I Don’t Like My Family: How To Step Back From Toxic Relatives

Updated May 22, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Most people have heard the cliché “blood is thicker than water,” often as an excuse to justify letting bad behavior slide. In reality, you shouldn't have to accept being treated poorly by someone because they're your family. Read on to learn more about recognizing toxic behavior in your relatives, distancing yourself, and getting support from a licensed therapist.

What Does It Mean To Be Toxic?

“Toxic” can mean many things, depending on who’s asked to define it. Generally, it refers to someone who consistently causes emotional, mental, or physical distress in the people they interact with through overwhelmingly negative words or actions.

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Do You Need Support For Stepping Back From Toxic Family Members?

“Healthy relationships are characterized by: compassion, security, safety, freedom of thinking, sharing, listening, mutual love and caring, healthy debates and disagreements, and respectfulness, especially when there are differences in opinions.

“Toxic relationships are characterized by: insecurity, abuse of power and control, demandingness, selfishness, insecurity, self-centeredness, criticism, negativity, dishonesty, distrust, demeaning comments and attitudes, and jealousy.” — Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D.

How To Recognize Toxic Family Members

Often, toxic behavior can be challenging to recognize because people exhibiting it can be either subtle and manipulative or openly needy, controlling, and self-centered. Explore signs that behavior in a family member could be toxic and harmful to you. While the following list is not complete, it can provide an idea of the behaviors you may see in toxic relatives. 

Signs A Relative May Be Toxic

  • Holding you to unrealistic standards
  • Constantly harsh criticism
  • Your needs are not met
  • They control your behavior
  • You don’t feel loved or respected
  • They show no compassion
  • Alcohol or substance use disorders
  • Verbal, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Chronic dysfunction
  • Refusal to accept responsibility
  • Preying on your goodwill or fear
  • Gaslighting you 
  • Lying and manipulation
  • Undermining your relationships 
  • Invalidating or ignoring your feelings
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Creating drama and crises
  • Yelling, cursing, and name calling
  • Belittling beliefs or choices
  • Playing the victim

What Are The Consequences Of Toxic Relationships?

It can be easy to go back on your commitment to cut ties with toxic people because they play an expansive role in your life. You may love them and don’t want to remove them from your life, but sometimes, you need to save your own health and well-being. Take a deeper look at the consequences toxic relationships with relatives can have on your physical and mental health. 

“Every family has moments of discord when they argue or situations when they unintentionally hurt each other. Some families have a history of conflict or friction during every encounter, leaving family members worn out and frazzled when they are together. If you become the worst version of yourself around your family, you may have been raised in a toxic environment.” — San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital

They Can Take A Toll On Your Mental Health

Dealing with a family member’s consistently negative behavior can affect your mental health in many ways. You may develop symptoms related to stress, anxiety, or depression. If your symptoms persist longer than two weeks and cause significant distress or disruption to your life, please speak with your doctor or a mental health professional about evaluation and treatment. 

Decreased Self-Esteem

Constant negativity in your close relationships or family members who treat you poorly can affect your self-esteem and damage your self-worth. 

You May Miss Them—Or The Idea Of A Healthy Family

Studies show that some adults estranged from one or both parents reported experiencing a considerable sense of loss throughout their lifespan. However, the majority said they didn’t miss the estranged relative but rather the benefits and comforts of a healthy, supportive family dynamic. 

Your Physical Health May Worsen

According to a 2007 study, toxic relationships can affect your physical health, putting you at a higher risk of cardiac events like heart attacks. Additionally, the stress, anxiety, and other negative feelings you experience can affect your physical health. Physical stress symptoms can include headache, stomachache, muscle tension, pain, and other problems. 

Knowing When It’s Time To Cut Ties

  • Their behavior has an intense impact on you.
  • The relationship offers nothing positive.
  • You recognize their behavior as abusive.
  • You tell others about how you feel, and no one listens.
  • They see no problem with their behavior and never apologize.
  • They continuously make you feel bad about yourself.

