Tips For Dealing With A Toxic Loved One Who Won't Change

Common advice for dealing with toxic people says to cut them out of your life and move on to better things, but that advice doesn't always apply to family members and other loved ones. Having a long history or sharing a bloodline can make severing ties complicated.

Still, toxic relationships can take their toll on your mental and physical health. A 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people in a destructive close relationship were at a higher risk of developing heart disease. If the relationship leads to chronic stress, it can also trigger anxiety, depression, body aches, digestive issues, and memory problems (per Mayo Clinic).

Given the risks involved, it's crucial to find healthy ways to deal with a toxic parent who disrespects your needs or a sibling who's known to be a master manipulator. Use these tips to flip the script when a toxic loved one won't change.

Don't take it personally

Toxic people often use guilt-tripping, harsh criticism, and other strategies to make you believe that you're the problem — not them. And even when they don't use these techniques, you might blame yourself for their behavior, wondering where you went wrong. However, know that their issues aren't your fault.

"When dealing with toxic people, it's important to recognize that everything they say or do is all about them and has nothing to do with you. They're the ones in control of their words or their actions," Kathryn Ely, a licensed professional counselor, explained to DailyOM. "That's them, that's who they are, that's the baggage they're carrying. This changes the meaning you make out of your interactions with them."

Of course, remembering and believing this can often be easier said than done, especially if their snide comments and emotional blackmail get under your skin. One self-protection tactic is to reveal less and less personal information to your toxic loved one. You don't have to share every personal opinion or life update with them, especially if they tend to criticize or demean your choices.

Accept that you can't change them

If only your loved one would change, everything would be better, right? No matter how strongly you want them to work on themselves, the harsh truth is that you can't be the one to make them do it. Instead, they have to decide for themselves that they want to change — and often, this requires them to hit rock bottom first. Therapist and author Nedra Glover Tawwab told Self, "Change typically comes from a huge significant life event, such as having kids, someone dying, or losing a job ... It's not, 'I was walking down the street and I decided I wanna stop gaslighting you.'"

The reason most people aren't quick to change, even if their actions are destroying your relationship with them, is that they refuse to face their own shortcomings. "They may lack self-awareness or respond with denial when confronted with their poor treatment of others," Sharon Martin, an author and licensed clinical social worker, shared with WebMD. The takeaway: Just because you see their flaws doesn't mean they will. Accept them as they are, expecting no more from them than what they've already offered.

Change the role you play in their life

You've heard the saying before: "You can't change how people act, but you can change how you react." There's little you can do to control how a toxic family member or loved one behaves, but you can cope by changing the role you play when interacting with them.

In dysfunctional relationships, people tend to take one of three positions, according to Stephen Karpman's drama triangle theory: the victim, the rescuer, or the persecutor. If the toxic person in your life has a victim complex, you might respond by trying to save them. Alternatively, you might be the persecutor they constantly point the finger at — and you may even adopt this persona by lecturing and reprimanding them.

These roles rarely do any good and often only trap you deeper in toxic patterns. One solution, according to trauma therapist Shannon Thomas, is to try detached contact. "Detached contact centers on our ability to be physically present, but not emotionally wounded by the actions of a family member," she explained to Oprah Daily. "We consciously recognize the psychological games they're playing to get a reaction out of us, but we refuse to engage in the toxicity." Deflecting or staying neutral can de-escalate the interaction and communicate to the other person that you refuse to be swept up in their drama.

Clearly communicate your needs and boundaries

It can be hard to talk honestly with a toxic loved one about problems in the relationship, but starting a dialogue is a critical step, says Kathryn Ely. "A lot of times, the reason toxic relationships go on for so long is because the individual who is suffering in the relationship is afraid of confrontation," she revealed to DailyOM. However, confrontation can be an "opportunity to teach people how we must be treated and expect to be treated if we are to remain in a relationship with that person."

In most cases, it's best to shed light on issues as soon as you notice them. "Respond to things as they happen or soon after. We might wait until we have 20 examples of something to recognize and address it. But if someone has done something three times, it's a pattern," Nedra Glover Tawwab suggested to Self.

Make the conversation about you and your feelings, not about condemning the other person. Use "I" statements to describe how the relationship dynamics are affecting you and what you need to make things right. This is also a good time to set boundaries. Keep your boundaries clear and simple — there's no need to overexplain or convince the other person that your needs are valid. State what you won't tolerate, what behavior you prefer instead, and what will happen if the line is crossed in the future.

Walk away when needed

Working on yourself and setting boundaries isn't always enough to deal with a toxic loved one. "Toxic people will try to draw you into an argument to distract you from the real issues," Sharon Martin told WebMD. "They will often turn things around on you — blaming you for their toxic behaviors and never taking ownership for their behavior." When this happens, it might be time to limit how often you interact with them.

Low contact is one option where you continue seeing a family member or loved one, though only when necessary, like at holiday functions. You may also choose to occasionally take their calls or respond to text messages, but you keep conversations short and spaced out. In other instances, no contact may be appropriate, especially if your loved one's actions put you in harm's way. While this is certainly true for physical harm, it also includes mental and emotional abuse. If they continue to disrespect your boundaries or if you dread every interaction with them, it might be best to walk away from the relationship.

Avoiding a loved one can be tough. You may need to inform others involved, such as other family members, of your intentions to get everyone on the same page. For extra support, turn to friends outside of the situation, as well as a therapist who can guide you through the fallout.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.