How to deal with a toxic family member

February 16, 2023 – 12:16 pm
Cloud rider

“Remember no one has the ‘TV family, ’” says Susan Trombetti, relationship expert and owner of Exclusive Matchmaking. In deciding to back away from my brother, I was reminded that, for many years, my father didn’t speak to one of his brothers. My mother has had issues with her sisters all of her life and engages in the bare minimum of contact with them. I realized that it doesn’t make me a terrible person if my brother and I don’t become the closest people on Earth, especially if I’ve given it a fair attempt.

Don’t let your boundaries turn into fear

My initial concern with cutting my brother off was that he would get mad and pull away from me indefinitely. But at the end of the day, I reminded myself: 1) If that happened, it wouldn’t entirely be my fault, 2) He’ll likely come back around when he gets his life in order and works on himself. And as I’ve implemented these changes, I’ve found the latter to be true. My brother will disappear from my life for six months at a time, but then I’ll receive an out-of-the-blue text or email from him. During those six months, I’m happily drama-free; when he comes back around, he’s gentler in his approach, as our relationship has had the space that it needed.

Their issues are not your fault

No matter how much my brother has tried to blame me for his shortcomings and our lack of a relationship, I’ve had to remind myself that he is in control of his own life. Trombetti stresses that it’s important to remember that “they are broke and you can’t fix them. You can only operate from your own moral compass and not get caught up in their anger, drama, or toxic behavior.”

Not my circus, not my monkeys

After years of dealing with the back-and-forth aspects of my brother’s negativity, I’ve learned that it’s his drama, not mine. I have since realized that, as a family, we can care about my brother and offer support, but at the end of the day, it’s not healthy for us to absorb the stress associated with his day-to-day issues. “Not my circus, not my monkeys, ” my mom once told me. I have since uttered that Polish proverb to myself when I begin to feel my brother’s issues creep into my life.

Salvaging a damaged relationship with a member of your family can be a difficult journey. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. The main thing to remember is that taking a time out from a toxic relative, setting boundaries for the relationship, and stepping away from their drama doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s great to be a support system for your family but it’s equally as important that you are taking care of your own needs in the process.


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