How To Deal With Toxic People…In Your Family
(Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. For more information about this please read the Affiliate Disclosure.)
Dealing with toxic people is not something most of us especially enjoy or look forward to. It’s just something we all must do.
But when the toxic people we must be concerned with are family members, well that’s a special little wrinkle in the sheets.
Because they’re family, our interactions with this particular group of negative people can be especially stressful, upsetting, and complicated in part because of their ongoing nature.
To make matters worse, oftentimes we simply don’t know how to handle things in a way that makes our encounters with these individuals less problematic.
So here are just a few very simple tips to help make dealing with the toxic people in your family a little less difficult and frustrating.
Tips For Dealing With Toxic People In Your Family
1. Distance yourself physically and/or emotionally from the source of negativity.
This is pretty self-explanatory.
Sometimes the best way to deal with toxic people is simply not to be around them. Or, at least, to spend time with them less often.
So in this case, consider limiting your interactions with the toxic person as much as is practical.
This isn’t too hard if you’re dealing with Aunt Sally who lives across town or cousin Oliver who lives in a different state.
These are people you’re not apt to run into unexpectedly. So, you simply schedule less time with them.
Don’t be drawn into the drama. Negative people, even family (and sometimes especially so), can suck the life out of you emotionally.
The best way to protect yourself from unpleasant interactions with someone you know to be a negative person is to determine what you know to be true, what you believe and what you stand for.
Then act accordingly.
Sometimes we can experience our most stressful and anxiety-ridden moments because we are behaving or acting a manner contrary to who and what we are authentically.
Don’t pretend or behave contrary to your beliefs because you are emotionally close to someone.
Don’t allow others to coerce you or bully you into thought patterns or actions that go against who you are.
Secondly, do not allow the opinions of toxic people (about who they think you are or who they think you should be) to define you.
Their perspectives and opinions are no more valid than your own.
This can admittedly be difficult when it comes to family, but you must learn to be strong in your knowledge of who you are as a person and your willingness to “own it”.
Stand up for yourself.
By doing the above two things, you prevent the ability of a toxic person to control you or your situation through their rhetoric or behavior, and you limit the level to which what they say or do affects you personally.
However, if the toxic person is your mother-in-law who now lives in your home because she’s no longer able to care for himself, things could be a little trickier.
But, the same rules can apply.
Even in a family home, there can be some refuge.
Take the necessary steps to establish physical and emotional boundaries.
Ensure that your home has room for her to have her individual “space” and for you to do the same.
And when you interact with one another, just know that she is the person she is and you won’t change that.
But, by the same token, you have the right to be who you are, to have your own thoughts and beliefs, and to be free to express them and live your life in a manner that is witness to what you think and believe.
2. Realize that toxic people are often in pain.
This isn’t a justification or an excuse for the bad behavior of negative people, even when they’re family.
However, sometimes we tend to look only at the surface of people and their situations.
The truth is that all of our lives (even those closest to us or who may be difficult to deal with) are much more intricate and complex than what appears on the surface.
Realizing that the anger, fear, drama and frustrations often demonstrated by toxic people can all come from a source of legitimate pain, helps us to have a different perspective about the individual and their behavior.
It doesn’t me we can “fix” them or even that we should attempt to do so.
And, our having a better understanding of the source of their negative behavior may not change their actions, but it can change our responses and actions in dealing with them.
That may be all that is required to change the dynamics of the interactions we have with one another and make them better.
When dealing with toxic people, especially family members, we often feel (or are made to feel) that we are obligated to endure experiences that we know will be hurtful or unpleasant.
In truth, we really don’t. It’s a choice.
It may be unpleasant for you to disengage (you just choose not to attend the family reunion/holiday dinner/bridal shower), but what’s the alternative?
Should you attend an event knowing that it will most likely dissolve into a mental and emotional meltdown, or that you most certainly will have a horrible time or experience?
How is that a good or preferable thing?
So in this case, the choice is to do (or not do) a thing according to what’s best for your well-being and peace of mind.
4. Remain calm.
When we are hurt or angered by someone (and toxic people are often masters at hurting or angering others), our response is often swift, emotional, intense and potentially mean (because we want to attack the source that’s hurt or angered us).
None of this helps to improve the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
The next time you’re in a situation where a negative person challenges you, baits you or is aggressive toward you, try to remain calm.
