(NEW BOOK ALERT: This post is a direct excerpt from the Children & Family section of our forthcoming book, “1000 Little Habits of Happy, Successful Relationships“.)
Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Sometimes, however, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache.
Letting go of (or breaking up with) a toxic friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend is one thing, and there’s plenty of advice out there for doing so, but what about letting go of a toxic family member?
Most of us are not in a position to just walk away, nor do we feel that we want to, or that it’s the right thing to do. So what do we do when a family member is literally spoiling our lives with their toxicity? How do we deal with our feelings of obligation, confusion, betrayal, and heartache?
First and foremost, you must accept the fact that not everyone’s family is healthy or available for them to lean on, to call on, or to go home to. Not every family tie is built on the premise of mutual respect, love and support. Sometimes “family” simply means that you share a bloodline. That’s all. Some family members build us up, and some break us down. So just because someone is blood-related to you, doesn’t automatically make them the healthiest influence in your life.
Second, you must understand that a toxic family member may be going through a difficult stage in their lives. They may be ill, chronically worried, or lacking what they need in terms of love and emotional support. Such people need to be listened to, supported, and cared for (although whatever the cause of their troubles, you may still need to protect yourself from their toxic behavior at times).
The key thing to keep in mind is that every case of dealing with a toxic family member is a little different, but in any and every case, there are some universal principles we need to remember, for our own sake:
- They may not be an inherently bad person, but they’re not the right person to be spending time with every day. – Not all toxic family relationships are agonizing and uncaring on purpose. Some of them involve people who care about you – people who have good intentions but are toxic because their needs and way of existing in the world force you to compromise yourself and your happiness. And as hard as it is, we have to distance ourselves enough to give ourselves space to live. You simply can’t ruin yourself on a daily basis for the sake of someone else. You have to make your well-being a priority. Whether that means spending less time with someone, loving a family member from a distance, letting go entirely, or temporarily removing yourself from a situation that feels painful, you have every right to leave and create some healthy space for yourself.
- Toxic people often hide cleverly behind passive aggression. – Passive aggressive behavior takes many forms but can generally be described as a nonverbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. Instead of openly expressing how they feel, someone makes subtle, annoying gestures directed at you. Instead of saying what’s actually upsetting them, they find small and petty ways to take jabs at you until you pay attention and get upset, sometimes not even realizing why. In a healthy relationship, a loved one won’t feel the need to hide behind passive aggression in order to express what they are thinking. So, just be aware of passive aggression when you experience it, and if the other person refuses to reason with you, and continues their behavior, you may have no choice but to create some of that space discussed in point 1.
- They will try to bully you into submission if you let them. – We always hear about schoolyard bullies, but the biggest bullies are often toxic family members. And bullying is never OK. Period! There is no freedom on earth that gives someone the right to assault who you are as a person. Sadly, some people just won’t be happy until they’ve pushed your ego to the ground and stomped on it. What you have to do is have the nerve to stand up for yourself. Don’t give them leeway. Nobody has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but just as much to stand up to your family and friends. Sometimes bullying comes from the most unlikely places. Be cognizant of how the people closest to you treat you, and look out for the subtle jabs they throw. When necessary, confront them – do whatever it takes to give yourself the opportunity to grow into who you really are.
- Pretending their toxic behavior is okay is not okay. – If you’re not careful, toxic family members can use their moody behavior to get preferential treatment, because, well, it just seems easier to quiet them down than to listen to their rhetoric. Don’t be fooled. Short-term ease equals long-term pain for you in a situation like this. Toxic people don’t change if they are being rewarded for not changing. Decide this minute not to be influenced by their behavior. Stop tiptoeing around them or making special pardons for their continued belligerence. Constant drama and negativity is never worth putting up with. If someone in your family over the age of twenty-one can’t be a reasonable, reliable, respectful adult on a regular basis, it’s time to remove yourself from the line of fire.
- You do not have to neglect yourself just because they do. – Practice self-care every day. Seriously, if you’re forced to live or work with a toxic person, then make sure you get enough alone time to rest and recuperate. Having to play the role of a focused, rational adult in the face of toxic moodiness can be exhausting, and if you’re not careful, the toxicity can infect you. Toxic family members can keep you up at night as you constantly question yourself: “Am I doing the right thing? Am I really so terrible that they despise me so much? I can’t BELIEVE she did that! I’m so hurt!” Thoughts like these can agonize you for weeks, months, or even years. Sometimes this is the goal of a toxic family member: to drive you mad and make you out to be the crazy one. Because oftentimes they have no idea why they feel the way they do, and they can’t see beyond their own emotional needs, hence their relentless toxic communication and actions. And since you can’t control what they do, it’s important to take care of yourself so that you can remain centered, feeling healthy and ready to live positively in the face of negativity when you must – mindfulness, meditation, prayer, and regular exercise work wonders!
- If their toxic behavior becomes physical, it’s a legal matter that must be addressed. – If you’ve survived the wrath of a physical abuser in your family, and you tried to reconcile things… if you forgave, and you struggled, and even if the expression of your grief had you succumb to outbursts of toxic anger… if you spent years hanging on to the notions of trust and faith, even after you knew in your heart that those beautiful intangibles, upon which love is built and sustained, would never be returned… and especially if you stood up as the barrier between an abuser and someone else, and took the brunt of the abuse in their place – you are a HERO! But now it’s time to be the hero of your future. Enough is enough! If someone is physically abusive, they are breaking the law and they need to deal with the consequences of their actions.
- Although it’s hard, you can’t take their toxic behavior personally. – When a person is being obviously toxic, it’s them, not you. Know this. Toxic family members will likely try to imply that somehow you’ve done something wrong. And because the feeling guilty button is quite large on many of us, even the implication that we might have done something wrong can hurt our confidence and unsettle our resolve. Don’t let this happen to you. Remember, there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally. Most toxic people behave negatively not just to you, but to everyone they interact with. Even when the situation seems personal – even if you feel directly insulted – it usually has nothing to do with you. What they say and do, and the opinions they have, are based entirely on their own self-reflection.
- Hating them for being toxic only brings more toxicity into your life. – As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” Regardless of how despicable a family member has acted, never let hate build in your heart. Fighting hatred with hatred only hurts you more. When you decide to hate someone, you automatically begin digging two graves: one for your enemy and one for yourself. Hateful grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is for those who are strong enough and smart enough to move on. After all, the best revenge is to be unlike the person who hurt you. The best revenge is living well, in a way that creates peace in your heart.
- People can change, and some toxic family relationships can be repaired in the long run. – When trust is broken, which happens in nearly every family relationship at some point, it’s essential to understand that it can be repaired, provided both people are willing to do the hard work of self-growth. In fact, it’s at this time, when it feels like the solid bedrock of your relationship has crumbled into dust, that you’re being given an opportunity to shed the patterns and dynamics with each other that haven’t been serving you. It’s painful work and a painful time, and the impulse will be to walk away, especially if you believe that broken trust cannot be repaired. But if you understand that trust levels rise and fall over the course of a lifetime, you’ll be more likely to find the strength to hang in, hang on, and grow together. But it does take two. You can’t do it alone.
- Sadly, sometimes all you can do is let go for good. – All details aside, this is your life. You may not be able to control all the things toxic family members do to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them in the long run. You can decide not to let their actions and opinions continuously invade your heart and mind. And above all, you can decide whom to walk beside into tomorrow, and whom to leave behind today. In a perfect world we would always be able to fix our relationships with toxic family members, but as you know, the world isn’t perfect. Put in the effort and do what you can to keep things intact, but don’t be afraid to let go and do what’s right for YOU when you must.
Continue Reading 1,000 Little Habits
If you appreciated the above excerpt from “1,000 Little Habits of Happy, Successful Relationships“, I guarantee you will appreciate the rest of the book…
Sometimes we need to be reminded to actually practice the little habits that allow us to better understand and nurture the right bonds, or let go of the wrong ones. We need to be reminded to be selective in our battles, too. Oftentimes peace and love in our lives and relationships are both better than being right. We simply don’t need to attend every argument we’re invited to, especially when toxic family members are a factor.
Yes, we can do better! Take this to heart. Because as you age, you’ll learn to value your time, genuine (non-toxic) relationships and peace of mind, much more. Little else will matter from one day to the next.
And that’s why Marc and I are publishing “1,000 Little Habits of Happy, Successful Relationships” – to be that daily reminder for anyone who’s struggling to change their relationship situation for the better. It’s an inspiring touchstone filled with our best advice on overcoming relationship setbacks, letting go of anger and toxicity, fostering intimacy and trust, expressing our needs, showing gratitude, and more. Pre-order “1,000 Little Habits” now and read it with a partner, with a friend, or solo.
The floor is yours…
What are your experiences with toxic family members? What have you done to cope with their toxic behavior? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Photo by: Patricia Bru
I always get so much out of reading your emails and articles, but even more so today.
