Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Sometimes, however, it’s the place where we find our deepest distress.
My sister and I had our share of ups and downs, yet over the years, we have learned to respect our diverse ways of thinking. Life has spun us in many directions, but all through the whirly ride, she has been a constant and a confidante.
Our past and personal revelations help shape our relationship, as we strive to master maturity. Lately, there have been recurring exchanges about how to handle family members who literally infect our lives with their toxicity. Our conversations have been consumed with how we deal with our feelings of obligation, confusion, betrayal, heartache, and frustration toward these energy parasites. Is there a correct approach?
Neither of us wants to walk away from our familial duties, nor do we feel that’s the mature thing to do. However, it is a continual challenge to maintain our equilibrium when dealing with energy parasites who often suck out all our positive vibes when we are in their presence.
Our nuclear family has dealt with its share of dysfunction. I was eleven and my sister was four when our father died. Our world changed drastically in many ways. We were highly impressionable when mother married her second husband — a man with severe inner conflict and insecurity. Every day brought some form of criticism and pessimism, consequently, even now we are both highly sensitive to people who portray this contaminated characteristic.
We have come to understand that families are not necessarily healthy, or available to lean on, call on, or go home to. Not all families have a bond built on the premise of mutual respect, love, and support. Handling family members who are energy parasites is not an easy task. We did our best to navigate without the proper guidance we needed. At times, “family” simply means you share a bloodline . . . and that’s it. This tough life lesson brought my sister and I closer and helped us to deal with the drama of those around us.
In my thirties, I sought out therapy. I often felt lost within and needed a search and rescue team to guide me through the storm of past events. One of my goals was to redefine my kneejerk reaction towards toxic behavior and instead practice positive reactions to the energy parasites in my world. After several therapists, I found Sandy. She was no nonsense and swore like a truck driver. I respected and admired her transparency. Sandy reminded me multiple times, “Critical people project their own issues onto everyone else, and most likely are unhappy with themselves, not you.” This was music to my ears. At once, my emotional puzzle pieces were being put into place. Slowly, I began to understand why many toxic family members and other pessimistic people act the way they do. Whether they are going through a difficult stage in their life, chronic illness, emotional troubles, or just a lack of love and attention during their childhoods, I could finally understand. I had peace of mind . . . well, kind of.
Once I began modifying my actions and reactions, it became increasingly difficult to comprehend why others did not want to improve theirs. I had the tools and wanted to share my discoveries. I worked with my sister on our struggles and continue to overcome obstacles through introspection and the courage to change together. It is not easy, but our results have been satisfying and rather enlightening. We established a pact a few years back, if we affect each other in a negative or hurtful manner, we immediately communicate this openly.
Just recently, I was out for dinner with a wise woman who has been a constant light in my life for many years. I mentioned my frustration with energy parasites and asked how she handles them in her life. In her always-peaceful manner, she pointed out, “Every episode of dealing with toxic people is a little different, but in each situation there are some universal truths you want to remember.”
The question suddenly struck me, “Why didn’t I ask her about this years ago?” Throughout the evening as she continued to make me feel at ease with my burden, I created multiple mental post-it notes. The following day I shared those truths with my sister. We talked for a long time and came up with our own universal truths on how to deal with energy parasites:
“Inherently, the energy parasite may not be a bad person; they’re just not the right person to be spending time with every day.”
We determined that emotionally unsettled individuals are agonizing on the inside and their negativity is not always a conscious choice. We strive to believe they are caring and have good intentions. No longer are we compromising ourselves due to their bottled-up inner struggles.
“It is best to distance yourself enough and give yourself space to live, breathe.”
They hide cleverly behind passive aggression. We have learned together that this covert behavior is a defense mechanism, which can take many forms. Knowing that, we arrived at the conclusion that it is best to defuse the negative action and our reaction. We observed how these people appear friendly and display well-meaning intentions when, in fact, underneath those intentions is manipulation disguised in aggression and negative actions. We decided that we should spend less time around that kind of behavior, love them from a distance, and let go of our desire to want more from them by creating a healthy space for ourselves.
“Send love their way.”
We understand inside work can be challenging and wish them well as they learn to respect, love, and support themselves. We realized we were overcompensating for their inner conflicts and insecurities with our kind-heartedness. In the process, we felt emotionally drained and used. My sister and I now recognize we are not responsible for making others feel whole.
It will take time and many failed attempts at perfecting our practice of these universal truths. Although they do still drive us a wee bit crazy, we celebrate the fact that toxic family members no longer keep us up at night questioning ourselves. My sister and I continue to swap stories and feel healthier knowing we have properly protected ourselves for those times when we are threatened by these energy parasites.
© Shannon Hogan Cohen May 2016