With the holidays upon us I get many questions about having to spend time with toxic family members. The impact of family on your psyche and your reactions to the world is very far reaching. Those of you who have experienced dysfunctional families now have to decide what is right for you:
Do you continue a relationship with your parent, sibling, grandparent or whoever?
Do you cut them out of your life entirely?
Do you remain politely aloof and attend family functions in order to see those family members you do enjoy?
This is a very tough decision and unfortunately one that comes with ramifications from all sides, even from within yourself as you struggle to decide what is right for you.
Most people who ask me what to do with toxic family members are consumed by feelings of guilt, failure, emptiness, doubt, grief, or abandonment. They’re often being criticized from other family members who say that if they cared about family, they would attend the functions and “get over it”.
Many families overlook the toxic person’s downfalls and behavior and insist upon their attendance at gatherings, much to the distress of the rest of the family. The drunk, stoned, abusive, rude or criminal behavior is swept under the rug for the holidays.
So, when is it OK to dump a family member?
- If they’re physically or mentally abusive.
- If they regularly cause you excessive stress that you find difficult to shake.
- If you are spending big chunks of time and energy dealing with them, even losing sleep and health over it.
- If they’re trying to engage you in their bad behavior.
- If they are manipulative, playing you for your money or other resources.
- If the only contact you have with them leaves you feeling ill.
- If arguments or fights break out when you interact.
If any of the above qualities describe your relationship with a family member, it’s time to cut and run. Don’t enable and don’t cater or caretake them. Block them from your phone, email, and social media. When you first cut someone out of your life they are likely to escalate and try to reach you however they can.
Beyond the holidays, try to only have contact when something major happens, such as a birth or death. If you’re married, remember that your current family is your priority. If your parents or siblings are impacting your spouse or kids, you need to take action.
Spend the holidays with your partner and children or good friends, people who make you feel good. If you are new to an area join a church or social group where you can meet others who are new and celebrate the joys of the season together. Call and talk with old friends or the family members that you do enjoy. These things can help eliminate the loneliness you may feel not attending the toxic gathering.
Photo by Sean MacEntee