We have been struggling for the past 3+ years to help our daughter with her mental health problems, but the past 13 months have been a nightmare at times. We are going through a “calm” period at the moment, but we know through past experience things will go back to how they have been.
Your article made me realize just how toxic she has been and that I have to look after myself. But it’s hard, she’s our daughter, we love her, but at 18 we have to consider that she maybe better being independent, but letting her know we are there if she needs us, I need my sanity back!
Thanks again for your though provoking & inspiring articles, and I’m looking forward to the new M&A relationships book! 🙂
Perfect timing. I am in the process of letting go of a toxic relationship with my brother. My parents fell ill over the past few years and subsequently died and he could not have cared less. Until money became involved. He stood by and watched me give up a career, a life in the U.S., a home, friends and go back to the country I was born in to take care of my mother and subsequently her estate. Someone had to do it but it would have been much easier with two people. I don’t regret doing it for my mother but I certainly don’t want any kind of relationship with him. As time is starting to pass so does my memory of him. He is not somebody I would want as a friend let alone a family member. Thanks again for posting this excerpt from your new book! Will certainly pre-order today.
Thanks for sharing as I’m going through something similar. I care for my elderly disabled mother have been for the past 4 years. I also have a younger sister (51) and a brother (53) we live within spitting distance from my Mama. My sister works full time where she’s been appx 25 years. My brother has always had his own business, new boat, new truck etc. He’s 6’1″ and weighs around 220-240. He never does anything for our mother. He has been taking my Mama to one (1) Dr appt every 3 months. I rent a small (very small mobile home from him. When I say small I mean it’s not much bigger than a camper. I live 1500 from my daughter and she has 3 kids my grands. I was able after 3 yrs to go visit for 7 days thru July 4. AND because my daughter is planning to move beck home in SC she asked if my oldest grandson (Trent) age 14 could come live with me for the summer. Best most respectful sweetest kid I know ?? we just got back Thursday evening. Friday we spent the day visiting with family that he barely rembers. My brother being one of them. Sat morning my bother text me and asks if we wanted to go on his boat for the day. I couldn’t go because of work but asked if Trenton could go and he said Yes. So it was my brother, sister, brothers girlfriend and her 8 yr old son. And my grandson, an he was so excited to go on a boat and spend the day getting to know my (his) family. They left around 11 and came home around 5. My grandson who is very quiet shy dry sense of humor walks in and I greeted him and he said nothing back. My heart sank. I asked him if they had a good time and he would hold his head down. I asked several times what was wrong because by this point I knew something was wrong. And while he is very quiet especially around people he doesn’t know he’s NOT quite with me. My daughter lived with me Trenton’s first 3 yrs of live and I kept him 24/7. While my daughter worked. She was able to rent her own place for her and Trenton but got laid off . Her best friend talked her into moving to Iowa. That was in 2013. In 9 yrs we’ve seen each other 6 time’s. But my Trenton never forgot his Meme ( me) So back to him coming home from the boat ride and both talking I knew something was wrong. Now mind you we JUST got home Thur night. So I walk over to my sister’s to find out what was going on. OMG my sister was crying and shaking. Took her 5 minutes to tell me that my 53 yr old brother Cussed Trenton out in front of everyone BECAUSE my brother was listening to some country song on repeat and was singing and Trenton in his dry Sense of humor says that’s a dum song. Then my brother proceeds to jump off the boat (they were pulled up on a sandbar and started choking Trenton!!! My sister started yelling at my bother to stop and telling mey brother to loose my grandson. My brother said he’ll f’ing learn to respect his elders. Sister said he had drank 7 beers. OMG!! What happened next is a blurr. I ran to my brothers house banging on the door so much and so hard I think I broke a finger. His girlfriend opens the door and says he’s in the bedroom. His ass was laying up in bed in his drawers eating a bowl of cereal. I still don’t know what all I said curse words coming from my mouth I didn’t even know I knew!! Asking him over and over why why. He’s said he’ll f’ing learn to respect me.. he’s better be glad he didn’t get worse!! Then he jumped up and started towards me as I was making my way out of the door. Still cussing him out!! He yelled something and I asked him what did he say and he yelled He will respect me and I should have gave him worse. I simply looked at him and said NO ONE will ever respect you pos. You’re a coward, find someone your own size ..I thought I was having a heart attack. I ran in my home and as soon as my grandson seen me upset and crying he started crying with a look of I’m in trouble. I grabbed him and started apologizing over and over. I was a wreck!! My brothers finger prints were still visible around his neck with a small stratch from the chain (necklace) he was wearing with a cross on it. He stopped crying and was concollong me!!! Telling me it was ok and just being his humble sweet self. We do lawn care on the weekends and had an appointment to go to. But stopped by my mother’s to tell her what happened and she was just broken. She said call the police and lock him up. I said I would once we got back from mowing this small yard that we were now 2 hrs late. Finally got the yard done..all I could do was just cry and tell my grandson how sorry I was. He said We’ll it’s ok he just was drunk.. broke my heart to hear him say ITS OK Meme. By now it had been approx 4 hrs since the assault. And this kid still had marks on his neck. My fiancee said call the police and lock him up. I had calmed down a lot. And said no I’m not because I don’t want to keep adding fuel to the fire. I said one night in jail is NOTHING to what’s coming his way, he’s lost a sister (me) his other sister, a nephew, a neice (my daughter Trenton’s Mom) and probably a mother. He’s always lost a tentant. Been paying 750 a month for this small place that doesn’t have the first door in the whole house not even the bathroom. AND I mow 2 acres of yard’s for him. Rent is due today but he’ll never get another penny from me and the grass can grow wasit high before I touch it. We’ll be moving in with my Mom (which she has a mobile home on my land) BUT it’s definitely going to take me about 3-4 months to get moved. Unless a judge makes me move before then. I cryed myself to sleep. All my sister could do was cry and say every time she closed her eyes all she could see was my brothers hand’s around Trentons neck and the fear on his face. I’m getting ready to go to church. Then I’ve got to come home and call my daughter and tell her and it’s ripping my heart out?? I started cooking last night and Trenton said Meme you don’t have to cook, I’ll buy us a burger or pizza!! Lord help me. But it was his favorite spegt and glaric toast. After supper I told him that he did NOTHING wrong and putting hand’s on anyone especially a child was unexceptionable period. I said please don’t ever be afraid to tell me if something is wrong. He said he wouldn’t. I promised him that he would NEVER EVER be around my brother again. It’s so sad because Trent was SOOO excited to go yesterday on the boat. Omgoodness my heart is just broken. Please remember me and my little family in your prayers. I’m glad I found this. To just tell someone how wrong this is. Thanks for listening and sorry so long.
You should still definitely call the police!!
It is not too late. That was Assault and Battery! It is illegal!
You are guilty of “protecting the criminal”
if you do not report it.
He will also do it again to someone else and maybe even worse! So not reporting the attack on Trenton, allows your brother believe it is ok, to attack someone smaller or weaker with no consequence.
I pray for you and your families safety and healing. God bless you!
I am having a similar experience with my brother(s). I moved out of state to take over my parents finances, manage their business, and become a full time caretaker. They appointed me as their trustee of their estate and since I arrived, I have been dealing with toxic, hate, abusive language and just today, he physically assaulted me. I don’t really understand it. I gave up my home, my career and everything I value to be a caretaker and instead of appreciation, it has been met with such greed, hate, and abuse. Not only do I feel grief from having an Ill parent, but now I’m afraid for my safety and I feel sad, angry, depressed and confused.
Thank you for tackling un-facebook’able and un-instagram’able aspects of our lives. Knowing that realities such as having to live with toxic family members are not these worse secrets that we to carry to our graves is a relief. Knowing that the confusion, split loyalties, guilt, shame can be dealt with in a manner that is loving to oneself is beautiful knowledge. These reminders help me. Thank you!
Sheila touched on a reason that makes cutting the ties with toxic family members all the harder: mental illness. It’s hard enough when the family member is “neuro-typical” (psych-speak for normal), but when there’s a mental illness involved, our brains play this “it’s not their fault” game. Toxic they may be, but add mental problems to the mix and we convince ourselves we have to endure the abuse because they can’t help or control their behaviour. Wrong! Toxic is still toxic, no matter the underlying cause. The only way to fix a toxic relationship is to end it.
Thanks for this article…I’ve got a little family reunion coming up soon and for six months now, I’ve already been mentally preparing for it! Will never forget the day, years ago, I was going through a tough time in my marriage and my immediate family turned against me, one member viciously replied to a letter I’d sent communicating what I was going through, and I’m in my therapist’s office crying my eyes out. He finally pointed out that a. my letter to my family was the best he’d ever read and b. my family wasn’t emotionally healthy, I was. I was FINE! OMG, the best thing that ever happened to me! I had to deal with them again when I finally got divorced, but I very much stood my ground and because I did, I have better relationships with everyone but my one sibling…and I have hope for her! Having the list of tools listed above (I’d learned mine through therapy and Life Skill classes) is definitely the best and healthiest way to cope with these kind of people. Remembering that YOU’RE the emotionally strong one of the family is… well, liberating!
