abandon her no matter how much i want to my heart denies it. I really hate my mother at times well most of the time all she does is talk about people and puts you down and makes you feel like you can not accomplish anything no matter what you try and do to bring yourself up she takes it away. No matter how much thought i put into myself to make my life better even if it's work or other things she takes it all away and brings you down below her. I feel like just ending my lie why bother anymore it sucks and it's half way over and never had a taste of life because of her.

    • Libby M says:

      Hang in there NXS! It will get better in time! Hugs & prayers to u!!!

    • Maxwell says:

      NXS, maybe you need to put her in nursing home or call State social services. It appears u r co dependent n it is causing depression. There are meetings for coDA which may help as others may have ideas of how to lessen ur burden. You need a lot of joy and positive experiences to combat her toxic negativity. She has had her life before u were even born. Now it is time to live YOUR life. Dont give up on being happy. Things can change.

  4. jackie says:

    soo diifficult is hard to convince abuser / user of the damage that they are doing to themselves and to the people who do care for them its hard to not be sucked in to the blame game

  5. bill says:

    Great article! I do all those things except one. Get away from them. I have 2 brothers that are just scum. They continually impose on my life. Plotting & scheming behind my back. My mother is the core of the toxicity. I can't get away from her bc she has me in a financial bind. Im stuck & have to endure their bs. Its gotten to a boiling point. For 16yrs my mother used me. I made her over a million dollars. I solved all her problems big & small. Gave up my life for my stupid family. They don't appreciate anything. A couple of years ago i discovered my mother is just a big fat liar. So are both my brothers. Both are losers. I thought i could just find a job & leave but no one is hiring me bc for 16yrs my mother paid me $500/month under the table. I didn't care too much bc i thought i was just doing stuff for my family & thought i would be taken care of later But when i wanted to leave my mother made it impossible. Im stuck. Still need help. But now all 3 are going to be in my face for 3 months. No one i talked to has an answer & the job thing is the biggest hurdle. If i got a decent paying job i could leave but min wage jobs aren't going to cut it.

  6. Melina says:

    Waylon’s video is great. <3 Oh, the article is good too. 🙂

  7. Ingrid says:

    My family of origin is exceptionally toxic and abusive. DIvorcing them has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and probably ever will do. The process of extricating myself from them as peacefully as possible began around 7 years ago. I am still grieving the loss though have absolutely no regrets. It has definitely been a necessary and beneficial decision.

  8. Marco says:

    Yes get as far away from them as possible and never look back. Done it and I have no regrets. I've been able to mend my spirit and reach beyond the limits of what they had me believe I could. That's what walking away does for you.

  9. Evan says:

    The problem I have is that my sister is toxic. It hurts me deeply how ignorant she can be but as I try to explain this she blames me constantly. Since we are both in our early 20's, we still are in uni/collage and visit our parents regularly. It's gotten to the point where I want to remove myself from such abuse and give up on trying to convince her of the err of her ways; mainly not seeing that we are a family and shouldn't point faults in others while avoiding your own faults. My parents, however, who have seen this happen with their own siblings know that this will be the stake that ends our family. Talking about this to my father, he has no solution for the daughter her loves who seems to point out nothing but a horrible situation for herself and the son (myself) who understands that she needs to widen her scope and see things for how they actually are. I'm sick of abuse, I'm sick of stating shes not the abuser, when it actuality its just to hold our family together. What do you do when the toxic relationships ending means the ending to that which is irreplaceable; your family?

  10. MagikalKat says:

    Wow I know EXACTLY how all of you feel! I have a uncle who is very toxic and i have since cut all ties with him. In high school i moved in with him and my aunt ( mother's sister). My dad was sick so i couldn't live with him, and my mom wasn;t around. Well everything started out fine during H.S. years, but then little by little I was restricted. I couldn;t go out after school, i had to come right home, I couldn;t out to the movies, I couldn;t have friends over my house, i couldn;t give out the phone number etc etc etc . Then when i started dating, it got worse! I had 1 boy who was interested in me, and I didn;t dare to tell my uncle about him. One day i didn't care anymore and this same boy asked me if i wanted to go to the mall with him after school i said yes.. I came home"late" like around 5.. and you would have thought i had gotten kidnapped!! All hell broke loose. My uncle DEMANDED that i call up this boy in front of him and break up with him! I was devastated, i couldn;t do i was soo upset, so my uncle calls him up and tells the boy i said said all these horrible nasty things about him. The boy believed my uncle and broke up with me and never spoke to me again! Fast forward to my college years, and another guy comes along and Uncle tries to sabotage that relationship too! Luckily this guy was smart and could see thru my uncle's mind games! 5 years of hell we went thru with to be together! My uncle was vicious!! He screamed at me all the time, called me vile names, threw things at me, nearly slammed a door on my fingers! Called up the guy i was with non-stop and accused him of things too! While I lived with them they also treated me like a maid/slave! I had to cook for them, run out to stores for them, pick up things for them, cleaned for them, all the while being screamed at non-stop! I literally felt like Cinderella!! Finally i had had enough and i moved out! Still to this day, this same uncle texts me on my cell phone and leaves messages telling me what a terrible person i am and how the family is ashamed of me and my actions! I now ignore his texts and have stopped all contact with him. Me and the guy are still together to this day and have since moved out of state away from my CRAZY uncle!

