Everywhere you look people are talking about toxic or abusive behavior but, what is toxic or abusive? According to experts such as Sherrie Campbell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, some signs of a toxic relationship are:
- When the relationship is based in any type of abuse: mentally, physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally.
- When the only contact you have with them is negative.
- When the relationship creates so much stress that it affects the important areas of your life at work or home.
- When you find yourself obsessed with the gossip about you and trying to right wrong information and constantly being ostracized to the point you are losing sleep over it.
- When the relationship is all about the other person, and there is no real reason why the other person cannot make any effort toward the health and maintenance of the relationship with you.
- When crazy-making, no-win games dominate the relationship—such as the silent treatment, blame games, and no-win arguments that spin around on you.
Any toxic relationship is bad but it is worse when the toxic relationship is held with your parents or family members as they are the people who are supposed to keep you safe and love you. This is a betrayal of the highest order and something that will haunt the person for most of their life if left untreated.
But treating, let alone getting out of a toxic relationship can be difficult or even overwhelming. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to start this process of breaking free, healing, and living your best life.
Now, this article is for information and educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat anything. If you are in a similar situation we strongly suggest that you contact a mental health or relationship professional for advice and treatment. If you feel that you are in any kind of danger please contact your local authorities, such as the police.
Even if you find it hard to get into contact with a mental health professional here are a few things you can start doing on your own, always keeping your safety in mind. Keep reading for 5 ways you can deal with toxic family.
1- Make Clear Boundaries for Yourself
What is right or wrong for you? As we grow and learn, we discover what we feel is good or bad, right or wrong for us. It is a part of becoming an individual, developing yourself as a person, and later becoming interdependent with society once you’ve found who you truly are and what you stand for.
Unfortunately, when we have toxic people around knowing who you are and what your boundaries are can be all but erased by their manipulation tactics. Before you do anything else you need to become aware of how they function, their patterns, and how they affect you.
Toxic family members can get under your skin easily because they know you, and probably live with you. They have ammunition to get under your skin. This is where Hey Sigmund, a site dedicated to psychology, says you need to sit down with yourself and look at what you will tolerate and what you will not.
“By knowing exactly what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t – and why – you can decide how far you’re willing to let someone encroach on your boundaries before it’s just not worth it anymore”, says the article on Hey Sigmund, “What matters is whether it’s right or wrong for you. Let that guide your response and when you can, who’s in and who’s out”.
After finding out what your boundaries are it is time to enforce them. It will be difficult at first, but the more you do it the stronger you will become. It is ok if you fail many times at first, toxic people are relentless and it’s hard to break away from patterns but keep practicing until you get it.
Now, one of the things that characterize toxic people is that they will constantly step all over your boundaries without any concern for you at all or how many times you put them up. For this reason, an article on Web MD suggests that with toxic family members, the boundaries are more for you than they are for them.
“Instead, the boundary helps remind you to protect yourself from their ways”, says Web MD, “For example, you might hang up the phone or block your sibling’s number if they continue to curse at you on a call.”
One of the best things you can do with toxic family members is put distance between you. If you can’t put considerable physical distance, then becoming emotionally distant is your best option. By that we mean, not telling your family things about you, your interests, goals, situations that happened to you and made you frustrated or sad.
Toxic family members will use whatever information you feed them against you, whether that be positive or negative information. Instead, keep to yourself and play along without getting sucked into their dynamics. It’s ok to not answer their questions or say that you don’t want to talk about a certain subject.
This type of contact is what Sherrie Campbell Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, refers to as cordial contact in her article on Mind Body Green.
“Make sure to keep conversations and emotions superficial, positive, and pleasant and largely about our toxic family members”, says Campbell, “Because they love feeling as if everything is about them, we can use this as a workable strategy, knowing we’re doing it on purpose as a way to keep ourselves safe from unwanted drama, at least to the best of our ability.”
