Toxic Family Series: How to Set Boundaries

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If you have a toxic family member, you may feel trapped, overwhelmed, or targeted. Such threats leave your recovery extremely vulnerable to relapse. Luckily, you can take action to improve such dynamics. One of the most important things to consider when dealing with toxic family members is setting boundaries. Looking at the tools and methods available to you can help you learn to set boundaries with toxic family members.

Overarching Reach of Toxic Families, No Shame to It

Unfortunately, many people across the world endure the soul-crushing presence of a toxic family member. Too often, people go around with their untreated issues, dumping their toxicity onto others. Hence, before learning how to set boundaries, it is crucial to recognize that it is not your fault if you deal with a toxic family dynamic. Unfortunately, most people in these toxic-family dynamics just found themselves in a raw deal. 

We can find such examples even in music. For instance, Eminem’s song “Dear Mama” depicts the pain and harm of toxic relationships. Eminem, a famous rapper who launched his career in the late ’90s and early 2000s, penned this number to release his feelings regarding his mother’s failure to care for Eminem and his siblings. Today, he continues to maintain a boundary-heavy relationship with her. Most likely, he set those firm boundaries to achieve his dreams. 

Boundary-setting with toxic family members isn’t about cutting ties but saving yourself. There is no shame in protecting yourself from a harmful situation. Many others before have done it; many others, unfortunately, will follow suit. Pause for a moment, and let it sink in. It is not your fault, period. However, you possess the power to improve the situation for yourself and break the cycle of toxicity for your future endeavors. 

Toxic Relationships, the Silent Killer

Toxic refers to a poisonous compound. Like all poisons, toxicity kills. In relationships, it kills dreams, people’s self-esteem, joy, and fond feelings and thoughts for another. Most importantly, toxicity destroys families – even through generations. 

Toxic dynamics resemble toxic waste. In both circumstances, toxicity is considered to be challenging to handle, dangerous, and worthy of avoiding at all costs. Unhealthy dynamics in a family setting brew fighting, criticizing, and undermining among the members. Subsequently, hostility, defensiveness, and fear permeate the atmosphere. 

The toxic family dynamic also makes family members feel threatened, rejected, or not good enough. The negative energy in these households can cause additional problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and addiction for everyone involved – especially the targets.  

Other common signs of a toxic family dynamic include:

  • Constant criticism runs rampant
  • Feelings of unsafety and insecurity ferment the atmosphere
  • Members of the family neglect or isolate themselves from one another
  • People blame others in the family for their problems
  • Members of the family practice excessive and unhealthy dependence on one another
  • Members of the family withhold information or don’t tell each other important matters
  • Family members invalidate each other’s thoughts and feelings instead of empathizing and sympathizing
  • Family dynamic emphasizes perfection instead of growth and healing
  • Significant power imbalances in the relationship lead to emotional abuse, oppression, unworthiness, and underappreciation
  • A common unwillingness to apologize for wrongs or errors in judgment

Ultimately, hostile energy and the constant occurrence of unresolved conflicts, negativity as a communication tool, and destructive behavior prevent the family from functioning. 

How to Know if You Need to Set New Boundaries: Questions to Ask

If you are still unsure that you need to set boundaries with your family, reflect on the following questions:

  • Do your genuine concerns hold you from trusting or interacting with your family?
  • Do you find yourself constantly hurt, depressed, or tense from the constant negativity present in the family?
  • Is there a lack of love or support within your household?  
  • Are you unable to speak up or express yourself for fear of repercussions from others?
  • Are people constantly asking you to change yourself for their sake but at the cost of your well-being?
  • Do they undermine your success and happiness? 
  • Are you frequently criticized for your personal choices?
  • Has any family member tried to physically harm, threaten, or intimidate you in any way?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider taking steps immediately to address these toxic dynamics. We recommend setting boundaries with these people for the sake of your well-being and recovery. 

