How to Deal With Toxic Family Members Without Losing Your Mind

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5 Tips to Help You Escape from Toxic Family Drama

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“Family always comes first.” My mom used to tell me when I was little. And for years she did everything she could to be the living embodiment of those words.

She would slave for hours in front of the stove to cook for the entire extended family every holiday. She would take care of my cousins as if they were her own children. And she would try to help out everyone in the family even though as a single mother, she was the one who needed help the most.

So when her relationship with one of her sisters became more and more frayed over the years, it crushed her. And I felt her pain.

There were days when cried together, mourning the loss of family love and connection. After my parents separated, my aunt and her family were the only relatives we had left in this country. And now that she and my mother were falling out, we were truly alone.

What helped both of us heal from the pain was the acceptance that not all family is worth putting first. When a family member is—as much as it hurts us to admit it—toxic, there’s nothing wrong with shielding ourselves from the poison.

And in this post, I’m going to share a few tips on how we can guard our emotional health and happiness from the effects of toxic family.

But to protect ourselves from toxic family members, we first have to understand what they look like.

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Signs of a Toxic Family Member

How can you tell if you have toxic family members in your life? Besides being hard to be around, here are some of the most common signs of a toxic family member:

 

1. They’re Controlling

They have to have a say in everything in your life from how you spend your money to who you date. They often use “I’m just looking out for you” as an excuse to inject themselves in decisions that should be made by you alone.

 

2. They’re Overly Competitive

They’re determined to outshine you in every way possible. They’re jealous when you succeed and always quick to rub your mistakes in your face.

 

3. They Use Threats

It’s their way or the highway. If you don’t obey, they will make life hell for you.

 

4. They’re Critical and Dismissive

From the way you look to the way you cook, they’ve got something nasty to say about it. And they don’t have any qualms about hurting your feelings either.

 

5. They’re Gemini’s

They’ll say one thing to your face and another behind your back. You never know if they’ll twist your words to someone else or stir up unnecessary conflict while you’re not looking.

 

6. They Blow Things Out of Proportion

You’re constantly in their bad books for little things that shouldn’t matter. They make you feel bad and you end up apologizing for things you don’t feel sorry for.

 

7. They Stop You From Being yourself

Rather than cherishing you as a person and accepting every part of you, they make you feel like you have to hide who you really are.

 

8. They Take a Mile When You Give an Inch

They exude greed and have no shame in taking advantage of others in the family. They expect a lot and don’t appreciate much. But if you need help, they’re nowhere to be found.

 

9. They Looooove to Complain

There’s always something wrong—with the weather, the food, their job, or their health. Every time you see them it’s a non-stop whining session that leaves you feeling down and hollow.

 

10. They Instigate Drama

There’s never a peaceful moment when they’re around. Tension, frustration, and resentment follow them wherever they go and you’re either caught in the eye of the storm or part of the collateral damage.

 

If anyone in your family has one or more of these traits, you’re likely dealing with a toxic family member. And over time, it can have a detrimental effect on you. More on this coming up next.

 

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How Toxic Family Dynamics Impact You

We all have the occasional quarrels with our families, that’s life. But if you’re constantly embroiled in arguments with a family member, or most of your interactions are negative, it’s time to do something about it. If you don’t, it could have a lasting impact on you.

Dysfunctional family dynamics can lead to problems later in life such as increased aggression and trouble with anger management. Other issues include anxiety, and difficulty forming and maintaining relationships with others.

But you don’t have to be a victim of toxic family drama—you can take control of the situation and stop toxic family members from draining your energy and damaging your mental health.

How?

Read on to find out.

 

Escaping From a Toxic Family: 5 Tips to Help You Reclaim Your Inner Peace

 

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1. Learn Their Tactics

The first step to dealing with toxic family members is to recognize their tactics. Some people have a knack for subtle emotional manipulation, while others use more direct forms of intimidation. If you don’t know how they operate, you can’t develop a strategy as to how you’ll respond.

Once you learn their tactics, you’ll feel better about yourself too. You’ll realize that their words and actions have little to do with you and you’ll stop taking them so personally. When you know the weapons these toxic family members have in their arsenal, they can’t use them to hurt you anymore.

