6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Cutting Off a Toxic Family Member

Health Information Relationships


Again, if you feel that a family member poses an immediate threat to you (or your child, partner, or pets), you’re well within your rights to cease contact immediately. If any of the additional examples above sound familiar, it’s okay to choose to step back from interacting with them entirely—either for a sustained period or temporarily, while you figure out a plan to reset your boundaries and your expected frequency of contact. As Tawwab writes in Drama Free, “healthy boundaries give you peace even when the other person hasn’t changed.” 

Is their behavior “toxic” or merely annoying? 

As Tawwab puts it, “Is this situation persistently harmful, or is it just annoying?” For example, if you try to share bad memories of your childhood and your sibling always interrupts to tell you—or even other family members—that you’re lying and it never happened, that’s harmful. But if they always cut you off mid-sentence because they possess poor listening skills and it’s their turn to talk now? Their self-absorption is annoying and frustrating, and while that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t say something, it’s not necessarily “toxic” behavior. 

Learning to deal with others’ aggravating personality traits is part of life, and as Tawwab points out, “many of the people we love annoy us.” A few of the strategies outlined below—sharing how their actions make you feel or, if that’s unsuccessful, rethinking how often you see them—can also help you learn to accept nontoxic, if extremely irritating, behavior.

Have I had a direct conversation with them about the problem(s)? 

When someone has been in your life since the day you (or they) were born, they might assume that they know everything there is to know about who you are. This can be a comfort in some instances; maybe you’ve always been encouraged by your grandmother’s observations about your artistic spirit, for example. But it can also feed into family dynamics that leave you feeling suffocated and resentful

Maybe you have a sibling who seems to take pleasure in sharing childhood stories that embarrass you. Or a mom who brings up your weight if you even look at a birthday cake. Perhaps your sister-in-law thinks that, because you’re single and child-free, she can show up at your door on a Saturday with a last-minute unpaid babysitting gig. Whatever the situation, once you’ve identified a pattern that you’d like to put a stop to, it’s time to get vocal. By letting them know the effect their behavior is having on you, “we can give people an opportunity to change,” says Tawwab.  

Just remember that your end of the conversation is the only thing you can control here. “It takes some willingness on the other person’s part to admit, ‘I hear that, and here’s what I’m able to do about it,” Tawwab says. But in truly dysfunctional families, she adds, people are often unwilling to even hear your grievance, let alone take action. “They may say, ‘Eh, let’s just move past this,’ or try to make you believe that the problem is you, not the situation they’re creating,” she says.

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