Dear Annie: Dealing with toxic family members
Dear Annie: I am a 50-year-old married woman with two children. I am far from perfect, but I do feel I am a decent person. My issue is my sister and my mom. I have spent most of my adult life trying to please both of them. I walk on eggshells every time we have a family function, because I never know what I’ve done that they will be upset about. The latest blowup was because I suggested a different Christmas game. I was yelled at by my sister in front of my parents and grandma, and they all sat there and let her rip me to shreds. I think they are afraid of her, too. One year, she screamed at me because I couldn’t pick up a birthday cake for another family member because I had to be out of town for a few hours. That same week, my mom screamed at me for a half-hour while I was at work, all because I couldn’t make this relative’s birthday supper. I plan and organize family birthdays, get-togethers, etc., but my mom and sister come late, pick fights and make me feel terrible.
They don’t like my friends and tell me so. They have made fun of my hair color, my makeup, my weight, the fact that my house is clean — you name it! To them, any part of my life or personality is fair game for attack.
They once took my son when he was small and drove him around and grilled him because they thought he was being abused. He had fallen and hit his face on a bleacher at the pool. My mom was there and saw the whole thing happen but pretended not to know. I worked for Child Protective Services at the time and was humiliated. But thank goodness, my son and I were interviewed, so we could prove nothing bad had happened.
What do I do? I make myself sick trying to please these two. I make myself sick thinking I should cut the ties. Any suggestions? Talking to them doesn’t work. -- Sick of Them
Dear Sick of Them: You’re making yourself sick; you can also make yourself better. Stop trying to please your mom and sister. In fact, stop trying to please anyone. Act out of integrity and with love and respect for yourself. Take a break from seeing or communicating with your relatives for a while. Think of it as a detox. Then, with a more clearheaded perspective, decide what level of relationship you can have with them while still protecting yourself. You may indeed need to cut ties, or you may just need to limit the frequency and duration of visits. As you seem to have internalized a lot of guilt, consider enlisting the help of a therapist for constructing and placing boundaries.
Dear Annie: I had a friend who went through a tough breakup last year, and I was there for her every day. This year, I find myself going through something similar, but she’s too busy with her new boyfriend to answer the phone when I call, I guess. Why is it that so many people want your companionship during rocky periods but can’t be there for you when you’re in need? — Bitter
Dear Bitter: The hard times are great for showing you who your real friends are. This woman is not one of them. Don’t be bitter. Do find better friends.
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