Family dynamics can be tricky and we know that no family is perfect. Familial relationships can be some of the best support systems, but they can also be difficult and harmful if you are dealing with toxic family members. Navigating these relationships can be challenging, but also incredibly important when you have committed to a life of Radical Self Love.
Reflect on your relationships with family. Are all of your familial relationships toxic or is it a mix of healthy and unhealthy? What is working and what isn’t? Take time to take stock of how these family members are treating you and how you are treating them. Have you allowed this behavior for a long time or it is a newer development? If it is new, can you pinpoint what has changed? You could journal about it or speak to a friend. You could also discuss these relationships with a therapist, if it would be helpful to have an unbiased professional’s input.
Take a Breather
Sometimes space is the best option. It gives both people time to look at the relationship and then come back together to consciously make some changes. This is easier in some relationships more than others, and you need to decide if this is the best first step to gain some perspective. Limiting the amount of time you spend with someone who can be toxic gives you more autonomy and allows you to decide which situations you are willing to participate in with them.
Negotiate New Terms
Once you have looked at your relationships and taken some space, then you can make even more changes or modifications that lead to healing. Do you need a two-day maximum rule when you visit your parents? Are you only available to babysit for your sister twice a month? Do you need to implement rules about lending money or your giving of your time? What would a healthy relationship look and feel like? What steps can you take to build that relationship? Often in toxic relationships, the other person isn’t responsive to rational conversations and actions. What can you agree to within the confines of this relationship currently? What can you not agree to?
Boundaries are Best
Boundaries are the loving guidelines and allowances we put out in the world and in our relationships to keep ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally safe and healthy. Boundaries can seem threatening to a toxic person. Boundaries work to prevent those enmeshments from taking hold, and protect you from the criticism and demands of someone who doesn’t have your best interest at heart. In family relationships, we sometimes make a choice to continue seeing a toxic person because we love them and love is a complicated thing. Boundaries allow us to continue to love someone in a safe way. A toxic person will not always respect the boundaries you put in place, but you can be a broken record and continue to enforce them in a loving manner.
My mom really struggled with the emergence of my boundaries. She has brought to my attention many times over the years that they seem cruel and unnecessary. I know that the opposite is actually true. Sometimes she respects them and sometimes she doesn’t, but when that happens, I set my boundary again or create a new one so we can continue to be in each other’s lives.
Let Go of the Fantasy
Sometimes the deepest healing comes from letting go of the illusion that your family member is a perfect person who knows how to love you the way you need them to. Letting go of the fantasy is giving up the false security of control and ego of believing you deserved a different type of parent or sibling. This can be one of the hardest things you can do in a relationship, but it has so much power because it can free you from unrealistic expectations and continued disappointment.
For a long time, I held onto this idea that my family members would and could change to be what I needed them to be. That idea trapped me in a cage of my own making. I gave up being a “fixer” and trying to control the way they treated me. It was devastating to realize our relationships might never look the way I wanted them too. Sonya Renee Taylor wrote a profoundly moving reflection on Mother’s Day a couple years ago that brought me much needed healing. She writes, “We were never promised ‘good’ mothers so if you got one, rejoice. If you did not, let go of the anger of not getting something you were never actually promised. Your mother was only ever a human. Never more or less.” I have reread those words so many times since she first posted it. Her truth gave me much needed peace and allowed me to move into a new way of interacting with my mom.
Sometimes when we can let go of the fantasy, a real more loving relationship can begin in time.
Letting go can also mean moving on. We are engrained to try to stay and deal with toxic behavior because we are conditioned to not leave family. Blood is thicker than water and other familial clichés lead us to ignore and accept toxic behavior for years or lifetimes. Sometimes healing comes from severing ties with a toxic family member. Maybe that separation is temporary, but maybe it is for a long time or the rest of your life.
In the end, you have the right to decide what is best for you and just because they are family, doesn’t mean you have any obligation to stay. Severing those relationships might have a ripple effect and make your other family relationships more difficult, but maybe that decision is the catalyst that allows others to negotiate boundaries and make healthy changes in their own relationships.
Finding healthy ways to disengage can also help you let go and move on. It is a process, but worth it, whether you physically leave the relationship or let go of the relationship idea you were invested in.
The Family You Build
One of the most beautiful realizations is that we are capable of building our own family with people who are not toxic and who love us in healthy ways.
We work to make relationships with people who build us up, focus on our talents and strengths, and provide the reciprocal love we crave. Our friendships bring us perspective and grace. When you are working to heal family relationships, it helps to lean on the family of friends you have made. They can often offer comfort and perspective when you are navigating the difficult decisions in dealing with family dynamics and toxic relationships.
[Feature Image: Black and white image of person with long dark hair holding their face in the palm of their hand. Pexels.com]