Melissa Wilson says
Thanks for writing on this topic—such a bold addition to your newest book too. It seems like one of the hardest things to deal with when a family member is toxic for us. We either feel obligated to have them in our lives or we have no choice but to see them everyday. The best thing that I have found for dealing with someone like this is to have boundaries in place. Avoid talking to them about certain things if you know they are going to be critical or visit and speak with them less often. It’s not always easy, but just because someone is a family member does not mean that we have to be subject to their toxicity.
Leigh B. says
Three years ago, my sister and I had an argument, and I decided to end 50+ years of abuse and misery by not reconciling with her. With her went the rest of my family – her children and grandchildren, whom I love dearly. I cannot begin to describe how incredibly painful this has been, and how many people believe that I am the problem, not her. Toxic people are often Jekyll-and-Hyde; so nice to the rest of the world, and so awful behind closed doors. Worst of all, many friends and relatives do not understand that she and I have never had a classic sibling relationship; we have been fighting since day one. But they judge my decision on the basis of the good relationships they had with their siblings, and continually tell me I will regret this. I can’t talk about it with other relatives, so I seldom talk to them. All I know is that for the rest of my life, I want to be free of her drama, her lies, her victimhood (for which I have been cast in the role of perpetrator), and her abuse of other people in our lives. It’s about what I want my future to be, and not retribution for the past. But there is no procedural manual for a mess like this. What will happen if I show up to certain funerals? What will happen if I don’t? What am I obligated to tell her about other relatives she’s never bothered to maintain contact with? It’s a never-ending problem; I can’t get rid of it completely. I can only minimize its impact on my life, and that’s what I’m working on. Good reminders here for sure.
Wow! You just described my relationship with my sister. Thank you so much for sharing. This has helped me a lot!
Nicky Crane says
This resonates with me plus bringing in my brother to the mix
Long long story……
Both of them were physically and sexually abused by our father
Yes I was too but not to the extent they were
Now in our 60’s they have turned away from me
Both have serious mental health issues
Now my own mental health is a concern from being estranged from my adult children all linked to the above
My ex husband and my brother are plotting to destroy me
Hilary Diack says
HI Leigh I can well understand what pain you have suffered at the expense of a manipulative, toxic person. I have adult twin daughters. One of them is very toxic, the other is an enabler. I have endured a relationship with them for years but am now at the end of my tether and emotionally distraught. It is very sad but for the sake of my own mental health and well being I have to cut ties. It is not a fixable problem as you well know. There are always bridges to cross in a situation like this and the pain is always in the background because people judge and most do not understand as they have not experienced such a situation. I sincerely hope you will feel better in the coming months and years and learn to live free of guilt and remorse. I know how hard it is and how heartbreaking.
Reading your story made me realize I’m not alone in this kind of experience. My older brother was so cruel and intentionally destructive and hurtful to me that I had to just cut him out of my life. He continued to do and say the most awful things about me to anyone and everyone and it dismantled our family. He was a bully, a liar, and he was filled with hate and toxicity. It was so hard for me to avoid family gatherings because he would be there, and I always wanted to confront him with my family present because I felt like I had to defend myself and had a right to call him out, but I never wanted to put my family through that.
3 years ago, he committed suicide after finding out “our” Dad was not his Dad. He was also bi-polar, an addict, and had other issues, NONE of which excused how he treated me most of my life. The last words he said to me were in a text and they were the kind of horrible things someone in a movie might say. That was 2 months before he took his life. But I had completely separated myself from him years before, and when he passed I was so angry and resentful about him that I didn’t even feel sad.
It has taken me 3 years and a lot of introspection, therapy and prayers to finally get to where I am today and honestly, I feel sad for him and empathetic rather than consumed with anger when I think of him. I could not help him, nor could I make him love me, so I had to care for myself first, even though that meant not having a brother any more.
People outside the family, and even within it, don’t understand the reality of what you, myself and others have had to endure. It’s sad and you can wish all you want for it to be better, but sometimes it’s just best to remove that person from your life.
Be good to yourself. Thank you for sharing.
Love this post! And I love that you’ve included in your new book. I’m pre-ordering today! Also, your thoughts remind me about some of what Melody Beattie discusses in her books Codependent No More and The New Codependency. Good stuff! Good reads that I feel many who resonate this post and feel they benefited from this post should read, too. Self-care is SO very important! xo
In my case, the toxic person in the family feels they are the victim; not the other way around. Creating havoc, dysfunction, cruelty, and abuse within the family as a child, adolescent, and adult and then continuing with close extended family members (in-laws, nieces and nephews), causing such hurt, it became all too much for the rest of us leading to having to turn our backs on this person. Once that happened, this member went to other family members (aunts, uncles and cousins)with the sob story of how cruel we have always been to them leading to those family members taking this person’s side. This has caused a great divide within the entire extended family structure and, while there is a mourning period for the loss of these people, my immediate family has come to two realizations; our every day lives are much more peaceful and filled with love, and those family members who have taken this person’s side, without any effort to know the real story (and that is the case with most of them) are really not worth seeking out to maintain relationships with them as well.
While I have come to terms for the most part with the situation, reading this article and the comments have really helped a great deal so I thank the author for writing this (the passive/aggression side of it is so true in my case and really is the weapon of choice continuing to this day with the postings on social media against my immediate family). I also thank the commenters who have bravely poured out their hearts here. It is helpful to know and brings affirmation that sometimes what one has to do to remain “sane” is the right course of action and that it is much more common than you would think.
Cutting to the chase… I am “the pretty sister who’s smart & has a great! personality”. This is my sisters belief… the vain of her existence. I can admit that I am pretty… smart…. great sense of humor… now after 30+ yrs of living. I’ve been told this my entire life.
Quick examples of her deep seated jealousy of me:
1. over the yrs I gained weight. I finally decided to lose it. I got serious & lost a lot of weight. I encouraged her to join me (she’s bigger than me). She refused. I later learn she asked to be prescribed water pills for quick weight loss. IT’S ALWAYS LIKE THAT WHATEVER I DO POSITIVE SHE THINKS IT TAKES AWAY FROM HER.
2. I made new friends over the yrs. She’d dislike the person for some imagined reason & successfully turn my other sisters against my new friends. She’d accuse me of changing when that person came around. She’d have horrible energy & vibes around the person until I would unfriend the person. NOT ANYMORE. I HAVE FRIENDS THAT SHE HATES & I LOVE THEM STILL.
3. I am six one. She is five seven. We have the same parents. She adamantly accuses my mom of lying about her paternity because I’m much prettier than her. I’m tall. My hair grows longer. I have a diff texture hair than she does. My teeth are straighter. MY DAD SHOULD’VE BEEN A MODEL. MY MOM IS SHORT WITH GORGEOUS SKIN & CHEEKBONES. I AM A COMBO OF THEM. SHE IS MY MOM’S TWIN.
I’m tired of tempering my words, accomplishments, shrinking for her! I’m hurt so hurt that she’s so insanely jealous of everything about me. It makes me sick to think about it. She criticizes everything I do but she does it with a smile. She’s so toxic – literally! I noticed a pattern of when she suggests to us, at a girls night, a certain food or drink, that the food makes me sick, the liquor is too potent, I literally become ill the next day. Literally!
She’s very angry at me (really all ppl) & if the surface is scratched she blows up on me. I defend myself yet it catches me off guard because it’s unexpected & I have no idea why she’s so angry with me. She got pregnant by a man she only new for four weeks at age 19. Of course, he turned out to be a dead beat who is in prison for murder as I type. My kids dad was amazing super remarkable superb! Facts. She’s angry at me & throw jabs at me because I wasn’t a single mother.
A few weeks ago, I decided to distance myself from her. And I’m much happier! now, she is angry because she feels me pulling away. IDC.
I want her far away from me. Envy can be a very dangerous thing. And I fear her actions. I see the anger & dislike of me in her eyes.
Goodbye sis & I won’t miss you.
Bravo for you! I’m in the same exact situation. Literally.I blocked her out of my life for good. Don’t miss her at all.
I think for some mothers and daughters, especially if there is no bonding done at an early age, the mother may see a lot of things in her daughter that remind her of herself and if she dislikes herself will make life miserable for her daughter. Whatever the reason may be, sometimes it is not possible to work things out as the toxicity becomes part of their personality and they will never change. If you continue to focus on yourself as being the problem then you will never get past it and you will forever feel constantly sad and depressed. As hard as it is, you have to focus on other good things in life and find a mother or sibling in others. Feel good about yourself and don’t be afraid to make new friends…………..
