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.
3. Do not normalize toxicity.
If you have done nothing wrong, don’t forget it is not normal for anyone to continually be negative, inconsiderate, and hurtful toward you. It is very easy to lose perspective about what is right and wrong, especially when you are constantly justifying a person’s behavior with stories of their past traumas or hardships.
People tend to make concessions for difficult or estranged loved ones because they wish to forgive and forget, avoid conflict, or do not want to push the person farther away. Empathy is good, but it cannot be used to keep making excuses for terrible behavior. Sometimes you need to set limits and say “enough!” before such behavior becomes the new normal.
4. Don’t expect anything from your estranged relative.
Yes, you might expect your family to have your back because you’d do the same, but don’t count on it with an estranged relative with whom you struggle to maintain a relationship.
I’ve learned not to be dependent or expect any help from my sister, even though I grew up believing that’s what siblings should do for one another.
5. Realize it takes two people to fix a relationship.
As much as you try, if the other person is not ready or not willing, you may not fix much. The relationship will remain toxic for as long as the person is unable to change.
You cannot blame yourself for it. You have done your best.
6. Decide how much space you want to give them in your life.
You will probably encounter your relative again at family gatherings, or you may need to communicate with them about family matters. In this case, minimize the amount of time you spend in their presence and keep communication to a minimum.
Sometimes, though, you may need to cut them out of your life entirely, whether permanently or momentarily. Keeping a space open for them and constantly making the effort to reach out is emotionally exhausting.
Once you have deemed you have tried enough and done your best, don’t feel guilty about drawing the line and deciding that enough is enough.
7. Don’t bottle things up.
Communicate your feelings to people you trust. If the person knows your relative, you may learn that they also share the same feelings of hurt and disappointment in dealing with him/her.
Talking through your feelings is therapeutic and helps you acquire perspective about the situation.
In my case, my parents also have a toxic relationship with my sibling, and I found that letting them talk about it and encouraging them not to bottle things up has been a great release for them.
8. Refrain from frequently gossiping about your relative, especially to a wide circle of people.
There is a difference between sharing your feelings with people you trust and constantly focusing all conversations on this individual and what s/he did or said. You risk getting into the habit of speaking badly of someone, and the conversation will often just keep going around in circles. Also, the negative talk can return to your relative’s ears and feed the cycle of negativity and estrangement.