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Toxic Family: How To Know When It's Time To Let Them Go

walking away alone

I believe that protecting your peace is something you must do at all costs. And that means from toxic workplaces, situations, friends, and family too. But many of us have trouble truly letting go of these negative contributors to our lives, and it often takes way too long to finally take action and have the courage to walk away. When has it gone too far? When is it truly unsalvageable? When is it just not worth it, regardless of who the person is to you? Here's some food for thought with knowing when it's time to let them go, for good.

When you're always walking on eggshells during interactions

If you're always being forced to overthink everything you do and say around someone, it's probably a sign that it's a problematic relationship, not built on mutual respect. Is this person a hothead? Erratic and impulsive in their behavior? Often jumping to conclusions? Who would want to spend time with someone or nurture a relationship like that? A healthy dynamic with anyone - especially family - should always start with honest and open communication.

When you're constantly being made to feel bad about yourself

Toxic people love to point the finger, especially when they have contributed to a problem. It's never them, it's always you. There's always an excuse, and a double standard for why your behavior is the issue. These types are always "cutting to the white meat," meaning they take it way too far, and hit you where they know it would hurt the most, even when what they're saying isn't true. Their only goal during a disagreement is to make you feel bad, and thus make themselves out to be the righteous ones. Especially when it's family, they often know you better than most people. They know what you deeply care about and exactly what types of things to say to hurt your feelings. If this person goes there every single time, spewing regular disrespect and hurling insults with no regard for a future relationship with you, it's time to reevaluate the place they have in your life.

When you consistently witness them harming others

Any time someone is reactionary, and handles even the slightest conflict with aggressive texting, name-calling, shouting, physical abuse or threats of such, or belligerent selfishly-motivated behavior, they are 100% a problem. Worse is if this is something that happens consistently to all the people closest to them. Maybe they're the passive aggressive type that are more "silent killers" when it comes to hurting people? Either way, this is a major flag, and a signal to you that you need to create some distance, fast. It's often best to consider this: if they don't even take proper care of themselves, or the most vulnerable and closest people to them, then they definitely will not be any better with you. Follow the patterns here, and realize that someone who has a problem with everyone, is a problem themselves.

When they never apologize

We've all met people like this who drive us crazy. Always beating around the bush, sweeping things under the rug, or dancing around anything but an "I'm sorry." If you have a family member who is supposed to love you unconditionally, but continuously upsets you, makes excuses for their actions, and then wants to pretend like it never happened - they are probably not going to change. This is a serious character flaw, and not something you're likely to help them fix. Consider at what point "enough is truly enough" and this person must finally face repercussions for what they do. I think it's best to let toxic people reap what they've sown; if you can't be accountable for your mistakes and make an effort to be better, then you deserve the isolation and loneliness that are the consequences of that.

When they're constantly a victim of the problems they create

Narcissistic personality, anyone? Toxic traits associated with these types of people are typically a lack of awareness regarding others, lack of empathy, arrogance, a sense of entitlement, willingness to exploit or take advantage of others, negatively reacting to criticism (but happy to dole it out), and constantly expecting special treatment. They are the types of folks that ignite the fire, fan the flame, make it rage, and then step away and act like they don't know how it happened. Usually, these kinds of people have the same types of trouble with friends, in the workplace, or just out in general society. Something is always a problem, someone is always out to get them, they are always the victim. Once you see the pattern, you find yourself never really being able to take them at face value anymore. You always nod and listen, with an inner narrative wondering what the "real story" is, and what they've likely done to contribute to their bad circumstances. Remember, you are not a special snowflake when it comes to toxic people. The disrespectful way they treat you is usually how they treat others, too. And it's important to keep in mind that the way they talk about other people and situations to you, is most likely how they speak about you to others as well.

When they only reach out to you when they need something

Toxic people are often riddled with selfish characteristics. It's all about them, all the time. Even when they seemingly honestly ask how you're doing, it's almost always immediately followed by the real reason they're reaching out to you. Whether they need to vent, ask for a favor, or push something else on you, it's definitely a sign that you need to put less value into this relationship if they are only showing up when they want something that benefits them.

When substance abuse is a factor

Though it's not in all cases, substance abuse is definitely a major justification to make the choice to remove a toxic family member from your life. Bad traits and behaviors are usually exacerbated when an already problematic person is now under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Not that they'd handle the feedback well anyway, but chances are that someone else has already tried to broach the topic with them and they still haven't cut back or stopped. You cannot reason with someone who is under the influence. You cannot have real conversations with someone who is constantly trying to subdue themselves and escape the responsibilities of their life. This is not a serious person. Stop giving them serious control over how they make you feel.

When you've already forgiven them time and time again

Whether or not you even received a formal apology, if you've made the choice to accept the bad behavior, look the other way, let it go for the sake of your mutual family or friends, or genuinely forgiven them in your heart, and you're still seeing that they are doing the same things over and over again, you have your answer. This is a person that is a "net negative" to your life - meaning not only do they not ultimately add anything positive, but it's not even a break-even relationship, it only ends up bad for you every time. Ever hear the phrase, "fool me once, shame on you - but fool me twice, shame on me"? It may be time to apply that here. At what point will you recognize the truth? A toxic person will add toxicity to everything they touch. It's best to just stay away.

When they refuse to demonstrate growth and change

When you've tried ad nauseam, and to no avail, it may be time to throw in the towel. We justify giving so many extra chances to family because, well, they're family. Yes it's true, you can't choose your relatives, but you can choose who gets access to you, and who doesn't. I have lived long enough now to realize you can't change people, they have to want to change themselves. In rare cases, this is possible, and it's a wonderful thing to witness. Watching someone you care about make the changes to better their life and thus the ones around them is really special - but it's special because it's rare. If the toxic person in your life continuously exhibits hurtful behavior, makes you feel bad, and makes zero effort to actually improve themselves, their habits, and the way they treat you and your fellow loved ones, then you have to have the strength and respect for yourself to let them go.

No undeserving person should ever be given the power to control your emotions, thoughts, or inner peace.

We need to stop giving power to toxic people. Allowing bad behavior to infest a family and infect and spread like cancer, is only empowering that person to continue hurting others. And especially if you truly love them, you know what is best? To let them see and feel the ramifications of their actions. That may be the only way they can one day see the error of their ways. Once everyone has reached their limit (though everyone's thresholds will ultimately be frustratingly different), the toxic people will be forced to stand alone and confront the real reasons they are in this position. Allow them to feel isolated. Allow them to struggle. Allow them to suffer. Make the conscious choice to take care of you, and be kind and empathetic toward others you know have also been harmed. Grow in your ability to walk in kindness, especially toward yourself. No one deserves to be treated poorly for no reason. No one deserves to be gaslit and demonized over and over again. And no one deserves to be abused by their own family. Keep those people in your hearts and hope for their healing, but do the right thing for you (and them), and know when it's ultimately time to walk away and preserve your peace.


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