Since a young age, society has conditioned our minds about the importance and unbreakable bond between family members. However, this can be far from the truth at times. At times, being distant from family members can actually provide you with emotional stability and a peace of mind. This is particularly true when some of your family members display toxic behaviour that can do you more harm than good.
Any toxic relationship can have a negative impact on your emotional and mental welfare, but when it is by a family member, the effect can be even more deep due to the connection that you have with them.
According to Alithia Asturrizaga, a clinical social worker from Alithia Psychotherapy Associates- “I have worked with countless people who have lived their lives dealing with toxic family members and significant others. In fact, this is one of the chief reasons that many people seek therapy. There are certain techniques that people can use to make these relationships more tolerable—these methods generally involve distancing yourself to a certain degree from the toxic person. However, in many cases, the best solution is to remove the toxic individual from your life completely.”
It can be relatively easy getting rid of toxic friends, colleagues or acquaintances without much drama or time. However, dealing with the “break up” of a family member is much more difficult than we think. It involves a lot of drama, emotions and a prolonged aftermath that is often not forgotten.
Asturrizaga says that “This is rarely easy and is often complicated and emotionally conflicting in the case of close family relationships, such as with a parent—but when situations deteriorate to the point of making it impossible to live a happy and liberated life, this course of action is usually the best.”
At the same time, it’s very important to recognise the signs of a negative person, so if your family member is showing you any of these signs then you can be certain that they will have a negative impact on your mental health:
They act like they are a victim. This means that instead of being happy about any accomplishments that you have, they will always try to drag you down and make you feel that life is so unfair and that happiness is only short and temporary.
Judgemental. There is a very fine line between constructive comments and demeaning criticism. If your family member is always criticizing everything you do without attempting to provide you with advice, then you should know that it’s not coming from a good place.
Abusing your energy. During the times that you have a lot of positive energy, they will act as dementors by sucking out all of the happiness and positive energy that you have.
Untrustworthy. You might think that you should always have full trust in your family member, which can be the case. However, if they show signs of revealing any confidential information that you have told them, then you should know that they cannot be trusted.
Blaming you for their own mistakes. Do you have a family member that makes a mistake and then instantly blames it you? People like this love to put you down at every opportunity even if you have nothing to do with it.
They changed depending on who you are with. Are they nice some days but rude on others? This fluctuating behavior indicates that they are acting in front of others. They are probably nice with you when there are others but are aggressive and insensitive when you are alone with them.
Shannon Battle is an LPC LCAS for the previous eight years working with Families Services of America. She advises that the best way to deal with a toxic person is by establishing boundaries with them. She says, “Anytime you deal with toxicity, understand there is a learning curve. There will be periods of uncertainty, guilt, and possible loss in relationships. You have to determine the level of sacrifice you are willing to make to protect your emotions and those that trust you to protect them as well. Sometimes, you have to hurt one to help another. The hurt is never intended to be malicious but always done in love and respect. Behavior is choice-driven.”
Although it won’t feel natural or normal to cut a family member out of your life because of the different types of emotions that are involved, but in some cases, it can be necessary for your mental wellbeing.
When the family member is your parent, it can be very difficult. It is accompanied with overwhelming feelings of blaming, heartache, upset and overall stress. Having a strained relationship with a loved one is not an easy thing, but your mental health is important, and it can also lead to a physical illness.
You can first attempt to maintain a balance with your parent and maintain your personal space. However, if this does not work then cutting them off might be an essential step for your own wellbeing. Families should be those who support you not those who put you down, so remember this when making your decision.
Lori Osachy is the director and owner of The Body Image Counselling Centre, she says that “Often one of these toxic family members is a parent. It is extremely painful to realize that a toxic parent’s personality is very unlikely to ever change. The decision to go low or no-contact, and then stick with one’s decision, can be excruciating. On top of that, my clients often do not realize the parent’s behavior is toxic, so they continue to put up with abusive behaviors. The social stigma of needing to ‘honor thy mother and father’ is another stumbling block. Sometimes cutting a parent out of your life is the best decision, but you need enormous support and education to do it successfully and experience relief.”
After confronting any toxic person in your life, it can really backfire on you as they may attempt to gaslight you and even make you blame yourself. Don’t fall for this trick as one of
their key traits is to play the victim. If they convince you that they will change, then remember that their attitude is often a never-ending cycle that will constantly repeat itself and only you will be at the receiving end.
Making such a decision is not an easy one but bear in mind that even if you do this temporarily then you will be able to feel the difference as a result of the lack of negative energy that won’t be surrounding you. It is a big step, but sometimes you have to put yourself first for your own health and wellbeing.