Detox part II: How to deal with toxic family members

Photo courtesy of Minarae

Photo courtesy of Minarae

In response to the many questions I’ve received about dealing with toxic people in your family, I am writing part II of my article on detoxing your life of negative people. If you missed the first part, check it out here!

Dealing with toxic family members is frustrating, stressful, and often times heart-breaking. It’s tough to tolerate their negativity while trying to prevent them from hindering your success, happiness, and sense of self-worth. It’s important to figure out how much toxicity you can tolerate while still being able to live the life you want.

You first have to decide: Do you keep them in your life and deal with their negativity, or do you cut them off completely? I will leave the choice up to you, but I give you advice around both options.

Option 1: Deal with their negativity by shifting YOUR mindset and behavior

“People cannot hurt you without your permission.” Mahatma Gandhi

If you have chosen to deal with your negative family members instead of cutting them off from your life, then I commend you for having lots of compassion, patience, and unconditional love. Remember that you can’t change others but only yourself, and that you ultimately have control over how you feel. Here are a few ideas to help you shift your thoughts and feelings around your family.

Set your boundaries. If your parents or family member say things that are negative or outright critical about a certain aspect of your life (e.g. your relationships, physical appearance, career, etc), then respectfully ask them to refrain from talking about that part of your life. Sometimes people have a hard time distinguishing what types of comments are supportive vs those that are critical, so just ask them not to speak about those areas at all.

Know that they love you. No matter how your family act towards you, they do truly love you. If it seems like they behave contrary to this, it’s only because they aren’t capable of communicating their concern or love for you in a way that’s supportive and constructive.

Be understanding and compassionate. To understand why your parents or family member behave in an unloving way, you must honor their struggles, their past, and who they are. They most likely have some pain or emotional wounds that need healing, wounds of which probably stem from their own childhood. Also, based on how they were brought up, they will probably treat you the same way because that’s all that they know. It’s not your job to heal them or change their learned behaviors. The only job you have is to not fall into their vicious cycle of inflicting pain on others. To avoid this toxic cycle, just be compassionate and understanding towards them. This will not only take them by surprise, but it will also more likely encourage a healing/peaceful response from them.

Accept them. Despite your thinking that you have the power to change people, including your parents, you do not. Understand that they are who they are, and if they are going to change, they will need to do it on their own accord. The only person you can change is yourself, specifically your reaction and behavior towards them.

Forgive them. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Holding onto resentment, anger, and self-righteousness only harms you in the end. In order to bring peace to your mind and soul, let go of your need to win the argument and forgive them for the past. Let go of the things they’ve said or done to you that have been hurtful. How can you begin to do that?

  • Realize that they are unaware of what they do to you. When your family behave in an unloving way, it’s not with the intention to hurt you. They are just unaware of the negative impact they have on your life. Often they don’t know any other way to act towards you. If you can accept that they just don’t have the ability or just can’t behave otherwise towards you, then it is very easy to forgive them.

Know their role in your life. Even though you may want to share your hopes and dreams with your parents or family, they may not understand or be able to support you in a way that lifts you up instead of shuts you down. Instead, try conversing with your family on topics they like to talk about, whether it’s politics, sports, or weather. Just because you can’t talk spirituality or dreams with your family doesn’t mean you won’t be able to genuinely enjoy their company. Look to other people to fill the need that your family members can’t provide.

Option 2: Remove yourself from that relationship

If you decide to distance or remove yourself from this toxic relationship, remember that it doesn’t mean it’s permanent or can’t be rekindled in the near future when things change. When it gets tough and you begin to question the reasons why you decided to end the relationship, try these strategies:

Make YOU a priority. You must put yourself first. This means doing whatever it takes to be your best self: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When you do so, you are also able to take better care of your loved ones. Putting yourself first is the only way to maximize your chances of success, from creating an amazing business to just being happy. In order to make YOU a priority, you must feel worthy of having an amazing life and business. And you are totally worth it! Sometimes it’s necessary to make tough decisions like letting go of toxic family members in order to value and cherish yourself and your dreams.

Remember the definition of a healthy relationship. Remember that any relationship, whether it’s with your parents, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, sister/brother, or best friend, should be encouraging, positive, uplifting, inspiring, and nurturing. Sometimes we get so caught up in the love we feel for someone that we forget the basic definition of a “healthy” relationship. Or we’ve endured the toxic relationship so long that we identify with it or we become dependent on it. Remember that you already have all the skills, abilities, and talents inside you to feel good about yourself, overcome any challenges, and to create unwavering happiness for yourself. You do not need to be dependent on anyone.

