Family can be amazing. And it is natural that we may not always see eye to eye with those we are related to. We may even fight or have disagreements with our immediate family or our relatives, but having family feud or a sibling rivalry with one another is not the same as being around someone who is toxic, causes chaos, or leaves you with a negative feeling after every interaction.
Toxic people don’t show remorse for how they make you feel, for their actions, or lack thereof. The keep moving along like they haven’t skipped a beat. And though as adults, we may be a bit more resilient to this type of behavior, as children grow older they can become quite observant and make their own opinions about a toxic relative.
The actions of toxic people usually stems from a deep-seated insecurity that compels them to drag people down into their one-dimensional hole of insecurity and instability.Because of this, you may find yourself walking on eggshells and overthinking every interaction with a toxic parent, sibling or relative.
Do you have a Toxic Parent, Sibling or Relative? Here are some signs to look for:
They “play” against you. A toxic person will actively undermine your relationships with other family members or relatives by going out of their way to damage your relationship(s). This can happen by betraying your confidence. Perhaps they tend to over share personal stuff about you that you would rather not have shared, stretch the truth or throw you under the bus. When this happens, they clearly don’t have your back and they are playing against you.
They are judgmental or overly critical, and they display jealousy. Jealously is a good indicator that you are doing something right. (People don’t tend to get jealous of losers, do they?) Jealous people are incredibly toxic because they have so much internal self-hate that they can’t be happy for anyone around them. Typically, jealousy comes out as judgment, criticism or gossip. Maybe they are judging your hair, what you are wearing, your job, your recent life choices or the date you brought to the last family function. Ask yourself if you feel that they are honestly looking out for your best interest, or in six months from now when you break up with the date that you brought will you realize they were right?? If they are judgmental and just seem to be close minded or have a lack of manners, then yes, you are dealing with a toxic (and jealous) person.
They are negative more often than not. The conversations, thoughts and comments of a toxic person always seem to lean to the negative, sad or pessimistic side. The world is against them. Their job is against them. And as you try to stay positive with these “Negative Nellies” and bring up positive conversation, they take it the other direction. Perhaps you comment on what a nice day it is outside, and they point out that it is cloudy. You give them a compliment on what they are wearing, and they respond with how they’ve gained weight or start to dwell on their recent health problems. You may comment on how you feel comfortable with the temperature in the room, and they will comment that they are cold. You say right, they say left. You say up, they say down. People like this tend to also dwell on negative things that have happened in the past. They can’t ever seem to let things go and to move on.
They play the blame game. Toxic people tend to blame others for everything. They are never wrong, at least in their mind. And when they actually are wrong, they won’t ever admit it. Do you have that one relative who is either late or a no-show for family gatherings? Do they blame the airline? Do they blame their job, the weather or their pet? Do they blame the distance that they had to travel? Do they blame the dinner host for deciding what time dinner will be served or what is on the menu? Maybe you have a sibling or relative that showed less than desirable behavior towards you and instead of owning up to what they did, they go around to other family members or relatives and put the blame on you.
They feed off of drama and they can be manipulative. If they aren’t creating it, they are fueling it. Drama is created by a toxic person by creating conflict. They also try to get others involved in the drama and they make you feel as if anything you say can and might be used against you. Better yet, if they are good at what they do, they have had other “targeted victims” before. Past victims know what it is like to be out the “outs” with the person creating the drama so some may play along with them, even if they know the drama creator is in the wrong.
They have explosive anger issues. (Cue the yelling, and maybe even some tears.) Though anger is a natural emotion, and most of us can regulate it, toxic people tend to lose their temper at the drop of a hat and as they do so, they tend to ruin the day, or occasion for the rest of us.
