Thursday, November 02, 2006

Toxic Relatives

Family conjures up a range of emotionals issues. For the most part, when we think "Family," society tells us we're supposed to have warm, fuzzy, safe feelings. But really, families are much more complex and the very word can conjure up conflicting feelings of love, abandonment, resentment, safety, fear, hate and happiness, depending on your experience of family or even just upon which family members you're talking about.

I've read quite a bit on dealing with toxic people, and most of the advice involves cutting them out of your life. That's fine if it's a co-worker or a friend, but with family, it's harder. First, they may not be toxic to everyone in your immediate family. You may see them when you attend family events. They may have legal rights to see your children. Or you may not be able to do it psychologically able to do it because they are your family and perhaps have so poisoned you, you simply don't know how to walk away from the abuse.

Or if you're me, you may be married to someone who has a hard time walking away. And you may feel very, very guilty about wanting them to. Which is exactly where I am today.

This is how you recognize a Toxic Person:
Toxic people are extremely negative, nasty, miserable, whiny, jealous, inconsiderate, financially irresponsible, selfish, and abusive. They can be criminally minded, mentally ill, or just plain evil. Toxic people are also the ones that abuse alcohol or drugs and then hurt other people. The toxic individual exudes the dark side of human nature all of the time. They cause other people pain, craziness, and aggravation. They are not hard to recognize. Just take notice of how you feel when you are around one of these people. It will be easy to determine. You will immediately feel sick and experience physical symptoms like a headache or stomach pain. Or you will just feel like you are going crazy, but don't worry that is the true mark of being with a toxic person. Remember this so that you will be better able to identify a toxic person. That is the first step towards eliminating one from your life. -
from Dealing with toxic people

This is exactly how these people affect me, my husband and everybody else who knows them.

With the Holidays coming up, it will be harder to avoid Toxic Relatives. This piece offers some advice for deciding whether to attend events where you know you'll see Toxic Relatives. It suggests you ask simply whether opting out would feel "freeing or binding" for you. If you feel relieve, dont' go. Then it discusses how to address the guilt that may result. The article also suggests you "divorce" toxic relatives, which I just love.

I like the idea of doing a gut check. Recently I read that you can quickly make decisions on even complicated questions by simply asking what will bring you peace. It's a variation on that theme. For me, it would bring me peace to divorce these people and ignore any contact from them for the rest of my life.

One more note: If you've cut a Toxic Family member out of your life, ABC wants to talk to you. Good luck.

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Blogger rednikki said...

I just wanted to let you know we linked to your post from this page:
Thanks very much!

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My partner of 31 yrs. has a sister who hates me. Her husband does too. Now the one daughter has left me messages on my cell,& I feel unwanted by them. Another family member is here from out of town, we are having Thanksgiving @ the home of the sister who does not like me. I don't know what to do, I feel I should just try to ignore the past problems. My partner has cancer & I just want all of us to get along. I said I would go, but I am feeling worried about all of it.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Oliver said...

The definition of a toxic relative could be far more complex and nuanced than the one provided in the article. Toxic family need not display the obvious social vices such as criminality and substance abuse as listed above. They can even be people who are greatly admired by many.
What classifies them as toxic is the intensely negative effect they have on the life of even a single family member. Sometimes this happens when a family generally shares a particularly strongly held belief and one member of the family breaks ranks. In such instances the majority of the family can be toxic and often this venom will be aimed at a particular individual. It is easy to imagine this scenario in the context of strongly held religious or political beliefs. This effect is often exacerbated if the family is particularly close-knit, as the breaking of ranks is seen as a threat to the whole.
In my wife's case such a scenario led to an all out attack from her family (well-respected and even admired people) that was the stuff of nightmares. We have subsequently allowed them back into our lives but the cost has been great. They never acknowledged the damage done.
In retrospect I know that we should have cut them out completely. Not doing so is tantamount to a rape victim that is placed in a position where she is forced to have a continued relationship with the rapist. The possibility for closure becomes remote as it is inevitable that the victim sees herself as co-responsible. This is well documented in child abuse cases but holds equally true in the emotional abuse of adults.
From prior experience I can advise that unless the family member/s openly admit to wrongdoing and promise change (and start showing it immediately) it is best to cut them out of your lives completely.
This is often the part where many stumble. When the victims are a (married) couple the toxic family is invariably the one partner’s direct family and the other’s in-laws. The sense of confusion and hurt suffered by the direct family victim sometimes creates an inability to act firmly and decisively. Also, the potential for later resentment and guilt makes it difficult for the other partner to force them to make a clean break.
My advice is that life is short. Never allow people in your life who make you miserable. Not for a second.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what happens when the whole extended family is toxic?