You are worthy. You are worthy of having unconditional love in your life. You are worthy of being accepted and loved just the way you are. You are worthy of your dreams and desires. Cherish and hold onto your dreams and don’t let anyone stop or slow you down, no matter what blood ties they have with you.

Send them love and light. To make up for their absence and your inability to show them care and love, send them light and love from afar, as much as you can. Pray for them. Pray that they find the courage, strength, and love within to heal their inner wounds.

Increase your own self-love. It’s critical that you give yourself lots of love to make up for the lack of love from your family members. Self-love will also positively impact all areas of your life from increasing your self-confidence to helping you progress on your goals. Read more about self-love in my article here and watch my free training on Authenticity, Self-Love, and Confidence here.

Get what you need from other people. Everyone could use more support and positive encouragement in their lives. Look for it in your friends, colleagues, or people you admire. If you are searching for more positive people in your life, just pray and ask the Universe to bring these folks into your life.

Sometimes life is tough and we question why we have to go through so many trials and tribulations. Know that every challenge you face is an opportunity for you to heal a certain aspect of your life so you can recognize how whole and complete you already are. You are already so brave for dealing with this tough situation, so remember to give yourself lots of self-care, compassion, and gentleness as you work through this. You are doing beautifully!

This week’s tush-kickin’ challenge: Share with me a technique you will use to help you deal with toxic family members or to help you remove yourself from that relationship.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt Click to Tweet

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29 comments… read them below or… add one

  • Sean March 22, 2013, 2:57 pm

    This article is simple awesome and it has answered many of my questions lingering in my mind for a long time. I am truly admired with your level of knowledge you have at this younger age. Keep posting uplifting articles like this!

    Reply
    • chinh May 23, 2013, 1:07 pm

      Thanks Sean! I realized I never responded to your comment… glad you found the article helpful and keep kicking butt!

      Reply
  • Henry April 13, 2013, 5:42 am

    Ok, on the matter of forgiveness, I found this NOT to work. I have a toxic mother and I have forgiven on occasions but it seems to empower her toxicity. She thinks she is now stronger and I am weak, she is right and I was wrong!! I am really the only one to support her while my siblings have very little care or contact with her, one even stating that if something should happen to my mother she should not expect her to come and see her as it would blow away their holiday money. The whole scenario spins my head

    Reply
    • Charity November 10, 2014, 2:29 pm

      In order to be forgiven, she has to be specific about what she wants to be forgiven for. I believe this is crucial, only because a blanket “I’m sorry” does not work…especially if you’ve received this apology before. I am a mental health therapist and I adhere to this. forgiveness does not mean you have to give that person what they want or allow that person in your life…(your siblings seem to steer clear of your mother and there maybe good reason for it).

      Reply
  • Michelle May 15, 2013, 1:28 am

    My whole family is toxic for different reasons. Nothing I do is ever good enough. They talk behind my back and then tell me what each other says. I tell one something in confidence and they tell one or two more. It all came to a head this past weekend and I’m sad but I have to distance myself. I’ve been crying a lot and depressed about it but I just have no other option. My son is all I really have now.

    Reply
    • chinh May 23, 2013, 1:06 pm

      I’m sorry to hear about your family! But it sounds like you are taking steps to remove yourself from that toxic situation. I understand how heart-breaking it is since we obviously can’t replace family. But at the end of the day you are doing the best thing for yourself and your son! Sending you some love!

      Reply
  • Susan June 22, 2013, 7:26 pm

    My sister verbally and physically abused me into my 20s. When I was diagnosed with depression none of my siblings sent me a card or called me in the last 15 years. My younger sister puts me down all the time now. I had two books published and none of them congratulated me or bought the book. Now I moved back to town because of money issues and I am not included in anything. I feel my depression strengthen and it’s only been 2 weeks. I have no money to leave. This is not in your article.

    Reply
    • X August 2, 2013, 10:10 am

      Not all reality can be placed into an uplifting article. As they put it, light and love to you. As I would put it, I get you. X. My advice, if it is like that, even if today you are in town, start planning to get back your own space, privacy and ultimately perhaps, a clean break for yourself once you have the opportunity or availability to do so.

      Try not to let others negativity and/or control to take that from you. No more love and light(!), just that you are today in my thoughts. I think I understand.