10 months ago I got involved with a beautiful man. He has 3 children from his first marriage. The children are all grown adults. Although all of them have displayed passive aggressive behaviour the middle child is also a threatening bully. They are all disrespectful to their dad whom I think supports them and parents them out of guilt. They don’t call him dad they call him by his name or they call him stupid, they smoke and flick ashes at him… Like he’s garbage. They had been rude and disrespectful to me, and have worked very hard at driving us apart. It finally worked and they won… He broke up with me…. Telling me it is a timing thing, that he needs more time to get them sorted. They will never be sorted… This has totally broken my heart
melinda nix says
I know your pain ; I was there . The plot only gets worse as it unfolds ; These parents are enmeshed & codependent ,enabling toxic bondage with their children who rule the universe, accordingly ; Release yourself from this cruelty. Flee w/ your independence; Cut your losses now & claim your freedom as YOUR victory, YOUR control !!
I’m sorry for all of you that have been through so much! I can’t tell you how much I know how it feels. Most of my family are toxic! It started with my parents right down to my adult daughter. My parents are immigrants to this country and as well were war victims, one Asian one European naturally they are scarred. I grew up having to live with 3 cultures. Two at home and one in society.
My parents were extreme in every way, on the outside they were seen as good Catholic people who attended church and confession regularly. They even adopted two boys, I was the eldest (eight years older than my sister). I am convinced that my family is cursed in some way because of the way they behave. My father was a fundamentalist in his faith and preached to me every second of the day but it wasn’t about love it was about hell, punishment, and the end of the world. I took on board everything he said. My mother was a bitter woman who no matter what I did never made her happy. There was physical abuse and lots and lots of emotional abuse. They neglected my emotional needs and were never interested in me, I was made to feel invisible and to shut my mouth always. I was never trusted and blamed for many things that I didn’t do. When I was a teenager my mother used me as her personal counselor and complained everyday to me about her ailments, she even acted out her pain with moans and drama but I never felt I was allowed to say anything, if I showed concern and empathy she wanted more, her self pity was a bottomless pit.
I was bullied at school and one day tried to take my life. I was not allowed to go out with friends and socialize or mix with people other than our culture and they always had to be there. I was isolated and alone, my mother made sure she told anyone I cared about how bad I was until at 16 years of age I left home. She took everything I owned including clothes and later I saw other family friends wearing them, I felt as though I was dead. I became a single mum no doubt looking for love but found it in all the wrong places. I was crucified by my parents and one day they just left and moved 2000 kms away. I had no idea where they went, they treated me as a criminal and even wrote terrible things in my baby’s card about me. I could go on and on there is so much more but in the end I suffered severe panic attacks and for 13 years of my life was housebound with agoraphobia where no one even cared or came near me except to continue on the preaching and self centered dramas and blame. When I was hospitalized my father came to visit which I thought was wonderful until he sat down and started telling me how sinful I was and how hell was waiting for me.
The really sad part is that I loved them dearly and 23 years ago I had to make the decision to cut all ties, it has been a gut wrenching experience and some how during those years they have caused terrible hurt and pain through my sister and one brother, I became the scapegoat. Two years ago my father passed away and no one bothered to tell me, it broke me in pieces so I couldn’t go to the funeral as I was hospitalized again and nearly a year ago my other brother took his life because of what happened to him. Now my daughter is treating me in a similar way for the last 10 years and uses my granddaughter as a pawn. She has damaged a 50 year friendship I had, ruined my son’s wedding, broken my family, gave her brothers hell, accuses me of terrible things that didn’t happen, affected my job where I have had to run to her cries for help and yet can pull off normality in public until they get to know her. I didn’t have much family to start with now I have even less. Through my trials I was determined to turn things around for myself and my children and I did to a larger extent but now my daughter is copying everything that I went through and is using it for herself against me. I am at a loss as to why she is doing this although she has mentioned that she is jealous of my husbands support and has tried to come between us.
Sorry this is such a long post but I have spent 36 years battling and every time I get somewhere I am plummeted back to hell so to speak! I have kept my distance with my daughter but because she relies on me for babysitting and other support she slowly winds herself back into my life. As another post mentioned I have grieved several deaths at a time for a long time and then again when they really die. When my brother took his life I was actually attracted to the peace he must have now and wanted to do myself in, when will it all end!!! I love family and I carry very devoted and strong morals when it comes to family but my daughter is an alien to me, I feel I am just reliving my life over and over again with the same pain no matter how hard I try to change.
Thanks for sharing. I can relate to the upbringing part of your story and agoraphobia and panic attacks. I’m realizing, we are much stronger than we think, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult.
Hola Sisters and Brothers,
Such a great article and heartfelt stories that I can relate to many of them. I was 18 when I left home to follow the Love of my life and was never forgiven. I am 52 and only recently made the decision to step away from the abusive nature of most of my southern italian family members. For years I made excuses for their behaviour and it was because I desperately tried to fit in until I emerged and rebirther myself to reconnect with my true nature and therefore our Mother the Earth and the Sun our Spirit that gives life! My spiritual journey brought me back home to myself and it took me 35 years to finally say NO! and that is not just any NO, it is a statement to myself that includes I do Not condone abuse, disrespect, deceit, mental, and emotional, verbal violence or any form violence for that matter, because I love and honour myself enough not to expose myself to these kind of relationships (no matter who they are). I have worked to heal and clear my personal baggage, traumas and inner wounds, and whilst I have compassion for all living beings I don’t have to interact with those who do not vibrate in the same frequency of love acceptance and sisterhood and who are not conscious and aware enough to know how to inspire, uplift, encourage, and mostly share and communicate effectively with a view to truly understand and have empathy, as opposed to criticise, violate, judge deceive and betray. I am choosing differently, knowing that every living being is ultimately of goodness within however this does not mean they have healed themselves enough to also make the choice to love, respect and honour themselves and others. Allowing others to evolve in their own time, being grateful for the lessons they brought me, and blessing their journey as well as taking command of my own in a gesture of surrender to the Divine way of Being, is the best prayer I can offer to anyone who has travelled with me on this journey, it is a token of respect to myself first and then anyone who will cross my path in the future, and only those who carry this ‘token’ will be those that I will invite into my personal world. ‘we cannot give what we don’t already have’ and so it IS! Many Blessings to all those wounded souls, just know that YOU ARE THE LOVE YOU SEEK! In Lack’ech :o))
My sister in law is completely toxic, a nacassistic nightmare. I’ve learnt you can’t win with these people. Manipulative, self-absorbed bullies, with no concern of others feelings aside her own. They cause you nothing but heartache as you work tirelessly to make them happy while they tear you down at every opportunity and never want to share in any joy you have.
I am yet to master how to deal with my sister in law but I’ve given up after trying to reach out to forgive, forget and move forward. These people do not change, do not apologise and twist it round on you and make out you’re the problem. What I’ve started doing is not rising to it when she’s goading my husband and I because that gives them power.
I think the only option for is for my husband and I to cut out my sister in law. BUT, is this even possible without coming off as the villain to other family members? (Particularly mother in law)
Why is it that her mother cannot see it and doesn’t challenge her appalling behaviour? MIL often sits by while SIL is going off on one (and I’m sitting there in disbelief) then when SIL walks off in a temper, MIL makes ridiculous excuses for her.
Will her mother (and other family member that think the sun shines out of her butt) ever get to experience what we see? I.e. Eventually will a narcissist like my sister-in-law ever out herself?
Delana Quinn says
Yep. I’ve been undergoing the Extrication Process for a couple years now but in Dec. 2014 I packed up what fit in my vehicle, took my son and we vanished without so much as a goodbye. A year later, our full name changes were ordered and we have established ourselves far, far away.
When my former husband committed suicide due to VA malpractice, my absolute ghoul of a mother looked me in the face about 20 minutes after her fake sniffling as if they were best buddies, and said, “He only did it to get away from you, you drove him to it.”
It wasn’t that she was aware he and I lived in different states, or that it had nothing to do with me. It was the revelation, that ultimate proof I’d needed to see my entire life that finally lifted the illusion once and for all – that any mother who would say that to her child, that was the Game Over mark for me. I knew then and there I was done with her forever.
My mother has always had some warped jealousy and resentment of me since I was born. Many clues over the years led me to suspect she only got pregnant with me to keep a chain on my father and when I became Daddy’s Little Princess and he moved the earth to make sure I was taken care of, her plan backfired and she lost center stage to me.
Over the years, her resentment and jealousy has shown itself in her utter lack of any kind of support – if I messed up or needed money or had a bad relationship or anything bad, she’d shrug and send me to my father. Rarely would she be supportive. Any goodness in my life was met with a hmph and smirk. In fact, her “religiosity” is such she clings to it for the simple fact she knows I’m an atheist. She’s spent most of my life as an absent mother.
There’s soooo many of these incidents with her but when my ex killed himself it was as if he’d been my invisible protector or something – she never spewed the vile truth until he was gone.
