Dear Barb—Testing Toxicity

Dear Barb:

I’m in a dilemma.  I have a family member who I believe is toxic and I am considering whether I should cut them out of my life.  I don’t want to say who they are, but they are part of my immediate family.  This isn’t too much of an issue right now because I don’t have to see them with the social distancing, but I know that eventually I will see them again. 

I always feel put down and belittled when I am around this person.  They seem to want to control every situation.  I feel so much anxiety when I know I have to get together with this person.  Whatever I do is not right in their eyes, they constantly criticize me.  I have spoken to other family members about this person to see if they feel as I do, or if it’s just me over reacting.  A couple of my siblings said they notice that I am being unfairly treated by this person, but they have never felt this personally.  Even when this person has been rude and I call them out, they won’t apologize.  I just don’t know what to do, I feel if I cut this person out of my life it will divide our family and I don’t want that to happen.  I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place.  Do you have any suggestions you could share?  

Thanks, Roxanne. 

Hi Roxanne:

Cutting an immediate family member out of your life is a serious and life altering thing to do.  It will change you and the other person and the dynamics within your family.  Therefore, you realize you have to be 100% sure that you are making the right decision.  Perhaps while you have this time away from this person, you could compose a letter to them, explaining how they make you feel.  Don’t mention anything about cutting them out of your life.  In the letter you could suggest that you both go to counseling to try to come to a better understanding of each other.  It is possible that they do not realize what they are doing or how their actions make you feel.

Before you make any decisions, see what the response to your letter will be.  If they are apologetic and did not realize they were making you feel this way, then you may be able to forage a new and better relationship.  If they are defensive and refuse to acknowledge what they doing, but are willing to go to counseling, you have a chance of resolving this.  If they flatly deny their part in this and blame it all on you, then you will have to consider putting some distance between you and them.  Perhaps a little bit of time apart will help defuse the relationship.  My advice is not to make a rash decision that you may have to live with for the rest of your life.

I hope I was helpful, and thanks for your letter, Roxanne.

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