Toxic relationships are tricky. Most of us will have encountered a toxic relationship at some point in life, be it with a family member, partner or friend. It is a common theme that arises frequently in the therapy room. The question that I am often asked is, is it ever okay to cut ties with a family member or a loved one?
What are the signs?
Whilst everybody’s experience is unique and there will, of course, be cases whereby conflict with loved ones can be resolved, it is important to be able to spot toxic personality traits in those close to us so that we can maintain awareness moving forward. Let us explore the habits that toxic people share.
They breach your confidence: A toxic family member or loved one will be inclined to share your personal struggles or secrets with others, with little or no regard for your well-being or privacy. Similarly, they may be inclined to spread lies in order to shed you in a negative light.
They initiate arguments: These people crave arguments, drama and chaos. Such constant negativity breeds toxicity. If you find yourself in continual arguments with the same person, time and time again, it may well be time to consider the negative impact that they are having upon your everyday life.
They refuse to apologise: It is one thing when a person is able to see the error of their ways and apologise for their actions. However, a toxic person will find it incredibly difficult to apologise, for in their mind they are never in the wrong! It is far easier, to blame you instead. You can do your best to be reasonable and you can do your utmost to mend the tensions that they create, however you cannot be expected to shoulder the responsibility of someone else’s wrongdoing. In the long run, this relationship will not work.
They put you down: A toxic family member or loved one will most likely specialise in making you feel low or worthless. This can be achieved in a number of ways. For example, it may be that this person enjoys instilling a competitive dynamic, designed for you to fail. They may revel in your failures or enjoy excluding you from events or occasions. They may also use negative or critical language towards you, particularly during times in which you feel vulnerable. This person will find it difficult to genuinely celebrate your successes.
They cause you emotional strife: Reasons for their behaviour will vary. Their toxicity may stem from anger, jealousy, or neediness. They may be driven by a desire to manipulate, to control, to criticise or to create drama. Whatever the cause of their toxic nature, if you feel that the relationship is impacting upon your mental health, it is essential that you distance yourself from the relationship in order to recover. The emotional impact for you over time may be severe, causing an increase in symptoms of issues such as depression, anxiety, a heightened sense of panic, mood instability or the onset of addictions such as alcohol.
What can you do?
Attempts to resolve a toxic relationship may prove successful in the long run, equally, they may not. After all, we cannot choose the family that we are born with, but we can absolutely choose the people that we cherish in our adulthood. As such, it is so very important that we are able to identify and maintain awareness of the toxic people and influences in our life. No matter who a toxic person is, be they family or otherwise, remember always that their poor treatment of you is never acceptable. If you find yourself attempting to adapt to the toxicity of a family member or loved one, there are steps that you can take to limit the drama and the adverse toll it is taking upon your emotional health.
Set clear boundaries: Ensure that you are clear with this person as to what you will tolerate and what you will not. There may well be an adjustment period and you must be ready for these boundaries to be dismissed. Often, toxic family members or loved ones have gotten used to treating you in a certain way. They will be reluctant to change, even for the sake of saving your relationship.
Express your concerns: You can do your best to communicate calmly and rationally that you are concerned and that you need things to change. Stay strong in your efforts and once more, be ready for dismissal. Whilst there is always the chance that this person may alter their attitude in time, their immediate response will most likely be undesirable.
Self-prioritise: It is vital to be mindful that you have zero control over another person’s behaviour or cruel intentions. You are, however, able to control your own response to their actions. In some cases, it may be necessary to detach from family members or friendships altogether. This is especially the case if you find that they are playing psychological games with you, creating unnecessary drama or impacting you in a negative and unhealthy way. No contact with a family member or loved one may be perceived as a bold act, but in some circumstances, it is a necessary measure.
Reflect: Consider whether the person in question is treating you respectfully, with love, kindness and consideration. Trust your intuition as to whether the relationship you share with this person is a healthy and positive one. Surely the aim is to cherish the people in your life that care about you and know your worth.
Seek therapeutic support: Should you find yourself struggling within a toxic relationship, consider seeking therapeutic support in order to support you through your difficulties. The therapy process will allow you the space in which to explore your issues within a confidential and non-judgemental environment.
Ultimately, you will know when enough is enough and if it is right to walk away from a toxic loved one. There are times when you have to put yourself first, particularly if you are being impacted in a way that is harmful to your mental health or severely impacting your wellbeing. Whilst there are instances in which it is definitely worth the effort to resolve conflict with loved ones, you also have every right to walk away from the people who hurt you. You have a duty to protect and to take care of yourself, therefore the decision is yours to make.
Wishing you motivation and courage,