“Knowing we’re doing this on purpose”, Campbell continues, “helps us to avoid beating ourselves up for always acquiescing our needs to our toxic family members as a way to make them happy.”
Other two types of contacts that Campbell mentions are low contact and no contact. The low contact consists of only interacting with family members on large occasions like weddings or large family gatherings. The rest of the time you avoid them at all costs.
Campbell reminds us that when the toxic family members catch on to what you are doing they will try to force themselves into your life again and their actions will become worse before they get better. So, be prepared for that.
The last contact is the no contact. Campbell says that this is the last thing that happens and that it is something that your toxic family members forced you to do.
“At too many points in time, we sacrificed our happiness to serve theirs, shut our mouth when we desperately wanted to speak up, and did what they wanted because doing that was easier than dealing with their drama”, states Campbell, “We must understand that our toxic family members have simply walked us to the door we’re now choosing to shut.”
3- Don’t Argue
Does it seem like every time you try to get distance your family starts some kind of drama or argument? Don’t fall for it, don’t argue. Be vague but at the same time try to appease them by making it about them. Then get on to setting distance between you again.
Toxic family members will try to reel you in with an argument that you will most likely not be able to win and will end up making you feel horrible. Don’t engage even if they manage to touch a chord in you. Realize that you will need to pick your battles. So, determine what arguments and battles are actually worthwhile and conserve your energy for other things.
Similarly, try to not get involved in their drama or their constant emergencies. Toxic people create their own emergencies for the purpose of keeping you involved and helping them. If they created this then they have all of the capability in the world to solve it themselves. You have other things to do, focus on those. It is ok to say no, it is ok to not go to an event or activity. It is ok to not come rushing to their aid, especially if you know that when you get to them there won’t be an actual emergency.
4- Hold strong to yourself
An important thing in order to be able to start getting out of these toxic relationships is to develop a strong sense of self. It is not easy but here are a few things that experts advise you to focus on.
One is to not expect others or yourself to be perfect. In this journey, you will hit snags but the key is to keep going. In that same line, don’t judge yourself. Feelings like shame and guilt will only drag you down. And there’s nothing to feel guilty or shameful about regardless of what your family tells you. You are perfect and worthy the way you are.
It’s hard to understand at first but you actually don’t need the approval of that toxic family member. The only approval you need is your own, you are the only one who knows what is good or bad for you. Most of what toxic people do is to project or push their own insecurities into other people. Once you become aware of this there is no need to take it personally. It always has been and always been their own problems, not yours.
Learn to claim your strengths and weaknesses. Despite what your family members may try to make you believe, your weaknesses and strengths are not horrible and they are not a death sentence. You can see examples in everyday life or even on the internet.
Find and hold strong to yourself, that is the beginning of breaking free from the toxic patterns and cycles.
5- Find Support
Who can you trust? Finding support is another essential when it comes to breaking the cycle of abuse. They will be the people you lean on when things start getting hard due to your toxic family’s attempts at pulling you back in.
Finding a therapist or program that can help with this will be a strong base. Also, get to know new people that are not related to your family at all. If you can, move away and find your peace somewhere else.
Healing and breaking away from abuse is a process that takes time. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This journey will have you looking deep into yourself and more closely at others, and at your own beliefs. A breakage needs to happen before you are able to start rebuilding, but you can get through it. Nobody deserves abuse, and you are worthy of more.
What else would you add to the list above? Tell us in the comments and don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel for more about psychology.
Campbell, S. (2020, February 28). Do You Have Toxic Family Members? Here Are Some Ways To Deal With Them. Mind Body Green. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/heres-how-to-deal-with-toxic-family-members
McQueen, J., & Smith, M. W. (2021, April 14). Toxic Family Members: How to Deal With Them. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/handle-toxic-family
Young, K. (2020, August 6). Toxic People: 16 Practical, Powerful Ways to Deal With Them. Hey Sigmund. https://www.heysigmund.com/toxic-people-16-practical-powerful-ways-to-deal-with-them/