Toxic Family Communication -- You Can Change It!

06/13/2015 08:17 am ET | Updated Jun 13, 2016

Everyone has experienced moments of feeling smothered or frustrated by the interference and advice of a loving and concerned family member.

Expressing feelings and opinions in an open and non intrusive way is a part of family life. It happens and always will.

However, often out of a sense of worry, anxiety, desperation or other motives family members tend to invade personal boundaries. When this happens the communication dynamic changes and may become toxic.

Family is often viewed consciously or not as a 'safe haven.' Most anything can be said without consequence. Unconditional love and acceptance is taken for granted. This gives you freedom to act or speak in ways that may undermine your closest relationships.

Do you ever find yourself screaming, swearing or saying hateful things you really don't mean? Especially to those you love most.

Our lives are frequently filled with stress, worry, concern, fear, anger and a litany of other emotions. Basically life may seem overwhelming and we react rather than respond.

Feel like a quick informal assessment of how you deal with family? Here's a short Mind Acrobatics™ exercise.

Spend three minutes in a bit of recollection. If you like use pen and paper to help capture your thoughts.

Mind Acrobatics Exercise: "Did I Really Say That?"

  1. Think about the last argument you had with a family member with whom you are close.
  2. What prompted the argument?
  3. How did you respond?
  4. Are there words you wish you could take back?
  5. Was the situation eventually solved?
  6. Did you find that afterwards all was forgiven?
  7. Are you still just as close with this person?
If your response to questions four & seven is yes, give it some thought.

Often we become hypersensitive or defensive to words, phrases or advice uttered by family. They act as triggers transforming a simple disagreement into a personal attack that doesn't serve anyone well or solve the particular challenge.

If you find this happens, now's a perfect opportunity to engage in a bit of introspection. Become more mindful of what 'sets you off.' Is there a particular word or phrase that puts you on the defensive? What pushes your buttons? What's your trigger?

Create a plan for how you'll respond in the future to stressful situations with the people you love most. Perhaps you'll use a phrase to halt the conversation midstream preventing escalation.

Examples might be:

  • "I hope you don't mind but I really prefer not discussing this right now."
  • "I appreciate you're trying to help but I need to make my own decision."
  • "I know you want what's right for me but it's my life and I'll live with the consequences."
  • "Can we just drop this?"
  • "Let's not turn this into an argument." "I love you and this is way too stressful."
  • "How about we agree to disagree?"
If the individual involved seems unable or unwilling to stop then consider simply ending the conversation by saying. "I can't talk about this anymore, I don't mean to be rude but I'm going to hang up the phone." You can use similar verbiage if the conversation is in person and just walk away.

These are generic examples. Each family and it's dynamics are different. Attempt to devise a strategy that works best for your particular situation. It may or might not work -- but isn't it worth a try?

All family's give advice, argue and interfere to some degree. However, the way it plays out can differ significantly. Having family with whom you can let off a little steam may even be healthy as long as it's not so hot it scalds anyone.

Determine that your next 'disagreement' will be about the specific topic and not become a personal attack on someone you love.

It's unlikely you'll solve all family situations in a calm, relaxed and mellow manner. I've yet to meet anyone able to accomplish this Herculean feat.

However, with a plan in place you can make certain you don't unintentionally hurt the most important people in your life.

We've just touched on one aspect of the toxic role in which families may engage, 'method of communication.' There are countless other issues and challenges -- some with simple solutions and others far more complex.

You might find it helpful and enlightening to spend some time exploring the nature of unhealthy relationships.

I'm also a great believer that we have the ability to effect incredible positive change in our lives. Creative visualization is so powerful. What you can see in your mind may often be turned into reality. There are so many ways in which relationships can be improved when you set your mind to do so.

Remember, it's family on whom you can almost always rely to be there for you. It's worth the effort to seek out healthy ways to communicate. It's never too late to change family dynamics.

Now might be a wonderful time to give some huge bear hugs to your favorite people!


Dave is a Corporate & Life Coach. He holds MA degrees in Education & Psychology.

Originally published on The Good Men Project

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