Written By Mili Dhru, Contributing Writer
With COVID-19 cases rapidly up surging and quarantine becoming part of the “new normal”, we have all collectively begun spending more time indoors. For some, this has proven beneficial–rediscovering the peace of solitude or establishing a deeper relationship with family and loved ones. For others, however, especially those who have been forced back into an unhealthy or toxic household, this time of increased isolation has taken a major toll on their mental, emotional, and physical health. Coping with family members who seem to make your quarantine experience more difficult can be an overwhelming and energy-draining task, but employing the following strategies of mindfulness, introspection, and communication could help alleviate some of the stress that results from a toxic or unhealthy living situation.
Reflect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors first. Try to objectively identify whether you are perpetuating any unhealthy habits or unintentionally projecting any negative emotions you may be experiencing onto your family members. Assess your emotions throughout the day, especially following interactions with family members — do you consistently feel angry, sad, or frustrated? Understanding your own emotional reactions to certain situations will allow you to better manage your feelings and approach the problem from a more unbiased perspective. Activities such as journaling, meditation, and creating art can serve as productive outlets to further facilitate personal reflection.
Identify who is causing the problem and what the problem actually is. Multiple family members could be exhibiting toxic behavior to varying degrees, and some members’ behaviors might impact you more than others. It is also integral to differentiate between toxic mindsets and toxic actions; actions are much easier to change, whereas mindsets are fundamentally rooted in the person’s core and are more difficult to influence.
For example, parents can be very caring and sufficiently provide for their children, but conflict may still constantly arise in the household due to their toxic mentalities. Classic unhealthy behaviors observed in family members include (but are not limited to): using the silent treatment as punishment, yelling, superfluous criticism, substance abuse, controlling tendencies, invalidating your needs or opinions, gaslighting, and/or being condescending and intimidating to fulfill their own egos (Bite the Gram, 2020).
Try initiating an open conversation with your family members about how their actions have impacted you. This may allow you all to understand each other’s perspectives and come to a common consensus about how to move forward. Oftentimes, family members are not aware of the negative implications of their behavior, and starting a healthy conversation may allow them to become more mindful of their toxic habits and try to break them. There are more extreme cases in which such direct confrontations could elicit physical violence from family members; in these situations it is best to seek professional help immediately.
Set clear boundaries and take some time out of your day to actively practice self care. Dedicate a space in your home entirely to yourself, and request family members to be respectful of this personal bubble. Creating an individual space does not mean that you wish to separate from your family, but it is a way to re-balance yourself and find comfort in solitude.
Setting boundaries could also include discussing alone time, exchanging constructive criticism, and having a conversation with your family about qualities to collectively improve on. A distinct trait of a toxic family member is the inability to respect boundaries; if you feel as though your family breaches any barriers you have set, enforce your conditions more assertively and make sure they understand where you draw the line (Hotel California By The Sea, 2020). In addition, find some time throughout the day to practice uplifting activities that bring you peace and relaxation; these could be as simple as taking a walk outside or reading a few chapters of your favorite book.
The mandatory quarantine enforced due to COVID-19 has undoubtedly transformed all of our lives, and although it might have resulted in an unfavorable living condition presently, it does not have to be the way we define our future. Reflecting on our own attitudes and actions, starting constructive conversations with family members, and enforcing personal boundaries can pave the way for a healthier relationship with toxic family members during this time of isolation and stress.
5, D., Gout, D., 5, B., Bitethegram, 4, A., WV, A., & *, N. (2020, August 13). How to Cope With Living in a Toxic Household during Quarantine. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://bitethegram.com/how-to-cope-with-living-in-a-toxic-household-during-quarantine/
7 Ways To Deal With Toxic Family Members During Self-Quarantine. (2020, November 04). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.hotelcaliforniabythesea.com/2020/03/31/7-ways-to-deal-with-toxic-family-members-during-self-quarantine/