Toxic Relationships - Does Blood Matter?

July 13, 2008

If you’ve ever been in a toxic relationship, you’ll understand the damage it can cause to your life and your business. Fortunately, you can escape from most toxic relationships. If you have a friend who constantly puts you down, you can slam the door in their face. And if you have a marital partner who abuses you, or puts you down - it may be difficult - but you can and should get rid of them.

But what happens when you’re in a toxic relationship with a close family member? Do you cut them out of your life too, or do you maintain the relationship for the sake of everyone else in the family? I used to think the latter was the case but I realise now that I was wrong.

In this post, Brett Legree mentions the importance of patching things up with a family member. But, RL David points out that if that family member is abusive, it’s not always a smart idea to attempt to patch things up.

And I think they’re both right. If you’ve had an argument or a fall out with a relative, it’s often best to patch things up. But, if a relative has mentally, or physically abused you for years, or put you down continuously, you would be doing yourself a huge favour if you cut them out of your life.

It’s difficult to build the lifestyle and business you want, if this type of relationship continues. For a start if someone is putting down everything you do - it erodes your confidence, no matter how much you try to fight against it.

You’ve probably heard that the more you tell yourself you’re good at something, the more you’ll believe it. Unfortunately, the same is true when someone puts you down. You only need to be told you’re useless at something a few times before you believe it’s true.

And believe me, no matter how great, or real your achievement is, it’s easy for your mind to be deceived. For example, over the last few years, I’ve worked really hard, often putting in far too many hours. And financially, this hard work paid off, well, I made enough to live comfortably - even though the rest of my life was lacking.

Then a toxic relative began to tell me that I was lazy and I hadn’t worked for years. I found this a bit odd to say the least and I did wonder if it was some kind of joke, as I was running my own business and putting in more than 80 hours a week. But they continued to make this comment. And I was used to being put down by this particular person, so I did my best to ignore it.

A little while later I discovered that they’d obviously passed this lie on to another relative as they said exactly the same thing to me. I shrugged it off - how are you supposed to respond when someone makes such a ridiculous and untrue comment about you? But the final straw came when I overheard two neighbours talking and one of them was saying that they’d heard I was lazy and I hadn’t worked for years. I have no idea what they think I’ve been living on for all this time - maybe they think I’m a drug dealer or something?

Now - at this time, I was still putting in ridiculous hours. And even though this rumour my toxic relative started was completely untrue - the opposite of the truth in fact, I began to start questioning myself. Had I imagined all this hard work I’d been doing? Had it all been a dream? Luckily, I have worked with my husband for the past few years and when I confided in him, he quickly confirmed that I had indeed worked extremely hard.

But this really emphasises the power of the information that your subconscious hears. I was beginning to believe something that I knew to be untrue - just because I’d heard it several times. If you’re in a toxic relationship, I hope this will give you some idea of the damage it can cause you.

The Warning Signs

1. Do you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells whenever you’re around that person?

2. Do you dread christmas and other family get togethers as you know your toxic relative will do their best to make you feel bad and you simply won’t enjoy yourself?

3. Have you begun questioning your own abilities - for example, is there an area of your life where you’ve done well, but your relative has put you down and told you you’re useless at it? Has this affected your belief in yourself?

4. If you try to defend yourself does your toxic relative put you down further - insinuating that there’s something wrong with you because of the way you’ve reacted? (think Sue Ellen in Dallas, when JR deliberately put her down because he knew it would make her drink more - or something similar).

5. Has your toxic relative gone as far as to put you down while you’re not there and tell lies about you to those around you?

6. When you know you have to be around that person, do you find yourself hoping they’ll be nice to you for a change?

7. Are you afraid that your toxic relative will physically abuse you, if you try to defend yourself, or disagree with something they’ve said?

8. Do you feel as though you’re unable to express your own point of view in front of that person?

9. Does your toxic relative constantly say untrue things about you? Are you afraid to correct them because it might cause trouble?

Some toxic relatives will do or say certain things, because that’s what they’ve learned from others. And if they realised that their behaviour was upsetting you - they’d do something about it. Sadly, this probably isn’t the case if they’ve been doing some of the things listed above and especially if this behaviour has been going on for years.

And I could give you a heap of claptrap and bullshit about ways you could respond and how to protect yourself against your toxic relative. But I’m not going to, because I don’t believe it’s true. If someone constantly abuses you and puts you down, they have a big problem. It’s not your responsibility to fix them and you certainly shouldn’t allow them to carry on harming you.

