Learn how to deal with toxic family members – 03/19/2023 – Equilibrium
Nedra Glover Tawwab, 39, knows from experience that you don’t get to choose the family you’re born into.
Tawabb grew up in a troubled Detroit family where she “experienced everything,” she says, “from drug addiction to neglected family relationships.” She receives a score of 7 (out of a possible 10) on the Survey of Adverse Childhood Experiences, a tool used by health professionals to measure the severity of trauma suffered by a child.
This past led her to the professional choice of being a licensed clinical social worker who works with relationships. Tawwab is also the author of “Set Boundaries and Find Peace: A Guide to Finding Yourself,” which has appeared on US bestseller lists, and is a popular therapist on Instagram with 1.7 million followers. devour their pearls of wisdom. (A recent example: “Using the ‘silent treatment’ doesn’t teach them a lesson – it just shows you don’t know how to handle conflict.”)
In her most recent book, “Drama Free: A Guide to Managing Unhealthy Family Relationships”, she suggests practical strategies for dealing with toxic family dynamics, as well as ways to disconnect well from a person when you decide to do so.
“In childhood, relationships are imposed on us. But in adulthood we can choose who we want to relate to and how”, points out Tawwab. “Even with our family members.”
Setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships is hard and constant work, especially when it involves a parent, a sibling, a child, or some other family member who has played a significant role in your life forever.
Tawwab shared some strategies to help trigger this emotional process.
Decide what a “successful” relationship would look like for you
You’ll never have a perfect relationship with anyone in your family, says Tawwab. When it comes to a family member with whom the relationship is complicated, it’s worth taking a step back and analyzing what a “successful” bond means to you.
To start, identify the issues that affect your dynamic with this person. Then decide what kind of relationship you can realistically have with this person and want to have, taking that dynamic into account.
For example, maybe you’re having a difficult relationship with your in-laws. “If I come from a close-knit family and my partner’s family is more distant, disconnected, sometimes I try to organize things, I try to invite his family, invite them to participate, and when I’m received coldly, they get hurt” , says Tawwab. In such a scenario, “success” might mean accepting my in-laws as they are and giving up trying to change that family culture.
Ask yourself: what can I control?
Throughout the new book, Tawwab emphasizes his view that it is not possible to make our family members change.
“When the solution to the problem is ‘they need to change,’ the problem will never go away,” she writes. “You can only control your side of the street.”
Tawwab recommends asking yourself: If this person doesn’t change anything, nothing at all, what, if anything, can I do to make the relationship different? Write everything down on a list. “These are the problems of this relationship. These are the parts of the problems that I can change and those are the parts that are not up to me.”
In the book, Tawwab gives the example of “Kelly” (throughout the book, people are identified only by their first names) who has already been emotionally “burned” by her brother numerous times. Instead of going over in her head how she would like to change his behavior, Kelly could write down coping strategies that she can control. For example: not answering his calls but letting them go to voicemail so she can return his calls if and when she’s ready to. And let him know that certain topics are off-limits, like complaining about his siblings or their parents.
Build your tolerance for difficult conversations
Changing a dysfunctional relationship will inevitably require you to tell your family member some things that the person will have a hard time hearing. But that’s a skill anyone can develop, says Tawwab.
Start with some words of encouragement. Remind yourself that being assertive about your needs and boundaries is not rude.
So, when it comes to talking to your family member, don’t complicate things, points out Tawwab. People often put off difficult conversations because they’re looking for the “right” words. As an example, she says it’s okay to say something like “I don’t want to hear you yelling at me anymore”. “There is no more ‘beautiful’ or perfect way to convey this.” (Therapy can also help you identify your needs and learn to put them into words, she points out.)
“We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that we should always feel comfortable. So even when we’re saying something that’s hard for the other person to hear, our goal is to say it without the person getting hurt, angry or wanting an explanation. And that’s not the case. realist.”
Know that the person is likely to be offended
According to Tawwab, in dysfunctional families, any change is almost always interpreted or felt as a rejection. She writes in the book that “in unhealthy families, boundaries are seen as a threat to the dysfunctional system.”
Your request for something to change may be met with disapproval (“You’re wrong for wanting to change – everything was going great until you intervened”), shame (“You’re a horrible person”), or resentment (“I’m offended because you want to change things”). something different”), writes Tawwab. There may also be widespread resistance. The person may continue to behave as if you didn’t do anything or press you to change your mind.
Anticipate this type of reaction to prepare your spirit and not let yourself be hurt by your familiar’s reaction.
Find a healthy distance
Tawwab says he encounters many people who overlook the strategic power of distance and its importance in preserving certain ties while creating a healthier dynamic.
Distancing yourself from a family member is not the same as ignoring the person, she writes. It could mean putting time and space between you and the person (for example by turning down invitations or staying in a hotel during a family vacation). Distancing can also mean engaging less with the person on an emotional level (for example changing the direction of a conversation to move away from topics that bother you or simply excluding the person from certain areas of your life).
If you want to keep a relationship with a complicated family member because you think it’s ultimately worth it, acceptance plus strategic distancing can give you some peace, Tawwab writes. But it won’t be easy.
“You will have to do the work of accepting situations and finding the patience to face things that are beyond your control,” she writes. “Remember that dealing with certain problem behaviors is a choice.”
Translated by Clara Allain