Calmness does a few things.
It allows you to think clearly.
It gives you more time to choose how you will act or react given the situation.
It allows you to have more control in a situation.
And it allows an opportunity for the toxic person to de-escalate their emotions.
All of those things are helpful in a tense or troublesome situation and can contribute to a more desirable outcome.
5. Be aware of your own emotional triggers.
We all have emotional issues that we’re especially sensitive about, past experiences that still hurt, or subjects that make us particularly angry.
Any or all of these can constitute emotional triggers; our emotional “tipping points” most often rooted in past negative experiences.
Know your triggers.
Doing so helps you to keep your emotions under control, especially when someone tries to drag you into their drama or bait you into an altercation.
6. Accept that you cannot (nor is it your responsibility to) change the person.
If Uncle Willie is an intolerant, narrow-minded, short-sighted son-of-a-gun who has been that way all of his life, you’re not going to change that. Not now, not ever.
So when Uncle Willie says or does something that causes you to feel the need to respond to his behavior, you can choose one of two things:
Simply don’t respond, even if you want to. That stops any potential problem. You may feel a bit frustrated, but the feeling will pass and you will have avoided a potentially unpleasant situation.
If you really feel the need to express a difference in opinion, point of view or demonstrate that you don’t condone his actions or behavior, do or say what you must, then drop it.
Battling against him with the idea that you will eventually “get through” to him, change his perspectives or wear him down to come around to your way of seeing or doing things is simply a waste of your time and energy.
Let it go.
The bottom line in all this is there will always be people who cross our paths who are downright toxic.
Unfortunately, some of those people may be our family members, which means they’re much more likely to be a part of our lives.
But, they don’t have to be. To what extent they are a part of your life or affect you and your life is really up to you.
I have met or come across a number of people in my experience who have had dreadful life experiences and people in their lives.
But these same people now live happy, successful, toxic-free lives because they no longer surround themselves with such people.
They don’t invite that level of toxicity to co-exist with them in their daily lives.
And when they do come into contact with negative people, their attitude and response is such that the negativity of the other person is of no consequence to them.
It has no lasting affect.
The word toxic means poison.
And what do you do with poison?
You completely avoid it, you handle it with extreme care, and if you happen to come into direct contact with it, you waste no time in administering an antidote to counteract it and neutralize its effects.
The same principles apply here. ‘Nuff said.
(Note: The information contained in this article does not apply to dangerous or abusive situations. For those types of situations, you should seek the advice and help of trained professionals in your local area.)
Kimberly Clay is the founder and creative force behind What She Say. She’s a business professional, writer and editor who’s been creating and managing digital content for nearly twenty years. Her work is now focused in the areas of self-improvement and personal development, and she is passionate about helping other individuals, especially women, to find a path for living their best life.
Thank you so much for this post. My family has always made everyone feel like they must endure. Well, I’m almost 40 and this shit ends with me. I do feel guilty for distancing myself, but I know it’s in my best interest. I was always waiting for someone to come save and I learned that 1. help is not coming and 2. the only person who can save me, is me.
This post will help keep me strong.
I am so happy that you enjoyed this post, and happier still that you are moving forward in your journey. It takes awareness and an abundance of courage and understanding to move beyond unhealthy, negative relationships, especially when dealing with family.
And while I understand your sense of guilt about distancing yourself from certain people/relationships (because most of us are taught from an early age to value family relationships, and we should), when those relationships do nothing but hurt, wound or damage us, then we have to consider them from a different perspective, act according to our own best interests and protect ourselves.
Thank you for your comments. I commend your strength, and wish you much happiness in the future.
All The Best,
this post really helped me. I’m really young,I’m only 13,but i can understand things. I live with my dad,my stepmother,her 3 daughters,and my dad’s and my stepmother’s 2 kids. my stepmother’s oldest daughter is 10,but she’s quite mature.not meaning that she’s more rational,she just knows about some things that a kid at her age doesn’t usually know. she really is a toxic person. i go to 2 therapists and both of them told me to understand my stepsister because she’s just a child. but she’s way more than this. we sleep in the same room in a small apartment and it’s really not well. sorry for the long comment,it’s just that no one seems to understand me.
Hi Selena. I hear you and I understand. I’m so very glad the information was helpful to you, and I wish you all good things.