Family is supposed to be our safe haven. When no one else cares or understand they are supposed to. After all how many times have we heard "blood is thicker than water"? Sometimes, however, it's the place where we find the deepest heartache.
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? It happens just as often if not more and it is the most difficult. You can pick your friends and boyfriend or girlfriend. But a family member? You do not get to choose. 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 making our lives miserable 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. Always remember just because you share a bloodline does not make you like them and it does not mean that you will turn out like them.
Second, you must understand that a toxic family member may be going through a difficult stage in their lives. Be compassionate and understanding but if you see they are not changing then you need to evaluate their behavior and start setting some boundaries. 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:
They may not be an inherently bad person, but they're not the right person to be spending time with every day. My mother-in-law was the type of person that you just did not need to be around every day. Because her moods were never stable you never knew what you were going to get from one day to the next. Just so we all understand 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. Why? Because this is Satan at work in the deepest and most private part of your life. If he can use this family member in your life it will hinder your growth in Christ. God does not want you to simply ruin yourself on a daily basis for the sake of someone else. Helping is one thing but when it is stealing your joy and peace? Something has to change. 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.
Toxic people often hide cleverly behind passive aggression. – Passive aggressive behavior takes many forms but can generally be described as a nonverbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. To me, this is the worst kind it is just like in war it is hard to fight your enemy if you do not know who they are. 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. 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.
Think of the disciples, this was Jesus's family. He chose these men to walk, talk, eat, sleep, and preach with him day in and day out. When you are looking for toxic people in the gospel, your eyes might land on Herod, or Pilate, or the religious leaders, but there is something horrifying about Judas - he is a disciple, Jesus chose him as one of the twelve, he is a friend, a companion over the three years of Jesus' ministry. He was almost as close as you could get, and yet he has been stealing for the three years, robbing the purse that was there to support Jesus and the disciples and to feed the poor. He's been lying and deceitful, and finally, he sells Jesus out for filthy lucre – 30 pieces of silver, the cost of a slave. He is the betrayer. His very name has come to mean betrayer. He is toxic. He was deceived by Satan and Judas was out for himself. He was taken advantage of family. Jesus was his family. Jesus knew God had a plan and he knew that His Father was using Judas in order to carry out that plan. God was redeeming the world through the death of His Son. Without the cross, you and I would be literally HELL BOUND.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. …
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. …Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
(and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you )
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Communion – serve each other.
Let's all remember that we are not the divine and sometimes our situations are not like Christ's. However, we can take comfort in knowing that he suffered too at the hands of those he loved and trusted. There is nothing you are going through in life that your savior did not suffer too. Remember that and let it inspire you to rise above what ever is going on in your life. Who ever is in your life at this moment God is allowing for a reason. They may not change, but God may be allowing the situation to change you.
Hating them for being toxic only brings more toxicity into your life.
Matthew 5:43-44 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
Luke 6:27,28 &36
"But to you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Sadly, sometimes all you can do is let go for good put distance between you and that person and let God take over. Because we can not control all the things toxic family members do to us, but we can decide not to be reduced by them, in the long run, this can only happen if we surrender them to God. 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 when it is time to let go and let God.