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear anonymous,

what do you do when your entire family is toxic? that is my situation as well. And one thing I know for sure is that each person in my family has issues that ho or she has not dealt with, it is very clear in the raging behavior I have experienced for years. But, I moved to another state and if they want to interact with me, I have set-up boundaires in order to protect myself. This will not work of course, I know my family, but I have to try just once more before I began cutting ties to the madness. I mean, these people must be responsible for thier own lives just as I am for mine. I allowed myself to be a target/victim for years for anything and everything these people could think-up or make-up..... not anymore!


3:46 PM  
Blogger lilly said...

I have one of those in-law families that are ALL Toxic. It's like they are a CULT. I married a man who has 3 brothers. 2 of my first cousins who are sisters married 2 of the other brothers. If I would have known the nonsense that came along with being a part of this so called family, I would have probably thought twice about it. They have caused so much heartache in my life it's ridiculous. I still attend family fuctions like Christmas, birthdays ect. They always forget my children on Christmas or Birthdays, yet if I don't get anything for theirs the Gossip Mongers will go to work. I cut the mother in law off now I feel my only option is to cut off the rest. My husband however has no backbone. Avoids conflicts at all costs and carriers guilt like a sack a potatos. But he will admit to his friends that his family has crucified me for no reason. I am really a great person, I just don't put up with their crap and it has caused some problems. Not to mention that everyone feels entitlement to the family house, which my husband and I live in. We have a mortgage and put a lot of work into the home. I know that if I cut them off completely I will probably end up divorced. Frankly it's to the point where if that has to happen to get these people out of my life, then so be it.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am 49 years old and I am the product of two alcoholic parents who were so dysfunctional that as children we were taken away and placed in other homes. My father passed away years ago and to be honest it was a relief. My mother still lives but the relationship for me is one I am trying to cut out of my life for good. I dread every occasion that I go to her home. I get nothing positive from being around her or any of my siblings for that matter. I have a large family but no close relationships with any of them and really don't care to. The problem exists with experiencing the guilt that comes along with divorcing ones family. I am in the early stages of this process and know if I stand firm I will be the better for it. My husband is on board with me and doesn't blame me at all for this decision.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Hixie said...

Wow - this is very timely; Oliver's post.
I have just finished agitating for an end to relations with my very toxic sister, older than me - and her family of 3 daughters who are 40 and over. They each have 3 kids - she is divorced after leading a weird, nightmarish life in Peru when she dumped her husband and took off with a Peruvian man, who basically took all her money, and then left her when they returned to Canada.

This sister is 7 years older than I am, and has always used me as a scapegoat. I have 3 younger brothers, 2 of which she has managed to turn against me. The 3rd knows better and doesn't want anything to do with her. She destroyed my parents' lives, and they're both dead now, and she also destroyed our family - pushed my father into depression and serious alcoholism, and my mother into depression which I believe led to the cancer that killed her.

So - it's very serious. She has always wanted me around because she's very, very, very jealous - and wants to know what I've got, what I'm doing. She has accused me of being after her husband, she's lied about me to anyone who will listen, and so on.

Recently my husband died suddenly of a heart attack. I had not had any contact with my sister for about 10 years, or her kids. When he died, I was in the hospital and the nurses urged me to call 'family'. All I could remember was one of her daughters' surnames, and I called that - got her - she came to the hospital, and she and one of my brothers eventually set up the funeral etc., which I definitely paid for.

I was then involved with her, but aware that she wanted to live with me, since her peruvian had dumped her. She has lived with 2 of my brothers, one of them for 2 years, and seems incapable of living on her own. She was living with a daughter, then with another one, but it wasn't going well. I wasn't interested in getting that involved, and when she realized that I wasn't going to be co-operative, she went after my 18 year old daughter, who she barely knew, and slandered her.

