In Part 1, we learned about the Islamic teachings of family relationships. In this article, we will learn about the characteristics of toxic family members and how to deal with such toxicity in our lives.
Part 2: Characteristics of Toxic Family Members
Having problems with family members does not necessarily mean they are toxic. Relationship problems are normal and can often be solved by honest communication and problem-solving. One question to ask yourself is, “Is this relationship harming me more than benefiting me?” If the relationship is more harmful, it may be toxic.
Two key characteristics of toxic family members is that they are:
2) Unwilling to accept any responsibility for their behaviors
Because of their unwillingness to take responsibility, it is difficult to repair relationships with them. Setting boundaries/limits is crucial. Part 3 of this article will discuss boundaries and other coping ideas in more detail.
Here are other common characteristics of toxic family members:
- Cause stress, anxiety, anger, confusion, exhaustion, and self-doubt in others.
- Can make you feel like you are going crazy or that you are the victim of a psychopath trying to manipulate and control you.
- Their behaviors are severely affecting your life and health.
- Unlikely to understand how other people feel, or to even care.
- Self-centered and emotionally dependent.
- Extremely negative and critical.
- Financially irresponsible.
- Feel entitled.
- Emotionally abusive bullies.
- Adept at sensing your weaknesses and will use them against you.
- Passive aggressive (Passive aggression is “non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. Instead of openly expressing how they feel, someone makes subtle, annoying gestures directed at you. Instead of saying what’s actually upsetting them, they find small and petty ways to take jabs at you until you pay attention and get upset” [See here for more.]
- Many become worse with age.
Toxic people act in these ways because it works to get their needs met. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t continue acting in these ways.
How to cope is complicated because every situation is unique. Here is a list of ideas. You should use your intuition and reason to choose the best course of action. Not all of these ideas will work for your particular situation.
…But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? (Fussilat, 41:53)
The Prophet Muhammad said: “The Muslim who mixes with the people and bears patiently their hurtful words, is better than one who does not mix with people and does not show patience under their abuse.” 1
Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds.” (6:162)
The Prophet said, “Do not be of those who do to others as the others do to them, and say that we will do them a favor if they do us a favor, and if they will be mean and unjust to us then we, too, will be mean and unjust to them. On the contrary, resolve that you will do good if the others do good, and if they do a wrong and act unjustly, even then you will not be unfair to them.” 2
- Try to show toxic family members kindness and understanding, but also limit your contact with them to protect yourself from their toxic behaviors.
Many toxic family members are going through difficult times. They may be suffering from health and/or emotional problems. You can try to show them understanding to the best of your ability. If they request something from you, you can respect their requests (as long as they are reasonable and permissible in Islam).
- Take care of yourself and know your limits.
Our Prophet said, “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshiping in the mornings, the nights.” 3
Remember to not “overburden” yourself. Take care of yourself by making dua to Allah , exercising, and expressing your feelings to a caring person. Many stress experts believe that the stress caused by other people is the most damaging of all stressors.
Take responsibility for your happiness by finding ways to cope and relax.
Also, do not take the toxic behavior of family members personally. They are the ones with a problem, not you.
- Find peace in truth and wisdom.
- Sometimes it is best to be silent.
If you are not sure that what you are about to say to a toxic family member is “good”, then perhaps it’s best to keep silent. When a family member is angry or disrespectful, he/she is not in a state of mind to listen to reason anyway.
If you are feeling angry, you may say something that you regret.
Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the foolish (Al-’A’raf, 7:199).
And obey Allah and His Messenger and do not quarrel for then you will be weak in hearts and your power will depart, and be patient; surely Allah is with the patient. (Al-Anfal, 8:46)
Our Prophet said, “It is sin enough for you not to cease quarreling.” 4
- Listen to your intuition and use your reason.
Use your intuition and reason to decide how to respond to a toxic family member. Many psychologists believe that intuition is simply your past knowledge and experience coming out in a fast message; this definition of intuition can also be called: wisdom. Islam teaches us to use our reason and to gain wisdom from our life experiences.
It is He Who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old,- though of you there are some who die before;- and lets you reach a Term appointed; in order that ye may learn wisdom. (Ghafir, 40:67)
For example: Use your intuition to decide when is the best time to talk about an issue with a family member.
- Set and enforce boundaries and keep your distance.
Every healthy relationship has some boundaries. Boundaries are limits that you set with other people.
Examples: You can set boundaries about how often you will meet or talk to toxic family members. You can tell family members what kind of behaviors you will not accept from them. If a family member does not respect your boundaries, then you need to have some kind of consequence, such as leaving for some time.
- Seek support.
Surround yourself with positive people who care about you and support you. Use your support systems to help solve any problems you are having with toxic family members.
- Sometimes it’s best to speak directly to toxic family members.
Again, use your intuition/experience to decide when it’s best to speak more directly to a toxic family member about his/her behaviors. You can respectfully explain to them what they are doing that is disturbing you.
Examples: You can say, “I feel insulted when you say…” You can also ask them, “That’s interesting…Why would you say that?” You can explain to them that you will not tolerate dishonesty, manipulation, or rude behavior.
- Do not feel hatred towards toxic family members.
The Prophet advised a companion, “Son, if you are able, keep your heart from morning till night and from night till morning free from malice towards anyone…O my son! This is one of my laws, and he, who loves my laws verily, loves me.” 5
Hating family members for being toxic only brings more toxicity into your life.
- If their toxic behavior becomes physically abusive, it’s a legal matter that must be addressed.
Physical abuse is never tolerated in Islam. Consider the following hadiths:
A’ishah (the Prophet’s wife) said, “The Messenger of Allah never struck a servant of his with his hand, nor did he ever hit a woman.” 8
It was asked of the Prophet : What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them. 9
Showing kindness to family members is highly rewarded, but at the same time, we need to take care of ourselves so that we can be kind, healthy people in the long-run. If your mental health is suffering from the effects of toxic family members, you should treat yourself with kindness and protect yourself from harm. Also remember that you are not alone and that many people suffer from toxic family relationships.
You will be a happier person if you can avoid toxic family members and set boundaries. Setting boundaries is not easy; it means saying “no” and limiting contact. Just because people are related to you does not give them the right to be hurtful and dishonest. Family members are supposed to love and support one another. May Allah protect us from toxic people and help everyone become better people. Ameen!
Please share your views and suggestions about this article in the comments section below. 🙂