We’ve all heard about toxic relationships, and why it’s best to make a total break. But what about toxic family members you live with? Unlike an intimate partner or a spouse, it’s unimaginable to throw a parent, child, or sibling out of the house. If you’re the bread winner, it’s plain cruelty. It’s easier if they hold the purse strings; you can simply get out and find your own place.
Toxic family members come in many forms, but one thing that’s common to all of them is: you don’t feel happy around them, and you feel emotionally drained in their company. Here are some types of their toxicity:
They are manipulative. They will not take responsibility for their actions and twist the situation to put the blame on you and make you feel guilty. You feel confused by the turn of events.
They are controlling and sneaky. They assume you will agree to everything they decide on and you cannot give your own opinion, much less make the decision.
They are fond of drama. A small incident can make them go into hysterics and other embarrassing behavior, especially in public. These are people who love attention, even of the negative kind.
They are needy and clingy. They want to be with you all the time or, if you’re away, they are always calling you. They need your validation for everything they do and your constant avowal of support.
They are jealous of other family members and often gossip and say demeaning things about them.
They are nice only if they need something from you. At other times, they berate and insult you.
Ending a relationship with a toxic parent, adult child or sibling is a sensitive and complex matter. They are your own flesh and blood after all. But tolerating their abusive behavior can have adverse effects on your physical and mental health. You’ll be at higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, and other medical conditions. You’ll develop depression, have lowered self-esteem, have bouts of anger at the toxic member and at yourself, and just overall feel emotionally exhausted. Worst of all, their malignancy can infect you, because as human beings, we’re hardwired to retaliate and give as good as we get, as a defense tool.
Thankfully, you can employ the following techniques to make life at home moderately satisfactory, if not perfect, even with a toxic family member around. If all goes well, they may respond positively, and their obnoxiousness may not be as difficult to handle.
How to Live with Toxic Family Members
1. Examine yourself first. You may be unaware that you are the toxic family member.
Be totally honest with yourself, do an objective self-analysis and observe if:
Other family members avoid being with you.
You’re always complaining out loud if your needs are not met.
You always want to make the decisions and not listen to the others’ views.
You overreact to situations and get irrationally angry even at the slightest provocation.
You are psychologically and physically abusive.
If you see yourself in the above-mentioned descriptions, make an earnest effort to modify your behavior and watch the familial relationships become more loving and amiable.
2. Set your boundaries.
Be clear about your limits – what you will and won’t allow in their behavior towards you. For example, tell them that you will not allow being the target of abusive behavior, and you will not be forced to kowtow to their wishes and demands. Toxic people will resist at first, so be firm. But do so in a respectful and straightforward manner.
Learn to assert yourself without being patronizing. Let them know that you cannot always be there for them and that you have your own responsibilities, but show them that you will always care for them. When they sense that you are serious and if they want a coequal relationship with you, they will have to respect your boundaries.
3. Give yourself alone time.
So you have to live with toxic family members. That doesn’t mean you must spend all your free time with them. Get out and have fun. Develop your interests. When you’re at home, set aside time to be by yourself to rest or read a book. Continually playing the role of being the reasonable one and keeping the peace is stressful and exhausting. You need time to recharge your emotional and mental batteries, too.