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Toxic Family Members

Family is supposed to be our safe haven.  Sometimes, however, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache.

Mind - When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate - NYTimes.com:

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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.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Toxic people often hide cleverly behind passive aggression. – Passive aggressive behavior takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal 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.  This is obviously a toxic relationship situation.  It shows this person is set on not communicating openly and clearly with you.  Keep in mind that most sane human beings will feel no reason to be passive-aggressive toward you if they feel safe expressing themselves.  In other words, they won’t feel a need to hide behind passive aggression if they feel like they won’t be judged or criticized for what they are thinking.  So make it clear to your family members that you accept them for who they are, and that they aren’t necessarily responsible or obligated to your ideas and opinions, but that you’d love to have their support.  If they care about you, they will likely give it, or at least compromise in some way.  And if they refuse to, and continue their passive aggression, you may have no choice but to create some of that space discussed in point #1.
  3. 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 – whatever it takes to give yourself the opportunity to grow into who you really are.
  4. Pretending their toxic behavior is OK is NOT OK. – 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 grouchy 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 21 can’t be a reasonable, reliable, respectful adult on a regular basis, it’s time to speak up and stand your ground.
  5. 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 keep you agonizing 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 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!
  6. 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.
  7. Although it’s hard, you can’t take their toxic behavior personally. – 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.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” and “Relationships” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
  8. 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.
  9. 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 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.  (Read Loving What Is.)
  10. 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.

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.

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Loving Your Body

“All the problems survivors experience with their bodies—splitting, numbing, addictions, and self-mutilations, to name a few—began as attempts to survive. You cut off from your body for good reasons, but now you need to heal that separation. You need to move from estrangement from your body to integration, to move from self-hate and rejection of your body to self-love and acceptance.”

~ The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis

We have the right to walk down the street without being met with glares, stares, verbal harassment or physical assault.:

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Hope In Healing

The Bigger Picture

The work of healing, letting go and moving forward is about self love.

It’s about creating a new beginning and the determination to change yourself and change your life. The healing process is hard and painfully slow but eventually you come to the point where you stop focusing on those that have caused you destruction, loss and pain.

People and actions that once consumed your thoughts and mind every minute of everyday now no longer take up so much space.

You feel clearer as the fog and confusion lifts. You can finally see the big picture.

You have had the strength to heal and the courage to completely remove yourself from the toxic people in your life whether they were family or friends. They are now simply part of your past, part of your tragic past but your past, and you are now completely free to create the future you deserve and fill it with healthy people.

After years of isolation you finally start to find like-minded, healthy and truly loving people :o)

You have developed faith, self love, and have hard earned wisdom. You are stronger and can now clearly see your own unique talents. You see that life can be fun, relaxed and joyous, and you become an inspiration for others to heal and grow, even those from your toxic past..

You have learnt how to truly care for yourself, your mind, your body, and your soul, and you fully trust yourself, your instincts and your feelings to know who is safe with your heart and who is not.

You are finally safe.

You know what nurtures your spirit and what or who robs from it and you know how to protect it.

Your depression lifts and your anxiety subsides as you can now envisage a healthy and happy future.

At this point in healing you regain your long lost energy and determination and motivation kicks in.

You deserve that great future and you are now able to positively and consistently work towards it :o)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s hard but never give up.

Every day you are moving forward no matter how slow it seems.

Be gentle on yourself.

Love & baby steps,

SG x

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Self Compassion & Self Love

Another great post by Elizabeth Gilbert. This time about self care, self compassion and self love. (I so wish I could write like her!).

Be gentle with yourself today, take the time to stop and smell the roses. Often we spend our whole lives pushing ourselves and stressing ourselves.  I tried to ‘push’ myself to heal and figured out the hard way that it doesn’t work like that. It takes all the time it needs.

I am now kind and gentle on myself and take my life one day at a time. I ‘go with the flow’.. and do what I need for myself on any given day whether it’s a warm bath, a walk, a lay down in the sun.. I also do what I love and what feeds my soul every day. And from this I find I am less stressed and more available, kind and compassionate to others.

Slow down today and be kind and compassionate to yourself.

Love & baby steps.

SG x

Elizabeth Gilbert's photo.

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Dear Ones –

A life has been entrusted to you. That life is your own. Please treat it with tenderness.

Whether you think that your life was given to you by God, or whether you think that your life was given to you by random accident, it doesn’t really matter. One way or another, the end result is the same: you are here now, and you have been given stewardship over one fragile human existence.

I think we forget this sometimes — that we have been entrusted with a life to protect, and that this life is our own…and that we should be gentle and respectful of valuable things that are entrusted into our care.

When we forget that truth, we treat ourselves horribly

You know what I mean, right? It not just me who does this…it’s all of us.

We are simply terrible to ourselves sometimes. We say awful things about ourselves. We punish our bodies. We put ourselves into dreadful circumstances, and then refuse to leave. We inflict miseries upon ourselves that we would never inflict on another person or animal. We allow ourselves to be abused, or sometimes we practice ritualistic self-abuse. We force ourselves to work until we almost collapse from exhaustion. We deny ourselves sleep and care and healthy food and sunlight. We sabotage our good opportunities, and keep returning to our most harmful behaviors and addictions. We refuse ourselves pleasures, believing that we are unworthy of peace or contentment. We surround ourselves with things and people that are unhealthy and demeaning. We never forgive ourselves for our frailties and fears and mistakes. We fill our minds with shameful words — about how disgraceful we are, how pathetic, how lazy, how stupid, how fat, how ugly, what a failure, what an idiot, what a loser, what a coward, and why can’t you get it together?

