Signs it's time to step away from a family drama

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The conflict between the royal family and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex dominated the lead-up to Meghan and Harry’s TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Read more: Why the royal family retreats to Scotland every year

And bullying claims against Meghan were made in an on-the-record statement by the palace, which the duchess’ lawyers contested, describing them as a “wholly false narrative”.

We know families can be a source of joy, comfort and security, but when relationships become tense, the drama can quickly leave both sides feeling hurt, angry and exhausted.

As tempting as it might be to get sucked into a tornado of endless quarrelling, we asked therapists to explain when it’s time to cut your losses and step away from family drama.

1. You’ve taken the argument to social media

Open hostility, such as posting damaging tweets or statuses about a family member on a public platform, is a key sign the disagreement is turning toxic.

Senior therapist Sally Baker says: “When things hit social media in family groups, that’s a major red flag for me, as it feels like the backstabbing is being taken up a notch.”

Ms Baker says in these instances, it’s healthy to take yourself off social media for a while, especially if you feel like your personal information is being used to manipulate or humiliate you online. “It’s important to limit contact with family members if they’re causing you harm and emotional pain.”

2. Petty arguments are masking deeper problems

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Ms Baker notes you should try to consciously build awareness around the frequency of arguments: “If meeting up always turns into a pattern of arguing, it’s a good indicator you should start limiting your time with family members.”

She also adds the real issue might not always be explicitly voiced. “Families might argue about football or politics, when really they’re arguing by proxy about much deeper things,” she warns. “You can usually tell if this is the case by the emotional range; the argument might seem like it’s about football, but when people are standing up and shouting over something trivial, it’s often about a longer, deeper pain.”

3. It’s all you talk about

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If you find yourself obsessed with whatever is causing family tension, and trying to right wrong information, it’s a fairly big sign the drama is beginning to consume you.

Dr Maryhan Baker, psychologist and parenting expert, says: “Often, you’re simply looking for people to agree with your viewpoint, but when it becomes a constant topic of conversation and gossip with friends and loved ones, that’s where it becomes clear it’s not healthy.”

4. You can’t sleep

Dr Baker says there can be physical symptoms associated with family trauma, which may be much easier to identify than more subtle emotional cues.

“Insomnia is a big one. You might not be able to sleep because the conflict is constantly in your mind. Effectively, you aren’t able to switch off from it. If there’s family drama around phone calls, there might also be a level of anxiety when the telephone rings.” She adds: “Often people might not realise these physical changes in their bodies are connected to what’s going on emotionally for them.”

5. It’s taking over the rest of your life
Similarly, Dr Baker says excessively ruminating over toxic conversations you’ve had with a family member can be a sign you need to let go. “You might replay the phone calls in your mind with different endings, wondering if you’d said or done something else, that things might have turned out differently.”

Ms Baker agrees that it’s all about regularly checking in with your emotions. “I often tell my clients, ‘If this relationship is making you feel bad, then you need to limit your exposure to it.’

“Start putting in place boundaries and ways to protect yourself, whether that’s limiting contact to just an hour a week instead of several times per week.”

The bottom line
If you do make the decision to take some time away or to separate yourself from family, therapist Emma Lee says it’s crucial you are looking after your own mental health and wellbeing in the meantime.

“Take time to do things that make you feel good: whether that’s going for a walk, catching up with a friend over the phone, or finding a creative outlet, like journalling or painting,” she says. “If you feel like you need additional help, always speak to your GP – they will be able to advise any next steps and connect you to mental health services in your area so you are fully supported.”

Do you have a family member you always end up arguing with? Do you limit contact with them? How does it affect family get-togethers?

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