There are a few different ways to approach and deal with toxic family members. Think about what might be best for you, and make a plan to feel safe going forward.
Toxic people aren’t always school bullies or colleagues. They can be our own family members. If you have a family member who consistently makes you feel uneasy, unwelcome and overall worse when you leave interactions with them, they might be a toxic person.
How To Deal With a Toxic Family Member
Lying, manipulating and victimizing are just a few of the seven signs of a toxic person. When it comes to family, some of the methods for dealing with toxic people may not be realistic. We may not want to or be able to cut people out of our lives, no matter how damaging their behavior is. Still, there are many strategies for managing toxic situations with family members. Depending on your unique situation, figure out if any of the methods below might be helpful for you.
1. Remain Calm
No matter who or what you are dealing with, the first step should always be to stay calm. Toxic people can quickly escalate situations if you feed into their tactics. Whether you’ve caught someone in a lie, you’re being yelled at or gaslit, toxic people are very good at pushing your buttons. Do not stoop to their level. Take a few deep breaths and try to keep the conversation healthy and productive. This includes refraining from taking any hurtful comments personally.
2. Stick to the Facts
While toxic people are inclined to twist the truth, you can work on maintaining a healthy dialogue by sticking to the facts exclusively. Saying things like “I had a different perspective on the matter” or “I actually noticed something else” can help to challenge the toxic person’s narrative without directly accusing them. Make sure not to get drawn into their lies, as this may encourage this behavior in the future.
3. Speak Up
Speaking up about your own experience with this toxic person may cause them to rethink their behavior. Just because someone is acting in a toxic way, doesn’t mean that is their intention. By explaining how their actions are making you feel, you may be able to influence them to act differently in the future. Take care not to make accusations. Instead, use statements that start with “I”, such as, “I felt hurt by…” or “I did not appreciate…”
4. Change the Subject
If you don’t feel like challenging the toxic person or explaining your own perspective, simply change the subject. This may also be the best route if you’ve already tried speaking up before, and it didn’t go well. Instead, try and move away from the topic by changing the subject. You can also pull other people into the conversation, in order to get away from whatever the toxic person has been fixated on. For example, if you are at a family gathering, loop other relatives into conversation.
5. End the Conversation If You Need To
If you would rather just leave the conversation, say something like, “I don’t like where this conversation is going” or “I don’t feel like discussing this any further” and leave right after. Not only will this eliminate toxicity in the moment, but it might encourage the toxic person to change their behavior in the future.
6. Have an Exit Strategy
If you prefer to end conversations without being so forward about it, plan an exit strategy beforehand. Next time you know you’ll encounter a toxic person, have an excuse on hand, such as, “I promised so-and-so I’d help her with the dishes” or “I have to wake up early for a meeting tomorrow.”
7. Do Not Blame Yourself
Remember that you are not at fault for your family member’s toxic behavior. Once you accept yourself and fully recognize that you have nothing to be guilty for, your toxic family will not affect you nearly as much.
8. Distance Yourself
If things are not improving, try to distance yourself from your toxic family member over time. Limit your time together by saying “no” to certain gatherings and making yourself unavailable when they reach out. You may not be able to cut contact all together, but you can certainly try and cut out one-on-one time spent together.
9. Reach Out
Talk to fellow family members, especially those whom you think may have had similar experiences. Speaking with somebody going through the same negative experiences as you will at least create some solidarity. At family gatherings, you can help each other out. They may also have suggestions for you based on how they have handled the behavior in the past.
10. Seek Professional Help
If your toxic family member is really getting under your skin and preventing you from living your best life, consider speaking with a therapist. This may be especially helpful for those who have toxic family members in their immediate family, such as parents or siblings. Through inner-child work and cognitive behavioral therapy, you can radically improve your outlook and well-being moving forward.
11. Accept It
When all else fails, simply accept your family member for who they are. After years of arguments, raw conversations and other efforts made to get your family member to change their ways, you may find that it simply has not been productive or effective. Sometimes, it is more healthy for you to accept your family members, flaws and all. It is not your job to fix anyone, so if you’ve done all you’re comfortable with in terms of confronting and discussing, it may be best to simply let it go. The next time your family member is being toxic, simply tell them “I’m sorry you feel that way” and end the conversation. Distance yourself from them to whatever degree you feel necessary, and try to let their toxicity roll off your back whenever you do see them.
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