5 Ways To Deal With Toxic Family Members
Updated: Sep 28, 2018
So this is my third post and they say three is the magic number.
Bit of a personal blog and very much still in line with the mental health category. The reason is so personal is because it has been a bit of a strange week this week, one where I realise that nothing stays the same for long; they say luck does happen in threes as well. Pretty much everything happened at once.
When it comes to families it's difficult for me to stay in the loop in regards to catching up with everyone concerned as I live abroad, especially when it comes to news that we would all rather not receive. I have always asked Mum before I emigrated to tell me these types of things face-to-face if she could, or call me immediately. Thankfully the worst has not happened, so she was able to speak to me in person.
My grandparents are made of a preservative clearly, they're still around and I am so thankful. I adore both of them on either side of the family, my Nan is 97-years-old and still of sound mind and staunchly independent, my Grandad is 80-years old - independent, cheeky and just as stubborn. They have their health problems, but these are manageable so they're able to have a good quality of life. Saldy though, Nan was admitted to hospital due to breaking her hip and it's likely she will have to move out to care home, which is sad however you look at it as I don't like seeing her so helpless, Grandad has had a few falls and though a bit shaky he's cracking on no problem. There's been a few other pieces of bad news I have received which is quite private and not my place to say, nevertheless it knocked me for six and has made me realise life is far too short, and we should appreciate our loved ones and not take them for granted.
These situations are always challenging and difficult at the best of times to deal with, but they do make you stronger and more resilient as a result. You look back on family issues, trauma, bereavement on those periods and you will not recognise the person you once was.
As indicated though, these situations do bring out the worst in people. We all have them, it's easy to ghost someone we don't like on Tinder, social media. Self care is all the rage these days, and we can cut people off or ignore in the name of that and no longer feel guilty or make apologies for it. Lists on Buzzfeed, articles on Metro, HuffPost, et al make us more in touch and recognise that every once in a while it is ok to put yourself first and your feelings are valid however trivial you might think they are. But how do we deal with family members who bring out the worst in us, put themselves first, ignore us and ensure we know that they think our feelings and opinions are not valid? They share our last name, blood, and sometimes are the people who raised us so what do we do when we decide enough is enough, it's time to change and to put ourselves first?
It's not right for me to divulge who this person is, the relation they are to me and what they did to make me decide I simply could not tolerate them in my life anymore, I have already given them and what they did to me and my relatives too much power. What I will say is I have forgiven their neglect of me, other family members so I can move on and be at peace with myself and be proud of myself without over analysing over explaining and over justifying just fit in their mould and expectations. What I can also do is turn my experience, however private, into something positive and advise you on what you can do to help mitigate the situation.
1. Observe the situation, and think about it.
I am hot headed, always have been. It's difficult for me to digest constructive criticism without seeing it as an attack. There is a fine line between constructive criticism and tough love, and sometimes people have been cruel to be kind to me. Before you overreact, think about what just happened to make you so hurt and upset. Is it really how it was meant.
Make a note of what happened, so if it does happen again you know it wasn't just one-off. Bear in mind though, you have to take into account other family members, if for example your uncle has annoyed you, you also don't want to upset your Mum or Dad, so I would speak with them first before you react to ensure you have some sort of backing. Otherwise I would advise speaking with someone else in the family who you know is close enough to understand you but also them and would respect your boundaries and confidence.
Listen to yourself loud and clear, as you need to be sure if it's them, or if it could be you.
2. Be calm
This might sound obvious, but remember you are at a family gathering for a reason, or for someone else. The last thing any of you want is a slanging match where none of you end up speaking. You need to be remembered for doing the right thing and being the bigger person as this is what it is going to count further down the line. If they have a tendency to play the victim with other more sympathising relatives, ignore them and don't rise to their bait. If they speak to you, address them, look them in the eye and be civil.
3. Set clear boundaries
Due to a family death and how they handled her illness (or didn't), they are very clear with where I stand. I have blocked their number, I have made it clear to everyone in my family that my number and address are private and not to be disclosed. They don't do social media, except on LinkedIn, but I have blocked them on that as well. I maintain a distance when we are around, and other understanding relatives always try to stand between us so nothing is said from them. Sometimes in the past where they have made criticisms to Mum and Grandad so there would be an expectation of being told off, but they don't tell me off and in fact are very understanding of why I feel the way I feel, they ensure I am listened to to that end. As they are used to playing the victim they have tried to use these boundaries, but they don't do it as much now that the engagement is not returned.
If you have just one person listening to you, fighting your corner, and speaking on your behalf it makes a lot of difference and small changes can be made.
4. Pick your battles - be honest
I don't do this all the time, because I have grown up a lot, sometimes I am honest - too honest. Most of my friends, some of which read this blog, will tell you I have no filter. Nothing annoys me more when people ask how I am, expecting a "fine" in response, so I always offer "do you want the small talk answer or truthful one?".
So if a comment is made about said individual at a family gaterhing where they are not present, I am not going to be petty; I will be honest and very frank but not because of how hard they have done me, but more of a reflection of their character. I will though speak up for them and I have done, I ask after them if I feel someone else is upset because of the situation. There is nothing worse than being petty, don't sink yourself to their level. You don't want other people you like the company of thinking you're the one that is toxic and the problem.
5. Refer to this quote...If the situation drags me down or reminds me as a result of family issues like I have experienced recently, then this helps me lots - I hope it helps you:
And the positives of these tips? You heal, you learn to forgive so you can move on, the weight lifts, the dread disappears and you can walk with your head held high. And more importantly, you can surround yourselves with people who value your company and are pleased with the person you are shaping to be.
Have you experienced the same? Do you try the same tricks? Let me know your tips and share.