In the last blog we discussed how to determine if/when it’s necessary to cut off your toxic family members. I want to be sure that it is clear that there are certain circumstances when it might be necessary to call it quits for good. The determining factors mentioned in my last blog included: If you are in physical danger, you have NOT been able to identify a behavioral pattern, and there is absolutely no benefit to keeping this family member in your life. If these things apply to you, it might be time to let the family member go, but if you are not in physical danger, you have been able to identify a behavior pattern, and there is some kind of benefit to keeping this family member in your life, we are now ready to discuss how to set appropriate boundaries with the family member in order to minimize risks to yourself.
In relationships, we tend to strive to minimize the number of risks and maximize the number of rewards. This means that we want to practice behavior that will benefit us the most and cut out behaviors that will cause us detriment. When a person is rewarded for specific behavior, they are likely to do more of whatever he or she was rewarded for. You as an adult have the power to reward certain behaviors that you would like to see more of from your family members.
An important way to set a boundary is to utilize effective communication. This means that you have to communicate to your family member (in a way that they will understand) the behaviors that they engage in that make you feel uncomfortable but also the behaviors that make you feel good. This does not have to be some awkward or formal conversation. It can be as simple as saying “uncle Reed I don’t like when you drink too much because you start to say things that are hurtful. I like it a lot better when you are sober”. This is the vocalization of your boundary. It would be even better to go a step further and let the family member know what you’ll have to do in response if he or she ever decided to cross the boundary that you have set. You could say, “if you continue to drink too much around me, I will have to decline your future party invitations and family get togethers from this point forward”. There you have it; you have set a boundary. Uncle Reed now knows that you have set a boundary and he knows what you are prepared to do if he decides to ever cross the boundary that you have set.
It is very important to follow through on a boundary that you have set to show your family member that you are serious. If you make a declaration, you must commit to it. Your family member can’t take your boundaries seriously if you don’t. Sometimes it’s hurtful to you to actually follow through on your own boundary because you might not want to miss out on the family get togethers or spending time with that family member in particular, but once those boundaries are understood and followed, it will make for a much better relationship in the future.
Another thing to consider when practicing your boundary setting is to acknowledge when the family member has actually made efforts to adhere to the boundaries that you have set. Communicate your appreciation of him or her in a way that will feel rewarding to them. You know what will make your family members feel rewarded. It is okay to show appreciation for a boundary that has been considered and respected. It is actually a crucial part in increasing the likelihood of the desired behavior to continue. If that family member receives some sort of benefit from changing their behavioral patterns, they will be more likely to make the effort.
One final thing to consider with setting boundaries with a family member is that he or she might decide that they will not adhere to your boundaries and disregard them completely. In this case, you will have to determine if the risks are worth the rewards in this relationship. This is a very challenging thing to consider because you can’t always quantify risks and rewards. This is something that you might want to discuss with a trusted and non-biased person. This could be a close family member or friend that you trust. A good fit counselor would be ideal for this type of discussion as well. Your counselor can help you to consider all of your options and the pros and cons of each. Your counselor can also help you identify ways to determine how to measure the risks and rewards to help you put things into perspective.
As we grow older, we realize how important family is and how important it is to maintain healthy relationships with them. Utilizing these tools can be helpful.
August 30, 2019
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 or 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 protect 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.
July 13, 2019