After I had my first son, Daddy’s Girl somehow got shoved aside and my father turned into a hideously verbally abusive manipulator, meddling in my life, trying to control every move I made, blackmailing me with money – all kinds of things and any time I turned to my mother for refuge and comfort, she’d wave it off as if I was being a drama queen and make excuses for him. She truly did not care at all any time misfortune or mistreatment landed in my life.
A year ago when we left, we had spent it recovering from the suicide that upended our lives but I didn’t reach out to them until the summer. I’d finally rooted up their facebook pages and reached out. Instead of wondering how we were, if we were all right, they jumped all over me, the name calling, the hateful forecasts of gloom, the smug self righteous bs, and I realized no matter how much time passes, it’ll never change with them. They have drained the quality from my life since high school. I am 50+ now.
When we got the name change finalized it was like pure liberation. We moved several states away, set down roots for our new lives and haven’t looked back…though I admit I check the social pages from time to time because unlike them, family is important to me. I won’t be reaching out but I need to keep up with what happens to my brothers at least – handicapped as they are, it’s not their fault.
Cutting ties with them, dropping contact, changing our names, and not allowing them to know where we are, no email, no social pages, no phone numbers, no bridge ties, not even if we’re alive or dead – that was the best decision I’ve ever made for my own well being and my son’s.
I strongly agree with the points in this article so if you’re experiencing this, this may be the best decision you ever make.
Excellent article. Thank you.
I have a sister who is 15 years my senior. She unfortunately has always had a cruel side to her, according to my mother. I didn’t notice this side until I grew into my own person at around 19/20 as I became an adult. I seemed to make pretty good choices in my life and kept healthy. My sister was great in my mind until she became finatically religious., during this time which was when I was in my early 20’s. At this time she cut off my parents and the rest of the family for not believing in her religion at the same intensity that she chose. It was devastating to lose her and at the same time my parents lost a son as well to cancer. I decided that I couldn’t change my sister’s thoughts, and that I could only live on the way in which I felt was good for myself. I chose to enjoy my parent’s company as well as my other siblings. Because of all the unrest, my other male sibling became a harsh alcoholic and my remaining sister chose the same path. What was left in my family were my parents. Through the years we developed a very nice relationship. I got married and had two children and we did a lot of things together as a family. It was a family connection with very healthy boundaries. We had fun.
All during these years I had hoped my sister and her family would reconsider us as a family again, but there was not much hope. There was a glimpse of a moment but that glimpse was for money, which my parents gave to them.none of us heard much more from them until my sisrer’s husband died.
My sister came around and we were all so happy. I was excited to rekindle my relationship with her and her children, until one day, unannounced to me and my naive thinking, she told me that when she was visiting with my mom or mom and dad and her children that I was not welcome. This meant any type of function. I was saddened. I didn’t say anything to my mom and the whole time my mom thought it was me who didn’t want to partake in family gatherings. I could certainly see why this could be a potential problem if I were an alcoholic and involved in drugs but I was the squeaky clean opposite with a good husband and children.
I decided I would go to some family gatherings but would limit my time. The first family gathering was very upsetting to me. My sister spoke up in front of my children,, nieces and nephews just randomly without any warning, told them all a very personal thing from my past that my sister new I was ashamed of. These types of moments would continue off and on through the years until I had, had enough. I cut my sister off, but before this I had asked many times if there was something that I was doing wrong and could I fix it. She would shrug and say nothing.
My lovely family who is my world is growing now. We have a lot of fun together and we have very healthy boundaries. My daughter is having a baby this year, and my sister is showing up along with her daughter in my daughter’s life. They want to be there when the baby is born and are all over the situation. It’s quite unresting for me because this is the sister who has had nothing to do with me or my family.
My sister took advantage of another family and stepped in between a mother (my sister’s best friend) and her daughter, explaining that she was going to be the new grandmother of this family because my sister saw an opportunity of a momentary glitch between a mother and daughter. This person was absolutely devastated. This mother of this family, her daughter and grandchildren, was a very lovely person, but my sister seemed be very persuasive. Now my sister and her daughter are in my family’s nucleus in the same fashion.
It just doesn’t seem right. How a sister can not want anything to do with you or your family and then all of a sudden just can show up and create chaos.
My sister has no friends, they never seem to last, I’m sure because of the boundary issues. Her son moved hundreds of miles, as did her daughter. The one daughter who is 40, still lives with her with her two teen boys and husband who hasn’t worked in 20 years. The daughter that lives with her is repeating her mother’s bad behaviour. It seems they have to be in everyone’s business. My only hope is they find another family other than mine to take over. I’m really sickened by it. I need some advice.
melinda nix says
Your sister has all the traits of NPD.
( narcissistic personality disorder)
Listen very closely to your gut .( intuition) Do not ignore it .
Do not share any of your weaknesses or personal info with her. ( your sister). She will use all this info as weapons against you, most likely.
Anytime someone chronically disrespects you , then, Respect YOU .Love you & not allow this disrespect by others . No matter if it IS a sister ; My sister’s shenanigans came to fruition & I had no choice but to cut off all contact w/ her . She destroyed my family life as I know it. By cutting her off, I salvaged my daughters & grandchildrens relationships by removing her from my life
. I learned to show myself love & respect .
All along ,there had been so many redflags I had chosen to ignore . Hints of her toxicity & objectives: Triangulations, pitting,subtle bullying ..Lying. she was a master of deceit.
SHE became ‘fullblown’ when my parents were dying. The truth , was then , totally revealed. It was all about money , possessions & attentions .
Ruthless, sociopathic intentions ! She had to win, at all cost! But , she lost me .
Abuse is Never ok.
My other sister drank herself to death ; She accepted her abuse & lived in denial .” Oh, ,but she’s family!! Thats not family.& thats not a sister or brother. Its better known as ‘littermates’..
One of my narcissistic ,histrionic sisters favorite lines aka lies ) I’m praying for you .then quote a passage from the Bible. & mention what the preacher said in church services ..Religion ,usually fake Christianity, is a great camouflage donned by evil entities.
I wish you so much more than all of this ! Best! May you walk into goodness always with cocoons of protective light !
Adam Jones says
I totally agree with this article and it is very well set out. I have a brother who is 3 years younger than me. He has absolutely no respect for me and is always rewarded for not changing. It’s an absolute disgrace there is an excuse for everything he does. He has this disgusting passive-aggressive approach, even when I talk to him he has this get away from me talk. Very defensive and unwelcoming and has no time for me even though I am older than him. There is absolutely no way he can change, he is encouraged to act that way by my parents and other siblings. Everything he does, it is me who apparently started it and I’m considered evil and ‘crazy’ because I ‘start’ everything. Just fills me with very negative energy and I don’t know how to deal with him because quite frankly I am fighting a losing battle there is no way you can win.
Anita Khan says
Its the same with my sister and I. She’s 3 years younger and we are both in our 30’s and I’ve absolutely had enough. In public she is lovely, but as soon as she is home the negativity kicks in and usually its targeted at me. She has a problem with everyone else and it can be something as little as being looked at for a split second on the train. With something like that, my response is that everyone usually looks at everyone on the train. She was looking as well otherwise how would she have known. This is a regular complaint. Also she currently has a problem with my skincare routine, and thinks its a waste of money, and that hers is better. I explained that our skin types are different and actually it works for me. I didn’t want to argue about something that was none of her business, so left the room. Later in the evening, I caught her bitching about it to my mum, and just asked her to mind her own business. A little later she had a full blown outburst with my mum and I almost had to call an ambulance. When I asked what happened, the response was that it was my fault. This continued with a chain of insults including calling me a failure, selfish, stupid, jealous etc She couldn’t understand why I was rightfully angry with her. I was angry because she physically harmed my mum. She had the audacity to call me sick and vile. It is clear from the events, that she is the problem. But in the end, somehow it was all my fault even though I had nothing to do with the argument. She is judgemental, narcissistic, toxic and incapable of taking responsibility for her own actions. I would leave, but I don’t want to leave my mum alone with her. And mum won’t kick her out, for reasons unbeknownst to me!
I just want to say Thank You to M&A for this and to all of the people who took the time to share in their replies so far. I can completely relate to all of it. I wish I would have had this resource 30 years ago….Maybe even longer because it really teaches you the vitally necessary Social Skills they don’t teach in school and if you come from a completely dysfunctional family, you are blind, walking in the forest full of evil. I am 47, and after reading self help since 17, I finally am reaching a point where I can handle toxic people. I have the mental skills now. This short article nails it on the head!! It’s Never Ever too late. I find doors are opening and new friends are appearing. Prayers are being answered. The Universe is working it’s plan. I could go on for pages. I would love to start a group to help people learn this, especially young girls that come from dysfunction (I was a big sister for 4 years….wish I knew this then). My real sister (10 yrs older) is involved in ACOA (adult children of alcoholics) & is learning the same things. These skills will help me in my future work, personal and family endeavors. Thanks again!!! 🙂 Finally Free!! Peace Of Mind,
Only Few Can Find.
If you have it,
Cherish It!! & consider yourself Very Lucky.
