Hello love,

Thank you for reaching out! I will try to give you the best advice I can, but if I am being honest, this is an issue I am dealing with myself, too, and still haven’t been able to get a grip on it completely. But still, I will let you know what has been working for me, and what has really helped my situation improve a bit.

First off, I think it’s great that you recognize that your family’s behavior is toxic because that can be very hard to do. More often than not, we tend to give family the benefit of the doubt, and give them excuses when we shouldn’t, and that is what can make the problem persist and even get worse than it already is.

So, with that, I think we are a huge part of the problem because we allow certain behavior or treatment when we shouldn’t. That was the biggest wakeup call for me, at least. I used to constantly complain to my friends and family (and still do) about how I felt like I was being taken advantage of by certain people in my life, and I would vent about all of the drama that a specific person would cause on a consistent basis, and how it was really affecting my life.

They would always just say, “Why are you putting up with that? Why are you allowing that person to treat you that way? You need to learn to set boundaries. You need to learn to say ‘No,’ and speak up, and if these people are a constant source of stress for you, then you don’t need them in your life.”

It took a few times for that to sink in because, in my mind, that just wasn’t possible to do with family. We are so conditioned from a young age as girls to be obedient, to be respectful of anyone and everyone, especially those who are older, and to care so much what other people will say or think about what we do, that we suck it up and stay silent.

But no, life is way too short to put other people’s opinions and happiness over your own happiness and sanity. And unfortunately, in these situations, there is really no one else that can take charge and bring about the change you need for your mental health but yourself.

At the end of the day, the dynamic of your relationship is between you and those people directly, regardless of what type of influence we think other people getting involved may have. They need to know how you feel and to understand how they are affecting you, and to learn what their place is.

Learning to say no has been one of the best things I think I could have ever done for myself. I was, and probably still am a people pleaser. I care so much about making other people happy, and constantly worry about hurting their feelings, even it means putting my own needs and feelings aside.

This led to so much burnout and having myself spread so thin because I simply could not just be honest and say no when I was too busy, or when I simply was just not in the mood to do something.

And another thing–don’t make excuses or feel like you have to explain yourself every single time you can’t do something. That’s what I would do, and then it would just end up being like, “Okay, well how about this other day,” or like, “Okay, I’ll just wait until you’re free,” and that ends up putting you back in the same uncomfortable situation again. So, if you genuinely do not want to do something, don’t feel like you have to, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation or reason as to why not, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love helping others, but I don’t enjoy feeling like I am being taken advantage of especially when favors turn into obligations, as if there is no regard or respect for my time, or what else I may have going on in my life.

I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or what, but it just feels like our community needs a lesson on Boundaries 101. It seems like people in our community take boundaries between family members as a bad/negative thing, and if you do set boundaries, they’ll make judgmental and snide remarks like, “Oh, they’re acting like Americans,” or “They’re trying to live the American way.”

It’s not an American thing to want boundaries. It’s also not disrespectful in any way, shape, or form, or a measure of how much you care or love someone either. It’s simply a) asking for respect of your personal space, needs and time, and b) wanting freedom, peace, and control over your own life.

I am still learning how to set firm boundaries, and am trying to grow a stronger backbone in being firm in what I will accept and what I won’t because I have seen what the affect is in the long run when you don’t.

People will continue to take and overstep as long as you let them, to the point they feel you OWE them your time. They will mistake your niceness for weakness and will take your kindness and politeness for granted. Don’t let anyone use or abuse your kindness, ever. At the same time, I am not saying to become a mean or selfish person either. But there is such a thing as setting boundaries in a kind and respectful way, too.

Because if you don’t, it might turn into resentment, and that resentment will change you and the way you react to them. It will make you more sensitive to them in general, and may even cause you to act or say something in a way you might regret later.

This won’t help the situation, especially if their relationship does matter to you to some extent, or if you are in a situation where you have to deal with them on a daily, or regular basis. So, try not to let it get to that point. If it already has, then getting some much needed space is really important for your own sake, and to prevent the situation and relationship from getting any worse.

Truthfully, when this toxicity comes from family, especially those who we live with or amongst, it may be unavoidable because our situation forces us to deal with them, and depending on their age/mentality, it is unlikely that they will change no matter what you say or do.

So while we may not be able to avoid them or their toxicity completely, we can certainly try and minimize it by changing the way we deal with them and by not letting them affect us so much. Don’t give them that much time, energy, or power. Take back your own power so that you can live the life you deserve.

And to balance out that unhealthy toxicity, you need some positivity and support in your life, and to distance yourself from the negativity as much as you can. Whenever you can, surround yourself with people you love and truly enjoy being around.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to a friend, or even make plans and grab a cup of coffee or tea with them, whether it’s to vent about what you’re going through or to just chat about something else to get your mind off of it.  You shouldn’t go through it alone, and should really look to someone you trust who will give you unbiased advice and guidance.

Also, make time for yourself to do things that bring you joy and can be a way of relieving stress and an outlet for your emotions. Exercise can really help with stress management. Take up yoga, for example, or start going for walks/runs if going to the gym is difficult, especially right now. Or make time for your personal hobbies, whether it’s reading, writing, drawing, or something else.

Finally, make dua, and pray to God to ease your struggles. What I have often thought about is that these people are in our lives for a reason. God created opposites to everything, including people who are good and/or positive, and those who are bad and/or toxic. So, I feel like God has put these people in our path as a test of our faith and character.

Don’t ever let anyone change who you are because of their negative behavior. As hard as it may be, stay true to your good nature and behave in a way Allah will be pleased with, and by the example of the Prophet (PBUH). Showing compassion, and being the better person in the face of adversity is what can truly have an impact not only on yourself, but on others, too.

You may have heard this story before, but it’s one of my favorite examples when it comes to dealing with negative people. It’s the story of the Prophet (PBUH), where an old anti-Muslim woman would throw trash at the Prophet (PBUH), every day when he would pass by her house on his way to pray.

The Prophet (PBUH) never reacted and simply continued on his way. Then one day, when he passed by, she didn’t throw anything at him, and he became concerned. He went to her house to check on her, and found out she was very ill. He offered her his assistance and helped take care of her even though she had been so horrible to him. The Prophet’s (PBUH) kindness and peaceful nature inspired her to convert to the very religion she had been so negative, judgmental, and unaccepting of.

I love this story because I think it really encompasses the peace and love that our religion truly is about. These toxic people we deal with, no matter how much they may pray, or preach their faith in God, their behavior is far from peaceful and far from the behavior that is deemed Islamic or acceptable by Allah. And while it might not be our place to judge them, we can certainly lead by example, and leave the rest up to God. At least then, we can be at peace knowing we are doing right by ourselves and by Allah (SWT).

It is so unhealthy to live life with stress, especially when it comes from other people, on top of our already busy and stress-filled lives. Your health and happiness are so important, and should be your priority over appeasing others and dealing with their drama. So put yourself first. Put your happiness first. Put your goals first. Put your needs first. Put the loved ones who truly matter and have a positive impact on your life first. You truly deserve that and so much more.

I hope this advice was helpful, and please know that you can ALWAYS reach out to us here at AM Women Magazine. If you ever need anything, or just to talk to someone who understands and is also going through it, you can always count on me. Feel free to email me at ayah@amwmagazine.com at any time! I am here for you, girl!

With love and dua,

Ayah Shaheen




AM Women is a lifestyle and fashion magazine for American Muslim women that offers a variety of content from a diverse range of perspectives and voices to help them navigate through their everyday lives.

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