I came to Canada young; I met my husband here and here we married and had our children. A few years after that we sponsored my brother-in-law, who turned out to be a bully. He had an issue with women, as I understood, and he was mainly emotionally abusive towards me. Sometimes people underestimate the damage that emotional abuse can do to you. Believe me, it is very destructive. No matter what I did he was so critical, sometimes openly so and other times making veiled hurtful comments. It was a difficult time for me and for my husband. We sponsored him thinking we were helping him and it became a nightmare for us. My brother-in-law was, as abusers often are, extremely manipulative; he was able to present a very distorted picture of what was taking place, so in his family’s eyes he was the one victimized by us, “his mean sister in law and his uncaring brother.”

It took us years to figure out the dynamics of abuse and how to deal with abusive, toxic people. At some point, I guess, I realized that I could not change anyone but myself, so I began focusing on doing what I needed to do to protect myself and my children and encouraging my husband to do what he needed to do to protect himself. Focusing on my own well-being helped me immensely. I continued my journey, returned to school and got the education I yearned for and applied my learnings to my personal life. I set limits and prepared myself to defend them when under assault by some very intrusive people, in my case family. I also learned to love myself and to put myself first. Nobody can love you and you cannot love anybody if you do not love yourself first.

All this time, the answer was within me, you see, but due to the craziness toxicity had created for me, and my concern with others loving me, I had lost my way. I was, without being aware of this, more focused on these outsiders and their craziness than on myself. So, I became self-centered, not selfish but concerned, respectful and loving with myself.

Many years have passed since all that. I want you to know that we have contact only with some family members from my husband’s side and we still maintain strong boundaries with others. It is a healthy thing to do and it is no longer difficult for us to do. We do it together and we do it consciously. You see, it is sometimes difficult to accept that some people are toxic and will remain toxic for the rest of your life. We all want to believe in the good nature of people and in the possibility of people changing for the better. Sometimes, however, that doesn’t happen. Still, you are the number one person in your own life, and accepting toxic relationships means too put yourself second and allowing others to hurt you. Importantly, it also means that your children may accept this way of living life too -this is how toxic patterns are passed from one generation to the next. You are not keeping healthy relationships with others just for yourself, you do it for those you care for too.

We are a happy family. It was a long journey for my husband and me; we walked it together. We try to keep modeling healthy living to our grown children: nobody has the right to disrespect you or abuse you; you do not have to accept it; respectful relationships are particularly crucial when we talk about family. Our children learned this; they are essentially “good people”, who respect themselves and others and are happy with who they are. We are proud to be part of it.

A proud survivor, social worker, and warrior in the fight against toxic relationships.

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