I have objected in email, although it took me a year to get around to doing it. During the 2 years of grieving for my husband, my sister has bogged me down, and that slander really did a number. Yesteray, I sent an email, about the slandering of my daughter - to one of her daughters. I got one back that was superficial and totally refusing to acknowledge anything; and I sent a good one back. That pissed her off seriously, and I've just had a furious one back again; copied to the 3 sisters and the mother.

So - now I'm definitely an enemy, and that suits me to a T. Before that, I was in limbo, with them portraying me as something pathetic and useless. I've really angered them now, because I'm a good writer, and I've spoken the truth. As an enemy, I know where I stand, and that's just fine. It's actually very freeing, and kind of energizing.

Don't let it happen to you - cut yourself out of their lives, and make sure they know you're doing it and why. Do not go back - find yourself a "family of choice", which means friends. Accomplish as much as you can - find your friends through professional work.

Thanks - this is great.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Hixie said...

Do Not feel guilty about 'divorcing' your family. I wish I had done it years and years ago.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Hixie said...

I've decided to write a book about it - even if it's just for myself. It's going to be in the fantasy realm, using fairy tales for models - as I think a lot of princesses and heroines had toxic families to contend with, usually stepmothers and stepsisters, but also regular siblings.

This problem has been going on for centuries. These people are dangerous.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Typical advice on dealing with toxic relatives is to set boundaries because cutting them out can cause problems within the family. But in my opinion, after years of struggling with horrible feelings of worthlessness after years of emotional & verbal abuse from my narcissist father...I say cut them out completely and don't look back. There's a film "Precious" coming out and while I wasn't the victim of sexual abuse, my father said things like "no one could ever love you" to me as a young adult. If I ever have a family, he would inevitably repeat his nasty behavior with my children whenever he felt paranoid/threatened/mean/hungry/entitled. And why would I want to inflict that damage on another child? The guilt you are likely to feel and the criticism from siblings/mother isn't worth loosing more years of your life in a pointless struggle to change someone who can't be changed.

11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ways to Escape:
1) Move 500 miles away.
2.) Paper shred or burn any letters they send in don't open them. Don't write, don't call, don't answer. It feels GREAT!
3.) Get caller id and screen the phone calls.
4.) Get a cell phone and only give the number out to people who love you.
5.) When your husband leaves the room at your mother in laws, you get up and leave with him. Never tell husband you hate his mother, what would it really accomplish for you? Negative energy, keep it to yourself.
6.) Answer all questions," I don't have an answer for you at the moment", or "What ever you think is probably best." Then do what ever you damn well please.
7.) Place katsup packages under their toliet seat bumps when you leave. When they sit down they'll
get a nice surprise!
8.) Never get into a car with someone who is toxic, ever. NEVER.
9.)Advertise in the paper for new relatives, sure why not? Just like personal ads. Life is short be good to yourself!
10.) Never let a toxic person on your facebook or my space page.
11.) Tell toxic person you can't do whatever, you have to work....
Work is always an excuse to hang up, leave, not go etc...
I have a horrible mother and a mean
mother in law. I got screwed in life. But I can rely on myself.
I have a loving dog and special women friends. My children are great. I Divorced those mother nots all to protect my kids from their mean behavior. I am genuinely happy now and I really don't care either...they earned it.
If I help one person with these tips I am thrilled!!!!!!!

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, so many people in my boat! I have 3 toxic family members that make me cringe.. I feel sick to my stomach around them.. they have no respect for me and it's been 45 years of SH*# and abuse from them. I am the only one that puts on any type of family functions trying to bring people together... but they are so disrespectful.. I've had enough... one problem though is one of them is my mother and she's old... the other two are my brothers.. whom I couldn't care less if I ever saw again... it is a difficult thing to do... just exploring my options right now.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Heather said...

