Avoiding family members

Completely Avoiding Your Toxic Family Members Might be Unhealthy Too — Resolve

Counseling Intern

Written By Amber Reed

As people are more aware of mental health and the importance of self-care, I see more and more people mentioning that they no longer communicate with most of their family members. While it is important to consider your mental health when dealing with family members, it might not be the healthiest thing to cut them out of your life entirely. 
Our family members play such a major part in what type of people we develop into. They will typically always have a place in our hearts no matter how horrible they have been. Cutting a toxic family member out of your life can be devastating. Although you might believe that it is the only way to protect your own sanity, there is a way to protect yourself from your toxic family members while still allowing them a place in your life.  
Because we are conditioned by western societal norms, we go through life a lot more independently than most eastern cultures. We tend to make decisions more for what is best for us as individuals than as a system of multiple people. This allows us to make the decision to cut off our toxic family members more easily. We also tend to have “all or nothing” thinking patterns which could feed into our tendency cut people off completely. 
When considering if/when to distance yourself from toxic family members, here are a few things to consider: 

Are you in danger? 
Is your physical safety in danger? If so, in what capacity? Does this family member become abusive? If so, are there specific circumstances when that is more prominent? Is the abuse more likely to occur when there are other people around or is it completely unpredictable? 
Is there a pattern? 
Most people have a pattern to their behaviors, and it can be beneficial to know the typical pattern of the person. Does the person typically become more toxic in certain settings or around certain people? Is there particular time of day, week, month, or year that they become more toxic? 
Are there any benefits to keeping this person in your life? 
Is this a close family member that has been around you your entire life? Do your children have a close relationship with this family member? Are they supportive in other areas of your life (financial, emotional, spiritual, etc.)? 

If you have determined that the family member is randomly physically abusive, you have not been able to identify a behavioral pattern, and there are no benefits to keeping the person in your life, it might be a good option to discontinue any type of relationship with the family member. If you have been able to identify a behavioral pattern, you are not in physical or unpredictable danger, and there are benefits to keeping the person in your life, then you might consider other options rather than cutting them from your life completely.  
A very helpful tool for keeping a toxic family member in your life while also minimizing the risks that you might face by maintaining a relationship with them could be challenging but not impossible. Setting strict boundaries with the family member is the tool. Boundaries are hugely important in relationships no matter what the status is (friendships, romantic relationships, professional relationships, etc.). Setting specific boundaries with your toxic family members could be the key to keeping a place for them in your life but also protecting yourself from any risks. In my next blog, I will go more in detail about specific boundaries that can be set with your family members and other things to consider that will allow you to continue to have a relationship with them without subjecting yourself to substantial abuse.  

Ashley Turner,
Counseling Intern


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Completely Avoiding Your Toxic Family Members Might be Unhealthy Too - Part II

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Amber Reed

15 Signs of a Toxic Family Member, and What to Do About Them

Some lucky people are born into families they adore spending time with—their loving mutual bonds make holidays and multi-generational vacations a drama-free joy. But for others, simply seeing an incoming call from a parent triggers an anxiety that dates back to childhood, and they leave family gatherings feeling hurt, angry, or exhausted. Toxic family dynamics can have far-reaching impact on our lives as adults.

And narcissistic parenting isn’t the only type of toxic family relationship. Fern Schumer Chapman, author of Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation, says that this topic isn’t nearly as talked about. “There’s this expectation that siblings will have sustaining relationships for all of their lives,” she says. “So when you say that you don’t, there’s this question of, ‘is there something wrong with you?”’

The reality can be much more complicated. Chapman adds that typically, a toxic person is the product of a toxic environment themselves—so they often aren’t even aware of their own harmful patterns. “I always joke that if you have one toxic person in your family, you probably have ten,” she says. “Because that’s what was modeled.” Without intervention, it can be perpetuated further by marrying into other people’s dysfunctional families.

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Is someone who you're ideally supposed to be close to actually inspiring an instinct to protect yourself? Here are several signs of a toxic family member, and expert advice on dealing with toxic family—because “drink all of the wine” is not a sustainable plan.

They make cruelly critical remarks.

