How to remove a toxic person from your life (even if they’re family)
You’ve heard again and again from people, “oh, but they’re family” as though this statement excuses all manner of behaviours. Despite this, some of the most toxic people in our lives can often be family. In fact, more often than not, most of us will tolerate behaviour from our family that we would never accept from our friends, colleagues or acquaintances. If you’ve got someone toxic in your life, you may be afraid to remove them, because of the fear of guilt or judgement from others. However, if you’ve decided that it’s time to remove a toxic person from your life, there are certain things that you can do to make the process as pain-free (and guilt-free) as possible. We take a look at these here.
1. Understand what constitutes toxic behaviour
First and foremost, it’s important to understand just what is meant by a ‘toxic person’. It’s tempting to excuse toxic behaviours in people that we love and put them down to the stress or pressure that another person is under, for example. But drawing a line between what is normal behaviour and what is consistently toxic involves understanding the difference. A toxic person is someone who displays the following kinds of behaviour:
- They feed off drama, and create drama when there is none already present
- They take you down, instead of building you up
- You feel worse after having interacted with them, not better
- They’re inconsistent and unreliable
- They ‘gaslight’ you, or make you feel as though you are the one with a problem
- They display typical abusive behaviours such as violent temper followed by remorse
- They are competitive and judgemental
- They are generally incapable of self-reflection and change
If a person in your life displays most or all of these characteristics, you are dealing with a toxic person.
2. Make a list
Our emotions can get the better of us when it comes to arguments or toxic situations. If you’ve been dealing with a toxic person for many years, you may even have trouble expressing your concerns clearly. Taking the time to sit down and make a list of all the concerning behaviours you’re dealing with can help to make the decision easier. You might even consider making a ‘pros and cons’ list and detailing the ways in which your toxic person makes you feel good, versus the ways in which they’re toxic to you. This list will help you to understand just how negative their impact on your life is and will make it much easier for you to begin the process of removing them from your life.
2. Get support
Having the support of one or more close friends or family is important whenever you’re making any change in your life. When removing a toxic person from your life, it’s important to have the support of those close to you, or at least their understanding. Although it’s equally important not to ‘bad mouth’ your toxic person to other people, it is crucial that you have someone you can confide in and garner support from. Needless to say, if you’ve got a truly toxic person in your life, it’s probably fairly obvious to others around you that this is the case. If your toxic person is a family member, others in your family probably feel the same way. It’s not advisable to try to pressure others into removing this person from their life, however, as only they can make this decision for themselves. Simply help others, with the aid of your list, to understand why you’re making this decision and ask for their support in getting you through possible tough times.
3. Confront your toxic person, anticipate their reaction and set boundaries
If you’re able to have a calm and rational conversation with your toxic person, this might be the way to go about your confrontation. Of course, it’s very likely when dealing with a toxic person that the confrontation will be anything but calm and rational. If you’re concerned that a face-to-face conversation will result in an argument – or worse, in physical violence – then it’s important to choose another way to confront this person. You might decide to write them a detailed letter, or even have a conversation over the phone. Whichever method you choose, it’s important that your toxic person understands what is happening and why, and that you set boundaries for their removal from your life. This might include asking them not to call or contact you, or where that’s not possible, to limit contact to the necessary only.
If possible, you also need to anticipate their reaction. Know that they might resist your decision and be prepared for that. Your list will help you to maintain focus and avoid being dragged into further drama. It may be tempting to vent your frustrations and emotions or play the ‘blame game’. Avoid this if you can, and simply state your intentions and your reasons for making this choice. One effective way of doing this is to use phrases such as ‘I need’ and ‘I feel’, rather than ‘you do this’ and ‘you make me feel’. Your safety is the most important thing, of course, so if you are worried about a possible violent reaction, take steps to make yourself and those around you safe.
4. Take care of yourself
No matter how negative this person’s impact has been on your life, you will most likely experience feelings of guilt or even judgement from others. It is important to be kind to yourself, use your list to remind yourself of why you’ve taken this step, and rely on the support of your other friends or family at this time. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling, and don’t try to bottle things up. If talking to those around you is difficult, seek the services of a counsellor. A psychologist or counsellor can objectively (and without judgement) help you to manage the process, you can discuss how you’re feeling, and help to overcome feelings of guilt. They will also be able to teach you some strategies to help you cope better throughout the process.
Removing a toxic person from your life is almost never easy, however it can have an incredible positive impact on the rest of your life. Having a plan for removing them, as well as having support from your friends and family and/or a counsellor, can make the process as smooth as possible. And remember: No toxic person deserves to have you in their life, be they family or otherwise.
For support with removing a toxic person from your life, get in touch with us today.