Distancing yourself from toxic family may be the best thing you can do for yourself.

All relationships need to be reciprocal. Family members, work, and friends that bring negative energy, to the point that it affects your nuclear family, your health and well-being, maybe your shackles.

Extended family systems in South Africa make us the wonderful, loving and friendly nation that we are.

It takes a village to raise a child? Yes! And many of us are lucky enough to have that proverbial village.

However, big families often mean being in each other's business. When someone you love and care for is down and out, with job loss, alcoholism, debt or whatever problem they may have, helping them up can sometimes bring you down.

When you take the problems of others into the sanctity of your own home, you're not doing them or yourself any good. Be a part of their support structure, without taking on their problems. You don't have to be a psychologist to know this, but it does help to have a professional tell you what to do in this case.

We asked Helene Vermaak, clinical psychologist and business director at The Human Edge, what to do with difficult family members or a relationship that isn't serving you.

Vermaak provided these guidelines:

Hold on to your truth and your love. 

You can’t control the outcome of a conversation or even how someone else will feel at the end of it. Bring your best intent and best skills and influence to the conversation. So a successful conversation is one in which you hold to your truth and respectfully express your meaning and deeply listen to the other person, without frustration or anger.

Define your boundaries. 

As you step away from this relationship, think deeply about what behaviours and situations didn’t work for you and draw those as your boundaries. It is easy to focus on the people we want to step back from. Try instead to think about what behaviours and situations you want to step back from. You may find there are ways to step back from the behaviours and situations that trouble you without fully stepping back from the person.


Once you take the step back, forgive. Forgive the other person. And forgive yourself. This was not your failure.

She adds, be open to new connections with old relationships. As you move forward, in a new and different direction, away from this person and this relationship, you will find that you change and grow. A year from now, you will be both the same person you are today as well as different. Let that also be true of the other person. Let him or her change and grow. He or she need not necessarily “be dead to you forever.” There may come a time when either you or the other person has changed enough that reconnection could be possible.