Toxic families can have a massive negative impact on our lives, especially when they are controlling, abusive, non-supportive, and/or manipulative. Dealing with toxic family members is tricky, as you can’t just “break up” with your parents or a sibling – especially when you live with them! However, there is hope for changing this situation, and there are ways to improve your life. Start taking your life back by using some of the coping strategies below.
- Stop feeling obligated
Often we feel obligated to love and obey our family members regardless of how they treat us. The unconditional love that is expected from close family members is thus sometimes a one-way affair, with abusive and manipulative family members taking advantage of those they are expected to support and care for. It is hard to accept that those who are close to you have failed you, and that you may need to abandon expectations of finally receiving unconditional love from your blood relatives. However, when you stop feeling emotionally obligated to your toxic family members and start to seek out more reciprocal relationships, things can improve greatly.
- Create boundaries, and enforce them
If possible, move out if you share a home with your toxic family members. This is essential for reducing their control on your life, and for creating boundaries that will allow you to lead your own life. If you cannot move out of a shared living space, start setting boundaries. If your family is intrusive and controlling, do your best to own your own space. Let your family know that your room/mail/food is your own personal property, and that your relationships and personal affairs are your own. If they disrespect these requests, you may need to take extreme measures such as putting locks on your door and cupboards, and sending your mail to another address. It’s not ideal, but one solution until you can get your own private space away from the toxic influence.
- If necessary, limit contact
Once you have managed to move out of your home, limit contact if the situation does not improve. Plan visits ahead of time, set aside specific times for phone calls, and be strict with your rules. Limit the amount of time spent with toxic family members, but also remain calm and diplomatic if you want to keep a basic relationship. The last resort is to cut contact altogether, which is an option in cases of extreme abuse or neglect.
- Seek professional help
Living in a toxic family environment can be damaging to your self-image, mood, and relationships. If possible, seek family counselling (even just to have a neutral, safe space to talk to your family) as well as individual counselling to make sure that you have the time and resources to work through any issues that may have arisen from living in a toxic environment.
The sooner you start to reclaim your life, the better your chances will be for maintaining some kind of relationship with your family, and being able to look forward to an independent, happy, and fulfilling future.