No one's known you longer than your family has, which means they've got a rich back catalog of personal failures to draw from when commenting on your life. Their blunt criticism can wound like a physical jab.

"Toxic parents exhibit a chronic lack of empathy towards their children," says Shannon Thomas, trauma therapist and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse. "These behaviors can manifest through biting remarks about appearance, relationship status, mental or physical health, financial struggles, or career challenges. "

Even if they insist they're just teasing, those comments may (even subconsciously) be decimating by design. "It's hard to imagine a parent intentionally taking cheap shots at their children, but it happens when they're toxic," Thomas adds.

They give you the silent treatment.

Yes, words can hurt—but so can their absence. If they refuse to speak to you for hours (or even days) following an argument, it's a form of manipulation. This is true regardless of the family member.

"Toxic family members are notorious for using silence as a form of punishment and emotional control," says Thomas. "They find power in being pursued for a relationship.”

They lie—or deny.

Even when it’s a lie that doesn’t involve or affect you directly, lack of clarity about the truth creates confusion and cultivates a distrust that leaves you wondering what else isn’t true—particularly when it happens repeatedly. “They may even cover a lie with another lie,” says Chapman. Denial may also take the form of (patently false) blanket statements like, “we don’t have secrets in this house.”

They generalize during disagreements.

“Specific details can be debated, but vague accusations are a lot harder to dispute,” Chapman explains. The remarks might sound something like, “it never works out,” or “you always do this.”

They sow conflict with other family members.

Maybe they flat-out ask you why you can't be more like the brother you've always felt competitive with, or they praise his successes in ways that emphasize where you fall short. Or, they might share something another family member said about you. "Unhealthy parents will pit their children against one another, or against other members of the family," says Thomas. "They set up scenarios where jealousy and resentment can flourish. "

They change the subject to turn the tables on you.

In an argument, they might deflect attention by bringing up one of your flaws, instead. Chapman offers this example: You tell a loved one you’re concerned about their drug abuse, and they counter with unrelated claims that you’re a bad parent.

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They make you feel bad about feeling bad.

It can be extremely painful when you’re trying to share your hurt over a grievance—or even abuse, enacted by them or another family member—only to be left feeling like you hurt them by bringing it up. They may cry or lash out with righteous anger. Or, they may say something like, “Why can’t you let that go?,” effectively minimizing your negative experiences.

They move the goal posts.

“Manipulative people often shift the criteria that people have to meet in order to satisfy them,” says Chapman. “It’s very uncomfortable, because just when you think you’ve achieved what they wanted, it’s not good enough.”

They use threats, harsh language, or violence.

This may seem like the most obvious sign of a toxic relationship, but not if it's always been normalized as part of your family dynamic. There’s never any situation in which name-calling or physical intimidation and other forms of domestic violence are justified, and if you fear for your safety, help is available.

They’re a master of passive-aggressive behavior.

This can include guilt trips and backhanded compliments, Chapman says, along with nonverbal communication such as rolled eyes and sighs.

They make your business your great-aunt Lydia's business.

A blossoming relationship just ended, and though you had no reason to feel embarrassed, you didn't want the whole world to know about your romantic disappointment. Enter your mother, who's spilled your tale as a way to bond (or worse, share a laugh) with someone else.

According to Thomas, it's not uncommon for a toxic family member to breach your confidence. "They'll often share personal information or life struggles with whoever they deem worthy of knowing, with little-to-no regard for how these breaches of trust impact their children's emotional well-being."

They gaslight you.

A term inspired by the 1944 Ingrid Bergman film Gaslight, gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse in which someone causes the victim to doubt their own understanding of reality. “They deny that the abuse is really happening,” says Chapman. “It’s confusing and overwhelming, because all the sudden you’re doubting that what you see and feel is real.”

Examples she offers include a sibling insisting your childhood experiences weren’t as bad as you remember, or a family member point-blank saying something like, “that didn’t happen—you’re making things up, as usual.”

They ignore boundaries.

Setting healthy boundaries is crucial in healthy relationships; these can range from “please don’t call me at work” to asking other family members to respect the rules that you set for your kids. If your wishes aren’t being respected by someone who doesn’t think the boundaries apply to them, it can make you feel like you’re not being respected.