7 Ways a Toxic Relationships Harms You and Your Recovery

Like weeds in a garden, toxic family members often drain the soil of your recovery of nutrients and prevent anything healthy from growing. When setting these boundaries, you protect yourself and your recovery from the harms of the toxic person. Such a person can cause severe damage to your recovery in the following ways: 

#1. Controlling Your Recovery

Being in recovery is difficult. You have to learn new ways of handling your thoughts, emotions, and situations now that you are not using drugs and alcohol to cope. However, some toxic family members may try to control the recovery process for you. They may place unnecessary restrictions on your life and tell you what to think and how to proceed throughout your recovery. Consequently, you may become less trusting of yourself and your treatment plan and more dependent on them for validation and guidance. When you rely on these people for support, it becomes harder to progress independently.

#2. Negatively Affect Your Mental Health

The road to recovery from addiction calls for good mental health. Good mental health helps you stay on course and make wiser choices. Unfortunately, toxic families often harm our mental health. Toxic family members can exacerbate a person’s depression or anxiety with their constant gaslighting, critiques, or abuse. Such acts can cause you to doubt yourself or treatment, leading to a relapse. Constantly dealing with a toxic person takes your mind away from healing and recovery.

#3. Shame You

Toxic people may not believe that you’re indeed suffering from addiction. They may call addiction a choice or accuse you of being weak or immoral for struggling with this disease. Remarks may be made in an attempt to shame or guilt you for struggling with addiction, and they can detrimentally hinder your progress. Such words make it more difficult for the person to access the necessary treatment services for recovery. Regardless of their words, addiction is a disease that you can treat with a combination of supportive relationships, treatment, abstinence, rehabilitation, and aftercare that can improve your quality of life over time.

#4. Employ Manipulation

Toxic family members can employ a wide range of manipulative tactics, from playing the victim to making threats or engaging in passive-aggressive behavior. Using these tactics often convinces you to prioritize their comfort over your well-being. This tactic can cause you to deprioritize yourself and your recovery. As a result, toxic family members may try to convince others (including professionals in the field of addiction recovery) that what they are saying is true instead of listening to expert advice. Also, they may try to manipulate others to work against your recovery or healthy relationships.

#5. Poisons Your Support Network

The people you allow into your support network will determine your recovery outcomes. However, your ability to trust and seek help from others can be jeopardized if you surround yourself with toxic people who often fail to show up for you. It is beneficial to select people who encourage, listen, and show up when asked. But be careful not to confuse their dysfunctional behavior for the majority. To best support your recovery, choose your support network wisely. Having a support network that doesn’t help is worse than not having one at all. 

#6. Set Off Your Triggers

Your family’s treatment of you can affect your recovery and lead to relapse. A family member’s negative words or actions can trigger thoughts and feelings from traumas or mental health issues. Moreso, toxic family members may create stress and overwhelm you, triggering a relapse. They may also remind you of your past mistakes or cause you guilt. Feeling guilty or overwhelmed can drive you to return to destructive habits without realizing the danger they pose.

#7. Stuck in a Cycle of Negativity

Like addiction, these toxic relationships also suffer from demoralization. Bound by fear and anger, toxic relationships can make it hard to pursue the freedom and peace of recovery. When people feel disrespected or unsafe, they stay in unhealthy relationships because they don’t know how to love themselves enough to leave. Such an environment makes it easier to take the path of least resistance and succumb to the negativity. People may stay in these toxic environments for years because finding freedom or happiness seems like an impossible feat. Or they may, rightly so, fear retribution from their family if they attempt to break the cycles. 

Ultimately, the toxic person takes up space in your head, which can replace the message of recovery. Instead of focusing on your progress, your attention turns to the toxic person’s criticism or undermining of your progress, efforts, and recovery choices. Hence, just like you can pull a weed from the soil, you can choose to remove a toxic family member from your life by establishing your boundaries.

