While I never really considered myself to be in any way similar to the Duchess of Sussex, something that has become apparent to me in the last year is that we share one significant commonality: we both have shitty family members.
I’m sure we all saw the drama play out in the days leading up to the royal wedding. Meghan’s dad was seen staging paparazzi photos and her half-sister and half-brother were making fools out of themselves every minute by saying horribly nasty things about their royal-to-be sister to the glossy mags sold in almost every supermarket.
While the toxic people in my life haven’t followed that exact same path, they’ve definitely treated me awfully and done shitty things that make me both ashamed of, and disappointed in my relation to them.
I used to carry this shame and sadness within me, and feel the burden of trying to fix these relationships all on my own. Maybe if I spent more time with them, it might become easier? Maybe if I distance myself, they’ll pick up the phone for once and initiate contact themselves? Maybe if I go above and beyond, they’ll treat me nicer? Anyone who has dealt with toxic people in the past knows that these methods never work, and actually — by actively (and one-sidedly) trying to mend the relationship, you’re giving even more power to those that are causing you so much pain and sadness to begin with.
Last year was a monumental year for me in many ways, but I think the most powerful and positive thing I did for myself was to cut those toxic and negative people out for good. It’s always been ingrained in me that family is family, no matter what, and that you should *always* be there for your family; but what if they don’t deserve it? I’d considered distancing myself from those family members that brought me pain for almost a decade, and at the start of last year I decided that I was done with making sacrifices and excuses for shitty behaviour, so I cut the cord.
And, it wasn’t easy at first. The ritual of visiting those people and maintaining constant contact, no matter how strained, was built within me. I had sudden, gripping thoughts of future regrets, and worried about the way my distance had impacted them, but I soon realised that they had me in their lives for almost a quarter of a century, and not once did they act as though I was something worth losing. I realised that the incessant rude remarks and snide comments made behind my back were not the norm of a functioning family, and actually — they represent a toxicity that could never end, and has never ended. It represents itself in the way these people interact with their family and friends, and it had started to rub off on me. I realised that, if I one day decide to have children, this culture of nastiness and negativity would rub off on them, and they would have to experience the pain of unfulfilling relationships and a constant feeling of worthlessness in the same way I had my entire life.
Seeing Meghan Markle so publicly distance herself from the toxic people in her family gave me hope, and made me realise that we are not the problem. For so long I blamed myself for the bad relationships I had with these people, and as a way to try and fix the problem, I bent over backwards to make things right again. I cooked for them, cleaned for them, and helped them move into their new houses. I was a shoulder to cry on, I gave advice when asked and pitched in when I wasn’t. I dealt with drama and bitching, psychological manipulation and awful conflict – just to be there if I was needed. I was told things about other people that I never needed nor wanted to hear, and I moulded myself into a different person than who I truly am just to make their lives easier. I allowed myself to be spoken to like trash – to be screamed and yelled at and called awful names, and I allowed the narcissistic behaviour to continue, even when I knew for certain that they were in the wrong. Because that’s always been a big thing for me: questioning whether those who hurt me are actually in the wrong, or if it’s just my own sensitivity. I think that’s what happens when you deal with toxic people for twenty-five years of your life – the lines between abuse and “normal family behaviour” begin to blur, and you start allowing people to treat you as if you were nothing.
The issue here, of course, is that I was not the problem. I never was. I can see that now, after an entire year of being estranged. I sat through birthdays and Mother’s Day and Easter and Christmas and did not pick up the phone once. I blocked numbers and email addresses and social media accounts and marked nasty comments as spam. I have not reacted to their continual shitty behaviour – even after I have taken the steps to remove them from my life – because I can now see that they are the problem, and they always were.
Sometimes people ask me if I ever want to mend things with those I have cut out of my life. “But they are family,” they say. “Surely one day you will all sort it out.” I used to tell myself that that is what I wanted, too – for a long conversation to take place and all of the past trauma to be dealt with – but now I don’t think so. I think that if people are trying to show you who they truly are, you should believe them. Sure, they might smile at you on Christmas Day and buy you gifts and treat you nicely around others, but the person they are when no-one else is looking is what really matters. If they spend more time degrading you than they do lifting you up, expect your support at all times but disappear whenever you need help, and don’t clap when you win; it’s a sign that you might need to distance yourself from them — and fast.
If you’re dealing with toxic relationships and have somehow stumbled upon this (albeit, rambling) post about cutting people out, please take it as a sign. You deserve so much better than constant heartache and the emptiness of disappointment, and, if it’s any consolation? I’m fucking thriving now.