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My twitter this week has been filled with some pretty hilarious accounts of what it is like being trapped at home with your entire family.
While I was able to find the humor in these tweets and many others, another part of me couldn’t help but think about all of those who were feeling stuck in much more unsupportive and toxic family situations.
The reality is that sometimes families members just don’t get it. And maybe they never will. But having to stay inside together can make it very difficult to minimize interactions with them. This can be so damaging to your overall health and wellbeing.
I love my dad, but I know that me being sick really stresses him out and he doesn’t always know the best way to respond to it. He looks for any way possible to “fix” my pain, which comes out as asking the younger guys at work how to work google and looking up fibromyalgia. The only problem is, he hasn’t figured out how to sort the good info from the bad. So his good intentions can often turn into repeated arguments about “but have you tried yoga?”
Lasting impacts of unsupportive family situations
Just to keep in mind, toxic family situations can impact us in so many ways.
This is true whether the abuse is from a parent, partner, or other relative.
Many people who have suffered from toxic and abusive situations will have a variety of scars and lasting damage, including:
- Anxiety and depression
- High risk behaviors
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Memory loss
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Low self esteem
- Memory loss
- Insomnia and extreme fatigue
- Chronic pain
Lucky us….. right?
While these impacts can be long lasting, they can also increase in frequency/severity when you are actively stuck in a toxic family situation.
The constant stress of being stuck in a toxic family situation can be seriously damaging, but there are ways that you can try to minimize it and take care of yourself.
Self care when you are stuck in an unsupportive family situation
At the end of the day, you don’t need to “prove” your illness to anyone. Including your own family. No one asks to be sick. The least others can do is try to understand your perspective. So tuning out these unsupportive voices as much as possible is key to keeping a healthy mind. Below are some ways you can practice this.
Make sure to fuel your body as much as your mind
Get enough sleep. Eat wholesome meals. Drink more water and less alcohol.
Write down your limits and refer to them before entering into situations which they may be tested
These may be topics that you know are especially triggering and you don’t want to engage in.
You are not obligated to discuss things that upset you
Tell the person, “thank you but I do not wish to discuss this” and stop engaging. Hold your ground!
Learn to acknowledge your family’s limitations
Look, this is hard. This is so, so, hard.
But it really is the key to breaking free of the chains of a toxic family.
Understand that you are not responsible for someone else’s behavior. The only thing you can control is your reactions to it.
Acknowledging their limitations does not mean you are excusing their behavior. But it is not your job to teach them how to behave.
Plan at least one thing daily that you enjoy
Taking a walk. Reading a book. Going for a drive. Baking brownies.
Whatever it may be, put it on your schedule so you know you at least have one thing to look forward to each day.
Come up with a plan to deal with your emotions in a healthy way
This looks different for everyone. It could be through journaling, calling a friend, exercise, or many other options.
Maybe being at home brings up increased anxiety, anger, resentment, or grief for you.
Discover healthy coping mechanisms for these emotions and plan a way that you will process them if they come up.
Create a “positivity” list
Make a list of 5 positive things in your life that you are thankful for.
When you are finished, add 3 things that you find positive about yourself.
Refer back to this list when you are feeling down.
There are so many guided apps out there, including ones like 10% Happier.
You can also look up guided videos on YouTube. Tip: if you have never meditated, try looking up youtube videos for children first.
Practice stress management throughout the day, not just at the end of it
It is important to decompress as your day goes on.
Letting feelings and issues build makes them harder to deal with later. Set designated times to check in with yourself during the day.
Avoid the chronic shame and guilt
This is something that I personally struggle the most with.
Once again, you are not responsible for anyone else’s behavior. Do not let someone guilt you into feeling otherwise.
Avoid them at all costs
I hope this would be the obvious one, but I’ll include it just in case.
If you can get away from your family while still following safe health guidelines, do it.
Go to a different part of the house. Go for a long walk outside. Noise cancelling headphones maybe?
Whatever you can, just try to minimize your interactions whenever possible.
Some resources for you
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
Remember that this is not forever.
It can feel very isolating to be stuck in a toxic family situation. But something that I have learned is that family has many different definitions.
There’s a quote from the book Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen that I really love:
“What is family? They were the people who claimed you. In good, in bad, in parts or in whole, they were the ones who showed up, who stayed in there, regardless. It wasn’t just about blood relations or shared chromosomes, but something wider, bigger. We had many families over time. Our family of origin, the family we created, and the groups you moved through while all of this was happening: friends, lovers, sometimes even strangers.”
Your family doesn’t have to be the people you share a house or apartment with.
But they are out there somewhere, I can assure you. There are so many kind, loving, supportive, and caring people in this world.
If you are blessed enough to have already found some of these people, try to focus on those relationships during this tough time.
If you haven’t found them yet, know that it is possible and you will find them!
Let me know in the comments below how you take care of yourself and set firm boundaries when stuck with your toxic family.