Toxic Family Members… Protecting your #MentalHealth ☠

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‘Blood is thicker than water’… apparently.

Families can be wonderful… but they can also be horrendous! Especially if you add money into the equation. $$££

I’ve just finished a 2 year battle with my estranged Uncle regarding the drastic (and weird) changes to my Maternal Grandmothers Will (this may I add is my Late Mothers Brother). It became really vicious, and there was lots of betrayal and lies involved.

Life decided to cram in about 100 life lessons in the space of that 2 years! My faith became stronger than ever which I am grateful for. I was forced to trust myself and know that I was fighting for justice; no matter how much certain people tried to sway me with doubt, guilt and nastiness. It really showed who my true friends were, and who I could rely on. 

Standing up for yourself is one of the cornerstones of healing; it requires honouring your feelings and trusting yourself which doesn’t come easy if you’re not used to doing it. I found an inner strength I didn’t know I had. Usually when you hit rock bottom, you find out what you’re truly made of.

I’ve not had contact with my Uncle and his family for a number of years prior to the legal battle as I didn’t like the way they behaved, nor did I agree with their ‘morals’ and how they treated me. I’m an adult now, and have the choice to cut them out to protect myself. What’s sad is that I did get along with some of my cousins, but we no longer talk due to the family situation. Unfortunately there are sometimes consequences to standing your ground. 


 

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It’s never easy to cut family members out of your life. But as you get older, you realise these types of people don’t have your best interests at heart and are fuelled by anger, jealousy and resentment from their own issues.

After someone passes away, grief can do funny things to people; you may notice skeletons are finally released from the cupboard they’ve been imprisoned in all these years. 

‘Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.’

– Luke 12:3

Doubt tormented my mind, but resilience and justice was in my heart and that kept me fighting! Eventually I won the Legal case against my Uncle, and justice was served thank goodness! This was terrifying as the legal system isn’t always concerned about what’s ‘fair’, it’s more about following a certain set of rules. 


 

In his book ‘Not in your genes’ Clinical Psychologist and Author Oliver James explains something called the ‘Offspring Stockholm Syndrome’, which suggests children will always be conditioned to side with their parents or caregivers no matter what.

When we start off as babies, we are helpless and need the adults in our life to do everything for us to ensure our survival. It’s essential to bond with them to discourage them from hurting or abandoning us… that bond is taken well into adulthood. He gave the example of Fred West’s daughter who defended him in court despite the indisputable facts and horrific abuse she herself suffered at the hands of her own Father.

There’s a conditioned loyalty you have to your family; if they say it’s black so do you …even if that inner voice knows it’s white. It’s why we internalise what adults say about us when we’re young, especially in that first 0 – 6 year period when our sense of self is reliant on our main care givers opinion. 

I experienced the shock and denial that someone I was related to and knows my past trauma could be so void of compassion and family loyalty. But for some people greed and jealousy takes priority.

I realised what it really meant to pursue something I believed in, despite the challenges and odds against me. I would go as far as to say I had energy and guidance from a power higher than myself. At the time I was still in the grips of grief and to go through this horrible experience was like rubbing salt in the wound.

I  didn’t feel angry when I saw my Uncle at Mediation. He appeared vengeful and old, his soul is sick. If anything I felt pity that someone could allow themselves to be eaten up by bitterness like that. I was annoyed before when he wouldn’t give me my late parents pictures and videos back to me just to twist the knife; I felt this was unnecessarily callous and unfair. He did eventually give me SOME items back, but nowhere near what my Mother would have wanted me to have. I understand him wanting to hurt me, but to do that to his deceased Sister defies logic? 

Goes to show that a healthy soul and a good heart is priceless and more than what money can buy. If you find people in your life like this…keep them! Friends can also be family!

