Dear Thelma: I live with a toxic family member who is hurting me and others too


By THELMA
Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Those contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935 / 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999 / 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 / email sam@befrienders.org.my / befrienders centres in malaysia).

Dear Thelma,

Since my dad passed on, a family member has become depressed. Because she won't seek help, she is thus hurting other family members, and causing problems. She's toxic.

What's worse, I'm sharing a flat with the person. I want to sell my share of the flat but she doesn't.

Am I going to die from living with bad people who have bad intentions towards others?

Outwardly, she portrays herself as a pure, prayerful lady but makes us look like the bad ones.

Please help.

In a dilemma


Being left half a property sounds lovely but, sadly, these often lead to disputes. Here are some thoughts.

You are in dispute and you mention depression and toxic behaviour. These issues may or may not be pertinent.

Depression is a mental health problem that can skew how people see the world. It can highlight negative events and fears, and make us blind to positive events and opportunities. It can also be very tiring.

In short, depression can have a paralysing effect, making a person incapable of planning. It is possible your relative is deep in the throes of such an episode.

However, you describe your relative as toxic. If this lady has a proven history of nasty behaviour towards the family and others, then that is not depression at work. That is her character.

Whatever is going on, the core of the problem is this: You don't like this lady and you don't want to live with her. That's OK, and I think your focus should be solution-focused.

If depression is in play, know that victims of severe cases sometimes don't know they have a problem. On very rare occasions, family or police sometimes ask doctors to help even when the person is resisting this. This is usually only when the person is actively suicidal.

Taking away an adult's autonomy is a serious matter. Therefore, most of the time, we wait for the depression to lessen and then persuade the person to go get help voluntarily.

You mention your father passing away but don't say when this was, or how or if your relative was related to him. If her depression is mingled with grief, then waiting a few months may bring about a change.

If this resonates with you, then give the situation a few months to settle and then ask a relative to mediate.

If depression is not in play, then still ask a relative to mediate, because it's clear you don't get along.

Your anger comes through very clearly in this letter. Your relative probably knows you don't like her, and this may be an obstacle in itself. Therefore it makes sense to ask a neutral party to speak for you. Once you remove your anger, it may be easier to negotiate.

But before you do either, I suggest you see a lawyer and review your rights so you know what your options are. Unfortunately, these can vary widely.

Hopefully, there is an agreement or trust that determines the rights and limits of the co-proprietorship, including who pays for what, whether you can sell, and what happens if you disagree or one of you passes away.

Sadly, people sometimes write rather vague wills. If there is no detailed document, these are some of the common options people in this situation discuss.

You may be able to force a sale through a court order. However, that can be awfully expensive and time-consuming. Also, it has the potential to cause a lot of family quarrels.

It may be easier to sell your half to her or to raise a loan and buy her out.

Alternatively, you may move out and rent out your half of the property. For example, your relative may have a friend who'd be glad to live with her and pay you rent.

As such matters are complicated, it takes a bit of time to work it all out. So please breathe, figure out the possibilities and keep your eye on the prize: Moving away into a happier space.

Good luck and I hope you settle it amicably soon.

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