  11. Chey says:

    My dad has been toxic to my family for 20+ years. I had moved in with my spouse 1 year ago after my parents had divorced and my sister moved out of state. To this day, my dad still causes problems. I had tried to distance myself but I keep thinking about the past and how we used to talk. I tried forgiving him in the past but every several months, he does the same thing again, so it turns into a vicious cycle. I don’t know how to handle another one of his cycles. It’s so incredibly hard to block out a family member. I try to stay positive but it becomes very challenging at times.

  12. JayAreP says:

    I have chosen to take a toxic family member out of my life. I have felt a much better life after doing so. The only thing since then is another family not agreeing with my decision and now pressures me to forgive and forget. Which then makes me feel like another toxic relationship is starting. I'm at an age where I can decide who I would like to speak with and who I will not speak with. So here I am feeling down and out over and over again from another family member who just won't give up on this because it hurts there feelings?! I'm on day two of a constant headache from this situation……

    • Guest says:

      Don't worry, I'm in the same place…I decided to take a toxic felative out of my life almost 20 years ago when I was really young…best decision ever, I couldn't take the abuse anymore. The thing is people think it's somewhat forbidden or cruel or something impossible to think of to decide to remove a relative from your life, but I say go for it, your life and your well being is first, who cares what others think, I bet they don't have to deal with the abuse so it's easy for them to say "You're too sensitive, better forget and forgive". It's not ideal, of course not, but I wish people were more understandating and had more empathy so they wouldn't judge so much. The funny thing is few people seem to judge the abuser but they judge the one they abused for standing up ….Seriously, your are first,always act thinking about what's best for you…I wasnt like that by nature, but toxic people force you to be like that

  13. Harleigh says:

    Hi, so I’m not 100% sure if some of my family members would qualify as toxic or not. I have a Mother who is one way towards me one minute and then acts completely different if certain people are present or if she’s talking about me to someone else. My granny is pretty much the same way except she Vickers about everything under the sun nearly always. Sometimes it’s about how I dress, who I’m with, what I’m doing, what I say, etc. Well, I have Manic Depression and severe anxiety and 99 times out of 10 when I’m around them both together it ends in a horrible fight. They’re quick to talk bad about each other until they’re side by side and then they seem to ‘ team up ‘ and verbally attack me about literally everything. I’m 24 and as an adult I feel like they really over step their boundaries. I’ve tired calmly talking to them the way my psychiatrist has suggested but it never works. They cut me off every time. Well, my boyfriend has offered I move out and in with him so that I’m not stressed out constantly and that’d put some distance between my family and me as well. Any time I’ve ever moved, it starts a fight that is so bad I end up in panic attacks and tears. I have no idea how to even approach them about moving because I already know how this will go down. Any suggestions? It’s so hard because they’re family and they know how to make me feel awful .

  14. Anonymous says:

    My family is a complete mess. My aunt tried to kick my mom’s belly while she was pregnant of me. My mother locked herself in the bathroom and called my dad, crying, saying that my aunt was screaming and threatening her outside the bathroom door. After that, they didn’t speak anymore, and my father hates her deeply. But now she’s trying to get closer to my mom and to me, and keeps trying to buy us with presents. She truly is a horrible person and I completely understant my dad, but my mom doesn’t see it, and fights with my dad a lot over this despicable person. She tries to force my dad to talk to her, and sometimes he does, but he told me that he feels like crying everytime he looks at her. I love my father more than anything in the world, and I hate seeing him like this. I just want my aunt to stay away from my family, but I have no idea how to do that and how to make my mom see who she really is.