Bullies usually know exactly what they’re doing and they continue because they derive a great deal of satisfaction from making the other person feel bad. And if you continue to allow them to treat you that way, it will affect your self-esteem, you’ll lose confidence in yourself and it will affect your relationships with others around you.

If you feel safe doing so by all means, confront the bully and ask them why they feel the need to do this to you. If this doesn’t work out, you could try writing to them and explaining how their behaviour has made you feel. But I have to tell you that if you reach this point, your letter is unlikely to make much difference to your toxic relative. The chances are, they probably don’t care how much they’ve harmed you, as that was their intention to begin with. However, writing things down will probably make you feel a whole heap better - even if you decide not to send the letter.

Lastly, make it clear that you want no more contact with your toxic relative, if they’re not willing to change their behaviour towards you. That may seem a little harsh, but whilst you’re in a relationship that is causing you harm, you’re unlikely to achieve the lifestyle you want, or realise your goals and dreams.

Do you have a toxic relative? Or do you know others who have a relative who abuses them emotionally or physically, and/or is always putting them down?

Do you think it is healthy to stay in that type of relationship to please other family members? Or, if the abuser is unwilling to change, do you think it’s best to cut them out of your life, no matter how closely related you are? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Image Credits

Warning sign by Oskay.

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23 Responses to “Toxic Relationships - Does Blood Matter?”

  1. chris on July 13th, 2008 9:07 pm

    I totally agree. It shouldn’t matter whether a person is blood relative or not. If the relationship you have with them is toxic then it’s time to cut the ties. Life is too short to waste your energy with people who are not willing to change.

    Now if that relative sees the error of his/her ways and decided to make amends, then it’s definitely necessary for you to give it a shot again and patch things up.

    Sometimes, distance and time makes things better.

    Nice post!

    chris’s last blog post..My Achilles Heel

  2. cathlawson on July 13th, 2008 9:59 pm

    Hi Chris - thank you for dropping by. Definitely - life is too short to waste energy and I agree completely, if that person decides to make amends, it is only right to give them another shot.

  3. Akemi - Yes to Me on July 14th, 2008 12:43 am

    This is an important article and I applaud your courage to write it. I have thought of pointing this out myself but the best I did was my post on manipulation.

    Some people stay negative and go every way to suck up other people’s energy. It is very disastrous when this negative soul is your parent or relative. But there is such a social pressure to play the happy family. The result is that the child gets repeatedly sucked back to negativity AND when they grow up they have to pretend nothing was wrong.

    Some souls are more prone to this kind of situation . . . watch out.

    Akemi - Yes to Me’s last blog post..Gratitude Friday, Week 5, Gratitude And The Gift Of Life

  4. Kelly@SHE-POWER on July 14th, 2008 1:39 am


    I agree with Akemi, a brave and powerful post.

    In the situation you’ve outlined above I would definitely say cut that relative loose quick smart. But, this can be very difficult to do when the relative is actually a parent or sibling. I think when it comes to immediate family most of us will feel better long term if we do everything we can to try and manage the situation first.

    If it cannot be managed, the important thing is to make our peace with the loss and accept there may be consequences that filter through the entire family. We have to be ready to deal with the fall-out of our decision, and depending on your personality and values, that can be a very painful process. And one that takes some time.

    Family is definitely a tricky thing and I think many of us have blood relationships that do not work for us. Whether it is people physically or emotionally abusing us, or negating our feelings and undermining our choices, it’s all hard and it can definitely affect how we see ourselves and our life. We definitely have to find some way to handle the situation, but there is no one size fits all solution.

    Largely I think the key is to TAKE THE POWER BACK. This can be drastic like eliminating them from our life (my friend did this to her mother - huge decision) or more subtle, like changing the way we interact with this person. It definitely helps to try and drop our expectations of people. the more we try to control others and what they think, the harder and more anxiety ridden our life becomes.

    You can only control yourself. What other people think and say about you does not matter unless we decide it does. If people make us feel bad, we are entitled to not spend time with them. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be as simple as turning up to Christmas lunch, staying an hour or so and then leaving. If they bitch about you when you’re gone, who cares? It’s their problem. It all comes down to what you can live with. Can you live with cutting the relative(s) out of your life, or would that mean losing relationships and experiences that you are not willing to give up?

    As always I believe if we listen to our hearts, if we do what makes us feel better (as long as we’re saving ourselves, NOT trying to be vindictive), then we can work out what is best for us and our unique situation.

