real life

A word of advice, for anyone struggling with a toxic family member.

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There’s nothing unusual about sitting around the family dinner table, getting into heated arguments with the people we love.

Maybe it’s over politics. Maybe religion. Maybe it’s something as trivial as the spelling of a word or the vintage of a wine.

The thing so beautiful about arguing with the people we love is that it doesn’t matter. Deep down, we have the same beliefs. The same moral compasses.

We share with them an abundance of unconditional love; a set of values prioritising nothing above respect and mutual understanding.

What, then, is one to do when faced with a family member who compromises your values? Not necessarily with whom you ‘argue’… but rather, someone around whom you feel unable to be yourself; who saps you of energy; who belittles you and manipulates for their own exclusive pleasure.

What is one to do with a toxic family member…

Listen: Lucy shares her story about the toxic relationship she has with her father, and how she went about cutting him from her life, on The Well. Post continues after audio.

Lucy Smith* is one of eight children. As a child her parents divorced, and as an adult, she made the incredibly tough decision to cut her father out of her life.

“He was a very toxic person in my life. Very much a narcissist. He ruined a lot of family relationships, and out of eight children, there’s only one that still talks to him,” she tells Rebecca Sparrow and Robin Baily, co-hosts of The Well.

“He was very manipulative, and I would say, emotionally abusive… he liked to have control over us [siblings], and he would do that by trying to be closer to one of us and putting another one down.”

“It just deteriorated continuously.”

"He was very manipulative, and I would say, emotionally abusive." Image source: Getty.
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According to Lucy, cutting him out of her life was a process rather than a conversation - as often is the case with emotionally abusive family members. You have to continue resisting their advances; continue ignoring their texts and dodging their calls to avoid their web of emotional manipulation.

Lucy made the wise decision to see a psychologist; a decision everyone going through this process should make. Severing ties with someone you're supposed to love is traumatic, after all.

"I felt guilty for not talking to him."

"I had a lot of guilt about deciding not to talk to him," Lucy says. "It was purely because I was raised with [him telling me] 'I'm your dad', 'I'm your best friend', 'I'm the most important person in your life', that type of mentality."

"So no matter how terrible I felt after talking to him, I felt I still had to because I was guilty. I felt guilty for not talking to him."

Guilt is a common emotion when it comes to cutting out a family member. Of course, if they're toxic or emotionally abusive, it's completely unwarranted. But sometimes we feel it anyway.

"The best piece of advice that the psychologist gave me was to change my perspective on my 'life rule' that I had to have a relationship with him..."

"Our guilt is driven by the rules we've set in up in our own minds as we've grown and developed," Lucy's psychologist told her.

It was that nugget of wisdom that allowed Lucy to break free; to cut the chord and remove her "emotionally abusive" father from her life.

"Yes, it has been worth it," Lucy says. "There are times when Fathers' Day rolls around and I do get a bit sad. But at the same time, my life is better for not having the negativity, and the toxicity, and the manipulation in it."

"It just deteriorated continously." Image source: Getty.
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As counsellor Cynthia Morton puts it, "respect is the ultimate currency in adult life".

According to Morton, there's a right way to go about having the actual conversation with someone; the conversation letting them know you no longer want them to be a part of your life.

"It's all about what I like to call 'the art of 'heart-iculation'," Morton says. It sounds cheesy, we know. But the premise is a sound one.

"It's about being able to speak about what's going on in your heart... what's going on emotionally... with respect to yourself, with respect to the other person, and in regards to what you want moving forwards."

Chances are it might be one of the toughest conversations you ever have. But in terms of your mental health and general contentment, it will no doubt be one of the most important."

"We can't change other people," says Morton. "Only ourselves."

* Lucy is not her real name.

You can listen to this week's full episode of The Well, below. 

Do you have a toxic family member? How do you go about dealing with them? Have you cut them out? Let us know in the comments below. 

Thanks to our brand partner Twinings and their new Twinings Feel Good Infusions Range.

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