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Guide for Dealing with a Toxic Family Member

By: M.B.

Some people are blessed to be born into families that have effective communication, loving bonds, quality time being spent, and beautiful memories being created.

But for some, seeing a text message, phone call, or simply discussing a “toxic” family member or family unit, it sends a little trickle down your spine. Memories start rushing your brain and numerous emotions can overwhelm you. Your anxiety rushes back to the first memory of feeling hurt, exhausted, or angry. Those toxic family dynamics can reach back from adolescence into adulthood.


"Growing up, I was never too fond of my paternal grandmother. She showed extreme favoritism between myself and my siblings; and yes colorism played a part in it. Despite being a beautiful brown girl, she did make me feel less I wasn't good enough for her love. She has used manipulation to get her way and no one would check her for anything... she definitely stated her dominance. I endured a lot dealing with her, especially in my teen years, and kept face until the day I turned 18 years old. On that faithful day, at the time I was visiting her home and staying in the basement during my transition into college, and apparently the basement flooded near the window.. I couldn't see any water on the floor, nor was I home at the time. Instead of communicating with me, she complained to other family members including my father and it got back to me. I immediately rushed back to the home to help but instead I was greeted with an attitude. So you know what?? I cursed her ass out. I let her have it... All the built up aggression that I couldn't speak on because I had to "stay in a child's place", I let it out and made her cry. And of course she kicked me out, but I was ready to leave anyway. After that moment I stayed away from her. Anytime anyone mentioned her name and if she would be in the same environment as me, my skin would crawl and I would instantly get up and leave. I didn't want to give her any energy or deal with her anymore. Even now as an adult, I choose to acknowledge her presence, but keep it moving. She has no connection to my current children and no power or opinion in my life. I grew to no longer crave or want her approval in my life or her love. But I can't lie, it did make it harder for me to trust and create relationships with other women, especially those of lighter color because I felt like they were inferior.. but now? I've learned to not only love women of all color freely but to also build healthy boundaries when it comes to relationships to avoid feeling the same."

Toxic or dysfunctional family dynamics can be hard to recognize, especially when you’re still entrenched in them. Some helpful signs to know if you have one would be:

• You were expected to meet unrealistic expectations

• You were harshly criticized

• Your needs weren’t met

• You felt controlled

• You don’t feel love, compassion, or respect (even in adulthood)

• Substance use could be involved (substance addictions and compulsive behaviors)

• You’ve experienced verbal, physical, emotional abuse or neglect

How can you deal with it NOW?

Some people choose to cut off contact entirely. Others try to work with the situation by limiting contact with toxic family members and taking steps to protect themselves.

One solution for those who are still involved with those members or the family unit as a whole, would be limiting your visitation. Still see your family, but you are not obligated to have them in your presence on a weekly basis; try once a month.

When you do spend time with family, try to not involve yourself in issues that don’t pertain to you. You ARE allowed to set those boundaries. And remember, avoid topics that can bring up strong emotions.

Decide on what you want to keep private about your life. You do not need your family’s approval on your success nor do you need to explain your situation. Allow them to know only what you want them to know.

When dealing with toxic family members, it’s not uncommon to hold out hope that they’ll change. Sometimes we even want change more than them, and we start doing the work for them. You are not obligated to be their savior. You can’t change someone who does not want to change or see wrong in their ways; it’s beyond your control. All you can do, is truly be truly be there for them and give resources in hopes they want to seek professional help.

Learn when to say NO. It is okay to walk away, even though it may bother or hurt that member.

If you are dealing with these issues, I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many other just like you. I welcome you to not only share your own #WWHHW story but also seek a clinician in your area to release the anxiety and stress you are under. Do not ignore your mental health, and anything that can stem from it.

If you can relate to this submitted story, comment and share your own #WWHHW moment.

*This forum is not a substitute to getting professional help*

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