How To Interact With Toxic Relatives

Family Therapy

How To Interact With Toxic Relatives

With the holiday season in full swing, many people will encounter family members they have not regularly seen or spoken to throughout the past year. While television shows and movies often portray time with family as a nostalgic blend of re-connection, joyous celebration, and easy conversation, unfortunately, this isn’t always based in reality. To put it bluntly, some family members can be downright toxic.


There are countless ways familial relationships can deteriorate over time and become a source of incredible stress. The triggers can be any number of major injustices or even petty reasons no one can easily recall. Perhaps one of your parents won’t accept who you’re dating. You could have a sibling with an addiction issue they refuse to acknowledge. Maybe your grandfather won’t stop telling inappropriate jokes even though you’ve asked him nicely to quit at least 40 times.


  1. Clearly communicate your boundaries 


Whatever the reason, and whoever the source, the best way to begin interacting with toxic relatives is to set clear boundaries.


This can be tough, but it’s vital. A good place to start is by thinking about the specific kinds of boundaries you need to put in place to protect yourself and your loved ones. Once you decide on this, you will need to clearly communicate this decision with those closest to you. Having the courage to openly clarify –and ask — for what you need out of a relationship is pivotal for creating a healthy dynamic now and into the future.


Need an example? It could be something as simple as “I’m happy to spend time with you, but if the conversation turns to politics, I will need to leave. I trust you respect my decision.” Or “If you use, I cannot be in your presence.” Or you could try something as simple as “Our brands of humor don’t align, so I think it’s best we keep the conversation topical.” Obviously, the tone and subject matter of this discussion will change to fit your individual scenario, but strive to be polite yet firm.


While this usually helps, some truly toxic people are simply disinterested in an easy win/win situation based entirely on mutual interests. If the toxic individual gets belligerent or combative, say your piece and walk away. Take a walk around the block or a short drive if you need to cool down. Distance yourself from the toxic person and don’t reengage. Remember, their anger is not a personal attack on you. 


  1. Use your poker face.


When dealing directly with a toxic family member, avoid showing any emotion. This is another challenge, but it works wonders. Toxic people often feed off ruffling other’s feathers. They are also known to say hurtful things to try and get under their target’s skin. It will be difficult, but it’s best to let these comments roll off your back — especially as they are rarely based on truth.  Additionally, when a toxic person spews hate, avoid rushing to answer.  Breathe deeply, think creatively about your response, and calm down before replying. Keep in mind that any time the toxic person sees they have induced danger, apprehension, or sadness in you, they believe they have ‘won’ and exerted power over you. Keep any conversation you have with them 100 percent neutral. Be confident, cool, calm, and collected. 


  1. Know your soft spots


This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but it basically means you should take some time to understand what triggers you. Everyone has buttons that hurt when pushed. Know what these are because toxic individuals will often try to press them. Be proactive. Be ready. 


  1. Take a break and cut ties for a while.


Just the word ‘estrangement’ stirs up feelings of secrecy and inadequacy. But sometimes, in these types of toxic situations, taking a break from the family member (or members) wreaking havoc can be the best thing to do. 


A recent study of nearly 1,000 estranged families found the most common reason parents cut off their teenage or adult-aged children were issues with their kid’s partner or the child’s perceived sense of entitlement and their penchant for demanding money from their aging parents. 


Likewise, the same study discovered older-aged children usually cut off their parents because of toxic behavior—specifically situations rooted in “anger, cruelty, or ongoing disrespect.” Adult kids also reported cutting ties—even temporarily—due to feelings of rejection, unacceptance, or other differences

Family HolidayThis goes to show that many families tackle the same problems, emotions, and hurt feelings. It’s important to remember no family unit is perfect, and all have their sore spots, healing wounds, and points of contention. And there’s no use hiding them. (In fact, that can often make matters worse!) 


If your family is asking hard questions or having immense difficulty getting along, ViewPoint Center can help you find the answers. ViewPoint’s private campus offers treatment in a personalized, intimate environment perfectly tailored to healing.


Forget moving among disjointed doctors, therapists, and programs: ViewPoint’s assessment and treatment alike take place in one convenient location. And our personalized and centralized approach allows treatment professionals to accurately gauge and understand every aspect of a family’s struggles and develop enduring solutions that truly work.


ViewPoint is also intentionally small to foster one-on-one relationships, listen intently to client’s needs, and expertly craft the groundwork for recovery that lasts.