So instead of feeling upset the next time you interact with them, step back and try to observe them with the eyes of a bystander. Listen to what they say and watch what they do, and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • Why are they trying to accomplish this?
  • And how do they expect me to respond?

When you understand what they’re trying to do and how they want you to react, you have more control over the situation and how you feel about it.

 

2. Don’t Engage

Toxic people feed on negative energy and emotions. If you give them the negativity they crave, they will just keep going.

So the best way to stop that toxic cycle is to not engage.

I don’t mean letting them step all over you like you’re old carpet. You should be assertive and never afraid to stand up for yourself.

But you don’t have to continue an argument in an effort to get in the last word. You don’t have to retaliate by saying or doing something mean to them down the road. And you definitely don’t have to rally other family members to “support” you in a conflict against them.

They love it when they know they can push your buttons and get you all fired up, so don’t let them.

 

a hand holding a wooden sign that says "no" on it

 

3. Draw a Line in the Sand

Setting boundaries with family sounds like a harsh thing to do, but it’s actually one of the best things we can do to maintain our relationship with a toxic family member.

Think of it as “saying no so you can say yes”. What do I mean by that?

Let’s say you’ve decided that your romantic life is no longer up for discussion. Saying “no” to discussing your romantic life means that perhaps now you can have a civil—and even enjoyable—conversation about everything else. You’re setting rules of engagement that will hopefully allow you to continue a relationship together and with time, mend the cracks.

But unfortunately, sometimes even the best intentions can’t salvage our relationship with a toxic family member. If someone is too much to handle despite setting the clearest boundaries, it’s time to distance yourself from them for at least a short period of time, or until you’re more prepared to deal with them.

 

4. Say No to This Kind of Talk

As tempting as it may be, don’t badmouth about a toxic family member to other people.

But why? It feels so good to let it out, doesn’t it?

It’s true that toxic people in our family can put a real dent in our happiness, but engaging in negative talk such as badmouthing, gossiping, and venting about them can cause further damage to our emotional health.

Not to mention, such negative talk can generate more friction amongst family members and in some cases, lead to ugly inter-family feuds.

And if the word gets back to them about what you’ve said, it’ll only make matters worse between the two of you. So if you don’t have anything kind to say about a toxic family member, do yourself a favour and hold your tongue.

 

a girl whispering in another girl's ear

 

5. Remember What You Have Within You

Toxic family members can take a lot out of you. They can make you feel unworthy, foolish, and small. But remember, no one has the power to make you feel anything less than amazing if you don’t let them.

Love. Kindness. Approval. No one should hold these things over your head as if they’re goods to be exchanged. If a toxic family member uses them to get what they want from you, walk away from the bargaining table.

You DON’T need their approval. You DON’T need their kindness. And you DON’T need their love. You have all that within yourself, you just have to remember what’s already there.

Plus, as I’ve learned from my own experience, if you hold onto your integrity and be good to others, people will line up to cheer you on and shower you in their love and generosity.

Remember what you have within you and don’t let anyone convince you that only they can give you what you need.

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That’s it for my tips on how to deal with toxic family members. Do you have a story to share of how you dealt with difficult or toxic family members? What did you learn from it? Drop me a comment below!

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Why You Need to Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself

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10 thoughts on “How to Deal With Toxic Family Members Without Losing Your Mind”

  1. Hey, there my name is Megha and I’m from India. I have done my Masters in History and want to pursue higher studies and also I’m a working professional.

