Dear Davidson,

This isn’t exactly a work-related problem but I didn’t know who else to turn to for advice.

I enjoy reading your columns. You’ve certainly helped a lot of people deal with workplace issues.

However, my problems are “outside” the workplace.

I’m ashamed to admit it but I think I need help dealing with “toxic” family members.

Do you think you could help me out?

– SashaDear Sasha,

In one of my past columns I gave some advice on how to deal with a toxic workplace (published on September 25, 2019).

However, ‘toxic’ might be too harsh of a word to use for negative family members. After all, the definition of toxic is that something is harmful to your health. When you understand how negative family members affect your health, this word would make total sense.

Toxic family members can cause you a lot of stress. The neediness, drama, manipulation, criticism, jealousy, and other negative traits can drain you emotionally and make you feel bad about yourself.

All of these things affect your health both directly and indirectly. The stress and anxiety will affect your health directly, and your negative state of mind causes you to make decisions that can negatively affect your health in a big way.

10 Signs You Are Dealing With Toxic Family MembersNot sure if you are actually dealing with toxic family members?

Think that maybe it is all just in your head and you are overreacting to their antics?

Following is a list of very real signs that your family members are toxic to you.

1. You feel sad and down around them.

No matter what you do, they say things that make you feel bad about yourself and your relationship with them. For instance, if you say ‘no’ to doing something for them, they will make you feel guilty and say things like, “After everything I’ve done for you!” or “You are a horrible person!”

A lot of times these comments won’t attack you directly, but they are meant to make you feel bad anyway. Comments like “I wish I could get out of this house!” doesn’t directly blame you for not helping them get out of the house, but it does imply that no one is helping them, especially you.

The bottom line is that you will often feel bad about yourself after talking to a toxic family member. They find a way to make you feel guilty, ashamed, hurt, regretful, or just plain depressed.

2. You feel angry around them.

If you feel like your head is about to pop up when you are around them (and sometimes even when you are not around them) because of how they act, talk, or behave, then they are toxic to your health. They may not even be doing things to directly make you upset. They may just be behaving in their normal manner. But their behaviour is one of a victim or jerk, and dealing with it becomes so stressful that you have a hard time keeping your cool around them and you find yourself leaving them feeling extremely angry.

3. You don’t want to go see them.

Most of us like to see our positive and uplifting family members. If you choose to hardly ever go see someone in your family, then they are toxic to you. If having to go see someone in your family makes you want to get an instant cold, then they are toxic to you. The latter often happens during the holidays when toxic family members we can otherwise avoid might show up.

4. You find yourself having to take care of them.

Everyone is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves for the majority of the time. If a family member is a constant state of need, then they are toxic to your health. Taking care of them, fixing problems they encounter, and having to treat them like a child you are looking after, are all signs that they are contributing to your health in a negative way.

5. You feel drained around them.

People you love should give you energy and make you feel great about yourself. If you find yourself completely exhausted around them, then they are toxic to your health. Your energy is being zapped, which means you are putting yourself into a situation where negative thoughts and emotions are a frontrunner for the time you are with them – and usually well after you leave them.

6. You feel numb around them.

People you love should make you feel alive, not numb. If you don’t feel happy or sad, then that’s a sign that you are just going through the motions because you have to. You have checked out emotionally and you are doing what you are obligated to do. That is certainly not healthy, and it is a huge sign that the person you are around is either controlling or so bad that you have shut down your emotions so you are not upset anymore.

7. You can’t say anything right around them.

If you feel like you have to be very careful about what you say to them because you know they will get upset if you say the wrong thing, then that is a very toxic relationship you are in. You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around people you love.

8. You feel forced to be around them.

You normally don’t spend time around people you don’t like, but with your toxic family member you feel like you have to. This is usually because they have emotionally blackmailed you into thinking you need to be around them. They make you feel bad when you don’t come around them to the point that you feel obligated to. For instance, they will let you know how lonely they are in life (even though it’s completely their fault no one comes to visit them), and so you feel like you have to be the one who shows compassion.

9. You feel unlike yourself around them.

The people you love are people you can just be yourself around. If you feel weird, as if you are someone completely different around them, then something is happening to make you feel as though you can’t be yourself. You may find yourself unable to speak up when you normally have no problem saying what’s on your mind. You may find yourself unable to show off your true attitude or behaviour when you normally embrace who you without a problem.