They play the blame game.

A parent, sibling, or other family member may often place blame for anything that’s wrong on someone else—possibly you, included. While their actions or behavior may not be the sole reason for a given issue, regularly refusing to take any accountability is a red flag.

A toxic sibling may "side with" your parent.

In a well-adjusted family dynamic, there's usually no such thing as "taking sides." But when someone learns poor relationship patterns from a parent, they may try to earn that parent's affection by replicating those patterns and thus normalizing harmful behavior.

"Toxic siblings often become a supporter of an equally toxic parent," Thomas says. "They'll use similar critical language as the parent, and shame the targeted sibling regarding areas of life they might be feeling vulnerable about."

Fostering or playing into a competitive dynamic that's meant to make you feel bad is another type of toxic sibling behavior, as is conveniently forgetting your invite to family get-togethers. "Their goal is to send the clear message that you're not included on purpose, and they'll often gloat about what a wonderful event it was," Thomas explains.

Beware of repeating toxic patterns with others.

You didn’t choose the family you were raised in, but you can make sure you don't invite new toxic influences into your life by assuming the poor ways they treat you are acceptable. "If one or both parents who raised you exhibited significantly unhealthy traits, your ability to assess red flags in the people you meet will be negatively impacted," says Thomas.

"Without true insight on how our family environment created relational blind spots, we run a high risk of repeating toxic patterns from childhood," she continues. "These could include people-pleasing tendencies, difficulty controlling your anger, or being emotionally unavailable in adult relationships." Auditing your relationships' health through self-examination and the assistance of a mental health professional can help you avoid recreating the toxicity.

Before telling a toxic family member how they make you feel, try this.

If you don't feel that their behavior is extreme enough to warrant cutting off contact—or you’re simply not ready to take that extreme step—you may be tempted to call them out, in an effort to break the cycle. Just be sure to manage your expectations of the conversation: Definitely don't assume you'll get an outright apology, or a sudden improvement in your dynamic. In fact, they may wind up pushing your buttons harder than ever.

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"The toxic individual will often attempt to bring a heightened level of emotions to the conversation," Thomas says. "On the other side of the spectrum, they might refuse to discuss your concerns." To help keep your conversation even-keeled and on track, Thomas suggests making a list of the person's most hurtful offenses and sticking to your talking points.

Detachment is crucial.

You have no control over someone else's behavior, but you can work on your own reaction to it. When going no-contact isn't an option that you're willing or able to choose, Thomas recommends forging an emotional boundary with what she calls "detached contact."

"Detached contact centers on our ability to be physically present, but not emotionally wounded by the actions of a family member," Thomas explains. "We consciously recognize the psychological games they're playing to get a reaction out of us, but we refuse to engage in the toxicity." Instead, she says, invest your energy in healthier family members who treat you with respect, and "deflect all attempts by the toxic person to engage in an argument or drama." Placing distance between your emotions and their chaos-sowing tactics isn't simple, but it does get easier with practice.

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should you cut them off?

Deciding to enforce a no-contact rule is a big move that may test your resolve, call for new family holiday traditions, and spur other family members to try and intervene. It’s certainly not the sole option for every turbulent family bond (see the other possible paths above), nor is it the right option for everyone. It also doesn’t always have to be permanent; in her book, Chapman writes about the long road to successfully repairing her relationship with her own long-estranged brother.

But as Thomas points out, certain situations require it—especially when previous attempts to improve relations are unsuccessful. No-contact becomes an option to consider if the situation is significantly impacting your mental health. "An increase in symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic disorder, addictions, and mood instability are all signs of necessary distance from a toxic family member," Thomas says.

"It's an intensely painful experience to face the necessity of cutting a family member out of our lives," she continues. "It's a figurative death with complex grief, because the family member is still living but emotionally unsafe. "

Another reason people may choose to protect themselves with a no-contact rule is out of fear that their own children will be exposed to the same unacceptable behaviors or outright abuse. As Thomas notes, "Toxic parents frequently become toxic grandparents."

Samantha VincentySenior Staff Writer

Samantha Vincenty is the former senior staff writer at Oprah Daily. 