Reap the Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Boundaries refer to setting limits that serve you and your well-being the best. Healthy boundaries empower you to say no and set limits in the best way that works for you. Notably, setting healthy boundaries can help you reclaim your life and grow as a person. When setting healthy boundaries, remember these benefits:

  • Boundaries provide security by eliminating ambiguity (you and others know where you stand)
  • They help you obtain what you need when you need it
  • They keep expectations clear, preventing resentment or disappointment
  • They help others respect and value who you are as an individual
  • You can decide what behaviors are acceptable and what aren’t
  • You can make sure that your boundaries stay firm while being compassionate at the same time
  • You will feel more free and clear in your recovery process
  • You will gain clarity about what you want, need, and can give
  • You will avoid energies that you don’t want or need in your life
  • You will prevent yourself from being drained by another person’s energy
  • You can protect yourself from negative people who may cause you harm
  • When someone violates your boundaries, you know how to approach them in a way that helps you maintain your emotional and physical needs
  • You can stay firm while being compassionate at the same time

The Steps to Setting Boundaries With a Toxic Person

Most good boundaries involve several essential characteristics. Like the walls of a house, limits give a relationship structure and stability by establishing clear expectations for the relationship’s strength. Like the wall, clear boundaries measure up, so it is neither too loose nor too rigid, but it still offers protection and comfort. 

As you negotiate and determine your boundaries with toxic family members, use the following four steps to assist the process:

#1. Permit Yourself to Set Limits With People

Take care of yourself, protect your sanity, and set limits for the people you interact with. You have the power not to allow others to manipulate or take advantage of you. You deserve respect and dignity as a human being. It may seem easier or friendlier to go along to get along, but it will cost you dearly in the long run. In the interest of self-care, establish boundaries with toxic family members. Setting boundaries makes you more effective and less burned out from helping if you put limits on what you can and cannot do. Those who genuinely care will stick around and respect your boundaries. Take a leap of faith and watch them start respecting those boundaries too! And those who refuse to, good riddance!

#2. Identify Your Emotional and Mental Limits

Before establishing boundaries between yourself and others, you must know yourself and your feelings. The initial step helps you determine what makes you feel safe and uncomfortable. What motivates you? What pushes your buttons? These things need to be monitored for everyone’s needs to be met safely in a relationship or friendship. Some questions you may ask yourself include:

  • How much time with this person is too much time? 
  • Do I need to cut this person out of my life completely? 

With time, practice, and assistance, you can determine your limits. 

#3. Stay Firm and Communicate Your Needs

It is suggested to make sure your desires and needs of said person or relationship are clearly known if you want your needs met. Although we all would like to be fully understood and catered to, no one can anticipate every need. Therefore, we must own and voice our needs and not hold others to unrealistic expectations. Don’t underestimate the importance of reminding others of their obligations and commitments. As humans, we all miss the mark. However, boundaries help us communicate these mishaps clearly and firmly that serve you and the relationship well. 

#4. Reaffirm Your Boundaries

A toxic person will most likely test your boundaries by pushing for more than you’re willing to give. If you’ve already set limits, stand by them and emphasize their importance to you. It is suggested that you clearly state what will happen if this person crosses or tests your limits. This shows that you are serious about the situation.

Rebuilding Relationships at White House Recovery

At the White House Recovery and Detox, family therapy can help family members overcome problems caused by toxic dynamics. Family therapy services can help families and relationships thrive from traumatic or toxic situations. Essentially, family therapy will provide the avenue to rebuild the family system. During family therapy sessions, you will learn about assertiveness and setting healthy boundaries. The therapist will also teach basic communication skills, e.g., active listening, assertive speech, and negotiation. The family unit can then learn healthy ways to resolve conflicts without resentment or anger.

Are you surrounded by negative people who stop you from reaching your full potential? When you find yourself hanging out with toxic relatives, take a step back and evaluate the situation. These toxic people can suck the life right out of you, and if you’re not careful, they’ll leave you feeling like a hollow shell of your former self. Take charge of your life and start creating an atmosphere that you enjoy. At White House Recovery and Detox, we know that different kinds of people — including family members — can destroy your personhood with their toxicity. Whether or not you choose to attend inpatient or outpatient treatment, Whitehouse’s qualified team will walk with you every step of the way. From our admissions process to post-treatment follow-up care, we treat each person as an individual with unique circumstances and needs. If you desire a supportive community, call us today at (800) 510-5393 for more information about our nurturing, no-nonsense treatment program.