Dealing with a toxic family member is never a walk in the park, but dealing with a toxic family member 24/7 will inevitably eat away at your energy and self esteem. While you can easily cut ties with a toxic friend at any time, a unique family situation, like choosing to self-quarantine, may not provide you with many opportunities to physically distance yourself.
If you’re stuck at home with a toxic family member during your Covid-19 self-quarantine, you don’t need to feel trapped by anxiety or stress. In fact, this could be the perfect time to improve, grow, or strengthen a relationship with your family member and yourself.
We’ve prepared 7 valuable coping skills to handle your guilt-tripping grandma, nit-picky father, and even your alcoholic brother!
Start On The Inside
We hate to tell you this, but… You’ve got to look at your unhealthy traits before searching for anyone else’s to get the most unobstructed view on your family members’ toxic habits. With a full, honest look at your own blind spots, you might be able to understand your part in less-than-fun interactions with a family member.
Before placing blame on your family member, ask yourself:
- Am I allowing the toxic behavior from my family member to continue?
- Do I see anything in my family member’s destructive ways that might remind me of my very own flaws?
- Have I adequately expressed my feelings towards my toxic family members about their words or actions?
- Do I mirror any of their upsetting or destructive behaviors?
- Have I upheld my boundaries towards my family members? Or do I lack boundaries altogether?
- Have I unknowingly encouraged a loved one’s identity in my family dynamic? (For example, do I continuously avoid my own problems to focus on the issues of another family member, making them our household scapegoat?)
- Am I harboring resentment towards my loved one for their past actions or words?
- What are my most significant flaws or weaknesses that I’d like to improve on?
When it comes down to it, we can only control our own words and actions. So, it’s essential to look at those first.
Tap into your own feelings and perspectives, and equip yourself with flawless insight to protect yourself against your nearby toxicity.
Identify Your Family Member’s Unhealthy Behaviors
Once you’ve thoroughly searched your own soul for harmful habits, it’s time to look at where your family member is mistreating you. Understanding the specific actions that contribute to a destructive family dynamic will help you communicate effectively with your family members.
Some unhealthy or toxic behaviors in a family member include (but definitely aren’t limited to):
- Using the silent treatment as a form of punishment
- Excessive criticism
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- The need for complete control
- Using intimidation to get their way
- Invalidating your views, opinions, or needs
- Unrealistic demands
- Condescending language
- Denial about their behavior
- Lack of empathy
Set Clear Boundaries
Once you’ve identified your family member’s toxic behaviors, it may be time to sit down with a family member and set boundaries with them, if you haven’t already. Setting boundaries may be necessary for the preservation of your own mental health while you’re stuck in close quarters with a loved one.
According to Dr. Carlene MacMillan, a psychiatrist mentioned in Allure Magazine, setting boundaries doesn’t have to be cruel or cold. In an article titled How to Set Boundaries With a Toxic Family Member in Allure, she mentions that a healthy, balanced boundary “is one where each person understands that they have their own thoughts and feelings and they are able to maintain a curiosity about the other person’s thoughts and feelings without making assumptions,”
During self-quarantine, you may need to set additional barriers with your family member, which could include:
- Respecting your alone time
- Using “I” statements
- Practicing constructive criticism
- Not drinking or using drugs while you’re in the room or interacting (in the case of a substance abuser or addict)
- Establishing any off-limit topics (like your weight, who you’re dating, or any topic that feels like a violation of your emotional wellness)
One sign of a very toxic person is the inability to respect someone’s boundaries. If your family member is breaking any previous barriers you set, you might feel an underlying sense of irritation, an urge to justify your family member’s behavior, or a gut feeling that something is “off.”
Remember, setting boundaries is pointless without the threat of consequences. If you draw a clear line with a family member, be sure to enforce this line and remind your family member of their promise if they attempt to cross it.
Ask Your Toxic Family Member About Their Words Or Actions
Sometimes family members – especially those with toxic habits – spew rude comments without even realizing they’re being nasty.
Instead of reacting immediately, inquisitively ask your family member why they spoke to you in such a way, or why they’re performing a specific action.
People don’t always stop to consider their words before speaking. Asking someone a question about their words may encourage some awareness from your family member that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Or, it may provide you with a chance to connect with your family member and understand their viewpoints.
Stay Level Headed
Here’s a little secret: the person who stays the most level-headed in any situation will maintain the most control over it.
Of course, control isn’t the goal here (and it never should be in relationships.) But control over your own reactions is highly beneficial while dealing with a poisonous family member.
Toxic relationships of every kind can hurt your sense of well-being, which is why creating a theoretical “calm bubble” around yourself is necessary! It may even be helpful to have a few scripted responses on hand to help you stay serene, such as:
- “I’m going to step away until you calm down.”
- “Let’s talk about [anything else] instead.”
- “I will not be accepting _____ or _____ from you.”
- “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
- “That’s very interesting.”
Whether it requires meditation or simply taking a deep breath or two, do whatever you can to remain as calm as possible when interacting with your toxic family member. Yes, it may be tempting to argue, condemn, or express your frustrations in the heat of the moment with a loved one, but to see your family member’s actions clearly, you must separate your emotions from your current position.
There are many ways besides meditation to practice self-soothing, including positive self-talk, listening to a favorite tune, stepping away, and exploring aromatherapy.
Reach Out To A Healthy Support System
Strong support networks provide you with the accountability and emotional safety necessary to tread the murky waters of any toxic relationship.
Even if you’re stuck in a toxic family environment for the time being, you can prioritize your own mental and emotional health by venting your frustrations or asking for help from healthy people in your life – even if it’s by telephone!
Whether you need to seek help from a mental health professional or mental health counselor, gaining an outside perspective on your relationship with a loved one can help you stay balanced while spending an abnormal amount of time with them.
Take Care of YOU
Self-care routines look different for everyone, but they’re vital for staying healthy while close to a toxic family member. Periodically checking in with yourself can help you identify any uncomfortable or confusing emotions while sorting out a messy family bond.
Self care might involve spending time alone to get some sunlight on your deck, painting, exercising, reading, or playing your favorite instrument. You could also seek out a clinical psychologist if you’re having trouble navigating a new family environment by yourself.
Remember: even during a stressful time, there is no excuse for toxic or cruel behavior! Changing unhealthy dynamics within your household may take time and practice, but it can start with you.
If you are living with a loved one struggling from a mental health or substance abuse issue during the Covid-19 outbreak, reach out for help today!