How To Deal With Toxic Family Members
Removing a toxic person from your life is not always an option.
Family relationships can be complicated.
We are different. Each person has their own dreams, flaws, fears, values, thoughts, culture, beliefs and that is a beautiful thing. Without diversity, this world would be pretty boring. When it comes to our friends, we are brought together by the things we have in common. But to our family we are connected by 'blood', and not by common values, beliefs, or opinions. And when the members of a family aren't on the same page, relationships can be complicated. Even more, when one of them is controlling, manipulative, or intrusive.
When toxic people are family, you might have to deal with them.
You can't just kick them out of your life. You have to at least try to deal with them. With a toxic friend, coworker, acquaintance, it's easier. You avoid them, ignore their calls, and eventually, they find someone else to manipulate. But, when it comes to family, things aren't easy. It can be one of your parents, in-laws, or siblings, and you can't just ignore them hoping they'll go away. Because they won't. And you love them.
How to deal with toxic family members.
If possible, if you have the strength, try to find a way to get along and make it work. Removing them from your life should be the last option, because it may cause you a lot of pain. We love our family, even if they are toxic, and kicking them out of our lives hurts both sides. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Set clear boundaries.
Tell them what you can and can't do for them, as well as what you're willing to accept. The trick is to communicate in a way they don't feel attacked. For example, you don't want to say "Stop showing up uninvited!", or "You are so needy! Stop calling me for favors, I'm busy!" because even if they're wrong, you'll be the one apologizing. They'll make you feel guilty, remind you of all the things they've done for you, and point out how ungrateful you are. So, instead of attacking them, speak nicely.
Instead, say "Ow, I wish you'd called first, maybe can you do that in the future? We love to have you here, but we already had plans.", "You know I'd do anything for you, but if you need a favor, please know that after 9 PM I usually go to bed and I set my phone on silent mode. So, if you need something, make sure you call during the day.". They'll receive the message and even if they'll get upset about it, they won't have an excuse to react, as long as you speak nicely. They'll also test your boundaries, so make sure you stick to them.
2. Maintain a cordial contact.
Be nice, contact them, but keep the conversations casual. Ask them how they're doing, but don't share too much information on your part. You don't want them knowing any details they could use against you in the future. "We are doing great, everything is fine", "Work is great, I'm fine".
Controlling people usually contest everything you do - "You cooked WHAT? That's disgusting! Next time, cook this other thing.", "Oh my god, how could you spend this much money on shoes? I'm really surprised your husband doesn't leave you!" - and they make sure to insert an insult here and there. Just to make you feel bad about yourself.
Therefore, as long as you don't reveal much, they've got nothing to use as ammunition. And whatever they say, try not taking their words to the heart. You know them, don't stress over their behavior. It's not like you can change them.
3. They won't change. Accept this.
People don't change. The sooner you acknowledge and accept it, the happier you'll be. You either take them as they are, or not. It's up to you. There's no point in trying to change them because you'll fail, and become even more frustrated. So, just accept them for who they are and adapt your behavior.
4. Learn to say NO without feeling bad about it.
As long as you're willing to give, toxic people are willing to take. Say it nicely, but learn to say NO every once in a while. Sure, they'll try to make you feel guilty about it and blame you for all kinds of things, but as long as you don't take it to the heart, you'll be fine. You don't need to explain yourself. "I'm sorry, but I won't be able to see you today" is enough. No need to add "My dog died", or other excuses, because they'll use it against you. "What? So now your dog is more important than your OWN MOTHER IN LAW? After everything I've done for you?"
5. Try to remain kind and compassionate.
People aren't born toxic and some haven't always been this way. It's not your job to find out what it is or fix their issue, but keep that in mind. They aren't evil people sent on this planet to annoy you. They probably went through something, a trauma, a difficult childhood, or abuse. This isn't an excuse, but more of an explanation for their behavior. Be compassionate, kind, understanding, not because they deserve it, but for your own peace. Being angry harms you more than them, remember that.
6. Identify the pattern.
There is a pattern, a cycle most toxic people follow. First, they are charming, loving, offering their help - this is when they get you. Once you're attracted, they begin to manipulate and control you. They demand all kinds of things, based on the favors they made you in the first phase. "I helped you and this is how you repay me?" They'll take and take until they reach your limit. No matter how much you give, it will never be enough. They'll never be satisfied or grateful. Once they reach your limit, and you finally say NO, the crisis and drama begins. In this phase, there will be a lot of guilting, blaming, reproach, playing the victim. In this phase, it's better to ignore them. Once they realize they've lost your attention, they'll stop and get back to the charming phase.
7. You don't want to owe them.
In the charming phase, they'll offer you all kinds of things. Money, favors - doing your chores or staying with your kids so you can get your hair done - are some examples. Don't accept it. No matter how tight money is, or how badly you need that favor, you don't want to owe them. Find help elsewhere. You'll pay back the favor thousands of times, and still hear about it 10 years from now. Remember this.
8. You don't need their approval.
It's not like you'll ever get their appreciation, anyway. Don't look for their approval, you know better. It will emotionally drain you, and you'll never get anything in return. The only approval you need is yours. If you feel satisfied with your decisions, it is enough. It really is.