      Reply
  • layne August 5, 2013, 10:57 pm

    This article is JUST what I needed! I am a very positive and spiritual person but my family keeps putting me down about my dreams because they aren’t the norm and they certainly aren’t ‘safe’. They are constantly drilling me with the fact that the things I want to do ‘cannot be done’. I know one day I will prove them wrong by leading by example but in the meantime I try to give them the time of day and be patient because I know that I know things that they don’t and I feel I am constantly being guided to my dream. My mother is especially negative and it is hard for me because she is my best friend. Sometimes her negative mindset can be very draining. I had been feeling very drained today but this article lifted my spirits! Thank you

    Reply
  • Stephanie August 7, 2013, 11:27 pm

    Hello.
    I want to say how much I love this article. :)
    It came to me at just the perfect time because I too am thinking abut letting my toxic family relations go. It is so hard to do and not a decision I’ve come to lightly….
    I am wondering how to best let my family members know… Through a short note, a phone call, email perhaps? They live a few hours away, yet that feels too close. What do you suggest?
    Thank you for your helpful advice.
    Stephanie :)

    Reply
  • Liz Delaney August 12, 2013, 3:46 am

    I was the scapegoat in my family. I was in hell and in my early teens was abducted. mother flatly refused any treatment for me. The way my mother treated me, my siblings do the same. Swear at me and always put me down. I am now in my 40’s and since I left home at 17 have been getting the help I really need. I read a lot, like your article and it helps me to understand toxic family. I have decided to walk away from my siblings and spend extra time with my older children. They wont grow up the way I did, I respect and love them so much. My mother died, I felt nothing, nothing at all because she died years ago..I am proud how far I have come, friends, my children and web sites like this have helped so much..

    Reply
    • chinh September 22, 2013, 3:50 pm

      I am proud of you too Liz! You are amazing… definitely an inspiration for others in this world! <3

      Reply
  • Jay September 7, 2013, 10:29 am

    I work as a psychologist, and find this article not only to be overwhelmingly useful for the people I work with, but for myself as well. This is inspiring, and I thank you for considering both sides of the coin. I think we automatically assume that the best way to handle toxic people (for many, this would be their parents) is by distancing, but love and compassion are also viable options. Thank you!

    Reply
    • chinh September 22, 2013, 3:47 pm

      Thanks so much Jay! That means so much to me. You’re awesome!

      Reply
  • Dee Dee C September 24, 2013, 9:46 am

    I’ve been having issues with my half-sister. (She was raised by our maternal grandparents – resented that I was raised by our mother and also resented that Mom put her up for adoption and married my father instead; however, this was in the early 60s where women having a child out of wedlock was a pure sin).

    I’ve told her many times that I find that she has a toxic attitude (put down artist, has humilated me in front of other people, manipulative, jealous, called me malicious names, etc.) and she doesn’t do anything good for my well-being. I even told her that thru the help of counseling, that it’s best I keep a distance.

    She got on the defensive side and said that she hasn’t done anything wrong (not to her knowledge), and that she has very high self-esteem and has lots of people in the family that she can turn to. She says I have no relationship with anyone in the family (she’s 100% correct about that; however, the reason why I don’t is because I don’t smoke pot/take drugs, alcoholics, another cousin is married to an escort, theft, jail time, and the list goes on and on).

    She seems to be in denial of her actions and makes up lies that she didn’t do anything wrong and she’s making me feel like I’m the crazy one. My mother is in denial about this as well and is very afraid of half-sister b/c half-sis throws back in Mom’s face about being abandoned. Her husband left her (he was a bum); however, she tried so hard to hold onto him b/c she didn’t want to feel “abandoned” once again. She even tried to be friends with his new g/f and that backfired on her as well.

    I’ve warned her that if she were to pull any type of stunts on me and/or cross my boundaries, it’s over between us; however, she did what she had to do.

    I think my maternal grandparents fed her and let her live in their home; however, they did not teach her about respect and morals and if she were raised by our mother, she would have been a totally different person. This has been a thorn in my side for the past 5 years and now the book has been closed. However, I feel as if I’m hurting my mother, but I have to do what’s best for me. My father doesn’t particularly care for my half-sister – he’s seen/witnessed the way she treated my mom and he says she’s sick and needs serious counseling.

    Thank you for reading this.

    Reply
    • chinh September 24, 2013, 10:53 am

      Thanks for your comment and I’m sorry to hear about your relationship with your half-sister. I’m glad that you chose to do what felt best for you, even if it was a tough decision. Just know that you can still love the people in your life from afar. Keep your chin up, you’re doing awesome! *hugs*

