Why It’s Okay to Distance Yourself from Toxic People…Even If They’re Family

I was asked to write about this topic at my own blog and here at Defying Shadows where I regularly contribute. It’s a touchy topic, isn’t it? When you read the title, it may have scared you because it’s such a tender subject. But it also may have made you want to click on this fast to see what I have to say, because you’ve been in or are in a situation that calls for such distance.

Toxic people…

Upon reading or hearing those two words, I know someone’s name or face sprang to mind. I know it. First, let me issue this disclaimer: toxic people aren’t just rotten, loathesome people we should hate. Certainly, not. We should have a measure of compassion for them. They typically thrive on drama and don’t quite know how to operate apart from it. But then there’s the rest of us: people whose stomachs twist into nauseous, painful knots at the thought of drama. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. We aren’t interested in it. We know how to get along with people and don’t have any desire to be involved in drama.

Sometimes we get sucked in, right? We sure do. We get attacked, we want to defend ourselves and explain what the reality is, the toxic person just keeps it going, often not owning any wrongdoing. It’s a vicious, unhealthy cycle.  I wrote a piece about narcissism earlier this week on my own blog that was pretty popular. Why? Because people can relate. I received personal messages as well as lovely comments from compassionate readers who have “been there”. They’ve dealt with someone who’s narcissistic and toxic, and  like I once was, they find themselves ill-equipped to deal with it. I’ve learned a lot over the years and I know it’s especially hard when the toxic person is a family member. So hard.

You have got to protect yourself and do what’s healthy for you. You cannot continue to entertain the madness that is toxicity, even if it involves family. I’m never one to say “cut them off!” It feels so harsh. But I do believe that if someone is not showing you respect, not making any attempts to listen to you, and especially, if they’re being disrespectful or flat-out ugly, you need to establish and enforce healthy boundaries. And they may keep pushing or ignoring those boundaries no matter how adamant and clear you are in drawing them.

Then what? I think that’s where a little tough love comes in. You’ve got to get real with yourself and not allow it to continue. Shut it down, the sooner the better. “You are not treating me with respect. You’re not trying to listen to my feelings about this. I can’t continue and I’m going to need to walk away from this for awhile. I love you and I value our relationship and I also value myself. I’m walking away before any more damage is done. When you’re ready to talk and be productive, maybe we can revisit this.” 

Melanie S. Pickett, healthy boundaries

It’s not easy, is it? It feels cold. It may even feel selfish. I used to think so too.  But even Jesus set boundaries.  You simply have to stand up for yourself in these drama-laden, toxic situations. If you don’t, they’ll ooze into every nook and cranny of your life. You’ll feel physically ill, stressed, emotionally upset, possibly become irritable with friends or family, loose sleep, ruminate over what you should have said or want to say.  Stop it! Walk away from it. Gain perspective. Pray

Apologies are necessary if you’ve been hurtful or thrown some low blows, but apologize and move on. If you’re sincerely sorry and express it, you don’t need to apologize repeatedly. Once should be enough and the other person can choose to accept it or not. That’s where you end and their choices begin.

Remember, there is a difference between kindness and enabling. You can be kind and “too kind” (I’ve done it!!) and often the “too kind” is just enabling the person to take advantage of the goodness you’re offering. 

Don’t let someone dictate your sleep by occupying your thought life at 1 a.m.

Don’t allow them to demand that you discuss it right now when it’s good for them but inconvenient for you.

Don’t allow guilt to be put on you that doesn’t belong there.

Do express your feelings in love.

Do be clear about your boundaries and what you will and cannot accept.

Do be calm in your interactions.

Do stick to what you’ve said and keep from buckling.

Do be strong and know your worth. You (and they) have a right to be respected and have peace and you can absolutely insist on that.

Are you struggling in a toxic relationship right now? How can we help? Can we pray for you? Please feel free to share your experience here or anonymously. We’re here to support you!

Stay Beautiful,

Melanie S. Pickett blogging




Meet Melanie P. :

Melanie S. Pickett bloggingMelanie Pickett is a mom, wife, writer, blogger, and Jesus girl. Melanie spends most of her time at her own blog, melaniespickett.com where she writes about her domestic abuse survival, healthy relationships, life, and faith. She is busy with her work in progress, her first nonfiction book. Melanie contributes to Sonoma Christian Home and has been featured on BlogHer.com and published on Splickety Magazine, Whole Magazine, Breathe Writers Conference blog, and various other blogs as a guest writer. She is a volunteer at Proverbs 31 Online Bible Studies. Having worked in the medical field for nearly two decades, Melanie recently “retired” so she could concentrate on her family and writing career. She is also a substitute teacher. Besides writing, Melanie loves to read, playing piano, listening to music, helping and encouraging others, volunteering, movies, dreaming of tropical getaways, and hanging out and cheering on her very favorite people: her family. Melanie lives in west Michigan with her husband, two teen children, and her pug Gracie. They recently said “until we meet again” to their beloved beabrador Lillie. Her favorite Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11 and one of her favorite quotes is: “They call us the dreamers, but we’re the ones who never sleep.”

8 thoughts on “Why It’s Okay to Distance Yourself from Toxic People…Even If They’re Family

  1. As soon as I saw the title I wanted to read it right away! We set boundaries with people too even with family. If your toxic for us you’ll be toxic for our children we find it very important to surround ourselves with people who encourage us. My husband works way too much with toxic people for us to be around people who aren’t healthy and uplifting outside of work. And just because people are family doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel obligation to be around them especially if they are toxic. Great post!

    1. Mihaela, that’s a great point: “if you’re toxic for us, you’ll be toxic for our children.” What a smart way to think of it and to be able to protect your children that way! Thank you for your sharing your thoughts!

  2. I have been working on boundaries. Man, this is so difficult when it comes to a family member. But I agree that God wants us to protect ourselves with armour yet be kind and respectful. Unfortunately it’s (respect) usually not reciprocated with a certain family member. This is where the hurt is enormous. And conflict easily arises. So, I am still learning to grant myself enough respect to set boundaries and know that I won’t always (seldom if ever) get an apology. The person usually thinks there’s nothing done wrong anyway like Melanie said. So…I keep a distance most times now. Otherwise I seem to set my feelings up for failure. Ugh.

    1. Boundaries are hard, especially with people who don’t recognize or utilize them, so when YOU try to stand by your own boundaries, they balk. I do agree it comes down to respect and when one party doesn’t respect the other’s feelings or wishes, it is really hurtful.

  3. I think it also helps putting into practice the notion of “it’s none of my business what others think or say about me”. This way it’s okay if someone doesn’t like you or they are trying to stir things up. When you shut others down who want to tell you what someone else is saying about you (usually this is how the wars start), it is much easier to live by the “none of my business” motto and just tell them before they go into details “it is none of my business what she is saying about me and I don’t want to hear it”. Gossip is a trap to keep the drama going so it is best not to be a participant by shutting it down totally. This is one of my personal boundaries for myself and anyone who is trying to pass on the “he said, she said” information.

  4. I’m glad I stumbled upon this article! At least now I get some sort of validation that limiting contact with family members isn’t a bad thing especially when it is needed. Thank you!

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