When it comes to handling toxic relatives in the moment, Nuñez says it’s first important to identify what your personal boundaries are so that when they’re crossed, you can recognize it and respond. From there, when your boundaries are crossed, you essentially have one of two options: disengage, or face it head-on (of course, knowing the latter is the more volatile option).
Nuñez notes that toxic family members often want you to engage—almost like they get off on it. “It’s really important to identify what your boundaries are and to express those boundaries to the individual—that this is your bottom line. But if that doesn’t go well, then disengage,” she says.
“Give yourself permission to say, ‘Hey, I feel angry or resentful, and I need to talk about this,'” licensed psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, L.P., previously suggested to mbg. Nuñez adds it’s also a good idea to soften your delivery using language that’s not directed at them, using “I” statements rather than “you” statements (i.e., “I feel sad when you make negative comments about me,” instead of “You always criticize me and make me feel like crap.”)
And remember, no matter how the conversation goes, you can only control your own actions. While this means the family member in question may still respond in a toxic way, you can control how you respond. “It’s really important to empower oneself that you are in control. You are in control of your own behaviors, actions, thoughts, and not the toxic person. So if you do feel like somebody is placing blame or making you feel less than, that’s their own stuff,” Nuñez says.