This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

The custom of avoidance as a factor of mutual respect in the family - "Ingushetia" - online newspaper

Lilia Kharsieva


With what qualities do we associate a young bride? Of course, with modesty, respect for her husband's parents. But is this always the case?

- I recently witnessed how a young daughter-in-law somehow freely, without a shadow of embarrassment, talked with her father-in-law, says my friend. - I didn't like it very much. And when I mentioned this case in a conversation with a friend, she said that my father-in-law is older, and he should not have supported and carried on such conversations with her at all.

So, liberties or swagger are unacceptable, and this has always been one of the basic rules of Ingush decorum etiquette. At first, the daughter-in-law was not supposed to linger in front of older men at all, whether they were members of a new family or guests. It was undesirable to look them straight in the face, to stand leaning on something in the presence of elders or husband's friends, it was impossible to talk loudly, sit down, except with young girls.

It was not customary for young people to flaunt their relationships, no matter how warm or cold they were. The young husband also had to behave modestly, especially at first, try not to enter into conversations, enter the bridal room discreetly, not linger there during the day. Not to be near, as if not to notice each other, not to call each other by name, even in front of strangers.

Young parents were not supposed to show their love for their children by hugging or kissing them. It was not customary to say "my son", "my daughter". It is not supposed to praise each other, as well as to scold. The young bride was not supposed to pronounce the names of her father-in-law, mother-in-law and their older relatives. If the names of the dead were pronounced: the father-in-law or his father, grandfather, etc., she had to rise. This is probably not easy, but she had to understand that she was showing respect for customs, that she was raising not only her authority, but also the authority of her husband, the authority of her family.

The son-in-law, in turn, also tried to avoid meeting his father-in-law and mother-in-law, their sisters and brothers. This type of avoidance is the most strict, but most likely convenient. Therefore, it has survived to this day.

Customs of avoidance, some prohibitions softened over time, but in one form or another persist to this day. Such is the Ingush upbringing. Such is the inviolable law of society, which in our time, alas, is losing its value. It's a pity. It is a pity that in the customs of avoidance, many see a rude emphasis on the subordination of the younger to the elders, women to men. It is a pity that young women see this as a kind of humiliating attitude towards themselves. They explained it this way, with an incorrect interpretation of respect for a woman in the modern all-Russian and all-European perception. In reality, however, things are quite different.

In true folk tradition, these customs should be perceived as nothing more than mutual respect for both, as an opportunity not to violate etiquette norms of decency, to consolidate the family hierarchy, the advantages of elders and ensure hidden equality, and to preserve the family hearth and comfort as long as possible. This is what goes into the custom of avoidance, the custom of modesty.

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Family as a system - Blog - Yasno

In couples psychotherapy, there always comes a moment when partners are asked to talk about relationships in their families - how their parents communicated with each other, how they raised them, for which they praised, for which they scolded. Of course, the therapist does not ask these questions out of idle curiosity.

The fact is that any of our problems can be rooted not just in early childhood, but in the experience of a whole family. Why is it so? From generation to generation, a family system is formed - these are the collective values ​​​​and beliefs that we inherited from our parents, and they, in turn, from our grandparents. Therefore, self-image is the result of relationships not only with parents, but also - to some extent - with the whole generation.

A system is always greater than the sum of its elements, and the quality of interaction between them determines the energy of the system itself. That is why it is the relationships between family members that are given such importance. These relationships arise on the basis of the experience that partners receive in their parental families. And this means that in one family, similar styles and patterns of attitudes towards oneself, others and the world can be transmitted through generations.

Why is the problem of one family member the problem of the whole family? Can a child get sick because the parents don't get along well? Why can the family system "resist" changes in your life? We answer these questions from the standpoint of systemic family psychotherapy.

Stages of family development
The family goes through its life cycle: meeting, marriage, birth of children, their growing up and leaving the family, aging, death. This is the law of development of the family system. At each stage, changes occur, they are inevitable, normal and happen to everyone. These are regulatory crises. Imagine a couple who recently had a baby. With his appearance, the family expands, and roles and resources are redistributed in it - mom and dad get new tasks, and their parents become grandparents. Against this background, the mother's libido naturally decreases and sometimes she refuses to have sex with her husband. At first, he is offended and moves away, but when he finds that infantile manipulation does not bear fruit, he provokes the first serious conflicts with his wife. The couple's sex life is interrupted. This is an example of the normative crisis associated with the birth of a child.

