Many of us have been taught to love and respect our family members unconditionally. We may believe we should go out of our way to help and support family, no matter the cost. One question that may affect some of us is: What if my family member does little other than cause me harm? Let’s talk about some of the things you can do to help yourself.
Take Care of Yourself
It is important to recognize that your happiness and mental health matter. You can appreciate what someone has done for you without being indebted to that person for your life. Happiness with regard to others matters, but not at the expense of your own. It is also important to remember that making a choice to protect your needs does not have to mean removing this person from your life entirely.
It can be confusing and complicated to change the values we have been brought up to appreciate and own. It may feel like a betrayal to say no to an invitation from your aunt, sister, father, etc., especially if that person helped to raise you or if you once had a strong relationship. It can be challenging to advocate for yourself when you want to be a person who loves and respects others, but your needs are just as valuable as that person’s. Make them a priority but in a sensitive, caring way.
One important way to deal with toxic relationships is to set personal boundaries. If you value having a particular person in your life in some capacity, but find yourself becoming drained, setting these boundaries may be helpful. This is not a way to punish your family member for what they’re doing, but instead a way to protect you and, hopefully, salvage your relationship.
If your relationship is full of drama, anger, fighting, or passive aggressiveness, what does this do for either one of you? If you are able to set boundaries with regard to the time you spend together, the topics you discuss, or other areas surrounding the issues you face, you may find that this significantly improves your interactions and your inner peace.
Another way to cope with relationships is to recognize triggers that may lead to arguments and to make adaptations to avoid these triggers. For example, you might find that your family member becomes angry with you for your choices in other relationships or your political views. It may be helpful to provide fewer personal details about potentially sensitive topics.
You may want to attempt to change the course of the conversation, or even allow this family member to believe you agree. This does not mean you must change actually change your choices or views, but this may be a way to reduce conflict in these interactions.
Additionally, it may be important to avoid offering details when you have not been directly asked. This person is not entitled to know every element of your life if you do not want it that way.
What if That’s Not Enough?
In some extreme situations, the only way to truly protect yourself may be to remove this person from your life. This removal may occur through slowly creating distance or, if you feel safe and comfortable with it, it may even be through a direct conversation.
This is not a decision you will want to take lightly. You might feel guilty or scared to make this choice. (And it may not be the right choice for your relationship.) It is also important to anticipate that the family member may respond with anger or other extreme reactions, even though it is not your intention to hurt him/her. Try to remember that his/her reaction does not mean you have made the wrong choice or that you lack compassion. Caring about yourself is not the same as selfishness or an absence of love for others. You can only do the best you can do for the world and the people you love if you have the energy and emotional stamina left to do it.
A “Non-Toxic” Conclusion
It is a beautiful virtue to care for another person. No one would deny this. However, there is equal value in caring for yourself. It does not have to be strictly one or the other, but instead can be a careful balance of both.