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Setting boundaries with toxic family members 

Learn to set healthy boundaries with toxic family members, safeguard your mental well-being, and navigate difficult relationships with these practical tips.
Toxic family members. Boundaries, non-negotiables, cutting ties.
Written by
Bloom Clinical Care Counselling and Therapy Services
April 14, 2023


Families are essential in every part of the world. Most likely, they are the people you are bound to by an invisible string, the people who make you who you are, and those who will unflinchingly stand by you. However, in the name of family, we sometimes compromise our values and boundaries. 

Sometimes, the people closest to you are the hardest to deal with. Although you may be a part of a happy family, you may still have some family members who treat you poorly.


What is a toxic family relationship like?

People who exude negative energy, make you feel bad, constantly make false accusations, and are hypercritical or emotionally disturbed can be toxic. Sometimes, you become aware of this toxicity. Still, other times you may be gaslit into believing that you are the problem. But, if someone consistently exhibits the following characteristics in several situations, consider setting healthy boundaries.

  1. Constantly criticize everything about you
  2. Invalidate your feelings as an 'overreaction' if you express yourself
  3. Make unreasonable demands
  4. Expect you to be available to help them, regardless of your commitments
  5. Disrespect you in private and in public
  6. Rarely apologize for their toxic behaviour
  7. Leave you feeling exhausted and emotionally drained
  8. Frequently lie and manipulate you

The unfortunate part is that when toxic people are related to you, it often goes unrecognized or is justified. The popular TV sitcom 'Friends' shows several such relationships, particularly the relationship between Monica Geller and her mother. Her mother constantly belittles her choices and opinions while doting on her brother. 

Your relationships are put on you as a child, but as an adult, you can set boundaries. Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist and best-selling author, says it is challenging but doable. 


How to set boundaries with toxic family members


Decide what your boundaries are.

No relationship is a bed of roses, and there will always be some storms to weather. However, it would be best to decide what is acceptable to you and non-negotiable. Identify the issues that affect the dynamics between you and a family member to assess what a successful connection would be in that situation. 

For instance, if you are struggling in your relationship with your parents - perhaps they belittle your accomplishments and set impossibly high expectations. Then, a successful improvement would be for them to acknowledge your achievements and accept you for who you are. It doesn't necessarily mean they won't ever question your decisions and give you unbridled freedom, yet it is still a significant improvement. Think about what matters to you and what you would qualify as a happy relationship.


Be straightforward, but always be kind.


Most people try to avoid conflict, especially when it comes to family. When you feel ridiculed or uncomfortable, you believe tolerating it for a few hours is more manageable than starting an argument. But subsequent encounters may be met with the same distaste. People toe the line between a harmless joke and ridiculing a person. 

However, knowing your boundaries helps you set them. Remind yourself that it is okay to vocalize your feelings. It is essential to be firm and say – 'I do not appreciate how you are talking to me and would like to leave this conversation if you want to continue.' Not only have you made your point clear, but you have also done it with immense dignity and kindness.


Ask yourself what you can control.

Mrs. Tawwab, the best-selling author, realized that you cannot always change people. What you can control, however, is your actions and choices. List all the aspects of the person that peeves you. Assess what you can change and work on. Initially, try to address it in a firm but kind manner. If that doesn't work, you can limit the time you spend with them and the aspects of your life you let them into. Keep specific sensitive topics off the table, like when your parents or siblings intervene and tell you how to raise your kids. 


Limit the time you spend with them.


The power of physical and emotional distance is immense in growing a healthier dynamic without severing the bonds. Distancing yourself doesn't mean avoiding or ignoring them. It means limiting your interactions with them, like staying at a hotel for a holiday or declining specific invitations. It helps you preserve your relationship with family members without impacting your mental health. Understand that tolerating problematic behaviour is, in fact, a choice.


Try the Grey Rock method.

When you are physically bound to a toxic person or relative, like if you are financially dependent on them or vice-versa, you can't limit your interactions and avoid topics. In that case, trying the Grey Rock method is advisable, which is essentially what the name suggests. It involves being neutral regardless of the conversation and circumstance. Avoid engaging in heated arguments and be as balanced as possible. 


If all efforts go unheeded, consider cutting ties.


Wait for some change, but be prudent and aware if things are not changing. Rome was not built in a day. Similarly, you cannot expect toxic family members to respect your boundaries after one serious conversation. You should stand firm and maintain your personal boundaries, do not waver. If repeated efforts go unheeded, and the relationship is unmanageable with the methods mentioned earlier, consider cutting ties. Sometimes the only way to deal with toxic relationships is to remove yourself from the equation as a form of self-care. Despite what people may say, you need to protect yourself from such abusive relationships. Standing up for yourself is not selfish but a display of strength and self-love. Though people say family is for life, enduring toxicity is a choice.

Loving yourself isn't vanity. It ensures sanity! - Katrina Mayer


We May be Able To Help You

At Bloom Clinical Care Counseling and Therapy Services, we are Social Workers registered with the OCSWSSW. We have  25+ years of experience in supporting people experiencing grief & bereavement, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, low self-esteem, stress, relationship issues and other mental health challenges. We do not require any referrals and are always welcoming new clients.

If you are looking for therapists near you in Toronto, Bloom Clinical Care is located at 1200 Markham Road, Suite 306C, M1H 3C3. We also offer virtual therapy options by phone or video call across Ontario. Help is available, and we may be able to help

Are you struggling with toxic family members? We may be able to help. 

At Bloom Clinical Care Counselling and Therapy Services, we have a team of Psychotherapists and Social Workers who are experienced and qualified to help you with your mental health. Our therapists can help with a wide range of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, grief, couples therapy, child therapy, anger management, workplace stress, and stress management, to name a few. 

We currently have two locations, in Scarborough and Mississauga, to serve our clients and families across the Greater Toronto Area. All therapists on our team also provide virtual therapy across Ontario via phone and secure video calls. Our collective goal as a team is to help you flourish in life, guide you to your important milestone, and provide unwavering support. 

Scarborough Location

Our Scarborough Therapists are located at Third floor, 1200 Markham Rd suite 306 c, Scarborough, ON M1H 3C3 for in-person and virtual psychotherapy appointments.

Mississauga Location

Our Mississauga Therapist are located at 3024 Hurontario St #206, Mississauga, ON L5B 4M4 for in-person and virtual psychotherapy appointments. Similar to our Scarborough Psychotherapy clinic, the new Mississauga location also supports individuals, families, couples, and children seeking help with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, grief, couples therapy, relationship counselling, stress management, and child and youth counselling.

Struggling with you mental health? We may be able to help. Book a free consultation today.
Disclaimer: This article is solely intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as professional advice. The content of this article should not be used as a substitution to therapy, counselling, medical attention, or any kind of professional help. The author and Bloom Clinical Care Counseling and Therapy services strongly encourages readers to seek guidance from appropriate professionals if they are in need of assistance.