How do we explain why we avoid a family member?
Q: We have a family member who causes trouble for us. The problem is that other people don’t see it, so we are the ones who look bad when we try to avoid this person. How do we explain to other people why we avoid being together?
A: This problem is far more common than many people realize. The person in question may be a parent, cousin, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, brother or sister or even grandparent.
The behaviour may be quite open or quite secretive. It may create distress among many yet if it’s covert, the instigator may not be noticeable.
In other situations, the distress caused may be aimed, more discreetly, at only yourself and/or perhaps your partner or child.
Examples I have heard of include a negatively intrusive parent, an unruly child, a relative with a drinking problem as well as a relative who may have inappropriate sexual boundaries.
Depending on the closeness of the relationship, it may be difficult for others to fathom how you could seek to avoid that person.
And when the behaviour is covert and targeted, few others will appreciate its toxic nature.
Such crazy-making situations can create distress among those who would otherwise seek the company of the person whose behaviour you find objectionable.
When others don’t fully appreciate or even believe that the objectionable behaviour is happening, or because the relationship is considered close or significant, it’s natural that they will not understand or appreciate your desire to maintain your distance.
If you choose to more fully explain your need for distance, you may be perceived as badmouthing that person as the others’ experiences don’t match your own. You may be coming across as the person with the problem or who is creating one.
In these situations, it is usually best to try to rise above. If you choose to distance yourself and take actions to limit contact, do so with as little fuss as possible — appreciating that some people will question your actions.
You don’t need to go into detail, apart from saying you are not comfortable with the person in question.
If you go on and on about that person, you may inadvertently create more drama than what you had sought to limit.
The outcomes will be mixed, depending on the personalities of those who cannot accept your need for distance. The best you can do is apologize, if necessary, for the need for distance and limit your exposure to the person of concern.
In short, it is reasonable to determine your own boundaries and to let others know about those limits. But you cannot control their reactions or beliefs.