My mother has always been toxic. Nothing is ever good enough. She has compared me to my older sister my whole life. Every time my first husband worked on the weekend it was “Oh you don’t think he is cheating on you do you?” Or the famous “I think your husband is in love with your sister.” I went from one toxic relationship to the next. My first husband had anger issues every day. There was hardly a day that went by for the almost 20 years I was with him that I wasn’t screamed at for some ridiculous reason. He couldn’t hug me back or tell me he loved me. I was 15 when I started “dating” him and he was 23 at the time. My parents were relieved that someone was filling my time (instead of protecting their teenage daughter). My first husband and I divorced after years of separation and I met a wonderful man-hard worker, mellow, and LOVED me and wasn’t afraid to say it and show it! This man and I were married in 2004 and a few days into the marriage my mom asked me how I was getting along with one of my sister-in-laws. I made the mistake of telling my mom that I really hadn’t had a chance to get to know her. My mom’s response? “Oh I bet Jim (my husband) and her were having an affair.” My mother-in-law is a widow and of course immediately my mom accused her of being after my father because she stopped by to visit my parents one day on her way to the library. Another toxic relationship? My daughter who is 21. She is a compulsive liar and will do anything at all costs to get her way (she takes after her grandmother). She found out she was pregnant in 2008. Her and I got into an argument and the next thing I know she has on her Myspace page that I beat her and kicked her out (completely untrue)-she was living with her father, kind of hard to kick someone out of a home that isn’t yours. She e-mailed my sister that I punched her in the stomach and her baby would come out deformed. I tried to work things out for my granddaughter’s sake (she was born 12/2008). Immediately my daughter started playing head and control games using the baby. I was just devastated and heartbroken (and still am). I made the choice to step back and away from the situation for my own sanity and safety. Now my parents has jumped on the bandwagon-basically throwing money at my daughter and allowing her to treat everyone any way she wants. And the kicker? My father yells at my youngest daughter (who lives with me) that it is all my fault the way my oldest daughter is (yet I am the only one who has tried to make my oldest daughter see that she has to be responsible for her actions and tried to set some boundaries) and that I don’t care about my grandchild. And basically that I needed to come to him and my mom and “make things right”. I have tried to take the high road and keep a relationship with my parents. But it’s one sided. Any time my mom says something “oops” wrong, she pretends she doesn’t know what I am talking about. Except that she has pulled this same behavior all my life. This whole mess has just sucked everything out of me. I’m depressed. I feel guilty because I love my oldest daughter and grandchild but can’t see them because of the way my daughter is. The sad thing is my family “put on a show” and act all wonderful to the outside world but attack behind closed doors. I can’t take it anymore and have decided to let go of the relationships for good…life it way too short to be miserable all the time. I have to try to move forward…

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am holding steadfast with my "divorcing from the family" process and I must admit has not been that difficult. Yes..I have twinges of guilt or something close to it..but I know the guilt is misplaced and really doesn't belong to me. Having said that..I also must admit that divorcing ones family ..especially during the Holidays can be unsettling. I know in my heart and soul ...that this is the best move for me..but cutting something that has been a part of your life for 49 years(off and on)can have its effects. I write this for two reasons: first..because I need to get it out..and secondly..I hope it can reach someone else struggling like myself to have a own ones life..and to actually eventually enjoy ones life. Thanks for taking the time to read...

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for all that you write. I have a sect of family that is toxic, and they are now stalking me online and write vicious things to me, and I am recovering from cancer. I have cut them out, but they continue to harass me. I am trying to learn to feel better about letting them go. Strangely, it is hard, even though they are so hateful.

Thank you for all this.

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have toxic extended family. My mother, her sisters and her my grandmother. They are all the same.
They gang up on me and criticise and judge me but if I defend myself I am the 'bad guy' and it is ME who has the problem. Its awful I have this anger burning inside of me. I wish I could move away from them all as they live in my suburb.

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has taken so many years, but I feel I finally have cut off my toxic family. It all started when my mother died, i was 12, and my brothers were 3 and 5. We got along okay, until their 20's. Then they blamed me for everything, to the point of abuse. Luckily, I have a good husband and his family has accepted me, and we get along. it is not perfect, but clearly different from my aunts, uncles, and cousins idea of what it means to be a family.

I tried to make amends many times, only for the same cycle to repeat itself again and again. Save yourself 15 years...start breaking away, and don't take it personally when they get mad about it. You are doing the best thing for you. It took me 15 years to finally know that for myself.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! AND I thought it was me!!! (just kidding!) Another interjection would be to 'divorce' them before you have an ailing parent (also toxic). You can only imagine what it is like to try to coordinate responsibility with 1 or more toxic siblings (tends to run in families)! When I was 17, I left home with no thought of ever returning and then, 20 years later my mother developed macular degeneration and I was guilted into moving back to the area. So...13 years of hell later, my suggestion is "don't wait!" Believe me, if you're seen as the 'weak link' because you happen to be gentle and kind, your toxic family members won't mind destroying your sanity. I'm applying for jobs in Washington state, 2957 miles away! I do believe forgiveness is divine and it will be alot easier when I'm not being bulldozed and screamed at any longer. Boundaries don't work for toxic people - only distance, and lots of it!