    My relations with my family is not good as I have a number of toxic family members. And my mother is a single mother who is living separately with me though in my dad’s house and she has a friend who supports her for many years but for me I met him and know him for only two years.
    First of all, when I was born, my mom was 25 years old and she and my father nor I and my father ever bond since childhood.
    And my mother used to say in my childhood that she never meant to marry it was her family’s fault that they wanted to ease of a burden they felt she was!
    To start with, it’s an Indian middle class family. My mother was a part of four children she has an elder sister and two elder brothers all of them are married and lives separately with their wives. My mom is the youngest and her elder sister is unmarried.
    There are property disputes, family feuds when all of us were living with our extended family that is, all these siblings and my grandpa and grandma were together .
    Now,
    Our grandpa’s ancestral home is getting reconstructed and renovated for in the same place a high rise building would be constructed. And that house was broken in the year 2017.
    So for the time being since the year 2017,my mom’s elder sister that is my aunt and my grandpa and grandma are living with us for two years.
    I have no extended from my father’s end and neither I nor my mom bond with my father.
    And on the other hand I never bonded with my mom’s relatives except an aunt who is my mom’s female cousin who is just 7 years older to me.
    So I also had few friends since my childhood so I used to and till now share everything about my life to her.
    Because in our family she’s the only one I connect to and can trust completely.
    And other relatives all from my mother’s side as I have no relatives from my father’s side those who were alive like my maternal grandpa’s younger sister used to hate me even as I was a child until her death in 2008 she continued hating me and I didn’t knew the indifference she had towards me as I was barely then a child of 10 years or 11 years.
    Now, as my aunt,grandma and grandpa are living with us, I want to add that ky grandma is always very loving and caring and supportive about me.
    My grandma takes care of all my needs and whenever I have any stiff or indifference with my aunt or grandpa she sends me back to my dad or mom.
    But my aunt is nagging,temperamental and has an issue with me everytime.
    She has a problem with what clothes I wear or choose to wear, she has to poke her nose in my friendship, the friends I hang out with, recently I left my job and was serving my notice period and she was forcing me to change my decision which was after all my well sought put decision!
    And she also never has a good thing or opinion to say about me. Not even once. If I’m dressed up in pretty clothes she will comment like,”You look okay/average!” Or she’ll be like, “She looks so ugly!”. Yes. Straight away! She doesn’t like my attitude, my talking style, my dressing style,nothing. And always tries to nag with me or pass ill comments about me on my face.
    I dont know whether she does that behind my back as to whom she’ll do because she doesn’t speak to any neighbour in our society or anyone. I even tried to tell my mother this thing, she even didnt understand or try to
    understand and scolded me instead. Later my mom said that whatever my aunt is doing, she is doing for my good.
    Now my grandpa is very medieval. As his sons have separated with their wives with their children who are sons he cant comprehend that.
    And also my grandpa is medieval in the sense he approves of only boy children and not the girl child.
    Now if I’m wearing shorts to watch tv at their hall room then he has a problem with that and he too nags and passes ill comments about me all the time. And if I try to tell my grandma a story about anything he will yell at me and pass ill comments about me again.
    If I protest once,because I have rightfully the right to do it because what my grandpa and my aunt is doing is very wrong, my grandma would be upset with me.She will say that I’m trying to pollute the environment and say that her husband is the angel from heaven and he deserves to live 200 years. For he is a blessing in her life.
    My grandpa is now 88 years old still he passed ill comments on me all the time and shouts at me. So I protested this time again and now my grandma is not talking to me and my toxic aunt is criticizing me and passing ill comments at me and trying to make me feel that I’m guilty. Though the reality is that what I’m doing is not wrong!
    Infact they are!
    I have today tried to consult an astrologer or Vedic specialist to drive my toxic relatives that is my aunt and my grandpa out of our house.
    I and my mom has problems with my dad as he hits me and my mom several times but still I feel that my aunt and my grandpa would spoil my life more than my own dad.
    I still dont know what to do.

    • Hi Megha,

      Living with extended family is a challenge, especially when you have different generations with very different values and views living under the same roof. Have you tried communicating with aunt directly about how her actions make you feel? Perhaps write her a respectful and heartfelt letter, if you have a hard time letting her know your feelings face-to-face. And as for your grandfather, you’re not able to carry on any conversation without him yelling at you? Does he do this with every female of the house? It’s a lot of negative energy and I would recommend you exploring other living situations if possible. Oftentimes a bit of distance is good for everybody in this kind of situation, but I understand that’s not always an option.