The only way I can get peace in my life is to maintain distance between my sister and I. She is mid forties and I am a couple years younger. She has an alcohol problem as well as control issues. She can’t cope with reality.
She is going through a nasty divorce and her ex husband employs my husband at their company. Years ago, my husband and I were separated but I made the choice to reconcile with him not long ago.
Things have been going fairly well between us although I asked him to get another job so I could maintain some sort of relationship with my sister because she sees me as having chosen him over her. He hasn’t gotten a new job and it’s been two years of me being the target of my sister’s anger and feelings of betrayal. I have a responsibility to my young kids to try to keep our family intact and I hope someday my sister can understand that.
My parents are caught in the middle; however, they enable my sister with a rent free home and alcohol when she wants it. I feel she uses them and I feel like I can’t trust them 100% because my mom fishes for info from me about my brother in law’s company. I also feel like I can’t trust my husband 100% either, because he hasn’t attempted to find a new job although he knows how important it is to me.
It is such a messy situation and I do my best to maintain emotional and physical distance between myself and my sister and parents. It’s like I don’t really have a family anymore.
I really hope my sister can find a way to get on with her life and stop using me as her punching bag and I wish my Mom would stop manipulating me as a way of enabling my sister to get what she wants and feels entitled to.
I have a few toxic family members on my mother’s side of the family…needless to say I am at an age now where I’ve stopped listening to their expectations of the prescribed life they want me to lead, and instead have been living my life in a way that suits me best. After all, it is MY life, not theirs. Their toxicity continues, but through distance, and a perseverance to continue living my own life, I have been able to stop letting their negativity get to me like it used to.
I see so much pain in these replies and I can identify. So many of us want things to change, but the change can only come from us. Such a difficult realization, especially when we crave for a “what if” that never comes.
Marc and Angel have some wonderful thoughts on these difficult situations. To add, I would say this (if you have no choice but to be in the company of difficult loved ones):
-Ground yourself. Do whatever it takes. For me, I do this Reiki practice: imagine a light surrounding your body and mind, coming from the top of your head straight into the ground. Imagine yourself covered in a protective light.
-Cut the conversation short if it starts going in a negative direction. A simple “I’d prefer not to talk about this” may work, maybe not.
-Does the person keep going on and on? Time to leave or cut a phone conversation short (i.e., “oops, I forgot I have an appointment, etc.”).
-Remember it isn’t you. REPEAT REPEAT.
-Go to those who you love being around and with whom you thrive. Seek out joy.
-When you stew, remember #7 and #8. Be kind to yourself.
My own son and his girlfriend are withholding my grandson from me because I have not spent enough time with him his first year of life. I’m also raising my 8 and 9 year old neices who were removed from my sisters care. I have permanent custody and I will raise them as my own as they are with me til 18 legally and longer if they choose. My oldest son and his girlfriend feel I chose a NEW family over my first grandson. The girls were here before the pregnancy. I will not apologize for loving these two innocent children. I love my son and my grandson but can no longer endure the emotional roller coaster. I also have MS which restricts my time because when the girls are in school I rest. I also had open heart surgery this past October for a bad valve from childhood that led to even more fatigue this past year and less time with my grandson. I begged them to bring him to see me more often and I would always pay for the gas. It is a 30 minute drive. Now I am not allowed to know where they are living and was told I could never see my precious grandson again because I have my NEW family. I felt guilt in so many ways, so many times over these comments from my son and his girlfriend. I.cannot handle the pain any longer. My nieces need and deserve my full attention at this moment. My grandson will NEVER remember his first year. My nieces will remember every moment at this age.
I wanted to tell you all that I really respect and admire everyone who was free to share their story here. And most of you seem to be very kind and genuinely caring people. I wish I would be nicer. Honestly. Sometimes I’m so full of anger and negativity, that comes from my poisoned past, that I cannot see anything beautiful in myself nor anyone else. And I doubt everything I think and feel.
Do you know a way to deal with that?
Kind regards 🙂
I feel the exact same! Exact to the letter. Cynical and negative. It’s a defense mechanism, although I finally decided to get therapy. Just started so let’s see how this works out. 🙂 I use Talkspace app, would recommend starting there if money is an issue. In fact, I’m sending your response to my therapist because you managed to put into words what I couldn’t. So thank you! 🙂
I’m dealing with a toxic family member right now. I’m the second oldest of my siblings, and my older sister (as well as my father) is very toxic. I always have conflicting thoughts about her because she was sexually abused as a child and it led her believe that it was ok to stay with people that treat her badly. Well, now I’ve moved out of my father’s house and she is still there wih my other siblings. None of them get along and they are scared of her because she can blow up at any minute or take their things and then to start a conflict. I know that she had mental issues at this point, but she refuses to get help. So instead she doesnt work or go to school and gets into arguments with the kids and my father. He aids in her emotional abuse which is why I have wanted her to move out. The thing is the trust between is is now very broken because I’ve tried to help her in the past and she’s only hurt me or taken advantage of me. A few days ago she caused disturbance at my dad’s house and broke a window and the kids were really scared. She said it was because my sad and brother moved her stuff. She went to jail and they didn’t give her a psych eval like they said they would and released her in a day. Now she’s gone to a homeless shelter but recently got locked out for not listening and coming back by curfew. She wanted me to go and pick her up today (I called the shelter because no one knew where she was and I wanted to make sure she was ok) but after everything that’s happened I don’t trust her and know she won’t listen to me if she knows where I live. I know she needs medical help and I want her to get better, but I don’t want to compromise my safety, well-being, and open myself to getting hurt and used by her again. I always have to focus on her needs and not my own, and I am trying to graduate from college this year and don’t need this. I’m already not being able to focus because I’m worried about her and my mother ( who lives in a different city) doesn’t understand why she can’t just come and live with me. I’m stuck between wanting her to be safe and wanting to protect myself and I’m not willing to keep taking care of her. My parents just want me to take her for now until they can get her help, but I know that once she knows where I live she won’t likely leave. I don’t know what to do and would appreciate some help. I don’t want to feel like an evil sister but there is only so much , I can take in this situation. My parents forgot that I too have been hurt in this situation. I don’t know where she is now and I’m considering just going back and letting her stay with me because I feel guilty but I know I will have to deal and take care of her as well which is something I don’t feeI safe or comfortable doing. Please help. Thanks.
Hey, it is not your job to take care of your dysfunctional sister. Please don’t be guilted into ruining your life for her sake. You’re responsible only for your life, nobody else’s. Does it sound harsh? Maybe. I’ve been there. It’s heartbreaking but at the same time necessary. Please stand your ground.
Thank you Marc Chernoff and to all the posters who have given me much to think about. My story is a little different. I was a screwed up kid. I have one younger brother. I treated him rather badly. I’m guilty. I know it and have regretted that fact for all these years. As it turns out he grew up bigger, stronger, far more financially successful than me and has social skills that I have always lacked and always will. I’m 60 years old. I am a small man who has lived a small life. When left to my own devices I am quite spiritual and content. I tried years ago to make amends and was apologetic and contrite over and over. I realize I will never be forgiven however I have forgiven myself. Unfortunately I have had to make a very difficult decision and will confront my younger sibling. In all likelihood I will jettison him forever. It is for my own wellbeing. My father is elderly (quite controlling and domineering) and will use every guilt trip and sales pitch imaginable. He will fail.
The one piece of advice that I will throw out there is the following…..Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity notwithstanding his greatest observation is that of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” How true. I also want to point out for inspiration listen to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and apply it to your own situations. It’s simplistic but puts things in proportion. In the end we can only control ourselves. Stop banging your heads on the proverbial wall. It hurts and will only serve to give you headaches. Take care and best wishes to all.
Caro Benedict says
I feel for all the people who have posted on this site. I grew up with toxic parents and a toxic brother who was worshipped by my parents. I became the family scapegoat, always blamed for being unreasonable, aggressive and sulky while my brother was showered with gifts and praise. I married young and badly, my husband turned out to be a violent bully. My parents knew this but made it clear I couldn’t go home as they didn’t want me there. Over the years I had a very difficult relationship with them as they had little interest in me or my children, did little to help me when I became a single parent, but still devoted themselves to the well-being of my brother and his family. I however was expected to look after them. When my mother died I was expected to take care of my father and devote myself to his welfare as my brother and his wife were too busy. They lived ten minutes away from my father. It was a six hour round trip for me. My father moved into a care facility. I arranged it. Then found out my parents had given most of their money to my brother and there was nothing left. My father had even cashed in his pension to give to my brother. The upshot is I nearly had a breakdown and after therapy have now cut all contact with my father and brother. I still feel guilty but have finally realised that THEY were the problem not me and I am not going to ruin what’s left of my life being involved with them. I will never know why they all did what they did. But I can limit any further harm.
