How to handle emotional 'BLACK TAX' – 10 commandments for dealing with demanding family members


An occasional emergency call from your family is fine but when it starts being a habit and they always need your attention and help, you may be paying emotional Black Tax unaware. Yes, your family raised you, but it’s time you set clear boundaries and put them in their place – for the sake of your mental and physical wellbeing

It’s in those moments when you’re forced to put your life on hold and you’re left with no choice but to help your family, that you realise that Black Tax is just not monetary and extends beyond the Rands and cents. The definition of Black Tax can be extended to the emotional distress your family puts you through. Often, the price you pay is much higher than the money you send home every month or whenever there’s an emergency. If your family feels comfortable calling you in the middle of the night about a drunk uncle who needs to be bailed out for drunken driving, sibling rivalry amongst your aunt’s children, witchcraft allegations between family members, missing cousins or any other problem they’re struggling with, you’re paying the most expensive and toxic tax – emotional Black Tax.


Living through a pandemic has added to people’s woes because many families are now struggling with issues such as unemployed breadwinners, home schooling, burial costs, increased gender-based violence and other problems they feel comfortable offloading on you. Black Tax may be mandatory, but what is not compulsory is your family thinking it’s okay to call you for every problem they have. It might be difficult to say no, but you have to start thinking about yourself because the stressful situations your family members face, will end up affecting your emotional and mental wellbeing.


When you feel burdened by the ongoing pressure to help, the onus is on you to speak up for yourself and find an acceptable way to move forward. Before you address your concerns with your family, have an honest conversation with yourself. This will help you unpack your self-sacrificing behaviour and see how it’s affecting your life.

“Sacrificing your needs for others can hinder your personal growth, and your family’s over-reliance on you can cause you emotional and mental distress,” says Richards Bay-based clinical psychologist Nomfundo Samuels. She advises that you reflect on your life and imagine how it will be when you stop allowing people to take advantage of your kindness.


Motlagae Motumi, a 36-year-old personal assistant from Kimberley in the Northern Cape, is fed-up with her father, saying he takes advantage of her just because he raised her. “My father uses my car without my permission and he brings it back with scratches and no petrol. I want him to stop doing this, but I don’t know how to address the issue,” Motlagae complains. Standing up to your parents or any elder in the family is difficult because you love and respect them, but now that you’re an adult, you need to set healthy boundaries.

Samuels offers this advice for Motlagae: “She needs to set boundaries by having a calm and respectful conversation with her father. When setting boundaries, you need to voice your concerns, explain how the other person’s actions are affecting you and clearly outline how you want to be treated.”


Ensuring that your boundaries are respected takes loads of practice, and you have to be patient with yourself and your loved ones. “When your boundaries are not respected, you have to reiterate them and state what you will do, should they continue to disregard your boundaries,” says Durban- based family counsellor Nokuthula Grootboom. She adds that when saying no, you must be assertive and courteous, and avoid over-explaining yourself.

Unfortunately, some family members will get angry with you for setting boundaries because they have become too comfortable with depending on you. Grootboom maintains that you have to teach people how to treat you and not accept any disrespectful or inappropriate behaviour.

“The person who is angry with you is the problem, and not you. They have to learn to respect your boundaries or face the consequences,” she elaborates.

The reality is that your family will resent you for changing and no longer allowing them to take advantage of your kindness. You may be tempted to relax the boundaries to make them happy, but don’t do it – continue setting your boundaries while showing compassion.


It’s important that you realise that by always coming to their rescue, you’re depriving your loved ones a chance to be selfreliant. Everyone needs to be able to solve their own problems by being responsible for their behaviour and learning from their mistakes. “You can help in other ways like motivating them to be self-reliant, brainstorming solutions that don’t only include you, and encouraging other family members to assist – but don’t solve the problem for them,” says Samuels.

If your family depends on you entirely, you may be setting them up for failure as they will always be reliant on you, even for the smallest problems they have. They need to be independent; after all, they’re adults. Blurred boundaries have negative repercussions, and it’s very important to set and maintain clear boundaries. “It’s normal to feel guilty and to make mistakes, but you must love yourself enough to put your needs first,” Samuels concludes.


– Prioritize your needs first before helping others.

– Understand your strengths, weaknesses and triggers.

– Name your limits and set clear boundaries about your physical, emotional, mental and financial limits.

– Avoid explaining or justifying your boundaries. Remain calm, respectful and compassionate; learn to reject requests and behaviours without being rude.

– Avoid reacting or being drawn into their anger, drama, or toxic behaviour.

– Don’t spend too much of your time trying to make them see your perspective.

– You can’t change others and it’s okay to detach by distancing yourself or cutting them off.

– Don’t be too hard on yourself, be patient and don’t give up.

– If you’re feeling overwhelmed, confide in someone you trust or seek help from a trained expert like a psychologist or family counsellor.

– TL

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