In family therapy, there is the concept of "triangulation" - this is the involvement of a third person (friends, other family members) to solve the couple's problems.

Let's continue the example above. Spouses do not cope with the normative crisis and move away; each of them needs emotional support and acceptance, which they cannot give to each other. And then the wife can call her mother, get her sympathy and for a while, as it were, unite with her against the "insensitive husband." And in the same way, her husband can share anxiety with a friend. The mother and friend act as stabilizers for the couple, but the price of this is high - instead of honestly explaining to the partner, each of the spouses splashes out emotions on a third person. This, of course, protects against retaliatory aggression and rejection, but in the end it only exacerbates the crisis.

What is a family symptom?
Now imagine that years have passed. The conflict that arose after the birth of the baby was not passed, but frozen. The child got older and suddenly lost interest in learning, although before that he brought only fives. This new problem becomes the main topic of discussion - over dinner, in the parent's bedroom, on the way to the country. Every night, the family stays up late on their homework until the three of them literally fall off their feet. Parents are at a loss - what is happening to the child? Is it fatigue or puberty?

Quite often, learning difficulties, sudden fears, and even illness of the child are a compensation mechanism in response to some family symptom, such as discord, divorce, or other tension between parents.

As a rule, the "symptom" of the family system is assumed by the weakest member of the family - he is not able to defend himself and does not yet have a mature strategy of behavior, and therefore behaves as it is accepted in the family. In the systemic family therapy model, such a family member is called an identified patient.

If parents devote all their time to their child's lessons, if study is the only thing that unites them, then naturally there is no strength left for marital and sexual life. This means that detachment will increase in the relationship - and most likely it will also be left unattended.

The family system always resists change
One of the key postulates of the family system is the law of maintaining homeostasis, that is, stability. A popular proverb says: "A bad peace is better than a good quarrel." Let it be cold, bleak, but familiar, safe. Changes are associated with the unknown, which means they are accompanied by anxiety. That is why the family system always resists change. Difficulties with learning in a child consistently distract the attention of parents, they have no time to pay attention to the chill in a relationship, they need to help cram math. They will ignore frustration, partner anger, and anxiety instead of thinking about how to rebuild the relationship.

Even if the child learns better, for example, through work with a child psychologist or tutor, the symptom (tension in the couple) will persist and find another way out. It can be anything - stress at work, business trips, the need to help relatives. One way or another, but there will be no time for married life. And then the conflict freezes again - the situation looks stable, but the tension continues to grow, periodically spilling over into scandals.

Inheritance of family patterns
If this couple went to a psychotherapist, he might suspect that disunity between spouses and avoidance of conflict is an approach that has been passed down in their families for generations.

The inheritance of intrafamily patterns of relationships is the key idea of ​​the American psychiatrist Murray Bowen, one of the founders of systemic family psychotherapy. He noticed that very often the nature of the relationship between spouses, parents and children in families is passed on like an inheritance. Sometimes these are healthy models: stable boundaries of family members, the ability to cooperate, open dialogue, the value of education, work; and sometimes detrimental: alcoholism, domestic violence, seclusion, abuse of power.

Let's imagine that the partners from the example received a patriarchal upbringing. In such families, the distance between father and mother is always felt, marriage is highly valued and divorce is condemned, especially for a woman. The situation is aggravated if the family has lived for generations in a small town, “under the supervision” of neighbors - you can’t take dirty linen out of the hut, you need to cling to the status of a “friendly family” with all your might. This approach has been polished for decades - and passed on. And then any difficulties in the relationship cause indomitable anxiety - her partners inherited from their families, and they were not taught healthy dialogue and safe ways to relieve tension. If it was not customary in their families to discuss physical intimacy because it is “shameful” and “dirty”, then it is not strange that they themselves cannot agree on how to somehow improve their sex life.

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