When Family Obligations Are a Source of Stress and Toxicity
The family systems we are raised in have significant impacts on our development and ability to cope with life’s struggles. Many individuals who struggle with mental health issues grew up in unhealthy or abusive families, making family life even more complicated and triggering for them.
If you are suffering from trauma, mental health issues, are recovering from a substance use disorder, or have anxiety and depression triggered by family dynamics, it is important to support your mental health when family issues arise. Even in the midst of feeling obligated to participate in family engagements, there are a series of steps you can take to practice self-care.
Prioritizing Your Mental Health Over Family Obligations
Learning to prioritize yourself over others is something many people have yet to master, especially in a society that encourages and applauds overextending ourselves at the expense of personal self-care. For those who struggle with mental and emotional health, feeling obligated to interact with triggering or toxic family members may present additional overwhelm and stress.
There are ways to minimize stress and focus on your own wellbeing in these situations, including:
Take Time to Evaluate: If you are “supposed to” go to a family event, ask who will be attending, what the expectations are, and the time frame for being there. Will there be people present who have harmed you or caused trauma in your past? Are there certain family members who tend to create drama? Is this an event that you can avoid, or can you stay for a short time? Will there be individuals there that you trust and feel safe with? Considering these questions and planning for how to manage family interaction gives you a sense of personal power and choice in an environment that may otherwise feel helpless.
Keep It Simple: Don’t try to fit visits to multiple houses or events into one day, knowing that with each one comes with its own complicated emotions and experiences. Schedule time to relax and revive between obligations so that your mind can rest and reset before re-engaging with difficult people.
Avoid Toxic People: If you have a family member who caused specific, significant pain as a child (such as abuse), it is your right to decide not to see them. You do not have to converse with or be around a person who caused you harm, and you do not have to explain yourself to those who do not understand. In addition, if a person who exhibits behaviors (such as drug use or heavy drinking) that you are specifically avoiding for your own health is going to attend, you can choose to avoid the event.
Plan Time for Yourself: Some family events are more important than others and avoiding them would cause pain for you and people that you love. If you can’t avoid a gathering, set aside time throughout the event, even 10 minutes, to step outside or to a quiet room to center and get grounded. Whether it is to take a walk or to meditate, give yourself the space to step away.
One of the biggest things to remember is that with age comes the right to choose. You have the right to choose who you associate with, who is good for your mental and emotional health, who supports and encourages you, and who doesn’t. Keep in mind that friends are the family we choose, and if your biological family is unhealthy for you, do what you need to do to take care of your own wellbeing and surround yourself with people who lift you up.
Chico Mental Health Services: Helping You to Find Peace
It is human nature to desire connection with your family of origin, and it is normal to maintain links with people who may not be healthy. It is also imperative to remember that it is okay to step back if toxicity or unhealthy behaviors exist within your family and are taking a personal toll on your mental health. Our team of compassionate and skillful Chico mental health professionals can work with you to understand and heal from family trauma, learn to set healthy boundaries, and practice self-care.
Contact our team to discuss coping skills and treatment at (530) 899-3150.