It’s a bit more difficult when family members are destructive or critical without meaning to be or do it subtly. My Father suffered from Alcoholism, and would turn into a terror to put it mildly when he’d been drinking. Even though he caused my Mother and I a lot of heartbreak and angst, I could see he was not a well man. I knew he loved me, and even though our fights would be ferocious, he would never betray me the way my Uncle did. I’ve been criticised for loving my Father by some short-sighted people. Yes it’s probably a case of ‘Offspring Stockholm Syndrome’ but it’s also really no one else’s place to judge, and until you’re in that situation yourself, you won’t know how you’d feel and behave either.


 

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‘When a Toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth. Just like you did.’

– Jill Blakeway

This is a well-known venomous tactic people use if they can’t get their own way; and unfortunately there are people out there who are willing to base their opinion on what this idiot says about you. More fool them.

If you would not accept this type of behaviour from a friend of partner there is no reason you should have to accept this from a family member, even though society tells us differently.

Certain Cultures/Religions demand a level of loyalty whether you like it or not. Over the past few years the media has shone a light on the amount of ‘Honour Killings’ that is going on amongst families. This is wrong, and people have a right to freedom of choice. They should not be shamed or KILLED for not agreeing with their family, this is not love…this is control! 

I mentioned before some people don’t mean to cause harm they just do unintentionally. Whether it’s by playing the victim, not being able to support you the way they should, having their own struggles, not being emotionally available etc… It’s best to give them a wide berth, as you may love them, but not be able to be in their company for long amounts of time without wanting to pull your hair out.

Nowadays if they are technologically adept you can make contact with via social media/emails etc… Keeping any physical visits for when you’re feeling strong enough to handle them. This does NOT make you a bad person, don’t blame yourself for feeling this way; the subconscious knows what’s best for you better than you do, so it might be firing ‘STAY AWAY’ signals to protect you from what it perceives as harm. Just to quickly mention it’s possible for family members to look after you really well but at the same time not nurture your emotional needs, leading to feelings of abandonment.

Being the ‘whistle-blower’ or ‘different’ in the family unit can cause a rift. A lot of families like to save face and if there is dysfunction bubbling beneath the surface, they’ll normally be one family member who will present the symptoms of this through addiction, anorexia, mental health issues etc… and sometimes this person maybe be labelled the ‘Scape Goat’ or ‘Black Sheep’ to save the family name. 

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How do I know if my family is Toxic?

1) They make you doubt your own intuition.

You normally can feel the hackles going up when your truth is being disputed, even if it’s not a conscious realisation. You know you’re right, but this truth is attacked with doubt from a barrage of comments about all the things they’ve ‘done for you’. People shouldn’t do things in order to use it against that person at a later date… especially not a care giver. Check out the ‘Gaslighting’ technique I’ve mentioned in a past blog called …  Unavailable Men

2) You feel sad, angry, drained or numb around them but can’t put your finger on the reason why? 

This is normally you subconscious telling you this person is toxic. Maybe the signs are more obvious. I’ve been in the situation many times were I’ve thought to myself …’Maybe I’m being too harsh? I’ll try extra hard to get along with them’…. and then within 30 seconds of being in their company… you’re victim to a barrage of negative comments and/or barbed wire compliments.

3) They talk about you negatively to other family members or friends.  

This is not fair; yes we all like to bitch and moan about our family but keep it to a few people who are of an understanding nature. It’s not ok to do it to anyone who will listen especially as there are people out there who like to involve themselves in other people’s business. 

4) When money and possessions become more important than the relationship. 

I’ve experienced and heard of awful things where Wills are concerned. A greedy family member will normally over involve themselves in the making of the Will and guilt trip the Testator into leaving everything to him/her. If you are also one of the main beneficiaries this greedy family member will do what they can to drag your name through the dirt with the Testator which seems to work if they are elderly and more malleable.  But these days it’s becoming easier to Contest a Will, as suspicious behaviour seems to have unfortunately become quite the norm. The Testator can also use the Will as a control tactic if you’re not doing what they want. A kind family member would split the Will fairly and take care of their loved ones. 

5) When all the effort is one-sided and then when you back off they blame you for not keeping up the contact. 