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How To Distance Yourself From Toxic Relatives

When you’ve come to the realization that your toxic family member isn’t going to change their behavior no matter how much it hurts you, it may be helpful to know some tips for distancing yourself from healthy connections—family or otherwise. 

Acknowledge That Their Words Or Actions Harm You

Something that may help you distance yourself from destructive family relationships is recognizing and acknowledging that their behavior harms you, whether or not it is technically abusive. Denying the damage they cause can make it harder to let go. 

Accept That They Won’t Change

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if you want it with everything you have. Some people won’t change their behavior, and it can be less painful to accept that and cut ties than continuing to wish for more and being disappointed. 

Cut Off Communication

Making a clean break can help you, especially when you’re starting to distance yourself. Refusal to engage when they reach out to you can be difficult, but it may help you in the long run. If they won't accept your wish to cut communication, consider blocking them so they cannot contact you. 

Don’t Respond To Arguments

When a toxic person senses they are losing control and cannot manipulate you any longer, they may try to goad you into arguments or lie and influence others into verbally attacking you for daring to defend your well-being. Don't engage. It won't lead to anything productive and will only hurt you more. 

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Do You Need Support For Stepping Back From Toxic Family Members?

Build A Positive, Supportive Environment

Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Many people find more comfort and support from the families they choose rather than those they’re born to. Family can be a fluid concept for many people, and blood relations aren’t necessarily entitled to a place in your life if they insist on mistreating you. 

Speak To A Professional For Support

Breaking away from your family can be tricky, especially if others don't believe or support your concerns. You may benefit from the support and guidance of a mental health professional who can help you cope and find practical, healthy ways to communicate with your family. 

Remember That You Have The Right To A Happy, Healthy Life

While no one is entitled to a place in your life if they treat you poorly, you do have the right to pursue a happy, healthy life. Sometimes, that means removing contact with toxic, negative people. They may try to make you feel guilty for cutting ties, but you are allowed to protect yourself. 

Prioritize Your Self-Care

Focus on caring for yourself as you create distance from destructive family relationships. Safeguard your mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being by working robust self-care into your daily routine. Practice healthy sleep hygiene, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. 

Figure Out How To Move Forward

Moving forward after cutting ties with a toxic family can be difficult. You must decide how to handle family events where you may encounter them. Will you skip the event altogether and miss time with other relatives? There are many things to consider, and how supportive your other family members are can affect how you move forward. 

When To Consider Reconciliation 

  • Time has passed, and they have made significant changes, such as quitting alcohol or drugs. 
  • They have received mental health treatment and want to apologize for past wrongs. 
  • You want to try again for a healthy relationship. 

How Therapy Can Help Distance Yourself From Toxic Family

Many people cut ties with toxic, hostile, or abusive relatives to safeguard their own mental, physical, and emotional well-being. If you think you may need a clean break for self-preservation, consider working with a licensed therapist online through a virtual therapy platform like Regain. Therapy can help you identify family members’ harmful behavior and find healthy, practical coping skills to manage your emotional reactions and stress. You can also learn communication strategies to help you express your feelings and needs, and how to recognize, understand and share your emotions. If you are a parent or guardian seeking support for your child due to a family member’s behavior, TeenCounseling offers online counseling to children ages 12 to 19

Researchers from the American Psychological Association have been studying the effectiveness of various therapy delivery forms. Studies show that online and face-to-face therapy offer similar outcomes. However, teletherapy provides some unique advantages, such as lower costs, shorter wait times, and connect to a comprehensive network of licensed therapists. If you don’t find a mental healthcare provider who makes you feel comfortable and blends well with your situation and personality, it's simple to connect with someone else. 

Takeaway 

Knowing when to say enough is enough can be challenging when family members treat you badly. The information in this article offers some insight into how to recognize toxic behavior in your relatives, distance yourself, and find support to heal and move on in therapy. 

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