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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What is it like to cut a toxic relative out of your life? A personal perspective

I’ve thought about writing about this topic more than once, and I’ve always chickened out. However, I was asked the other day for tips about coping with toxic people, including toxic family, and having had second, third and fourth thoughts, I’ve decided to go for it.

A few years ago I was making a phone call. I was intending to arrange a night out. A drink followed by dinner. I was feeling dreadful: churning stomach, sweaty hands, and headache alive and hammering.

I didn’t have the flu. It was pure nerves.

I was standing there and that’s when it hit me. I looked at myself and thought, “This is ridiculous. I’m not doing it anymore.”

I made a decision on the spot that I was cutting that person out of my life. It wasn’t easy, and despite the apparent circumstances, it wasn’t a sudden one either. Our relationship had deteriorated over a period of years.

I’d tried to fix it several times but it was like talking to a brick wall. No matter how I tried, the barrage of lies, put downs, mind games and a whole load of other absolute poisonous crap that I won’t discuss here went on and on and on.

I’d kept going because I kept thinking that it would change, that it would get better.

But it didn’t and so I said, “Enough.”

Not making that call was huge for me. The moment I made that decision I felt absolutely awful. It’s hard to describe but it was a sense of failure, of utmost misery.

But you know what?  I also felt huge relief.

I cried buckets, pure guilt, and then I got sensible. I thought it through and planned for the fall-out.

First, I had to cut ties. I worked out what I wanted to say the next time we spoke, and I practiced and practiced so I’d get it all out in one go, without being drawn into long debates.

I don’t remember the exact words but I was very brief and impersonal. It went something like, “We’ve not connected for a long time. Our meetings upset me. It is best for me to step back.”

The conversation took place over the phone and it took less than a minute. Afterwards I went through more a barrage of those same conflicting emotions but at that point the relief loomed larger than the rest.

Then when the news spread, I tackled the issues one by one.

My close family and friends understood as they’d seen for themselves what led up to it.  Apart from, “We’re here if you want to talk” they were kind enough to leave me to it. And when I got myself together, I did do a bit of talking. Still do, sometimes. I don’t think I could have done it without them and I’m forever grateful.

It was the people I didn’t know well who were a pain in the bum. I learned to cut off the well meaning ones by saying, “This is a private family matter I prefer not to discuss.” 

The few who persisted got shorter shrift. “Mind your own business and I’ll mind one” caused some red faces but I don’t regret it. Busybodies who want to second-guess and arm chair moralise are best kept at arm’s length.

The most difficult thing was that some more distant family and friends complained. I had some very difficult conversations with them but I realised very quickly that they were mainly bitching out of fear.

I’m afraid this is very common in these situations: if one person in a group is targeted, the rest of the herd is grateful because it means they feel safe. Once you realise what’s behind the, “Why can’t we just go back to the way we used to be?” it’s easier to stick to your guns.

So, am I happier?  Was it the right decision? 

I do feel grief over What Might Have Been. And sometimes I play that, “What if I’d said this instead of that?” But on balance it was right to walk away. For me the answer is yes. Cutting out that toxic relative was the best decision for me.

Is it right for you? I don’t know. What I would say is this: think it over. Wave a magic wand and ask, “What would life be like if...?” and think it through.

As this is my blog, and I’m a counselling psychologist, I’d say that if you need to, it can help to talk it all through with someone like me. 

If you don’t talk to me, and are looking for another professional, my advice would be to  pick someone who has experience of abuse and domestic violence cases. People who’ve been up at the sharp end tend to be better at talking through all the possibilities of dealing with toxic relationships. 

Also, avoid therapists who are committed to ‘saving’ relationships. You want someone who wants the best for you, not someone who wants you to live according to a pattern they think is nice.  

And having said all that, Happy New Year. May 2018 bring you health, happiness and lots of laughter.

Want to schedule an appointment? I work online via Skype and Messenger. Send me an email at happy@lepak.com.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“How to deal with people who keep bugging you...” Tips for when social media friends are a pain in the bum

This was written as a response to a Facebook post asking what you'd like me to blog about. The question was, “how to deal with people who keep bugging you ie they don't know boundaries?

Social media is great for keeping in touch, and making new friends, but unfortunately, it also opens the floodgates to unwanted contact. The two things that top the list include unsolicited advice and repeated PMs or requests for private chatting. Note: I'm not including PMs that ask for a contact, referral, or other very specific help or information. Those are always okay.

For me, the factors pushing both behaviours is similar. 

I see giving an unsolicited opinion once is okay, as it can be very hard to see if someone is just moaning about an issue because it happens to be on their mind or whether they are asking for help. Asking someone to chat when you've not met and you haven't had long public conversations on their timeline, well, I wouldn't do it myself but assuming it's polite and not a dick pic, I suppose there's no harm in it. 

However, it's only okay if the friend stops when you don't reply or fob them off with an "I'm busy" or equal non-response.

A person who is genuinely interested in your advice or who wants to chat in order to get to know you better will come back to you. If they don't, you should move on. This is why I think a second push is a no-no.

Still, suppose your friend goes for it again.  If you think they're basically okay but just not getting it, you have to be completely straightforward. The message has to be utterly plain, so they can't mistake it. After all, the subtle stuff has already passed them by.

For random unwelcome advice, you might say, “This is not something I wish to discuss further.”

If you have a health problem that's brought out the crazies, a friend who is expert at fielding these recommends, you preface it with a graceful, “Thank you for your kindness. I have a detailed treatment plan I am comfortable with.”

For persistent chat requests, I use this standard phrase, “If you have a specific question, or need a contact, do PM me, but I just don't have the time for random chitchat.”

It can be difficult to have to be this blunt but it means you can invite an “okay, I get it” in return, and it's all good again. With this option, you make it possible to keep your friend. I'm all in favour of this, because relationships are to be treasured.
However, if that person has a hissy fit, or keeps bugging you, that’s different.

I could beat around the bush here and be super sweet about it, but let’s talk turkey. There might be many underlying causes fueling this annoying persistence, and none are flattering.
·    They are self-centred/entitled and can't see their opinions/attentions are unwelcome.
·        They are selling something and hope to bully you into buying.
·        They are advocates/evangelists, meaning they are bullies intent on shoving their opinions onto you.
·        They are abusive and this is an attempt to control you by wearing you down.

In all these cases, I think it’s acceptable to cut them off. I do.

Clearly it will be more difficult if this person is close to you. However, there really is no reason why you should put up with bad behaviour.

Friends respect boundaries.