“You can’t pick your family.” How many times have you heard that saying?
I’ve heard it a lot, and it’s usually followed by “but you’ve gotta deal with them anyway.” Or something along those lines right? I don’t think that’s true at all. If you have family members that are constantly disrespectful and don’t bring anything positive to your life, why do you have to be around them?
I’ve experienced forcing myself to be around family members who disrespected me constantly and made me feel less than. As a result my mental health declined significantly. Once I cut them out of my life, I was much happier. Not just because I didn’t have to suffer by being around them anymore but because I had the confidence to make a decision for myself. It was then that I realized I had control of my life. I don’t have to be miserable at family events anymore.
Now, does this come with 0 consequences? No, of course not.
I have multiple family members unhappy with my decision to not come around anymore and annoyed at every response I give to any invitation to a family event that my wife and I receive. I made the decision to remove myself completely from the situation because that is what I felt like I needed at the time. I’m not saying that is what everyone with toxic family members NEEDS to do. Maybe you want to limit contact or stay away from certain topics with certain family members and set some boundaries.
Here is some context for you, my wife and I were dealing with some pretty extreme homophobia from “close” family members that we were seeing often. This became a source of conflict not only for my partner and I individually but also in our relationship. I was raised in a traditionally southern family that came with the traditional southern emphasis on the value of family. So, in my head I had to force myself to endure this just because it’s “the right thing to do.”
I think differently now.
It’s been over 2 years since I’ve attended any family gathering (apart from a funeral and a wedding) that I used to religiously attend such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthday dinners, and our bi-monthly Sunday night dinners.
Does this make me sad? Of course.
Am I missing out on things that I would like to experience if the situation were different? Yes.
Does it make me think I made the wrong decision? No, never.
I feel confident in my decision, even though it sometimes makes me sad. I can feel confident, happy, sad, and angry all at the same time because emotions exist simultaneously. So how do I deal with these conflicting emotions?
It takes effort and time because you’ve got to be able to process what you’re feeling and what is going on in order to make a decision on what needs to happen so that YOU feel better.
Here are 5 ideas on how to deal with the stressful situation of toxic family members:
1.Make sure you have someone to talk to who is NOT in your family.
I always suggest a therapist if that’s possible for you but a close friend or partner works as well.
2.Have a solid support system.
Again, family is great and can be a great support system but if you’re dealing with toxic family members have a part of your support system that is not in your family. As members of the LGBTQ + community we often end up creating our own version of family through our support system.
3. Have alternative plans for family gatherings or plans for AFTER the gathering that will restore you mentally.
If you do have to be around the toxicity and it drains you mentally, go ahead and have plans for after that you know will fill you back up. What is something you enjoy doing? Who is someone you can hang out with and relax? What is a good movie that you can wind down to? I mean anything, have something to look forward to.
4.Don’t feel obligated to go to EVERY gathering.
It’s ok to take a break and say no.
5. Mentally plan
If you know specific things they like to bring up that contributes to the toxicity, to pull from my earlier example, homophobic microaggressions or comments, go ahead and plan out a response in order to set a boundary with them. Or you can text/call them or even meet up in person to set some boundaries about what is bothering you if you feel comfortable.
It’s your identity, it belongs to you and no one else.
Friendly reminder for my fellow LGBTQ+ friends, we are not required to be someone else’s teaching tool meaning we don’t have to sacrifice our own mental health just to try and help someone else become more tolerant. You do not have to continuously educate others on your identity unless you want to.
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Featured Photo @Tim Samuel
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Blog Photo 2 @darinbelonogova