      Best of luck to you!
      Sabrina

  2. Hey Sabrina,
    I’m currently living with a full household of toxic family memebers. In year 2016, I fell ill because of them. the following year after that, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in our country (Antigua). When this happened to me it made me even more traumatized. I have always been in abusive home over and over again and the cycle just never stop. I’m a spiritual person. And it’s only God mercy which have kept me thus far. Many times I wanted to kill myself, many times I gave up the faith because of what I’ve been going through. Any advice on how to deal with my situation?

    • Hello Corinthia, I’m sorry to hear about your plight. My philosophy is that your home should be a safe harbour where you can comfortably rest your weary soul and recharge so you can face the world. But if it’s a place that’s making you more weary instead (or even ill like in your case), then you have to find a home that you can treasure as your safe harbour. I can’t offer you specific advice on how to do that, but if you’ve been in abusive situations over and over, I would first start with reflection–what’s the commonality between these situations and what can we do to get out of this cycle?

      I wish you peace and happiness.

      Sabrina

  3. I am dealing with a toxic sister-in-law, I finally blew up at her last Christmas and we have not spoken since. While I am okay with distancing myself from her and not having any dealings with her. I am concerned about the effect that our estrangement might have on family gatherings. My children and husband support me and also feel they can maintain cordial family relations with her and her family. On the other hand her children are younger her family is estranged from me. This is also making our extended family Zoom calls awkward. She has asked that I apologize for my outburst, however, I might able to extend an olive branch for the sake of our families without revisiting the past and instead focusing on better family relations in the future. What do you think.

    • Hi Michele, sounds like you’ve done a lot of reflecting on this situation with your sister-in-law and I think deep down you already know what the best thing is to do, but I’ll give you my two cents anyway because I know sometimes we just need to hear the words from someone else. From what you told me, I think you’re right to be concerned about the effect of this estrangement on the rest of the family, especially if you still wish to have a relationship with her young children. If I was in your situation, I would apologize for the outburst because no matter what the other person did, we have to take accountability for our actions. By apologizing for this specific incident, it doesn’t mean you’re saying her toxic behaviours are okay or that “she’s won”. Instead, it’ll show your willingness to put your own feelings aside for what’s important to you, which is your whole family, and that you’re not afraid to admit your own mistake and take accountability. This will set a great example for your children and help move things forward for everybody in a better direction.

      Hope this helps!

      Cheers,
      Sabrina

  4. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this with your mother Teemay. Sounds like your relationship is really strained. If talking to her yourself hasn’t be helpful, do you think perhaps writing down your feelings to her in a letter would help? Don’t attack but just state the facts on how she’s making you feel, and let her know you love her and want to build a better relationship with her but your interactions would need to change. Sometimes hearing something from family makes people defensive and want to fight back or shut down, or think it’s not that serious, but seeing it in a letter allows them the space to digest the weight of the issue. It might take a few tries for her to see that you mean it. In the meantime, focus on what you can do like continuing your job search, keeping up a good daily routine so that you’re productive, and exercising and eating well. I also suggest you talking to someone, if a professional is absolutely not an option, perhaps a mentor or a good friend, about what you’re going through. Sounds like your mental health has taken a toll and you need to take care of yourself.

    Sabrina

  5. I have a toxic mother. She exhibits 7/10 of the signs you listed in the article above, and is VERY mentally draining on my emotional health. Sometimes even after spending the whole day with her I end up feeling very tired and down, not even knowing why. It’s only after I retreat to my room and isolate myself for a while, that I end up feeling better!
    It is really difficult to deal with her now. I quit my job, so now i’m stuck at home with her most of the time (while i look for another job). But she is starting to affect me in ways that demotivate me to continue applying, or that my effort is simply futile. I don’t understand why she can’t be the least bit supportive. I always try to say what she wants. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires. I feel like i’m being stretched on an emotional tightrope, being pulled and pushed away into this negative aura she exudes so well. And when I try to talk to her about it, she just pushes it back onto me until I explode or dismisses me completely. It fucking hurts. And i’m so tired of it. Sometimes I feel like this might just push me over the edge. If I can’t escape her now, will I ever?

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