Recently, I decided to give the relatively new ABC series A Million Little Things a shot. While I'm the fence about tuning in regularly, I believe it was totally meant to be that I watched this particular episode. The part that's relevant to what I'm about to discuss is, there was a woman who had just shared with her husband that her uncle had molested her when she was a preteen (then basically tried to buy her silence by funding her restaurant as an adult).
When she went to the hospital to finally confront him about it, she discovered that he had literally died a few hours earlier. Meanwhile, she and her mom always had a very strained relationship. Come to find out, a part of it was because her mom had been molested by the same uncle, her mother's brother, and never said anything about it either.
Whoever came up with that "keep it in the family" mentality is mentally unstable, to say the least.
Listen, if you're a Christian reading this, the Bible clearly instructs us to "confess and be healed" (James 5:16). Confessing—bringing things out into the open—brings forth healing. Shoot, even if you're not a bible believer, there is NOTHING healthy, logical, or beneficial about enduring abuse from a family member in silence. All it does is give the victimizer the power to keep harming you (and probably others) over and over again. (It also ups the chances of you hurting others too because sometimes "hurt people hurt people").
I say this with complete and total conviction because I have quite a few toxic family members on both sides of my bloodline. If you're not sure how to tell what that looks like, the video "6 Signs You're Dealing with a Toxic Person" will provide all sorts of light bulb moments. The cliff notes are—people who constantly play the victim, are emotionally abusive, are pathological liars, are control freaks, who don't respect boundaries and are negative? If they exhibit one, some or all of these traits, they are considered to be toxic individuals. Do you know a relative like this? Probably so.
Toxic is poisonous and poison kills. That's why I don't think anyone should be made to feel bad for setting clear and firm boundaries with family members who are toxic. Here's a deeper explanation into why I say that.
1. If ANYONE Should Be Synonymous with “Safe”, It’s Family
Although I hate to say it, some of the individuals who've caused the most damage in my life are blood relatives. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Verbal abuse. I had an entire side of my family who didn't want me to know they were related to me while they worked with another side of my family who co-signed on keeping it on the hush. What in the world?! And my molester? When I finally said something about it, all I remember is a meeting to decide what would be best for him, not me, when it came to how to handle the matter. TOX-IC.
I recently had a conversation with someone who is like family but not family about them thinking that I should be willing to "let things go" for no other reason than those people are my family. Meanwhile, I'm over here like, if there's anyone I should keep a safe distance from, it's them because they are family.
I say that because, if there is any place on the planet where we should feel safe, it should be in the presence of our relatives. If that's not happening for you, that's worse than a friend or a complete stranger violating you. An abusive family member should be the ultimate oxymoron. Therefore, if your family is not a safe place, don't feel the least bit guilty about doing what you need to do to create a safe space for yourself. It's not being "mean." Self-preservation is very wise.
2. Continually Subjecting Yourself to Abuse Is NOT “Honorable”
Have you ever met a family that is CRA-ZY but because they are church-going folks (maybe even in church leadership), people automatically give them a pass? The adults can act like complete maniacs, but the moment a child of theirs reflects their behavior, the adults refuse to take any responsibility or accountability? Instead, they decide to bring Scripture up into it. You know, something along the lines of "I don't care how poorly I treat you or have treated you in the past, the Bible says to 'Honor your parents'" like that's some sort of automatic trump card? Uh-huh, the same Bible that contains the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12) is the same Bible that also says, "do not provoke your children to wrath" (Ephesians 6:4).
It's kind of a long story, but the origin of honoring your parents, at least biblically, ties into honoring how they raised you to be (Proverbs 22:6). If they had even a little bit of sense, that included loving yourself, respecting yourself and standing up for what was right. ABUSE IS NEVER RIGHT.
Only a toxic individual would tell you that it is honorable to tolerate abuse.
Should you set out to humiliate your crazy family members? No. But are you dishonoring them by removing yourself from their poisonous ways? Also no.
3. You’re Here to Break Generational Curses, Not Perpetuate Them
People are human. Humans are flawed. This means that all of us have stuff in our family line that is, unhealthy, to say the least. But if a parent is serious about their position in their children's lives, they want them to do better than they did, not worse.
I remember when I was dating this one individual and a spiritual mentor of mine asked me to tell him more about the guy. I said, "He's smart. He's sweet. His family is really unstable but…", to which my mentor immediately said, "Ohh…so, he's the least crazy of the crew." I'm gonna use a metaphor to explain his point another way. If you're constantly around people with the flu, it's going to be really hard not to catch it.
There are some things on both sides of my family—controlling/manipulative women, sexual abuse, chemical dependency, multiple divorces, off-the-charts pride, suicide, constantly playing the victim—that I've seen literally passed down from generation to generation. I don't want it passed it down to someone else via myself and so I've taken measures to make sure that it doesn't.
I've witnessed, firsthand, that when you're around mental/emotional/spiritual sickness a lot, it can start to look healthy—or at least, not as sick as it actually is. Sometimes, you've got to set boundaries so that you can tell the difference between what/who is good for you and what/who isn't. For your sake and the sake of the ones who will follow you.
Break the curse. Don't be the curse. That's a motto that I unapologetically live by.
4. Blood May Be Thicker Than Water BUT Poison Is Thicker Than Blood
There's someone I know who has so many amazing traits. He's also one of the biggest commitment-phobes on the planet. The main reason why? His family. I've never seen a group of people so needy as it relates to one person. They truly take dysfunctional to another level!
One time I told him that I didn't think that he would ever get married until his mom passed away. Why? Because he's basically her boyfriend (emotionally and financially, that is). I also told him that his family wears him out so much that he can't even process having a family of his own because when he thinks of marriage and kids, all he sees is the drama he's had to endure.
He doesn't deny any of this. At the same time, he doesn't get counseling to learn how to say "no" more often and not be so readily available to grown folks who need to figure out how to solve their own problems, pay their own bills, and live their own lives.
I say that he needs counseling because his defense for remaining so close to the dysfunction is "blood is thicker than water." My response? Poison is thicker than blood. Never mistake toxicity with loyalty. If you're putting up with things in your family that are hindering you from living a healthy, productive, and independent life, something is off. VERY OFF.
Don't look for your toxic family members to tell you this either. That wrecks how they are able to benefit from your ignorance. Like I said, poison.
5. You Need to Teach Even Your Family Members How to Treat You
I have a particular family member who used to come to the place where I pay my own rent and rearrange furniture, invite people to my place without asking me first, try and literally tell me when I needed to come home, interrogate me about my relationships—it was insane. Because they are "an elder," I used to let other people (people who, in hindsight, I believe were probably just as unhealthy as the elder was) tell me that I should let it all slide simply because the individual was older than me.
NOPE. When it comes to the saying, "You teach people how to treat you," there is no relational status on that; it applies to parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—just as much as everyone else.
As someone who is continually healing from childhood PTSD, something that I've realized is when you grew up without a lot of healthy boundaries being modeled and given to you, you have to start from scratch and learn them later in life. As you do, you start to realize that it's pretty much only abusers (neglect is a form of abuse, by the way) who think that "boundary" is a dirty word. Healthy relatives celebrate other relatives having boundaries because that's what helps us to truly thrive.
All a boundary is, is a limit. If you've got relatives who think you shouldn't have any or that your limits should not apply to them—one, that's a sign that you've got some pretty toxic people in your life and two, it's a clear indication that it's totally OK to set even more limits with them. No apologies needed.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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Originally published on February 28, 2019