    I wish you all the love and luck in the world for dealing with your problem, and I know from first hand experience how difficult these decisions are. But you’re a strong and good woman, Cath. You deserve to be happy and your kids deserve a happy, confident mum. So stand tall and claim your truth. It is your right.


    Kelly@SHE-POWER’s last blog post..SHE-POWER Fiction: The Girl in the Window

  5. dawn @ iowahippiechick on July 14th, 2008 3:39 am

    Blood matters, because it usually makes it much more difficult to figure out boundaries & how to handle it …
    This post is very real to my life.
    My husband Craig’s brother is extremely toxic - as well as his wife. We had endured their poison for 26 years and finally had to walk away from a relationship with them. It took us almost a year to mourn the loss of the relationship and have realized it might never be healed. We know in our hearts we love them - but it has to be from a distance. Otherwise we will be destroyed in their chaos and misery. It’s sad when it comes to a point like this - but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. And just as Kelly wrote, we can only control ourselves. Craig and I choose to live in love and positivity … we have been through too much to waste anymore time in the darkness of negativity!

    dawn @ iowahippiechick’s last blog post..Assets vs. Liabilities

  6. Barbara Swafford on July 14th, 2008 6:32 am

    Hi Catherine,

    I feel fortunate not to have any toxic relatives (I’m just happy for the ones that are still alive), but I’ve seen the effect of toxicity in the relationships of many that I know. When it’s blood, it make the situation worse, and often cutting the ties is your only choice.

    Catherine, I think it comes down to knowing your own truth, knowing you’re a good person, who isn’t lazy. As far as the rumors that have spread, remember, it’s their problem, not yours. If all that have to do is talk about you, my oh my, what a boring life they must lead.

    I think they’re just jealous. It’s often written “THEY need to get a life”

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..A Day In The Life Of A Blogger

  7. Jamie Harrop on July 14th, 2008 8:10 am

    Fantastic post, Cath.

    They say you become what those around you are. That’s why I set out to only work, live and communicate with those people I find to be positive, forward-thinking and motivated individuals.

    When it’s a family member that doesn’t meet those “requirements”, it is incredibly hard to walk away. However, I have no desire to be around anybody (family. friend. associate) who is negative and always looking for the bad in everything and everyone. I value my own soul far more than I value a family member who is damaging my soul.

    Some people think family is everything and you should never remove them from your life, despite how awful they may be. Personally, I believe that if a family member is putting you down and creating negativity, they obviously don’t think very highly of you as a family member and as such, you shouldn’t have to think very highly of them.

    Jamie Harrop’s last blog post..Week 26 Link Love

  8. cathlawson on July 14th, 2008 9:30 am

    Hi Akemi - Thank you. It was tough choosing to write this but I had to show how harmful these negative words can be if repeated often.

    If I’m one of those souls who is prone to this type of situation, hopefully I’ll know what to do a lot sooner next time.

    Hi Kelly - thank you. As you point out, there can be negative consequences whatever you decide to do in this type of situation. But saving yourself is all you can really do.

    Hi Dawn - I’m pleased to see you’ve started blogging again. Good for you choosing what was the best thing for you and your husband. It is definitely best to distance yourself from those who are harming you and feel no malice than to tolerate their behaviour and hate them for what they are doing.

    Hi Barbara - Thanks. You could be right - people who do this type of thing may be motivated by jealousy. Knowing the truth is important, but the power of the mind is truly amazing. After beginning to believe lies about myself, I now understand how people are so easily brainwashed by the media, cults etc.

    Hi Jamie - great point about becoming what those around you are. I have noticed people who have completely transformed themselves in a positive way, after choosing to surround themselves with different people.

  9. Marelisa on July 14th, 2008 3:29 pm

    Cath: I read somewhere that the family you’re born to is not necessarily “the tribe you belong to”. I think we need to surround ourselves with people who are supportive and who show us through their words and actions that they care about us. Those people are the ones we should rightfully call “family”, even if we’re not related to them by blood.

    Marelisa’s last blog post..Your Anti-Career Guide – A Holistic Approach to Discovering Your Life’s Work

  10. John Hoff - eVentureBiz on July 14th, 2008 4:37 pm

    I too am fortunate to not have a toxic relative, so it’s hard for me to think in terms of what to do as I am real close with all my family nearby.

    I would think relative would get a chance or two more than say, a friend. But if it’s consistent and they won’t change, it’s time to move on. They obviously aren’t supportive or care about you.

