Meet the Guest Author:
Brooklyn is a pre-licensed mental health counselor in Louisiana providing therapy to a wide variety of individuals through a compassionate, eclectic approach. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2018 and her master’s in Clinical Mental Health counseling from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2020. She is an avid reader, lover of food, and enjoys binge-watching dramatic TV shows when she’s not in session.
Detaching and Healing from Toxic Family Members
The process of healing and detaching from a toxic family member can be beyond difficult. The thoughts that run through your head may sound like, “Is this person really toxic or am I losing it?” “Is it me?” “Should I let this person go?” “What have I done wrong?” and the feelings that come up within your body and mind might include anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, and overall sadness.
Often, if it feels wrong, it is wrong. You may find yourself in a mental space where you have become so accustomed to the toxicity that you cannot see it for what it is and lack trust of your own insight into the situation. Toxic family members cause us to question ourselves, our perceptions, and sometimes even our own values and beliefs. This form of emotional manipulation can be especially hurtful when it comes from the family members that we expect to keep us safe and demonstrate unconditional love—such as our parents or caregivers.
The first steps to letting go of a toxic family member and moving into your path of healing looks different for everyone depending on your unique situation. Once you’ve had that “aha” or epiphany moment where you can see this family member(s) behavior for what it is, you can embark on the healing journey. You may still struggle with your feelings about them or have some areas that you are trying to process as you heal, and that’s okay.
Disclaimer: Healing is non-linear and looks different for everyone. What works for you may not work for someone else and vice versa.
Essential Steps to Start Healing from Toxic Family Members
1. Be honest with yourself about their toxicity.
Moving from a place of denial to seeing their actions for what they are is powerful. If you must interact with this person, it is helpful to remind yourself that the things they do or say are most likely a reflection of them and not you. Sometimes, people project their own insecurities onto others without knowing. It does not make their actions okay, but it takes the blame and internal pressure off of you.
2. Accept that your family member may never change.
Although this is easier said than done, the only changeable piece of the equation is yourself and how you do or do not choose to respond to them. We can only control our own actions and it is freeing to let go of your expectations for this person’s behaviors.
3. Setting and maintaining boundaries.
Boundaries allow you to protect yourself and prioritize your safety and mental/emotional wellbeing. You get to decide if you will continue to tolerate this person in your life or if you will limit your communication with them. What are your needs? Boundaries are a form of assertive communication that do not require an explanation and are more useful if a consequence is included. For example, “I expect to be treated with respect or I won’t come over anymore.”
Maintaining these boundaries is the other side of the coin that relies on you to make sure that you will keep the consequences you set for boundary breaking.
As stated throughout, detaching is not easy. Healing involves acceptance of where you are at the current moment, patience with yourself, and motivation to continue pushing toward what you deserve. If you are struggling to take these steps, I encourage you to consider therapy. It is important to know that the first person you go to may not be the right fit, but you will eventually find a therapist who is in alignment with your needs and goals. Psychology Today, Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy Tribe, and Open Path Collective are a few websites that offer listings of therapists in your area.
I would also recommend journaling about your experiences; whether it’s handwritten or an audio journal, it gives you the space to take some of the weight off your shoulders and onto another medium. Tip: Journal without judgment—try not to focus on the quality of your handwriting, having the perfect notebook, etc.
I know from personal experience that detaching from someone you love or once loved is deeply painful. Therapy has helped me to make the realization that I can choose what is and isn’t mine to carry. I do not have to carry the unnecessary weight of a toxic family members’ expectations, criticisms, personal trauma, etc. Detaching and healing requires a level of vulnerability and honesty with yourself that can bring up a lot of issues we didn’t even realize were there. There are moments when I have felt alone and misunderstood. I am familiar with the underlying yearning to have a better relationship with a toxic family member and hoping that you’ll wake up and find out you were wrong about them. You are not alone in this journey. Reach out to your support system and stay in touch with those who lift you up and feel safe.
here are some quotes that I have found over the years to be helpful in gently reminding myself of my courage and resiliency in breaking free from toxicity in family members:
“Healing from pain is a choice. You have to consciously decide that you deserve to feel free, that you deserve to let go of the weight that has been holding you down for too long.”
“Sometimes I wake up & have to remind myself: ‘There is nothing wrong with me. I have patterns to unlearn, new behaviors to embody & wounds to heal. But there is nothing wrong with the core of me & who I am. I am unlearning generations of harm and remembering love. It takes time.”
“You are allowed to change the price of what it costs to access you.” –Unknown
I hope that reading this provided you with a level of comfort in knowing you aren’t alone in your experiences with a toxic family member. Your boundaries and needs are important. You are allowed to decide who deserves a place in your life.
Love + Light,