They actively ignore you exclude you. Toxic people can ignore or exclude you in a number of ways. Sure there is the leaving you off of the invite list, but, have you ever walked into a family function where someone tries to either intentionally ignore you or avoid you all together? (This usually has to do with the guilt of their actions, not yours.) Maybe it is around a table of conversation. You aren’t included and no eye contact is made in your direction? Have you ever had a situation where you have tried to make your way through a room, through a house or even a funeral parlor or banquet hall to have a friendly conversation with a (toxic) person and every time you get close to this (toxic) person, they walk farther away from you?
They only contact you when they need something or are trying to cover their tail. Be suspicious of those who only crawl out of the woodwork when they need something from you like money, a ride, a random invite to something for the first time in years, or want you to pitch in for a group gift. Be cautious when you feel that the contact is inauthentic. It’s not that these things don’t happen in everyday life, but when a person has been silent towards you for an extended period of time and the request comes out of nowhere, be suspicious as this is a trait of a toxic person.
They talk more than they listen. And they don’t just talk, but really run from the mouth constantly and even if you try to chime in, they brush over you and the talk goes back to them because they want your empathy, your sympathy, or your support. But note that they don’t actually want your advice. They have to always be right. (If that person has children, their children are never in the wrong, either.) Even when they (or their children) are wrong or sort of wrong. They feel that this makes them an authority on things but they really aren’t. Remember that confidence is silent and insecurities are loud!
They will lie to you. You will ask questions to show interest in their life and get flat out lies in return. Can you relate to any of these types of conversations?
“I heard that you found a place and that you’ll be moving.” “Nope, haven’t found anything yet” (Hmm, the rest of the family seems to know that you put earnest money down.)
“Your son (or daughter) is engaged, have the couple decided when or where for their wedding?” “No, I don’t know what they are doing.” (Hmm, the Bride is full of information.)
“I heard that so-and-so finally had luck in selling his/her mother’s house.” “Umm, I don’t know.” “Well I saw it online as “contingent” (just trying to make conversation and take interest), are you sure? Umm, well, they didn’t really make much off of it, but they are glad to have it gone. (Liar, liar pants on fire! So you do know.)
They dismiss or minimize your feelings (and possibly even your spouse’s or children’s feelings) when it comes to their actions and behavior, or lack thereof? Do you have a relative who is sorry, not sorry? Maybe you have a relative who used to send gifts to your children for birthdays and holidays and they abruptly stopped. Or maybe when they do send them, they are weeks or months late and at that point, should have just been skipped. Perhaps your children don’t see a (toxic) relative often and the few times they have the opportunity to, the relative either cancels or is a no-show. Maybe at gift-giving time you have a (toxic) relative who gets your spouse something that shows how lazy the giver was about the gift, or the lack of thought that was put into the gift. When you drop a hint for what is a better fit for your spouse for future gift-giving, or are proactive the next time and try to provide a few ideas, it falls on deaf ears. Maybe you are related to (a toxic) somebody who hold gatherings at their house, holidays, barbecues or go out to eat to celebrate milestones and birthdays and don’t consider inviting you, your husband or kids for whatever reason. Perhaps you still follow up by sending a card, gift or acknowledgement of some sort, but you get no response back.
Toxic people are exhausting! Besides the fact that you won’t feel like yourself when you are around them, you will become exhausted from being around a toxic person, even if it is just for a short time. They will leave you feeling drained. When this repeatedly happens, you start to dread being around them way before you actually have to interact with them.
So what do you do if you have identified a toxic person who you are related to?
When dealing with a toxic person, remember that it is not you, it is them and that their toxicity usually stems from their own internal traumas or insecurities. And unfortunately, unless they want to do some deep, inner work, they probably won’t change. Their choice. That is when you can make changes.
The first thing that I recommend that you do is to take a step back and take some time to decide what you want out of the relationship with the toxic person and what roll you want them to play in your life and what roll you want them to be in yours. Maybe you decide to have limited contact. Maybe you try to have more. Decide if you will maybe just love that person from a distance (see my post about sending *love* to people who are bothering you). You don’t have to be on good terms or bad terms. You can just wish them well. Only you know what you can handle emotionally, mentally and physically. Once you decide, set clear boundaries for what you will and won’t tolerate and follow those boundaries. Decide what you will (and won’t) tolerate. But beware that when a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you, so you may feel some backlash. Rise above it. The truth always comes to the surface.
