3 Things to Do When a Family Member Won’t Change Their Toxic Behavior

Speaking up early on can prevent resentment from building and help you feel less powerless in the situation. For example, maybe you tell your aunt that you can’t come to a family gathering and she guilt trips you and insists that you must attend. You could respond with something like, “When you say I have to come because my grandmother will be heartbroken if I’m not there, it makes me feel like you don’t respect my choices. In the future, can you accept it when I say no?” Or if a loved one asks you to help them with something you aren’t willing or able to do for whatever reason, you could consider offering an alternative. “It might not be in the way that they want, but there may be ways to help a person that won’t take a lot out of you,” Twwab says. “I once had a family member ask me if they could borrow some money. I said, ‘You may wanna call 10 other people to get the rest, but I can give you half of that. I’m not willing to give you the whole thing.’”

You can’t control how your loved one will react to your boundaries, Twwab says, but by kindly and clearly communicating your needs as soon as possible, you’re taking charge of the only thing you do have control over—yourself. 

Learn to accept who they are—and what they’re capable of—today.

Knowing you can’t change someone is one thing, but coming to terms with who they are can be quite another challenge—especially when it comes to the people closest to us. Acceptance isn’t easy, but it makes life more peaceful. “You can love your family and have deep wounds due to those relationships,” Tawwb says. “But fighting against acceptance creates continual chaos in relationships.” 

That’s not to say your loved one will never change, nor does accepting who they are mean you have to put up with their behavior if it’s abusive or otherwise harmful. Again, you can try talking to them and see where it gets you, but you may also need to draw firm boundaries (like excluding that person from personal events, perhaps, or only sharing certain parts of your life with them). Acceptance is ultimately about recognizing that another person’s behavior is out of your control and that resisting who they are today only causes suffering. 

Letting go of your expectations won’t happen overnight, but it can help to consider that the way you want to be loved may not be something your family member is capable of offering, Tawwab says. For example, a parent might say that they worked hard every day to provide for their child, which to them translates as love, but their adult child might feel the parent wasn’t emotionally available, which they needed to feel valued. (Also important to note: Just because someone grows older, it doesn’t mean they get wiser. A parent can be 65 but with the emotional capacity of a 12-year-old, Tawwab says.) 

It can be a deeply painful realization that someone you love can’t meet your emotional needs, but shifting your narrative from “they won’t do x, y, z” to “they can’t do x, y, z” can bring compassion for the other person—and, ultimately, inner peace.


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