Are you suffering from a toxic family relationship?
Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that there are things that cannot be.” ~Unknown
You two are family. Maybe you grew up with them and were by their side for a huge chunk of their life. There was a lot of laughing, crying, and sharing. Some fighting too.
You know how their brain works probably better than anyone else. But sometimes, in adulthood, those closest to you can become unrecognizable—estranged, cold, and careless. For no apparent reason, you find yourself shut out of their life. Your peace-feelers are increasingly rejected. You’ve been left out in the cold.
There is always a reason why people turn out the way they do. But, sometimes the metamorphosis is so gradual that it sneaks up on you, and one day, you wake up and wonder, “How did it come to this?”
You want them back. So you start to question and blame yourself. Was it the time I chose to go to the party instead of keeping her company? Was it when I used his things without asking? What did I do to deserve this? What can I do to make it better?
While it’s good to ask yourself such questions, sometimes the lesson you are meant to learn is to let go of the memory of who they were and accept who they have become.
This is based on my own relationship with my sister. We’d always been close, and when I was growing up, I looked up to her as my role model. I was shy, nerdy, and runty. She was pretty, popular, and good at sports.
But after she went to college and, four years later, I followed suit on another continent, our lives didn’t really intersect. When we did meet, we’d butt heads about a lot of things. She had grown bitter in the years post high school, while I’d grown up, become assertive, and was impulsively exploring the world. Still, despite our differences, I thought we’d always be there for one another.
Then she got married to a man who doesn’t get along with me or our parents. They began living in a strange emotional autarky.
She grew very cold, defensive, and resentful toward our family and began to cut me out of her life. I tried to reach out and mend the relationship, but she refused to open up. She’s always been proud that way.
One day when I told her I loved her and wished we could be close like before, she replied, “That was a long time ago.”
Over the last few years, the relationship has really gone downhill. I’ve struggled with the hurt of “losing” my sister, as well as feelings of self-blame as I struggled to find a reason for her change. I have racked my brain for memories of what I could’ve done wrong, but my mind draws a blank.
Then, I decided I didn’t want to dwell on feeling hurt any longer. I didn’t want to keep longing for and trying to rekindle the sisterhood we once had.
I have come to realize my sister is not the person I once knew, and I have to accept that, learn to let go, and move on. That is how I decided to take certain decisions for the sake of my own happiness and mental health.
I hope this advice can help those who may be experiencing a toxic and estranged relationship with a family member with whom they had once been close.
Here are 11 ways to cope with toxic and estranged family relationship:
1. Identify in what ways the relationship may be toxic and how it makes you feel.
Once you have pinpointed the person’s patterns of behavior, become aware of how this affects your mood, body language, energy levels, self-esteem, and peace of mind. Knowing how to recognize toxicity and its effects is the first step to understanding your feelings and empowering yourself to deal with the situation.
2. Accept that you may never find the root cause for your relative’s behavior.
People do therapy for years—there’s never a simple answer. You may be able to talk to your relative to find out why s/he acts a certain way. You may not. Sometimes, the reason why a person treats you badly may not have anything to do with what you’ve done, but might just be the way they process and respond to their own life experiences. Hardships may strengthen one person and make another bitter.
In any case, try to re-frame toxicity by understanding it tends to come from a place of unhappiness or discontent. People’s hurtful actions will then become less hurtful to you when you realize they reflect their inner state rather than you.