Toxic people have an insidious way of infiltrating our lives. With friends and acquaintances, it may be easy to simply cut them out and move on with your life, but with family members, it becomes infinitely more difficult. Deciding how to handle a toxic family member is an emotionally-charged process that requires thorough analysis.
I know that, along my journey to get to where I am today, I had to deal with my fair share of toxic family members. It wasn’t easy, and it took me a long time to recognize the toxicity of certain family members, never mind figure out how to address their role in my life.
Here are 4 signs that a family member may be toxic:
1. They’re controlling. They’re always interfering and meddling with your adult life, or telling you what to do…even after you’ve made your own decisions. They may also use money as a threat, i.e., threaten to cut off tuition if you don’t obey them or heed their “advice.”
2. They blame you for all their problems. Toxic people don’t take accountability for their own actions—to them, it’s always someone else’s’ fault. It’s your fault.
3. They’re critical. They make you feel like you’re not good enough. They talk about all the things you should be doing, and are critical about the things you are doing. They’re not satisfied with your life, which makes it hard for you to be satisfied with your life. This was one of the biggest problems I faced with my toxic family members, and it completely zapped me of my self-confidence.
4. They’re dismissive of your feelings, and emotionally draining. They make you feel like your feelings aren’t valid, and they ignore or dismiss them completely.
If you have a toxic family member on your hands, there are several ways you can choose to address them.
Here are 4 effective strategies for dealing with toxic family members:
1. See them for who they truly are. Since they’re family, sometimes it takes some distance to recognize the reality of the situation. We can be easily blinded to the toxicity because we’re related to the person, or because we’re simply used to the way they treat us—we grew up that way, right? Make a list of the good things that person has done for you—the times they’ve been supportive and you’ve felt loved. On the other side, write out the times they’ve hurt you, ignored you, or controlled you. Then, look at both sides and evaluate what kind of relationship you want to have with this person moving forward.
2. Set your own boundaries. Toxic family members need boundaries. You get to set the limits, such as how often and how long you want to interact with them, and what kind of interaction you want—and be sure to plan for a good exit strategy, should drama arise.
3. Plan for the drama. You can probably predict when drama will occur, based on certain triggers and past patterns, and plan accordingly. If you know things tend to get problematic after they drink a bottle of wine, you can plan for an exit strategy when the cork is popped.
4. Cut ties for a little while. Adult children may cut off their parents or other family members due of toxic behavior including cruelty, anger, or disrespect. Adult children also cut ties when they feel unaccepted, rejected, or overly criticized. If you choose to cut a family member off, it’s okay to feel conflicted. You may feel relief, but also sadness or grief, especially if it’s a close parent or a sibling. Try to remember, you’re not crazy if you find yourself missing someone you never want to see again. Meanwhile, do your best to build your rockstar team and surround yourself with kind and supportive friends.
I know all too well the difficulty that comes with cutting ties with family members, but to reach your true potential and become the magic of you, eliminating toxic people from your life is a step you must take. In my career, I continuously walk beside those who are in need of having these uncomfortable conversations—and I can walk beside you, too!
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