My sister has anxiety and depression, which is tough, I get it. I spent my whole childhood in the shadow of her moods. There was (and this is still the case) no time or space for me to ever feel upset or cross, or stressed about anything, she always had it worse. I had no reason to be upset, I didn’t have anxiety and depression. Having to tiptoe around everything I said and did was/is exhausting, lest I be blamed for triggering. And even when I try my hardest I can still accidently trigger. I am always the one who is apologising, somehow when she apologises, its my fault for making her feel like she needs to apologise… How does she even do that!?
Now as adults (she is married) the physical distance means we aren’t forced to get over it and get on. I share less with her, as it is met with the aame criticism, she has it worse and, I shouldn’t be upset by that.
Recently in lockdown it has become clear to me that I can’t keep things going like this. I live in town (I loves hills and the sea and wide open spaces), with my parents (this is tough after being independent for 5years..), everyone is out walking, it is busy and noisy and feels crowded everywhere. I cant find anywhere that is quiet just to clear my head, when I try to rant/get this off my chest with her… She tells me that there must be somewhere I could walk, there are nice walks round here I’m just not trying hard enough, it could be worse. Meanwhile she lives walking distance of the sea and beach and DAILY posts and shares pictures of this. Her lack of sensitivity and empathy towards me is so hurtful, I could never tell her this, because it would trigger her feelings/depression and she’ll get upset with how useless she as as person and I’ll have to apologise and help bring her back upout anxiety spiral.
I get that she can’t help the anxiety and the spiralling, but I’m too tired and worn out from always being the emotionally giving one and not having space to be upset.
And right now, in this extra stressful time.l, I am so done. SO DONE. And I don’t really know the best course of action here.
I am dealing with this now. I have a younger sister who I feel is toxic. Maybe not to everyone in our family, but to me, definitely.
We used to be very close when she was a child. That started to change when she hit puberty, and changed dramatically for the worse after our parents divorced. Mostly because of the laissez-faire approach that my mom has taken to raising her by since the divorce (in my opinion, anyway), she’s become very entitled, moody, and domineering—which she’s basically been allowed to get away with for years, not just by my mom, but by me too. Being someone who tries to be easygoing and avoid trouble, I’ve taken to just letting her go on and take the blame for things at times.
I’ve been living with her and my mom for about a year now (long story). During that time, I’ve tried to just mind my own business and let her mind hers. But we’ve fallen into a cycle. We have periods where we get along all right, but those gradually fade into periods where I can step into the room and I can just feel her immense irritation with me, like she’s just waiting for an excuse to jump all over me. It’s usually during one of these periods that something explosive happens. This is how it usually goes: she finds fault with something minor that I’ve done, whether I meant to or not (and I usually don’t), she confronts me, I apologize, she won’t just accept it and accuses me of making excuses when I try to explain my side of it, I tell her she’s out of line for saying things like that, she says I’m oversensitive (among other things), and we don’t talk for a while until the cycle starts all over again.
A few days ago, this happened with us. After two days of trying to get my feelings and thoughts in order, I was going to let her have it—all the anger and frustration I had toward her. But then I decided the only way to stop this was to just cut my losses and bow out. I told her, with as much respect and calm as I could while still being firm, that while we seem to bring out the worst in each other, I am not the only one to blame; that it would be in our best interests to simply leave each other alone completely, at least for now; and that if she ever decides she wants to work on our issues, I will be glad to meet her halfway. I did this just today, in fact.
It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, and I can already tell that I’m going to be second-guessing myself a lot in the days ahead. I do love her, and I do want us to get along, but I just can’t handle the emotional havoc she wreaks on my life right now.
Thanks for sharing! I can tell you are a sweet kind-hearted person!
I can relate to you. My situation is a bit different but there are lots of similarities. It sounds as though she is projecting how she feels about herself onto you. Blaming things on you, holding anger towards you…etc. It sounds as though she has something underlining going on such as emotional pain. Maybe due to the family dynamic and pressures. It is perfectly fine to express how you really feel towards your sister.
The best approach I find is to do everything with love and kindness. Sometimes it can be hard in certain situations and you may even have to just walk away from people or situations. Everyone has to take full responsibility of their own life. I believe you made a good choice as to distancing yourself from your sister. I would try not to feel guilty about it. You are doing what is best for you and there is nothing wrong with doing just that. Besides, you can love your sister from afar and not communicate.
I hope this helps!
Thank you for the posts you have been sending me. I am very grateful and my gratitude can only be displayed when I walk the talk.
My mother is very toxic. Has been my entire life. I always described my childhood as a roller coaster as one never knew if everything would be up or down in a moment. What I began to realize as an adult is that there is mental illness there. Terrible mental illness. I have two sisters and she was constantly putting a wedge between us and comparing us to each other. It has caused a lot of pain and strife for a very long time. About 4 years ago I confronted my mother on the phone and severed contact with her. My two sisters subsequently severed contact with me. We never spoke about it, no response at all. It’s always a triangle type of thing. My mother is always the victim garnering support from everyone and then soon people turn on each other. She’s real sweet to other people. Living with her was a nightmare. My question is now many years later, I am a much happier person, however lately I feel guilt and an considering sending her a note to tell her I forgive her. I don’t want to open Pandora’s box again. I previously forgave her only to fall back into the same toxic patterns. Any suggestions?
I was in a very similar situation and you do need to forgive to move on but that does not in any way condone her behavior. I’d write the letter, hold onto it for awhile then re- read it. If you feel that sending it then is right go ahead. But don’t expect to get a reply – or the reply you want. This is for you and not her or your sisters.
Bonnie Staughton says
My brother-in-law accepted the job of taking care of Mom and Dad and living in their home out of the 6 siblings. I’m not sure what all his jobs were but they were in their 90’s (although they both were pretty much able to take care of themselves before they died). After Mom died, my brother-in-law started to get very toxic. We all thought maybe he needed more money and we were prepared to talk to Dad or even give him some of our own. He ended up writing an email that included every one of the siblings and me (the only in-law) and what he found bad about each of us. We were all in an uproar and some even to the point of tears. He didn’t want to hear from any of us about his email. After awhile, I did email him with my excuses about why he thought I had done something wrong. He agreed with me that my answers were valid. He stopped communicating with my husband and I for no known reason. After Dad died about 4 years ago, he has not made any effort to talk to my husband and I or respond to our reaching out to him. At Dad’s funeral he kept himself scarce so no -one could talk to him. At an Uncle’s funeral recently I was waylayed by a talkative aunt but I wanted to speak to my brother-in-law. By the time I was able to go speak to him, he had disappeared. This behavior has really upset me for many years but lately I’ve decided that it isn’t me, it’s him. In talking to the other siblings, I know that he has been acting like this to most of them (except the one he lives with). I’ve decided that it’s HIS loss and I’ve stopped trying to reach out to him. I’m here if he needs me, he knows that. It’s still sad.
So, your recent post has really made me realize that this is just how some people react, family or not. Thanks for letting me know the 10 steps to remember about toxic family members. Very informative.
OMG this has come at just the right time for me.
It is over 4 weeks since I stopped communicating with my husband. Mentally I could not take his negativity and silent treatment anymore. I realised that I needed to distance myself and look after my mental health but it has been tough.
I realised a few years ago that he has a narcissistic disorder. I am married to him 23 years and was blind to his behaviours for so long. He always blamed me for everything that was wrong in our marriage and I then blamed myself. My self esteem has been so low and I couldn’t understand or even verbalise what I was feeling. I would look at myself in the mirror and not know who I was because he had me so crushed with his non aggressive mental abuse.
The last 4 weeks I have felt that anger, heartache, confusion, guilt and obligation that you talk about. I want to leave him but financially I can’t so I need to stay. I know that I will have to start communicating with him again. All along I didn’t know what I would say because as you know it is sooo difficult to talk to a narcissist as they are so self absorbed. But after reading your article, I am glad that I have distanced myself and taken the time to look after myself. I am exercising and meditating. Some days I feel strong some days I don’t. I am taking the time to understand and process my feelings. I now know that the feelings I am having are my feelings and not his feelings projected onto me. I now know that I am not a bad person. I am trying not to let his negative behaviour impact me and when it does I am reminding myself that his behaviour is a reflection of him and not me. I now realise that he is toxic and your article will help me deal with him.
Thank you. You have given me clarity and strength to move forward.
Well done Lorraine, on making yourself a priority! THIS IS HUGE!
YOU always have a CHOICE. Thank you for sharing- so inspiring because it takes grit to do what you doing.
Dear Marc and Angel,
I happened across your site tonight and, after looking around, decided to introduce myself. Seems we have a few things in common, including a passion for helping others. Since 2008, I’ve worked independently as a business consultant. Out of that work, I created a productivity model. Over the years, the model has grown into something with much greater potential, and has uses for personal and professional applications. As my career winds down, my hope is to leave something of value behind. This model represents the culmination of my professional life, and is my legacy. I’d like to share it with you, for whatever it may be worth, which may be something that we can explore.
