Toxic Family

Doing what is best for you.

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It seems nowadays many of us have issues with our family members that either force us to walk on egg shells around them or avoid them entirely. We prefer to skip out on holiday gatherings and screen our relative’s phone calls and texts like they're bill collectors. There are some people who can’t be around their family without experiencing a strong sense of anxiety and others whose relatives are a major cause of their depression. Perhaps they have a father whose substance abuse made growing up more difficult than need be, a sibling who bullied them to the point where they have developed self-esteem issues, or an overly critical and emotionally detached mother who makes them feel worthless and unloved. Question is, how do you handle it and do what is best for you?

So often people are expected to just deal with things on the basis that “it’s not that bad” or “some people have it worse”. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been told “you only get one mother”, as if that makes everything she does okay. I had to hear my mother tell me on so many occasions how she wished she never had children and we were her greatest mistake. I can remember getting beat with anything she could find just because she was upset and being woken up at the crack of dawn in elementary school to her cursing us out and threatening us if we didn’t clean her house until it was spotless. I wish she would have drawn the line at being Mommie Dearest, but imitating Lifetime movies eventually became her thing and I became a bit of a basket case and needed to be in therapy most of my life as a result. After finding out my mother was bi-polar I always seemed to give her the benefit of the doubt and blame everything on her mental health, ignoring how it affected mine. I’ve been diagnosed with everything from generalized anxiety to PTSD due to what I’ve had to deal with growing up. As a child I fantasized about running away, through my teens I attempted suicide several times, and as an adult, I realized enough is enough. Of course, my mother isn’t the only reason I've developed poor mental health but she is a key component and once I realized how my issues with her caused issued elsewhere I decided to draw a line. I realized I needed to either eliminate her from my life altogether or she and I needed to take steps toward healing.

I started by having an open and honest conversation with her about how she made me feel and how her actions have affected me throughout the years. I tried to get to the root of the issue and determine if maybe it was just her bipolar disorder that influenced her behavior or if she was well aware of the impact of her hurtful actions. There were a few times I accompanied her to her therapist so that she and I could discuss things with a non-biased party present to moderate and prevent emotions from building and leading to a heated argument. For a while, things seemed to improve. She was taking her meds regularly and being the mom I always wanted and envied other people for having. My mom went from saying she hated us to saying “I love you”. Unfortunately, she stopped taking her meds and things went back to normal and I finally had to give up on the idea that I would ever have a healthy relationship with her.

Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but most follow a common pattern of continued love for their family and in most cases that’s why they’re behavior hurts so bad. It’s understandable to expect more from loved ones. More love, more respect, more support. You want to know that the people in your life actually care about you and you want to feel safe and secure with them. Sometimes it may just take expressing to them how you feel and demanding a change and working toward that change together. It won’t happen overnight but progress takes time and if you think they are worth it, and you both are willing and ready, then the time and effort required to achieve said change will be worth it. Just keep in mind that change is also impossible if either of you are not fully open to it, as was the case with my mother and I, so if you are not ready to embark on a journey of forgiveness with someone then don’t force yourself into it. You may need to walk away for a while so they can feel your absence and see how much of an impact you actually have on them to force a change. Give yourself time to heal either way and if that person gets the help they need in the meantime and things change then great! If not, you need to help yourself and take care of your mental and emotional health so that you can be okay because bottom line, you come first!

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Toxic Family