Q: I love my sister, but sometimes we get into the worst arguments over her behavior. It’s not that I try to get into these debates, but she always seems so ungrateful anytime I do something nice for her, and when I point this out, she denies it. Whether it’s her refusal to ever say thank you when my husband and I lend her money, or me having to put up with her passive-aggressive comments about my weight, there are just so many things she does that I’m tired of.
After talking with my husband, I feel like I should cut her off, at least until she owns up to her behavior. But am I being overly sensitive, or is it okay to cut off family members with toxic traits?
A: Deciding to keep her in your life or not is a personal choice that only you can decide on—and that’s a tough fork in the road to be at. If you’ve pointed out your sister’s behavior in a constructive manner (emphasis on “constructive”), and she continues to ignore your requests to be more considerate, it sounds like she could have some toxic traits. It’s certainly possible that behavior comes from insecurities: She may feel embarrassed that she has to ask for money, and she may feel self-conscious about her own weight—causing her to act out and do things that cause you pain.
It’s worth truly questioning the ways in which you’ve brought these subjects to her attention, and if you gave the conversation a path toward a solution. Sibling relationships are some of the most important connections we have; so if you were impatient or rude when trying to discuss what upset you, you might try exploring family therapy as a solution, or some of our blog content related to resolving conflict. However, if you’ve been patient and kind, and her toxic traits are still prevailing over treating you with respect, it’s absolutely okay to cut off a family member displaying these toxic traits.
You may feel an obligation to help your sister out financially, but your efforts should at least be acknowledged by her. Despite your patience, not receiving a thank you does seem to be bothering you deeply. And if she’s constantly pointing out your weight as a way to put you down, this is one of her more troubling toxic traits, one that indicates she’s verbally abusive. Until your sister acknowledges the harm she’s caused and the lack of emotional awareness she’s mixing into your relationship, taking some space is absolutely fine.
Cutting off a family member with these toxic traits is justified, but you might consider leaving the door open to reconciliation later on down the road. Having to make such a tough decision may leave you to process some grief, and it’s totally normal for you to miss her, even with how badly she treated you. That’s why self-care is essential to coping with the loss of any kind of relationship. This involves prioritizing the things you love and spending time with the people in your life who lift you up—not those who tear you down.