Dealing with toxic family members

The truth is, there are things you can do to turn toxic family members into — yes — friends. But how!?!
family arguing with eachother with kid on the floor with head on their knees

Dealing with toxic family members

Many of us think we have toxic family members. There’s always that one relative whose political rants offend everyone, or an estranged parent that can’t seem to see eye to eye with us about our careers, romantic partners, life choices and friends. Situations like these can make dealing with family not only hard, but seemingly impossible. 

But is that really the case? The truth is, there are things you can do to turn toxic family members into — yes — friends. While it’s not always easy, and some of it involves giving up past and current resentments, doing so can radically improve the relationships you share with family. Read on to learn three ways to deal with toxic family members and improve your relationships with relatives of all kinds.  

1. Focus on what you can control

When it comes to toxic family members, there’s a simple, yet hard, admission that must be made: you can’t control them. No matter what you say to try to convince, persuade or change the mind of a toxic family member or relative, ultimately, their choices, actions and behaviors are up to them. Whether they betrayed you, disappeared on you or created a big scene while the two of you were out, you can’t change what happened, nor can you prevent future infractions.  

So what can you do? You can focus on what you can control. Specifically, there are three things you can control in the face of a toxic family member: how you think, feel and behave. These three things will always be under your influence, which means how you choose to process your relatives’ behaviors will be under your control, too.

Which, fortunately, means you can… 

2. Focus on the things you do like about them

Spending all your energy on what you don’t like about a toxic family member is painful. More than that, it’s pointless — what is harboring endless anger and resentment for them going to do? All that does is make you bitter, disengaged and upset. 

Instead, try focusing on what you do like about difficult family members. You and your uncle might not share political beliefs, but he might be funny, a good cook, and great with your kids. Or maybe your mom is always questioning your career choices… instead of looking at it as an annoying intrusion, consider the fact that she’s taking an active interest in your life.  

3. Focus on your goal 

When dealing with family, what’s your goal? Most people don’t look at family members as “goals,” but recontextualizing your interactions so that you know exactly what you want to get out of them can be a helpful way to mitigate bad feelings about family. 

For instance, maybe your goal is to be closer to your extended relatives. If that’s the case, try giving up some of the anger you have toward them for their differences. Or, if your goal is to be less agitated in general, practice letting their comments slide. Sure, this sounds like a radically different way to approach toxic family members, and that’s the point: unless getting angry and burning your relationship bridges is the goal, you shouldn’t be working toward it.  

Ultimately, the real goal is to feel as good as you can as often as you can, and that doesn’t happen when you’re constantly at your family members’ throats. That goal can only be achieved when you let go of what doesn’t matter and start thinking differently about the relationships in your life. By dispensing with negative beliefs and replacing them with new, better beliefs, you can come to enjoy — or at least tolerate — family members who might have once seemed totally toxic.

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