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How to Deal With a Toxic Family Member That You Can't Avoid Seeing

There's no doubt that interacting with a toxic family member can be stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. You might find yourself oscillating between trying to accommodate their needs or even lashing out at them from time to time. In some cases, it's possible to cut ties entirely with people who cause you such distress. But sometimes spending time together is unavoidable, and it's important to learn how to manage these triggering situations before they escalate.

Avoid Emotionally-Intense Conversations

One of the best ways to set an emotional distance between you and a toxic family member is to avoid engaging in conversations that make you feel upset or resentful. In other words, try to prevent lose-lose situations from happening.

You may decide to set a clear boundary that you won't engage in certain kinds of conversations with people. If those topics arise, you can choose to disengage from the discussion or leave the room entirely.

Practice Staying Calm and Remaining Neutral

Toxic behavior can take a toll on anyone's emotional well-being. Sometimes, it's in everyone's best interest to avoid attaching intense emotion to a toxic relationship.

No matter what your family member does, you can focus on your own response. Instead of matching harmful behavior with your own problematic reactions, aim to be a mature person.

Stay Clear With Your Boundaries

When it comes to navigating toxic family members, it's important to stand firm in your limits. Setting boundaries can be important for protecting your own needs and mitigating the impact of emotional abuse.

With that, only you can decide what is and isn't reasonable for you. You're entitled to set boundaries that honor your well-being. Some boundaries may include:

  • Prohibiting name-calling or direct criticism

  • Refusing to engage in conversations about specific topics like religion, politics, mental health issues

  • Establishing clear limits around financial support

  • Refusing to participate in gossiping about other family members

  • Refusing to participate in compulsive or toxic behaviors that don't support your mental health (i.e. substance use, compulsive shopping, problematic gambling)

  • Refusing to keep or perpetuate family secrets

  • Spending time with your loved one only under certain conditions such as meeting with other people present or spending time together in a public location

  • Refusing to enable enmeshed parent-child relationships

Practice Acceptance

No matter how people make you feel, remember that you can't change others. No matter how much certain reactions bother you, you can't control anyone else's behavior or dictate their actions.

Acceptance can allow you to emotionally detach from your toxic relative's behavior and focus on your own life. It offers space for your emotions, and it can actually allow you to maintain a relationship that doesn't feel like a constant battle.

Acceptance doesn't mean liking or condoning behavior. It also doesn't exempt toxic people from their actions. But acceptance does mean acknowledging that a certain situation simply "is what it is." You don't have to spend extra time or energy trying to change the experience.

Seek External Support

A toxic relationship can be taxing, so it's crucial that you spend time with people who amplify your mental and emotional health. Remember that you have the right to define who your family is.

Having a solid support system doesn't necessarily eliminate the complicated feelings you have about your difficult family member. But they can provide you with reassurance and validation if you're struggling with your relationship. They can also act as a soundboard when you feel stressed.

Create An Exit Strategy For Yourself

Exit strategies can be especially important when you know you'll be at events where toxic people will be present. In some cases, you may decide that making an appearance just isn't worth it. But it's equally important to consider if you're giving that person too much power within your overall family dynamic.

An exit strategy may provide a reasonable middle ground. For example, if you know this person always shows up at family gatherings, it can be helpful to implement a time limit for how long you will attend the event.

How Resurface Group Can Help You Manage Toxic Family Dynamics

If certain family members make you feel angry, upset, or emotionally triggered, you are not alone. Living in a toxic environment can be taxing, and it's hard when other people don't respect your boundaries or make you feel guilty about how you live your life. You may even find yourself engaging in your own harmful patterns in response to this toxic person.

At Resurface Group, we support individuals and their families to improve their mental health. Sometimes family members can come together to identify and change their relationship patterns. Other times, you may need to consider a no-contact or low-contact approach with your toxic relative.

No matter your specific needs, we are here to help you cope with your current life circumstances. We value strengthening relationships, building self-esteem, and supporting all stages of mental health recovery. We offer individual therapy, family therapy, and a comprehensive virtual IOP program. Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic programs.

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