If you are close with your relatives, you might realize that your standards for how they treat you are lower than they are for friends or partners.
Cutting ties with a toxic family member can be scary, but if your mental health is being hurt by the relationship, it might be the best thing for you to do for your own wellbeing, according to experts.
"In terms of letting go of the relationship, it all depends on your safety,"
Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "If your safety is threatened, I recommend working with a specialist who can help you leave abusive relationships safely," she says. "Ultimately though, your wellbeing is the most important so you have to consider what will keep you safest and what will be the least emotionally damaging for you."
If you know that it's safe for you to have an in-person conversation with your family member about why you need to set up some boundaries or take some space, then try to talk things out. "However, if the person is going to have an explosive reaction, it may be worth slowly limiting conversation in a more subtle way," Cook says. "If the person asks why you are 'avoiding them,' you can respond honestly by saying that you are investing more time in your own wellbeing and haven’t had as much time to communicate with others," she says.
Here are some signs that it's time to stop devoting yourself to a relationship with a
toxic family member, according to experts.
If you're an introvert, spending a good deal of time with any person, whether or not they're related to you, can make you tired. But if you feel exhausted at the mere prospect of seeing
your family member, that's not a good sign for the relationship. "If you’re experiencing that sense of dread before it’s time to see a family member, that can be an indication of toxicity," Cook says. "Ask yourself what that might be about for you and consider why you’re feeling this way." Maybe this means that you feel more comfortable speaking with them on the phone for a while instead of in person, but maybe you need to distance yourself altogether.
You Overthink Every Interaction
It's common to find yourself thinking about awkward moments from your day long after they took place. But if you play interactions with a family member over and over in your head for hours after you’ve spent time with them, that might be a sign that you need some distance. "If you have that 'ick' feeling where you feel like you’ve just been slimed on (Nickelodeon style) and keep going over your interaction with them, it’s likely that toxicity is present," Cook says. "We should feel a sense of connection with our family members and if you’re feeling the opposite, that’s an important cue."
You Constantly Try To Avoid Them
"If you’re looking for every excuse under the sun to not be with this family member, this may mean that you shouldn’t force the relationship," Cook says. "Our brains and bodies give us powerful indicators when we feel unsafe or unloved and we need to pay attention to these thoughts and feelings." If you aren't sure what these feelings mean, it could be helpful for you to talk with a mental health profession, who can guide you as you discover whether a relationship with this family member is something that's safe and healthy for you, or if it's just best to take some space.
They Keep Making The Same Mistakes
In any relationship, you'll have to ask for forgiveness when you make a mistake, and vice versa.
Your family members are only human, so it makes sense that they might say something that hurts your feelings or do something that bothers you every once in a while. But if you've addressed an issue with them and they refuse to change, that's not healthy behavior. "While it’s one thing to give people second chances and acknowledge that we all mess up from time to time, it’s another when a person repeatedly harms you — especially if they do it knowingly," Cook says. "This shows a blatant disregard for your feelings and wellbeing."
You Don't Feel Yourself Around Them
Ideally speaking, you should feel totally comfortable to be yourself when you're with your family members. But even if things aren't totally idyllic at home, you should never feel like you are completely unable to be yourself when you're with a family member.
"If you do things around your family member that aren't like you, or go against your personal values (anything from being rude to smoking cigarettes), this is a bad sign," Rebecca Ogle, a licensed therapist with experience in helping clients set boundaries with toxic family members, tells Bustle. "People who bring out the worst in you aren't people you want to spend time with."
They Never Admit When They're Wrong
Being vulnerable with someone else is an important part of a close relationship, so if your family member can never take responsibility for their actions when they do something wrong, that might be a sign that you should distance yourself from them. "When someone can
never admit they're wrong, it's hard to sustain a healthy relationship with them long-term," Ogle says. "A component of healthy relationships is that both people are able to apologize when they've hurt someone else." If they aren't willing to admit that they're at fault and apologize, they're not prioritizing your feelings over their own pride.
They Are Refusing Help For A Substance Use Problem
If one of your family members has a substance use problem, it can be difficult to know how to help support them through their journey to getting well. While you probably want to do everything that you can to be there, if they're refusing help or actively engaging in destructive behaviors, it's good to consider whether it's healthy for you to be in an active relationship with them. "If your family member has an alcohol or drug problem, it's hard not to get sucked into the tornado of chaos that comes along with it, especially if you're in recovery yourself," Ogle says. Whether or not to distance yourself is a decision you have to make for yourself (perhaps with the guidance of a therapist).
They Have Explosive Anger Issues
When your family member is having a rough day or is going through a difficult situation, they might get angry. But directing this anger at you in a violent or aggressive way is not OK. "Any physical abuse or an explosive temper is unacceptable behavior and ties should be cut as soon as possible,"
Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified relationship expert and mental health consultant, tells Bustle. Even though you probably love your family member, if they aren't treating you with respect and love, it's probably best to break ties with them. If you feel that you are in physical danger, contact someone you trust for help or call 911 for assistance.
It can be very difficult to distance yourself from a family member, so don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional and loving people in your life. They'll be able to support you through this process.