We get it, your connection with your family is supposed to be this mythical bond that nobody and nothing can break—however, sometimes it’s okay to distance yourself from certain family members, even if that means cutting them off indefinitely.
You should never compromise your mental, emotional or physical health for the sake of tolerating a toxic family member.
Before you start blocking Aunt Susan and your second cousin, it’s important to recognize the signs of a toxic person:
1. They’re judgmental.
Constructive criticism is healthy, but persistent, unwarranted criticism can deteriorate anyone’s self-esteem.
2. They feed off drama.
Have you ever turned to a family member for some personal advice? Yet, somehow after you’ve shared your most vulnerable moments with them—someone you thought was a trusted ally—somehow everyone in your family knows everything about your personal life (including your distant cousin in Hungary, who you’ve never met).
3. They gaslight you.
If your family member continually claims they never said something, when you and everyone else knows they did, it might not seem that serious. However, this is a form of gaslighting, which is highly emotionally abusive behavior.
4. They only talk to you when they need something from you.
Often, they’ll go to you for advice or emotional comfort. But once you turn to them for support, they dismiss your needs or hold your personal information against you.
5. They flip-flop between positive and negative reinforcement.
They can lash out at you, yell and insult you. However, once you ignore them after this senseless attack, they’ll likely coax you back into their trap by offering you pseudo-praise and support. Typically these positive interactions are short-lived before this individual goes back to their typical manipulative behavior.
If anyone in your family displays any of these symptoms of toxic (i.e., abusive) behavior, they’re putting your mental health in jeopardy.
Alithia Asturrizaga, a licensed clinical social worker at Alithia Psychotherapy Associates, P.C., explains to Her Campus, “I have worked with countless people who have lived their lives dealing with toxic family members and significant others. In fact, this is one of the chief reasons that many people seek therapy.”
Toxic relationships, even with family members, can drain you emotionally, which can impact your overall mental well-being. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t accept this as the status quo.
“There are certain techniques that people can use to make these relationships more tolerable—these methods generally involve distancing yourself to a certain degree from the toxic person. However, in many cases, the best solution is to remove the toxic individual from your life completely. This is rarely easy and is often complicated and emotionally conflicting in the case of close family relationships, such as with a parent—but when situations deteriorate to the point of making it impossible to live a happy and liberated life, this course of action is usually the best,” Asturrizaga says.
This abusive behavior isn’t confined to romantic relationships because anyone can have a toxic influence on your life.
Shannon Battle, LPC LCAS for the last eight years at Families Services of America, tells Her Campus that the best way to approach a toxic person is first to establish boundaries. To help stick to these boundaries, Battle suggests, “Anytime you deal with toxicity, understand there is a learning curve. There will be periods of uncertainty, guilt, and possible loss in relationships. You have to determine the level of sacrifice you are willing to make to protect your emotions and those that trust you to protect them as well. Sometimes, you have to hurt one to help another. The hurt is never intended to be malicious, but always done in love and respect. Behavior is choice-driven.”