    Also, what I found interesting here was how your Google AdWords had a link to “10 Rules For Fat Stomach.” LOL. Was your relative overweight? hehe

    John Hoff - eVentureBiz’s last blog post..A Glimmer Of Hope For Those With Bad Credit

  11. Brett Legree on July 14th, 2008 4:43 pm


    Thanks for this very thought-provoking post. I’m happy to have been a part of it.

    Often times, it is those closest to us (by blood) who can and do cause the most harm. Eventually, we have to do what is right for us.

    I think Marelisa’s words are very wise - we cannot choose our (blood) family, but we can choose our friends - and make them family.

    Surrounding ourselves with happy, successful and well-adjusted people is very important for our own mental, and physical, health.

    Thanks again for the words - Brett

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the greatest thing since sliced vikings.

  12. cathlawson on July 14th, 2008 7:14 pm

    Hi Mare - That’s a great point. And if our souls are reborn into different earth ones, it certainly sounds like a sensible one.

    Hi John - Definitely - everyone’s entitled to one or two mistakes within reason. I removed Google last year because I wasn’t getting good contextual matches. But I’ve experimented by adding it today and the results have been interesting to say the least.

    Hi Brett - you’re welcome. I too think there is a lot of sense in what Mare says. Look at how people of some faiths murder their children because they’ve done something which is against their beliefs. It’s terrible.

  13. RacerX on July 14th, 2008 8:17 pm

    For me it is this (it is easier to write than follow BTW)

    If a relationship is toxic get out, but make sure that you did all you could on your side to have closure. Sometimes for your own sake you need to forgive and move on, but it doesn’t mean that you need to have the person in your life anymore.

    RacerX’s last blog post..The King of Beers Get an Emporer

  14. cathlawson on July 14th, 2008 10:53 pm

    Hi Racer - that is a good point. Not holding grudges is important - no matter how much harm a person has done. Holding grudges or wanting revenge against someone can be really harmful. I learned that the hard way a few years ago.

  15. rld - taekwondo happiness on July 17th, 2008 1:07 pm

    Thanks for the link, Cath!

    I’ve had some toxic relationships, especially with my family. After a while, I had to acknowledge the difference between forgiveness and stupidity. I can forgive these toxic relatives, but that doesn’t mean that I should subject myself to more abuse.

    rld - taekwondo happiness’s last blog post..Sunday Meditation: ?That is why you fail?

  16. cathlawson on July 17th, 2008 1:41 pm

    Hi RLD - You’re welcome. And thanks for sharing. I guess it’s impossible to change the bad behaviour of others. But you can do your best to stop them from harming you anymore.

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  18. Karen K on August 26th, 2008 3:57 am

    Thanks to everyone for your postings. Unfortunately, the toxic relative in my life is my father. I was surfing the web and found your article.

    I have attempted to keep in contact with my father via weekly phone calls and occasionally getting together over a meal with another relative. He is “nicer” around other people. But after reading the posts, I realize it’s not worth it. Most conversations end up being unpleasant with him complaining, exuding negativity, putting me down or giving me a guilt trip over not visiting him. I have repeatedly told him I don’t like what he’s saying, ended conversations and even had to walk out of a restaurant before.

    I agree, life is too short to spend with negative people.

  19. cathlawson on August 26th, 2008 11:54 am

    Hi Karen. I’m glad you found us. It is sad that your father won’t listen - even when you’ve told him you’re not happy. I must admit - I’ve tried that too. It’s difficult with toxic relatives.

    I guess, because they’re so used to getting their own way and being able to treat you badly, they won’t change - no matter what. It’s a shame - but as you said, life is too short to spend with negative people. If they’re not willing to change their behaviour, it makes it almost impossible to continue the relationship.

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  21. Tom Kelly on October 31st, 2008 10:18 pm

    Very insightful. It is difficult to end relationships, especially with relatives. Another difficult thing is watching someone who is in a toxic relationship and not being able to do anything about it except offer advice and support.

    Tom Kelly’s last blog post..Marriage Builders

  22. Gerri on December 18th, 2008 10:16 am


    I have read your article which is very insightful. I also read all of the posts.

    I am a mother of three now all adults two sons and a daughter. My daughter is the middle child and has been dificult since her adolescence.

    Her brothers will only tolerate her behaviours at a distance as they are both now in relationships. My daughter is single.

    I have been a single parent since my youngest was 9 yrs and he is now 31.

    I have been verbally abused by my daughter on and off for years and now my nerves are at breaking point. I also have the care of my elderly mother.
    I feel that my daughter blames me for every problem.

    So you see its not just parents who are toxic its children too.

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