      Reply
  • Linnie September 27, 2013, 2:50 pm

    toxic family

    Reply
  • Cat November 3, 2013, 4:15 pm

    I’d like to commend you on your article. My older sister betrayed me, when my mother was dying of terminal cancer. I gave up my life and returned to my family home to care for my mother. My sister refused to help, and went on to steal everything of value from the family home, when I was out – I presume, because she thought it was her right – i.e. I live here, you don’t. Unfortunately, my mother refused to make a will . I’ve lived abroad for years, and used to call my sister regularly before the death of my mother, she’s never called me since I left home over 15 years ago – all communication was down to me. I also found out when I was there, that she hid this fact from her children, who presumed that we weren’t close and rarely spoke. She’s always ill, as she’s very unhappy with her personal life, and uses her illness to opt out of everything. She has a dysfunctional marriage, and a martyr complex, hence she expects me to do all the running, just as my mother previously did, in vain – therefore, I decided that I wasn’t going to make the same mistake, especially when she treated her dying mother with such contempt. I would like to forgive her, but just cannot at present -and know that I can’t force it. I’m a HSP, so I’m aware of why I feel bereft, not only for my mother, but for my sister too. However, I know that she may never change, and will always resent me for having such freedom and pursuing a career/education… But I feel isolated since the break, as I have no other family, and although I’m angry with her, for her appalling treatment of both my mother and myself, I still love her, and would like to eventually reconnect.

    Reply
  • Meina November 9, 2013, 6:19 pm

    This article was amazing. I’m in the process of cutting off my “toxic” mother after years of trying to deal with her. This article really puts things into perspective. Very well written.

    Reply
  • LJ November 27, 2013, 10:05 am

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    Reply
  • Sosa December 18, 2013, 7:28 am

    so grateful for sharing this… v helpful and i feel good because i saw positive out of a toxic situation with toxic family member {which i left feeling positive despite hurtful words said to me} and this article makes me realise that I’m dong the right thing and on the right path… thanks God bless you x

    Reply
    • chinh December 23, 2013, 12:50 am

      Thank you for your kind words and so glad this article helped you! You are brave and courageous! Big xoxo!

      Reply
  • Hanna Campbell January 18, 2014, 2:21 pm

    Great post, with valuable information. For me always has been more easy to avoid a “toxic” family member. You really has created a very useful list. Congratulation.

    Reply
    • chinh January 20, 2014, 9:58 pm

      You are so welcome! Glad it was valuable to you.

      Reply
  • Adnan November 5, 2014, 10:24 pm

    i read the comments and i found my self in any one of them. i have a toxic mother and a sadistic big brother. i love my mother so much but all what sh has been doing is hurting me and killing me from inside. :( your article dear Madame just saved my life, since a long time i hesitated to take the right decision, tonight i will do it , i will cut myself from these negative environment . thank you dear Chinh

    Reply
  • noami November 15, 2014, 3:33 am

    Hi what to do when I am toxic? I have a husband that wants to leave me becouse of it at 3 children. Where coul I get help? What to do,

    Reply
  • noami November 15, 2014, 3:54 am

    To add my huband said that it is all my fault, he stopped loving me, can’t stand me, I feel frustration build up each time we are together, he chooses not to be arround me becouse I am so negative and putting blame regret and shame onto him for everything. He started to be abusive towards me saying he has to protect himself from me. But I still love him and want the family we had been before. U see he had accident 6 y ago and notworking since , not trying to find job or do a course for the last six years and my negativity comes from pushing him towards it. Now economy changed and the courses are no longer avaulable for unemployed and here I come with I told u so. Talk about work money couses etc is impossible in our house becouse he developed depression now . Is all going down hill. My fault is that I’m not good with praising him (he minds the baby and house when I’m in work) and being critical. Now any negative comment ruins the whole day. He says that I destroyed him, he has no feeling for me, I created him like this and this is what I reap, I feel axiety in room when we are together. Whith his depression his behaviourtowards me and the kids became agressive, and has hit them and me out of ander. He behaves like a caged animal and anything sets him off. But I still think that I did all this and that I am toxic and I need help to change stopbeing critical sarcastic nedative opinionated and always right person . I want us to be able to relax together and enjoy life. Where to get help , can I do this alo e ie, work on myself? Thanks for your help

    Reply
  • Gemanika November 30, 2014, 11:40 pm

    this helped me so much with a problem I have been dealing with for maybe a few years. it amazes me that you have such a beautiful mind and such great intelligence, thank you so much for this.

    Reply
  • Lau December 2, 2014, 8:42 pm

    I’ve been trying to deal with my ‘toxic’ family for a while now. I’ve been trying to make things better, trying to open their eyes and trying to have them change their ways. Thanks to you I finally got into my head that sadly that won’t happen. Unluckily for me, it’s a little too late to take a step back and try to mend what’s been broken too many times before. Things that we shouldn’t even think about have been said from both sides and are relationship is basically doomed. I’m only fifteen though so I can’t exactly completely cut them out of my life. I don’t know what to do and I know you wrote this a long time ago but I need all what the help I can get. I don’t want to lose my parents but it’s gotten way too far…

    Reply

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