opinion

COLUMN: Dealing with toxic relatives



It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for family drama.

As many of us head home to spend the winter break with family, we might feel relief that classes will soon be over, happiness about seeing friends and family or excitement about relaxing for a few weeks.

But for many, going home means diving right back into a toxic environment.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It is unfortunate but true that dysfunctional and toxic family dynamics come in an astonishing 
variety.

But they all share at least two traits: first, they all cause stress and pain, and second, you don’t have to put up with them if you don’t want to.

I’m not suggesting you disown your mother the next time she asks you to take out the trash. But if someone — anyone — is hurting you, disrespecting you or causing you a level of stress and anxiety that hampers your ability to go about your daily life, you have every right to limit or even end your relationship with that person, even if that person is your mother.

Family ties are certainly important, and no one should burn bridges with a relative unless there is a compelling reason to do so. But it is easy to make excuses for how family members treat us when we would never accept being treated that way by anyone else.

Why is it okay for your father to belittle and insult you, but not for a stranger to do so? Why is it okay for your grandmother or sibling to subject you to constant criticism and degradation when you would never allow a friend to do the same?

It isn’t just active attacks like these that can signal a toxic relationship you might be better off eliminating. Anyone who can’t be bothered to be involved in your life, who habitually ignores or neglects you or who chooses an addiction like drugs or alcohol rather than being a positive element in your life probably does not deserve a place there.

People who love you will make an actual effort to keep you in their lives and to show you — not just tell you — how much they love and appreciate you. People who love you will not hurt you and then expect you to apologize to them for not passively accepting mistreatment.

We’ve all been taught our entire lives to grit our teeth and tolerate ill treatment from family members as best we can. After all, “blood is thicker than water,” or so the saying goes.

I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true. Self-respect demands that we remove people from our lives who consistently hurt us despite all our attempts to make things right. And sometimes, those people might just be family members.

This winter break, love yourself. Respect yourself. Ask yourself “Would I treat anyone like this?”

If the answer is no, it might be time to walk away.

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