Here is my question: Why would you treat any life so terribly, if that life had been entrusted into your care?

Imagine this: Imagine adopting an animal from the rescue shelter, and then treating it as dreadfully as you sometimes treat yourself. Imagine calling that poor animal names. Imagine forcing it to stay in dangerous, toxic, or degrading situations. Imagine starving it, or cutting it, or making it binge eat and then forcing it to vomit. Imagine refusing to take it outside to see the sun. Denying it sleep or healthy exercise. Forcing it to consume substances that damage its health horribly. Putting it in the company of abusive people, who insult and degrade it. Working it half to death. Blaming it for everything. Yelling at it. Forgiving it for nothing. Denying it grace and love.

You would never. I know you. You would never do this to another life form. And yet you do it to yourself.

Sometimes, when I catch myself feeling unloveable or self-abusing, I try to imagine that I am an animal, adopted from the humane society, who has been placed into my own care. Maybe an animal that some bad things have happened to. Maybe an animal that is anxious and confused. Maybe an animal that has been wounded. Maybe an animal that is lost.

What does that animal need and deserve? Healthy food, a warm place to sleep, a safe place of shelter, tender affections, plenty of walks in the sunshine. Kindness. Tenderness. Patience.

Simple care.

Can you try to see yourself as an animal in need of rescue? And can you offer yourself that rescue? Can you try to see that you, too, are a simple mammal, born innocent, deserving of tenderness, needful of love, fearful of pain? Can you reach out to yourself with gentleness — as if you were that cat or dog who had been caged for far too long?

I know that you are all good people, trying hard to become better people. We all are good people over here. Maybe some bad shit has happened to you. And almost certainly, you have done some bad shit yourself (who hasn’t?) but you wouldn’t be visiting this page with the rest of us every day if you were not essentially a good person, trying hard to be a better person. I know what you long for: You want to bring deeper compassion to this troubled world. You want to be more kind, more generous, more trustworthy, wholehearted. You want to be nice and fair and warm to people.

And yet, still you believe you are entitled to abuse yourself — this one life form that is nearest to you, this only life that you can save with your own two hands.

If you say to me, “But it’s so much easier to love a defenseless animal than it is to love a human being,” then I will say to you: “Don’t forget that every human being was born a defenseless animal. Even you.”

If you say to me, “But it’s so much easier to love others than it is to love myself,” then I will say to you: “What do you think you are, if not one of us — if not one of the ‘others’? Why do you hold yourself separate from the rest of the world, as if you are an exceptional case? Is it because you think you are worse than the rest of us? Is it because you think you are better?”

We are all alike here. None of us are born worse or better than the others. In essence, we are all exactly the same. You are exactly like me, and I am exactly like you, and both of us are exactly like every stranger on the street. I am, as the Talking Heads once sang, “just an animal, looking for a home.” So are you. So is everyone. Nothing less, nothing more.

Can you become a safe home for yourself? Can you give your poor inner animal some loving care?

You want to practice goodness. Well, conveniently, there is somebody with you 24 hours a day, upon whom you can begin to practice your goodness and your kindness and your compassion — and that person is yourself.

Be kind to you, then. Put down the knife that you have been holding to your own throat. Stop beating up upon the poor animal that you are. Take the chains off. Open the door of the cage you’ve been forcing yourself to live in. Bring yourself out of the cold. Allow yourself the comfort of the warm blanket at the end of the couch. Protect yourself from those who injure you — yourself, most of all. The punishment ends today. Coax yourself forward, and say to the life that you have been entrusted with: “It’s OK. I’m here now. I will take care of you now. I’m sorry if I ever hurt you. I didn’t know that you were just a defenseless animal, deserving of care. Now I do know.”

You have to learn to speak to yourself with fundamental kindness, because SOMEBODY HAS TO. Even if you are lucky enough have people in your life who are kind to you, that is not quite enough. You must also practice self-kindness. Because other people’s love and sweetness is not enough to save the troubled and anxious animal who lives within you. Because nobody else (except you) can reach down into your heart as deep as it goes, and offer it the specific tenderness it most needs.

As the writer and editor Sahaj Kohli once wrote: “The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself.”

You can do this. Please believe me. You can take on this project — the project of learning how to love your poor, tired self. But you can only do it if you can learn see yourself as worthy of love — just like the rest of us. Like the poor, tired, born-innocent animal that you are.

And slowly — as it learns that it can trust you — the animal that you are will grow stronger, more confident, more loving. Then it will teach you how to truly love others, and how to be loved by others. Because you cannot offer wholehearted love to the world if you do not also practice it on yourself.

I believe this, more than anything. You must learn how to be kind to yourself. You can learn this — I am certain of it.

Because the guardians of the universe would not have put such a fragile and precious life in your hands, if they did not think that you could eventually be trusted to care for it with infinite tenderness.

Be good to you.

ONWARD,
LG