Strong relationships with friends, parents, siblings or a significant other, make us feel safe, happy and healthy. In fact, Psychology Today says that satisfying relationships influence our long-term health as much as getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods and not smoking1. Good relationships are associated with better health and happiness, and even a longer life.
Unfortunately, some people struggle to have healthy relationships with close family members, and the negativity generated by interactions with these relatives can be detrimental to their emotional well-being.
Occasional struggles within families are normal — all families experience bouts of bickering and discord — but if someone is experiencing regular abuse in the form of passive-aggressive actions, insults, cruelty and even physical abuse, experts encourage victims to consider walking away from the toxicity.
How to find the family you need
It’s not easy to leave a situation you know, even if it’s a difficult one. The unknown can be frightening, and damage inflicted by toxic relationships can make you wonder if you’ll ever find a healthy environment in which you can thrive. You might even wonder if you’re worthy of anything better.
But you are. And here are steps you can take to help build a supportive, loving community.
- Think about your values. You’ve experienced what you don’t want in a family group, so what do you want from one? Think about what’s important to you and what you need to receive from those around you in order to grow and flourish, and to feel safe and loved. Keeping this in mind as you reach out to friends and other family members will ensure that you’re always striving for the best situations possible and help you avoid slipping back into negative relationships.
- Reach out. Unless you’re extremely lucky, a new family group isn’t going to show up on your doorstep and present itself to you. Reach out to friends and safe family members and slowly start to establish a new circle. Regularly keep in touch and slowly get used to the fact that there are people that you can rely on for company and comfort.
- Recognize it won’t always be easy. It’s going to feel strange to disconnect from the family that has hurt you, and it may be difficult to make any new group feel “right” for a while. Try to remember that it will take time, and holidays and special days are going to be a little extra difficult while you’re in this transition stage. Try to create new traditions, even if you’re alone on some of those special days, and trust that it will be worth it in the end.
- Tell the people in your life that you value them. It can be difficult if this isn’t something that was ever shown to you, but letting people know that they are important to you is a wonderful way to strengthen the bonds of friendship. Healthy families do this all the time, so even if it feels uncomfortable to you, give it a try!
- Lose the guilt. As hard as it may be, and despite what anyone says, you have the right to disengage from unhealthy situations and unhealthy relationships. You have the right to be happy and healthy and to find people that support you. Never feel guilty for doing what’s right for your own mental and physical health.
- Take care of yourself. Speak to a doctor or mental health professional if you’re struggling. You can also try journaling, yoga or breathing exercises and grounding techniques to help deal with anxiety. This is a big life change, and it may take some work to settle into your new reality. Give it time!
Remember, if you’re in a family situation where violence, abuse or harassment is involved, it’s important to seek help as soon as you’re safely able to. If it’s an emergency, call 911 (999 UK). Otherwise these resources may be of help to you or someone you know:
In the United States:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233
In the United Kingdom:
- Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247
Sometimes the best thing you can do is accept that the family you’re born into isn’t the one you need. With courage bolstered by the knowledge that you are worthy of only the very best, you can move forward and find the family that you deserve.