How Toxic Relatives Weaponize Social Media

5 min read

Difficult family members are painful to be around during the holidays, and many are masters at using social media to try to inflict guilt and shame. You can salvage your peace and mental health this season by understanding three ways these characters may abuse social media—and implementing boundaries to protect yourself.

The toxic poster

This relative constantly seeks attention by posting pictures of their kids. As a close relative, you recognize that their relationship with their kids is completely different than what is portrayed, but they have zero humility or self-awareness about the hypocrisy of it all.

Problem: This family member will plaster tons of pictures of their holiday event on social media, on every platform, and if you did not attend, you may feel FOMO for days. It can feel like it’s their passive-aggressive way of “punishing” you for daring to skip their gathering—and also alerting everyone in your mutual world that you failed to show up to an important family event. You may then feel compelled to attend future events, despite the dread that you actually feel, in order to avoid this aftermath, but let’s give this some additional thought: If you have continually left family gatherings feeling far worse than when you entered, then it is not worth it to attend. Your narcissistic relative my be a showoff. They post everything yet fail to engage in meaningful conversations with you or actually ask how you and your children are doing. It is all about them, not you.

Solution: Do not allow yourself to be used. Guard your peace and joy and spend time with the people who are truly sincere and meaningful. Avoid the painful family function and then try to stay away from social media for a few days afterward. It is that simple. You will gain emotional distance from the situation and have more perspective. Less hurt and more balanced, you may be able to see their fakery as fairly humorous.

The social-media stalker

Unbeknownst to you, this relative patrols your social media platforms to find every detail about your family’s schedule. Next, they set up an event that they believe you cannot avoid because you do not have anything planned. This controlling loved one may also be “chomping at the bit” to “out you,” if you turn down the invitation because then they can call you a “liar.” After all, they know your schedule better than you do.

Problem: They put you in a bind. You can either lie to avoid spending time with them because they are controlling, or be called out behind your back as a “liar.”

Solution: Never send a problematic relative your schedule. Just don’t do it. Instead, ask them to let you know when they have free time and say that you will do everything in your power to accommodate a visit. Second, a family’s schedule frequently changes. Rarely is a soccer, work, or recital schedule ever actually set in stone. Life happens. Thus, it is acceptable to say that a schedule has changed or may change in the future, and so things need to be fluid and flexible. Your kids matter and so do you. Don’t sacrifice anything important to you or your kids in order to accommodate a family member who does not actually have your best interest at heart. It may create a rift in your relationship with your children and that’s not worth it.

The guilt inflictor

This is a relative who uses social media to inflict guilt by purposely and continually posting pictures of themselves and their kids with vulnerable family members. Thus, they appear attentive and loving while actually failing to care for their loved ones in reality. Once again, it is all a show.

Problem: The images may evoke intense feelings of guilt in you because you cannot spend as much time with the struggling family member.

Solution: Remember this: It is the quality of time spent and the meaningfulness of encounters, not the false representation of love and care, that counts most in life. Try to balance the guilt you feel with extra phone calls or texts to your loved ones. Your interactions may not be captured and shared on social media, but that does not mean they are any less important.

3 key boundaries

This holiday season, protect your peace and happiness by setting three important boundaries with toxic loved ones. First, avoid events that are superficial and stay off of social media for a week after that event. Second, do not share your family’s schedule; it’s a trap. Keep your private life protected and ask the relative to pick out a date when they are free, and you will try to accommodate them. Third, distinguish superficial images from heartfelt encounters. The most meaningful moments in life are not displayed publicly, but they are cherished privately.

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