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What do I do when my family members are toxic?

Walking away from loved ones can be one of the most difficult decisions. But when wounds and disrespect reach levels that hurt your dignity, it’s time to rethink your path.

Think for a moment about those family situations that bring out the worst in you, and that have caused you so many injuries. Think of the members of your family, whom you might not have chosen, if you had had the opportunity to do so.

The fable of the porcupine’s family may reflect a similar situation and lead you to reflect on it. During the Ice Age, many animals died from the cold. The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to unite in groups. In this way they would shelter and protect each other, but each other’s thorns hurt the closest companions, those who just offered the most warmth. So they decided to stay away from each other and began to freeze to death. So they had to make a choice, either they accepted the thorns of their companions or they disappeared from the Earth. With wisdom, they decided to be together again. In this way they learned to live with the small wounds of the other.

This fable is not far from its reality, and that of all families in general, when there is closeness between its members, all have thorns and are hurt by the thorns of those who are closer, as happens to porcupines; as we get closer with the intention of warming us, the thorns we have are hurting and pinking even in the most subtle but still painful way.

The interpretation of the world and its own wounds is totally different for each member of his family. It is amazing to see, for example, how in the same family, although all the children have received the same education, the same love, the same care of their parents, each individual is taking absolutely opposite paths and ways of being. But all are conditioned and influenced by their experiences.

In this regard, the Chilean Rafael Echeverría, sociologist and philosopher expert in Coaching, says that the conditioning factors of human action are some visible and others hidden: Our biological predisposition, our learning, the tools we use according to each one’s competencies, the level of emotional motivation and the habits we acquire.

How can you change and modify your emotions in order to transform your way of acting and that of others? Can you hope, for example, that the relationship you have longed to have with your son becomes a reality? With your mother, your father or your brother? With your in-laws or extended family?

It is painful when you perceive in your environment that other people or family groups close to yours may have relationships like you would like and you don’t succeed. At that moment you may feel a heartbreaking scream inside of you, telling you that neither you nor others can change, and that you are doomed to remain in that sense of pain and helplessness.

Initially you can struggle to achieve what you so long for, and sometimes with awareness and hard inner work you achieve it. However, you cannot ignore the hidden conditions and the way each one interprets each experience. Each member of your family has an internal observer who conditions each of the participants in each relationship. The most complex job is to accept that everyone is in permanent evolution and that it is not up to you to transform the other.

What happens then when your expectations clash with your reality? Then your frustration and despair increase. A discussion with a member of your family can cause an emotional crisis and deep wounds that are difficult to heal. This process of lovingly detaching ourselves from our family members can take years. Learning how to handle emotions becomes more and more complicated when closeness and love increase the pain in the midst of the conflict.

You cannot control how the other person reacts, nor is it effective to try to make them act as you expect, but you can choose how you regulate and control your emotions. This makes you emotionally intelligent. Getting rid of the currents of hostility that many families drown in today is the best option.

You can love your family, and at the same time decide not to carry the emotional baggage that does not belong to you, you can fight for a space of peace and harmony, but also reject their efforts to manipulate you, control you or produce feelings of guilt in you.

Learning to be assertive with your family members, without being aggressive and learning to set limits, is what will give you the freedom you need to break the chains of which you yourself have become a prisoner. To achieve the stability you yearn for, the first thing is not to negotiate with your dignity, you must be the one who sets the conditions of respect and cordiality, so that the relationship you want so much flows. After entering into this exchange of affections and desires, you should make a first deal with yourself, in which your emotional well-being and your tranquility prevail above all else.

Once you have established these rules with yourself and then with that member of your family with whom you wish to have a harmonious relationship, it is necessary to begin a slow and loving dialogue. First express what you think, then lower that thought to your heart, to tell it what you feel, and finally express clearly what you need. Remember that it is not a demand, it is a request, this denotes an assertive non-violent language.

If you have had conflict situations prior to this approach, I advise you to begin the dialogue in a position of emotional openness and humility, by means of which you tell the person that if at any time in the past, your words or actions were not what that person expected, or if they caused wounds that are still active, you apologize for those actions and ask for forgiveness.

The attitude of arrogance builds walls that are difficult to break down, it is necessary to ask forgiveness even for that damage we do not know we caused. In some cases these attempts do not bear fruit and can lead to greater frustration and suffering. If this is the case and you have already tried many approaches, opening the gap further and deepening the wound, it is time to make a conscious and profound decision to accept the next exercise:

Imagine that you are at an airport, and are coming from a difficult and heavy journey with these members of your family. They are all exhausted and wanting to have a space of serenity. They are all in front of the luggage belt and when the luggage begins to leave you for love, you begin to load all the luggage of the members of this crossing. When you realize that you have at your back and under your arms 5 or 6 suitcases, which have labels with the names of each of their owners. At that moment you stop exhausted and without strength, put the suitcases on the floor and look for the label with the name of each owner, your children, your parents, your siblings, brothers-in-law, in-laws etc…

He then makes a decision on each one of these suitcases and one by one, returns it to its owner. He looks that person in the eye and says by name, taking his hand, “I love you, but at this moment I decide to give you your suitcase, since it is very heavy and it does not correspond to me to carry it, I can help you for a while, I can accompany you, but the responsibility is yours, because the luggage inside you packed it and you chose it; He gives her a hug and retires with love, feeling lighter to leave the airport to his own life, carrying exclusively his suitcases, only with the emotional content that you chose.

Releasing yourself from the self-imposed responsibility of carrying the emotional baggage that does not correspond to you, will make that even in the distance there is peace in your family. Choosing to stay away from that toxic member of your family who runs you over and hurts you is sometimes the only way you have left to protect your emotional integrity. When a toxic person throws away your garbage, you decide if you make it your own, only you decide what goes inside and contaminates it.

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