I spent the last two years traveling and writing. Over that time, I completed two books (three books, if you count the small one), redesigned my website, created a blog, and produced a few videos. My motivation is simply to do something more with my model. Maybe you’ll have an idea. Maybe the model will, somehow, be of value to you – to your work.
Well, so much for my brief note. Thank you for your good work. If what I’ve shared strikes your curiosity. My website (a work in progress) is: StevenRobertYoung.com
Kind regards, and respectfully,
I was searching for clarity tonight after what I decided will be the last shoot out over the phone with my older sister. I got used to ending conversations with her as soon as I felt threatened by her in any way. I could go weeks, months and years not speaking to her knowing who she really is and what she’s really up to. She’d find abnormal ways to weasel her way back in and I love her and miss her so I’d allow it until she couldn’t hide her true nature any longer. I’m so tired of the lies and denials. I was encouraged by this article. I’ll be heading back to therapy again soon.
I was severely physically abused by my father from the age of 4. Thank God it was not sexual, but the abuse still landed me in hospital as a child. I have huge scars still. My mother would gaslight me and say he didn’t mean it and in later years deny it ever happened. By 15 I knew my only way out was to get educated and get the hell out of that situation. So I put all my focus on learning and studying, eventually moving country. I never stopped loving them. My brother does not have a relationship with my father as he also hurt him however my younger brother was never hit and he is the favourite child. My father has gossiped about me to my younger brother telling him I could scare the children because I lost my temper with my father at Christmas after he told me I would “die alone knitting for the church” which he said when my mother was in the kitchen then of course denied all knowledge. The anger I feel inside with him for telling such lies to my brother when he is the child abuser is almost too much. I am godmother to two of my friends kids and I have never been aggressive in front of children. ever. He has to the point of hospitalisation! I have so much anger still. His nasty games and dirty tricks make me sick in my stomach.
I just want to cry. I love them so deeply and I feel so bad for my anger but I also know they are toxic. I so badly wish they would be proud of me. But it will never be enough. I have spent thousands on them during covid when I moved next door to help them out and all they did was tell people shit about me, never all the effort I put in to help them. It’s so sad.
But my mental health is more important than trying to appease my parents. I don’t know why at 40 I still crave their approval. I’m a single straight female (lost interest in men when my 6 year fiancé went off with a prostitute with football books and Fanta orange fake tan with duck lips). They see me as a major screw up.
What can I do? I have to accept that not everybody in the world can be trusted and self reliance is all you can really trust I guess.
A lot of these comments have been really helpful because I response with them and of course the article is very helpful as well and I will be coming back to it I think. I have a younger sister who I feel might be toxic and im not sure what to do about it and how to deal. I recently graduated from college and am staying in my family home until I find a job elsewhere. She just cane back from college and I am already having a tough time and am worried that we are going to get back into our toxic patterns. I feel like in the past I was an enabler because I really wanted to be close with my only sister and thought that since we were sisters, we should be friends too. She and I have been very close for a long time, but with that comes the issues. Our pattern in the past has been that we are close and then she does something that is treating me badly or talking to me in a rude way or being passsive/aggressive or just being straight mean and then we have an argument about it and she does not see the fault in her ways and she turns it on me. She never says sorry and even seems happier and almost thrives after we argue and then I am stuck feeling horrible because I hate confrontation and arguing etc. Then time goes by and I still feel like I want things to be good between us, without an apology (mostly because I know she won’t apologize) I start hanging out with her again (partially also because im bored and she’s around and can be fun to hang with. And then the cycle continues. And then she treats me badly again. One example would be how she isn’t respectful of me and at night she sometimes (during covid it was almost every night) stayed up super late like until 4am and be on FaceTime or be watching a loud show and the noise keeps me up. I tell her to quiet down or stop making noise because I need my sleep and then she talks back and says she is being quiet or says that she will turn down the volume and then doesn’t. This then turns into a huge fight. I have suggested many solutions like her relocating to a different room or wearing headphones and she did not try any of those options. It had gotten to the point where I started having to relocate because of her but I don’t like that I would have to keep working around her and changing my own life for her convenience.
Recently during my last semester of school, I have learned to stay away from people who bring me down and it has made me sooo much happier! This gave me an idea on how to deal with my sister. Keeping my distance, although difficult when it is a sibling and also because her room is right next to mine, seemed to be my last option. I am having a really hard time with it and I am not sure how to do this when she is in the other room and in the same house as me.
My Daughter-in-law is refusing to let their children have any contact with my sons siblings until they are 18. Her reasons 1.His brother invite his own son to their house and she says Hewasn’t invited. 2. She gave his brother a drink and he did not say thank you. The family can’t do anything right. She also told me if I don’t follow the rules I won’t be seeing them either. She is never wrong. She acts happy and nice in front of other people. We have all tried to make her happy, she is tearing the family apart. She is hurting her Kids by keeping them away. Help
So is my sister & brother they are very selfish, my sister said she’s coming to help us shift.
All she does is does the washing, folding, knitting, she moans we haven’t got enough cups to use yet she would never think of buying us any, or thunk of buying us tea, I have an elderly mum to look after & I have to do shopping too & work, my sister never thinks to go shopping or pay for anything.
She is surprised that we do things for others, she blames her past cancer yet she has always been like this.
Wonders why her husband has gone.
I can’t wait till she goes.
I didn’t say anything about her either.
Jagmeet S Soin says
I am dealing with a 42 year s son who is extremely toxic narsistic Staying with me. He does not work his wife is divorcing him. Due to his mothers death. He has been depressed and started drinking heavily. He has no job . He feels I am responsible for ruining his life.
Due to some very bad decisions , I lost my home and savings. Still he feels I is my obligation to provide him good life. His other siblings are in no mood to tolerate his abusive behavior. I am 78 years old and I am target of his regular verbal abuse. Since he is abusive , none of the siblings and relatives wants to associate with him. Consequently they have estranged feelings towards me. I am at loss to know how to help him, help myself. He knows he is going to be in sad shape when I am no more. Right now it is terrible future for him . He is looking for me to perform a miracle. He has aleanated everybody. I have no strength to help him or take his abuse. So much so I cannot help myself now.I need help
He is an adult, and not disabled, therefore he is not a dependent. He is a leech. He’s entitled, and he sees the “path of least resistance” in making a living through you, by attaching himself to you and letting you shoulder all his burdens. His burdens are his responsibility, and you have burdens of your own that you are struggling to carry as it is.
Do not allow him to manipulate you with guilt or duty (this is what abusers do). He caused his own problems (except the untimely death), and he has spat in the face of your generosity with abusive comments and behavior. Further, he has taken your help and squandered it with alcohol, cruelty, and wallowing, so instead of using the opportunity you provided him to better his situation, he has instead become worse off, and turned you into an enabler for his bad behavior. It is unlikely you can help him, because he doesn’t want help; he wants to get drunk, he wants to be angry, and bitter and depressed, and he wants to make you miserable.
You have two choices. However, I think the first will lead to the second. These are probably some of the only things you can do to help, and they can only help because they put him into a situation where he may suffer a loss, or where he will suffer a loss because of his behavior.
1) Set solid boundaries, inform him, and maintain them. Do not allow him to guilt trip you about them, negotiate them or refuse them (it doesn’t matter if he agrees, enforce them). He is living in your home, therefore he needs to get a job, stop being ungrateful, stop badmouthing you, and stop drinking. However, it’s your home so you can decide your own boundaries, Maybe you want him to stop badmouthing your relatives or even to apologize to them, it’s up to you to decide which boundaries to enforce.
Set for yourself upfront solid pass/fail boundaries so you know when he has failed: he hasn’t gotten a job or looked for one in X months, he has taken X number of drinks since you formed the boundary, he has made X number of rude comments or ungrateful remarks. If he doesn’t meet these standards, give him 30 days notice and kick him out. Do not let him guilt trip you or plead with you, or make promises to you about the future, to get you to ignore these boundary violations, or he will not respect your boundaries or you. Further, you will lose respect for yourself, and may end up in the same situation you are in now with him at home drunk and treating your with contempt.
There is a very real possibility that just the act of setting strong boundaries might make him move out because narcs hate boundaries. However, this may depend on whether or not he thinks he can get away with violating them.
2) Let him carry his own burdens: give him 30 days notice, kick him out, and get your family and your peace of mind back.
In case you will feel guilty kicking him out: never underestimate human beings when it comes to cleverness. These adults that act like they are dependents are no exception. I assure you that if you kick him out he will likely find someone else to live off of, even if none of your family members will help. He’ll go to a friend or suddenly find a woman that will take care of him, for instance. But if he should be unable to find anyone to take care of him, he will likely suddenly and mysteriously develop unforeseen reserves of strength that will allow him to take care of himself.
However, whatever happens to him, you did your part. You tried to help him, he bit the hand that fed him, and he wouldn’t repent. He’s a grown man, he should be able to take care of himself. His life and his future is in his own hands.