  15. Cerrha says:

    I recently had a "break up" with my dad. He is an abusive alcoholic. Growing up I would compulsively spy on my parents so I would know whether things were ok or if he might leave us again. By age 10 I recognized that my mom loved him, but his love for her was unequal, he disrespected her, criticized her, and was inconsiderate of her every day. He was living with us, but he wasn't "present." He never did anything with me, though occasionally he would do father-son stuff with my brother. He did get sober for several years when I was a teen, and then life was wonderful. But, when I was 18 my mom and I were out horseback riding and there was an accident. My mom was left permanently disabled and in constant pain (still to this day 17 years later). When my dad realized that she would never be able to work again, that he would need to support her, instead of her supporting him when he retired, he became angry and abusive once more and resumed drinking, and also had many, many affairs (which he had also done early in their marriage). I moved away, married, and had a son before I realised how things stood. At that point I began planning for my mom's escape and divorce, and moved to a larger house with a guesthouse so she would have a place of her own with me. It took several more years for her to be convinced to leave. He flushed her medications or stole them for himself, he shook her to cause her more physical pain, he screamed at her telling her how stupid she was and that no one liked her or wanted to be near her, and many other awful things. When my mom ended up sleeping in the guest room, door locked, and a knife under her pillow because she was afraid he would try to kill her, she finally resolved to leave him. She had been with him since she was 12, and married to him for 33 years. One day while my dad was at work, my husband and I moved my mom out and brought her to live with us. My dad went insane. He blamed me. He made false accusations about my mom and tried to use my kids to manipulate me. When things cooled off I tried to resume a father-daughter relationship, but he couldn't behave himself and we frequently fought. He even went so far as to remove parts from my mom's car engine so she would miss her class reunion. One night he was in a car accident and nearly died. His back and arm were badly broken, his face was crushed and required reconstructive surgery, his skull was fractured, and some internal organs were lacerated. He was in the hospital in the ICU for a month and then moved to a recovery facility for another 2 months. During that time I took care of his house, his pets, and his bills, and kept his boss informed on his progress so he would have a job to return to eventually. His blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was 2.44, more than 30 times the legal limit. The doctor told me that only a lifetime alcoholic could survive having that much alcohol in their system. Thank God no other cars were involved in his accident.
    I had hoped this would be a wake up call and a life changer, but he returned to alcohol within weeks and became worse than ever. 7 years later he still raves and rages against my mother and does everything he can to try and destroy the life she has been making for herself. Last September I told him that if he wanted to be involved with me and my 4 kids then he would have to stop trying to get back at her for leaving, and he would have to be sober before coming over. He accused me of "hurting" my kids by making these boundaries. He said he would never contact me again, and then told all of our very extensive family that I had been manipulated by my mom and that I quit speaking to him. At first I was upset, but once I realized that I would never again have to live in dread of the holidays, of trying to make sure that he was either with my brother or with me on special days, nor worry about him showing up to my kids' birthdays hammered, nor hear his lies again, when I realised all this then I felt incredibly liberated. I never ever want to go back to trying to have a relationship with him again. A few days before Christmas he started a fight with my brother and quit speaking to him as well. Of course he blames our mom. But now my brother and I and our spouses and children will never have to be exposed to this dysfunction again, and we are all relieved.

  16. Amelia says:

    It's a comfort to see that I am not alone to have suffered a toxic family. From a young age I knew my siblings were not people whom I'd wish to befriend, my brother especially. Bully would be putting it lightly, abusive physically mentally emotionally you name it. He is now in his late 30's and has not changed. He also refuses to admit any wrongdoing whatsoever and places the blame on those he injures. I no longer allow myself to stress; I will not allow this toxic person to have power or control over me. For the most part I've blocked him out of my life; I wish I could visit my parents more often, I love them dearly but he lives with them…they are financially stressed and he has been living off their good will for years all the while neglecting his responsibilities towards his child (good thing the kid lives with the mother).
    No one picks their family and after a while of trying to make it work you have to face it…it's best to walk away and remain a better person than let yourself be sucked in to their nastiness. Self preservation and survival.

  17. Jeannine Neuschwander says:

    I didn’t like the word toxic at first, I preferred to think of these people as just sick. But as time went on, I came to understand that a sick person refusing to get better is toxic. We’ve had to deal with, several times, my husband’s family’s control issues. If we don’t live or do what they want, they don’t talk to us. The first couple times I was so angry. But after the last couple times, which is going on two years now, i was able to accept my pain and recognize that they are just sick people that want to stay that way. My kids are hurt and it has put additional issues in their lives, but I just tell them that we can’t control other people, and when we’re feeling hurt or mad we should pray for them. Today, my life has much less drama and more peace. I am not being compared to anyone else, and I feel freedom to be who I am. I am thankful for friends and family that lives me for who I am, for relationships where people work on themselves to be healthy for each other, and for boundaries. You never know your strength until you decide to forgive someone who has never said they are sorry for hurting you. And you don’t have to crawl back and let them hurt you again. Codependency recovery, such as Melody Beattie materials, really helps with this. We can break the cycle!!

  18. George says:

    I have remarried and have 3 sons from my first marriage. I am aged 57, my wife the same age, has no children. It has been a struggle to keep a healthy relationship with my boys. The middle boy, now 28 has been in prison for drugs and assault. He doesn't speak to me at all. I am learning to live with this.
    My eldest son, 30, has done well for himself and recently married. He has thrown himself into his wifes' family. He doesn't call me much, I usually call him. He often has to end the call early because of some pressing reason. He has been insulting to me and my wife, publicly on one occasion. He doesn't make time for us anymore. He lives 5 hours away. I increasingly feel like my wife and I are being intentionally forgotten. I'm getting to the point where I feel the need to protect myself and my wife from the negative comments and attitude towards myself and my wife. Previously our relationship with my eldest was very good, he always made an effort and we mostly enjoyed his company. My relationship with my youngest son is and always has been very good. My quandry is around my relationship with my eldest. Do I challenge him next times he makes an insulting comment, do I speak to him about the several incidents and comments over the past 18 months, or do I gently break away and 'manage' my relationship with him. Any thoughts, ideas or stories about similar situations would be most welcome.

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