You are good and consistently make the effort. But find if you don’t call you don’t have contact with them. Then when you do eventually make the call again you are chastised for leaving it so long to contact them even though they could have easily called you or at the very least written to you… you could have been dead for all they know. I think this is a set up for them to play the victim and a perfect opportunity to guilt trip you. It’s all about what they want to do, they manage to make every conversation relate back to them. They may not mean it to be this way it might just be the way they are. Still it  doesn’t mean it is fair on you, especially if you are the adult child or even the child. 

6) You are cut off and ignored for silly reasons i.e.) an argument that happened 10 years ago.

Love is forgiving. Ego is righteous. We probably behave with family and partners in ways we would never behave with anyone else, this is because you are close, and should be able to be yourself. Fighting is normal, but when it spills over to toxic behaviour this is when you need to rethink the relationship. Point scoring is petty and dragging up family history of that time you did this when you were in a child or going through a tough time etc… is grossly unfair. 

7) They are unapologetic and don’t consider how you feel. 

They say hurtful things or treat you unfairly then harp on about that cup of tea they made you or that expensive dinner they made you that took 40 hours to make (I’m exaggerating). They seem to think this gives them a ‘get out of jail free’ card for treating you like crap, or thinking they have the entitlement to treat you like an emotional dumpster….it’s not on! But in some ways fighting this is futile as they seems to have an answer for everything no matter how nonsensical. This is where writing a letter helps, I can’t promise you how much of it will go in. But it allows you to make meticulous points without getting too emotional and saying something you shouldn’t. (Which I’m sure will be used against you at a later date). 

8) They are over critical of your lifestyle and choices. 

It is your birth right to live however you want to as long as you are not hurting anyone. They might not be 100% happy about the way you have chosen your life, but they should at least be able to give love and support to the person you are. That’s what families do…or should do. I’ve heard of families forgiving the most atrocious behaviour because they are full of love and compassion. And I’m not saying this ‘bad’ behaviour is right, but often support and love encourages the damaged person to heal and change.

9) They don’t accept who you are. Or are easily coerced against you. 

You’re always doing something they don’t like or doing life wrong. Even if they do love you, it’s not right for them to leave you feeling like crap about yourself, why have enemies? They may be lovely and love you one day; but as soon as another family says anything negative about you they jump to support this other person’s opinion of you. These mixed messages can leave you feeling confused and lead you into a spiral of doubting and blaming yourself. Don’t do it, you’re feeding into the toxicity! One more thing they might do is idolise that one relative who does nothing for them, treats them badly or see’s them once a century. They compare you to them even though you do so much more for them, don’t listen. This is another subtle tactic to control you and make it all about them, it’s abuse! 

10) They are emotionally, physically or sexually abusive. 

This goes without saying. Maybe it’s not possible to move away, but I would strongly suggest telling someone … a friend, a Therapist, a work colleague or teacher. You do not and should not have to put up with this even if it is a member of your family. Charities can help you report the abuse anonymously and support groups can help you manage your emotions. 

These are just a few:

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/abuse/sexual-abuse/

http://www.adultchildren.org/

https://napac.org.uk/

https://www.samaritans.org/

www.siawso.org

www.lwa.org.uk


 

Ok, so maybe they are Toxic. But I can’t cut ties with them, so what can I do?

Only YOU can decide whether its necessary to cut out a family member. Talking this over with a friend or Therapist can help you to make an informed decision, don’t let your decision be based on guilt or ‘Offspring Stockholm Syndrome’, what would you say to a friend who was going through this? Maybe they only need to be cut out for a short period of time?

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Lists can be helpful to get your thoughts out on paper. Write down the persons positive and negative qualities and if the negative out weighs the positive it’s time to make a decision. 

If you decide you can’t cut them out, maybe they are elderly and the impact would be too much on them. There are certain tactics you can use to keep them in your life but from a distance. 