10. You feel like they control the relationship.

They decide when to tell you things that are important. They decide when you are going to meet or not meet. They decide what you will do when you get together. You feel like they have some sort of upper hand in your relationship, and you feel resentful for that fact.

3 Ways To Deal With Toxic Family MembersYou have to take action on toxic family members. If you don’t, your mental, physical, and spiritual health will suffer, and you will regret not taking action later on in your life. Not everyone has to be cut out of your life. Sometimes you can take control of the relationship and make it better. However, be prepared for the fact that some family members may be too toxic to be around.

1. Decide who is creating the problem

If the above signs resonate with you, then the chances are very good that they are creating the problem. But I’m going to get real honest here – some people reading this are actually the toxic person in the relationship. You have to take a look at your perception of yourself and then decide whether you are the one who is being the toxic person in the relationship.

Signs that YOU might be toxic include:

  • You have a lot of friends and family distancing themselves from you.
  • People seem unhappy to be around you.
  • You feel like a victim in life and you verbalise it.
  • You have to be in control of everything that happens.
  • You find yourself saying cruel things to other people.
  • You need to be validated by other people.
  • You have an addiction problem.
  • You are constantly thinking negative thoughts about yourself and life.
  • You take everything very personally and find ways to make other people pay for it.
  • You gossip about others and put them down.

If you see these behaviours in yourself, then you have to admit that you may be the problem. You may feel angry, upset, drained, or mistreated by other people, but that may simply be because you are a toxic person who has a very negative viewpoint of other people.

Total honesty will help you feel much better about yourself and your family. If you can take the time to get honest about your toxic contribution to other people’s lives, you will take the time to find ways to fix it. When that happens, you may find that all your relationships suddenly become much more loving, energising and rewarding.

2. Create boundaries

This is important for you to do with all toxic family members. You teach people how to treat you by creating boundaries. Boundaries are the lines you draw that teach people how far they can push a situation before you will no longer take it. If they are making you angry, upset, or sick right now, then you have not drawn any boundaries and they will push you to your limits and beyond.

You have to decide where your limits are and then let the toxic family member know where those limits are. For instance, if you do not want someone to take out their anger or pain on you, then you have to let them know that they are not allowed to do that to you. Let them know that you will not allow yourself to be treated like that anymore and that if they want a relationship with you, they will have to live with your boundaries and not go over the line.

Keep in mind that some people are going to put up a fight to keep acting in a toxic way towards you. They have been used to mistreating you for so long that they can’t understand why you suddenly have all these rules about how they can treat you in place. You must stand your ground and keep your boundaries in place.

I have a friend whose mother-in-law treated her very poorly. Just to name a few things – she ignored her, talked a different language to her when she did talk to her, and bought her clothes on Christmas that were five times too small for her. My friend put up with the toxic mother-in-law because of her husband, but one day she realised it was making her stressed out to the point of sickness. So, she asked her husband to lay out some boundaries with the mother-in-law. He quickly told his mom that she was not allowed to speak a different language to his wife that she didn’t understand and that she needed to treat his wife with more respect. The mother-in-law cried and played a victim card, but she did respect those boundaries after that conversation.

There is a good chance that your toxic family member will test your boundaries quite often. They will want to see how serious you are and how far they can push you. Don’t give in just because you are starting to feel better about your relationship with them and you are questioning if you were just overreacting about their behaviour. If you do, then things will go back to exactly how they were and it will be harder to get them to respect your boundaries in the future.

3. End the toxic relationship

If you set boundaries and they don’t follow them, then this is your only option for sanity. Moreover, if you have had enough of their abuse and don’t want to even try to set boundaries, then this option will give you the freedom you want. Keep in mind that they will be caught off guard and will likely have a lot to say about your decision.

It can be hard to end a relationship with a toxic family member. So, you need to get a clear vision of why you are doing it.

  • Write down exactly what they are doing to you and your health.
  • Write down how you feel around them.
  • Write down the benefits of ending the toxic relationship.

Lastly, remind yourself that it’s not cruel to end a relationship with a toxic family member. It is a way to take care of yourself and your health when someone else is not willing to treat you with love and respect. If you spend another year around a toxic family member, that’s a year’s worth of damage done to your happiness and health.

But, if you get out now, you will have that year to build a happier life and find fulfilling relationships that make you feel good about yourself.

I hope you feel better Sasha.

– Davidson

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