5 Keys to Help Mend Toxic Family Relationships

· February 29, 2016

Let’s not kid ourselves: family is one of the most common scenes for toxic relationships. Relationships with family may be some of the most difficult situations you have to deal with. It’s much easier to call it quits with your partner or friend than with your mother-in-law, your brother, your children, your parents…

The truth is that we can’t choose our family, so we have to adapt to it. This implies that, even though we’re independent people, there are certain norms that accompany our role within the nuclear family.

There are two kinds of families: those that are rigid and those that are flexible. The first type can become toxic because of the intense and irrational use of power. When those within the family abuse their power it creates great difficulty within relationships, and doesn’t allow those within it to freely express their feelings and opinions. 

Most of the time we can’t completely break from a toxic family relationship, since we can’t undo bonds of blood, but a lot of times we make cracks that can’t be repaired.

According to Laura Rojas Marcos, the majority of these conflicts arise from struggles for power, a sense of entitlement and a lack of limits.  So, when confronting a brother, a mother-in-law, a cousin, what do we do in the face of those who hurt us?  How should we act?

1. Empathy: Putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes.

This doesn’t mean that we have to submit to their desires and give in, but it does imply that we should be willing to listen and consider what they have to say.

It’s important that we be prepared to accept the possibility of not coming to an agreement. In that case,  we must be respectful and “agree to disagree” in order to be able to get along with one another and move forward.


2. Respecting the intimacy, the space and the time of each relationship.

We must learn to accept that “no” is the answer and find a way to deal with the frustration.  You can’t simply keep pushing to get your own way.

As Rojas Marcos writes, “In family relationships, some things are done where no agreement upon them previously existed.  If you enter your son’s home without asking, or make a phone call to him at a bad time, you’ve got to be prepared to get an answer you won’t like that will mark the limits of the relationship.”

family black and white

3. Being respectful and keeping good manners

In any relationship it’s very important to not say the first thing that comes to mind, but to allow your words to pass through the filters of respect.

You might have a family member that says whatever comes to mind, and who thinks his or her perspectives and opinions are more important than anyone else’s.

This can cause great difficulties and it’s important to keep your distance in these situations and calmly impose limits, letting them know that what they’re saying is causing emotional pain.  It’s important that we not back down in these situations.

4. Being assertive and using the magic words

You probably don’t want power; you may only want freedom of action and expression. It’s quite simple to sayI can’t, “I don’t want to,” or “I don’t agree.”  It’s important to feel secure of yourself and to make use of your right to choose.

Also, don’t forget about “please” and “thank you.”  Even with our family it’s very important to use these caring words, which express consideration and friendliness by showing respect for the time and efforts of others.

5. Being patient

When we’re impatient, we’re more impulsive and, as a result, less thoughtful about our decisions.  The capacity to wait and think before we act is one of the most important principles that must guide our relationships, especially those with our family members.

It may be that we can’t solve the difficulties that accompany an exhausting toxic family relationship. Sometimes it’s inevitable that we must face the consequences of making a decision that will change the nuclear family.

Emotional vampires and predators exist in all families and in all contexts, and it’s important that we identify them and protect ourselves from them, not letting the intensity of the accompanying emotions guide our thinking.  Above all, we must keep our wits about us, remembering that we all have mental and physical limits that must not be trespassed.

No one deserves to live in an emotionally toxic atmosphere;  to leave that behind isn’t just necessary, but absolutely essential.