Sometimes the only way to win, is to not to play. You can ignore the toxic person as well as their toxic behavior. Toxic people crave attention. By ignoring them and not giving energy or a reaction to their behavior, you are suffocating them. The less you respond to a negative or toxic relative, the more peaceful your life will become.
Surround yourself with positive people. In your family unit or family tree, can you find someone who is positive to be around? Someone whose company you enjoy? If not, maybe it is time to ditch the family functions and start your own traditions and celebrations with those who feel like family. Family isn’t always defined by blood.
Practice Self-Care. Before a possible interaction with a toxic relative (a party, a wedding, a funeral, a celebration, a holiday gathering) do something that brings peace to you or makes you feel good. Go for a jog or a walk. Sit at your favorite place of worship. Listen to your favorite music or practice some self-care. When you are in a good head space, it is easier to handle those who are around you.
Actual physical space between you and a toxic person is helpful. I wrote about it here: “A Little Space (Away from Negative or Toxic People) Never Hurt Anybody.”
Carry protective crystals in your pocket, purse or even in your bra. I know, this may seem too far out there for some, but there are times that you can’t avoid a negative relative at places like funerals or weddings and you may want to bring some reinforcement. For example, Black Onyx absorbs negative energy. Black Tourmaline is great for repelling negativity. Amethyst help to calm you around the actions of others. Crystals do need to be cleansed and charged, so make sure you educate yourself on how to maintain them.
Try sending a letter or email. In your message explain how your feel. Are you confused or hurt? Do you need to apologize for anything? Offer to set up a time for a phone call, to meet for coffee or to have dinner together to discuss whatever issues may need to be discussed. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get a response. Remember that a toxic person’s actions (or lack thereof) has to do with them.
Let them eat cake – at your house! Even if someone has treated you poorly or shown toxic behavior toward you, it is okay to take steps to let that person know that you are still open to having a relationship in some capacity. For example, extend an invite to gatherings and celebrations that take place at your home. You might be surprised to see who doesn’t respond to such invites, but that is on them and that just exposes their toxic behavior even more. You won’t second guess yourself when you know that you have left the doorway open or the olive branch extended.
Sever contact if necessary. It is okay to remove toxic people from your life who threaten your joy. You don’t have to hold space for those who have damaging effects on your mental, emotional and physical health or who take away from your happiness. You can love a relative, and you can even forgive them. But it is okay to move forward in your life without them. And just because you are at peace, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t still toxic.
Take people out of boxes. In our heads we have the idea of how things should be. How people should act or what role they should play. (The role of a traditional mother, father, grandparent, sister, brother, etc.) When we put people in the boxes of how we thing they should be, we feel let down or disappointed when they don’t live up to our expectations. When you take people out of “boxes” they can no longer disappoint you.
Let go of guilt. Most of us feel the guilt of disappointing a parent or loved one if we don’t do what we think they expect us to do. (For example, “If I don’t show at Aunt Betty’s for Christmas Eve, I may disappoint Mom. “) Maybe you don’t want to attend because of the toxicity that will also be there. Make a date with Mom to spend New Year’s with her and let go of the guilt that you didn’t show up to Aunt Betty’s. Holidays and family traditions tend to be dictated by those who have passed and who are no longer with us. Rest assured that if all of your aunts and uncles don’t show up to Thanksgiving, your grandmother won’t roll over in her grave.
Let go of Worry. Don’t waste energy worrying about family that doesn’t worry about you. It is their fault if they miss out on you, your children or your family. Rather focus your energies on those who show that they care. You don’t have to tolerate people who treat you poorly.
Family can be amazing, but don’t discredit your feelings around a person just because they are blood or married into your family. Figure out what you want out of the relationship and take the necessary steps to protect your own happiness.