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am about to marry into a family who has a toxic family member. I absolutely love my fiance, and I would never for a second think twice about marrying him if it wasn't for the fact that this toxic person is his father. My fiance and I have discussed how I feel about his father, and he has acknowledged that there is indeed a problem, but I am afraid that once we start having kids he will want to bring them around him. I am terrified of that prospect. The stories I've heard about "daddy dearest" are horrible, and I would never want my children around him. I feel helpless and know that I could back out of the wedding, but that would break my heart.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree I have a toxic family who like to take advantage financially. I have an older uncle who has used all his siblings for finances so that he can run up debts and create havoc. I have an uncle who has just manipulated me out of finances despite the fact that the previous uncle had done the same to him and still hasn't spoken to him since. This uncle thinks I'm financially responsible for the irresponsible use of his finances and debts.

My mother is just as bad and she has this habit of taking money from both my brother and I and expecting to use our names for her bills. All those that she runs up into all kinds of debts and can never pay. I had to draw the line with her and say I cannot lend her no more money until she pays back what she owes. Never has, up to now but is demanding that I still pay the uncle who manipulated me and is lying about me.

I think another one of my uncle's has noticed this trend and stays away from them all. Him and his wife have a good job and so the others expect him to pay for my grandmother and have it in their head that they shouldn't be struggling.

As much as I love them, they are all toxic and have very big toxic behaviours that are hard to handle. They don't care about any one apart from their own selves and it's disgusting to see. As I thought my family always cared about each other but it's funny to see that they actually don't. There was a time when I would stand up for my family but now I don't see the use because their values and principles are seriously screwed. Sad times...

5:32 PM  
Blogger Charlotte said...

Thank you for creating your blog. I don't feel so alone anymore.

I, too, have toxic siblings. Raised by a mentally ill and emotionally distant father and a mother who had issues of her own with toxic alcoholic and adulterous parents, there wasn't much happiness in my life unless I was on my own in the woods. Very very alone.

Even now, decades later, the toxicity of my sisters is still prevalent and I've divorced them emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I leave them in God's hands because I don't want to handle their crazy, toxic sibling rivalry anymore. I pray often to God for Him to protect me from my family. I want nothing to do with them.

What gives me peace are my cats and being in the woods. I pray to God often, too. The anxiety I grew up with as a child still haunts me to this day and being away from people and alone in a big forest quietens it.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad I found this site. I am 62 and my whole life I have lived with toxic family members. I too moved away from them only to move back to care for my Dad dying of lung cancer. Now the most hell I have ever had to put up with is my severely toxic/abusive 51 yr. old niece, Paulette. No one can imagine the hell she is causing myself and my husband. We don't have children and no family. We can't afford to move again. What can I do? She has a lot of money. Would anyone care to email me as a friend? I am falling apart. Maybe I, too am to toxic right now to email. Can you really divorce a niece? How can I get away from her or make her think I have moved.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my story. Younger sister
(slow or slightly retared, possibly
an alcohol syndrome baby) gets
into drugs, alcohol and sex as
teenager; has 2 illegitimate kids
(wants the Welfare $ increase) - has the kids taken away by DYFYS.Also gets involved in prostitution. Gets married to another drug user; he commits suicide. Goes home to live with Dad; Dad gets old and frail (in
meantime her chaos never ends);
Dad found on floor (after 3 days) and he dies after several months
in nursing home. Sister disappears
after he's in nursing home (house
sold). 4 years later sister contacts me (her sister); I send
her a monthly check to help her
out as she lives on SSI. Now it's
8 years since I've seen her; she
claims she is Christian. I agreed
to let her come to my state for a
visit. My husband is furious. Am
I a fool?? Husband says she can
go to vacation home but NEVER SET
nervous about sister coming and being actually with her and
heartsick husband is so hard -
he says sister hasn't changed.
Will I live to regret it ?? that is
the big question.

6:38 PM  

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