What do you do in this scenario?

How do you deal with family that you’re always there for whenever they need you but they are never present for you? They are toxic for me.
Asked by Jill

Thank you for reaching out with this question. I'm afraid there's no real easy answer as it all depends on individual circumstances.

However, this is the approach I would follow in the scenario based on the information provided.

If you're always present for your family, but they're never present for you, it feels very one sided and uneven. It is exhausting to spend mental and physical energy supporting others, and can be really hurtful and upsetting when we don't get any of that support back. I don't mean that we should only support people that are going to support us back, but, if we're the ones doing all the support, we're going to burn out and be worn down. The helpers like to be helped too, right?

Setting some boundaries, if possible, might help the situation. Like 'I can do this, but only for this amount of time.' or 'I will help you if I can, however I need to do these things for myself first.' 

There might be push back.

What can change?

If we can't change the behaviors of others, the only thing we can realistically do in the here and now is look at how we respond and process what's happening to us when we're around these people. If you can create a safe space, where you can be separate from the individuals who are being toxic (even if you can't move house, or change living situation) that might be a start.

What are your true options? What are changes that will be easy to make and low risk?

What are your false options? What changes are absolutely impossible right now and wouldn't be worth the risk or emotional backlash from the family right now?

Guarding ourselves and our mental energy

Depending on what your therapy goals would be, I would expect a therapist to work with you and explore what's happening and what thoughts, feelings, behaviors and lived experience is happening right now. Through this awareness, plans for management, coping strategies and potential actions can be identified. It's easy to say 'be more boundaried' but in reality, when we enforce boundaries with people, they can take it personally (that's on them) and like an attack. It's not an attack, it's guarding ourselves and our mental energy to keep ourselves OK.

What next?

I'm sorry it's not a simple 'just do this' answer, however, I think exploring the situation with a therapist you feel comfortable with, or who specializes in family systems, might be really beneficial for you.

Not all therapists are a good fit for all clients, and not all clients are going to like the first therapist they're matched with. If this is something you would like to work through with a professional, I hope you're able to find someone you feel safe and comfortable with talking about this situation.

Whatever path you decide to take next, I hope you get the support you need.

Best wishes, 

(Diploma, Psychotherapeutic, Counsellor, Pass)