  • Write letters and cards. This keeps the contact but from a bit of a distance. 
  • Keep a record of contact you make to them in case they use this against you at a later date. 
  • Have a back up plan. Say that you can spend this amount of time with them because you have to be somewhere else. Shows your making the effort. 
  • Embellish the truth. For example, if they don’t agree with the creative job you have, say you’re moving into the co-operate world (or you could just tell a white lie and be vague). I agree it shouldn’t have to be like this, but if you are just trying to keep the peace and your own sanity it might be necessary. 
  • Try to not take what they say personally. I know it may seem like their opinion is set in stone because you’ve always been the child and they were the adult but opinions are not facts. They don’t walk in your shoes or see how your life really is; their biased opinions are most probably outdated or limited.  
  • Practise assertiveness. I know it’s extremely difficult not to get involved in rows especially when you are being persecuted, but indulging them with a negative reaction will give them ammunition to blame you and play the victim. Take the dignified higher ground.
  • If you live with them try to figure out their patterns of behaviour. For example, my Father’s drinking would occur mainly on the weekend. So I would try to stay out of his way by staying out of the house as much as I could around that time.
  • I know they are going to pick at something, but try and keep them ‘happy’. This is not bowing down to their demands; it’s about being savvy and giving yourself an easier life. For example, I had a messy ex housemate who was obsessed with vacuuming. This is basically all the housework he and his girlfriend did (actually his girlfriend didn’t even do that). He screamed at me for not hovering as much as he did, but didn’t realise that I’d cleaned the window sills, taken the rubbish down to the bins, did the washing up (sometimes his share too) etc… so I made a point of hovering in front of him and didn’t do as much of my other cleaning which funnily enough he didn’t notice. He was just happy I picked up the vacuum, it was more of a control thing. 
  • Make stronger relationships with the family members you do get along with. And listen to the positive things they say about you. 
  • Don’t be pushed into doing anything you don’t want to do. Stay firm, maybe let them know you are distancing yourself for particular reasons. If they continue to push your boundaries, it’s time to start snipping. Don’t fall for guilt trips, your peace of mind comes first, even if it means putting yourself before a member of your family! 

If anyone makes you feel bad it’s a good idea to distance yourself as much as possible and not to internalise their opinions as much as you can. It’s good for me to write this post as it’s a reminder I should be practising what I preach. But there’s a voice inside that continues to tell me its ‘my fault’. This is normal; it’s best to be compassionate to this voice as it’s your younger self stuck in the trauma of the past.

As children we are sponges for the environment we grow up in, and we believe that everything is about us (in a non selfish way) because we have yet to be taught differently. So if there is conflict or negativity then we blame ourselves and carry that opinion into adulthood. It may take a while to change this opinion as it’s so entrenched but it does change with relentless compassion; I always believed I was a ‘bad’ child, this is not true, but it’s easier to believe what we ‘feel’. No child is bad, they are a mirror of their environment, and pain can often be mislabelled as ‘naughtiness’. This isn’t to say you have to be an absolute angel to be loved, you should be loved for who you are as a person (bad and good). 

Concentrate on the friends and family who bring out the best in you, and if needs be…make your own family. 

I hope this post helped you if you are experiencing a tough time or if you suspected your family might be a bit more than just difficult.

Warmest Regards 

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3 Comments

  1. June 24, 2018 / 6:10 pm

    I have a sibling that I have to keep at arm’s length. It broke my heart to do it because she had been my best friend for most of my adult life. But when I started working on my mental health I became aware of how toxic she really is. (big on #5) I wish things could be different but she is so negative and manipulative. We have very little contact, the occasional email and family events when she goes, which is rare

    • mentalhealthandmakeup
      Author
      June 24, 2018 / 5:57 pm

      Well done you for being so brave! I’m inspired that you have that level or love and respect for yourself. Some people prefer you to be down and out because it makes them feel better. Whoever doesn’t support your healing has to go, even if they are family which I know is heart breaking. But we get to choose our own family, people who reflect compassion and support. You did the right thing.

  2. mentalhealthandmakeup
    Author
    June 24, 2018 / 9:11 pm

    But now you can heal and blossom. Maybe in the future she will come round to the right way of thinking

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