Cutting Ties With Toxic Family Members

Posted Jul 22, 2016

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Summary

  • Think about the decision carefully.
  • Build a support system.
  • Communicate your boundaries clearly.

Kim’s relationship with her mother was troubled by emotional abuse. Kim tried to set boundaries like talking to her occasionally. Then she received an email from her mother that was filled with hurtful words and threats. Kim decided to cut ties because her mother wouldn’t respect her boundaries.

Sometimes permanently separating yourself from family members is necessary. It is a serious decision that may have undesirable effects for you or your family members. Certain actions or thoughts will always remind you of the person. You may feel he is still intertwined in your life.

For this reason, it is often best to try to “manage” the relationship. Try deciding how you can act around her or setting boundaries before you cut ties completely.

Setting boundaries

You can’t expect a “fix.” The goal is a relationship where the toxic parts don’t seep into your life. To do this, build a support system of family, friends, and/or a mental health counselor. It can help you feel less alone. It can also help you discuss your relationship in a healthy way.

Look at the relationship and decide which values, traits, and behaviors you like in the person. Which ones do you dislike?

Ask yourself what you want from the relationship. What communication would help with that? Is it OK to see the person over the holidays? To talk on the phone a few times a year?

One method to help figure this out is a trilogy letter where you answer these questions:

  • What do you regret about your relationship?
  • What do you resent about the person?
  • What do you appreciate about him?

You don’t have to show the letter to the person. It is to help you think clearly. If you choose to share the letter or its ideas, don’t expect the person to change. You are sharing the things you need to say to stay behind your boundaries. It gives you a way to express yourself one last time.

If you think that talking to the person will lead to arguing, send him the letter. Include a clear goal like “We can revisit this at a certain point if x, y, and z happen” or “I need space from you for a certain length of time.”

Breaking off the relationship

Sometimes a relationship is abusive and needs to end completely. Other times, like with Kim, you may wish to continue the relationship, but the other person won’t respect your limits. If you’ve tried other options and thought carefully, this can be a healthy decision. When you cut ties completely, take time to grieve. Depend on your support system. Care for yourself like you would take care of someone who just lost a loved one.

It will take a while to heal. How long it takes to heal partially depends on how your other family members react.

Explaining your decision to others

Don’t expect family to take sides or fully understand your reasons. Everyone has a different relationship with the person. Kim’s brothers, for example, have a good relationship with their mother, but don’t speak to their father. Instead, ask that they respect your decision.

You can also set boundaries with these other family members. Think about what you are comfortable discussing. Also be sure to respect the privacy of the person you are cutting off. Tell her that you have put a lot of thought into it, but don’t feel like you have to rehash everything or explain yourself completely.

This can be very hard on family members who feel like they have to walk on a tightrope to respect everyone’s boundaries and rules. Be patient and give people time to adjust to your wishes. Forgive them if they do something you are not comfortable with.

Handling family functions

If there is a special event like a wedding that you would like to attend, talk to the host. Tell him what you feel comfortable with. You have a choice to participate or not. Don’t expect the host to referee or make special accommodations for you. Clear communication and respect is important for handling a situation like this.

Resources

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr. Susan Forward. Bantam Books, 2002.

Eckel, Sara. March 9, 2015. “Why Siblings Sever Ties,” Psychology Today.
www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201503/why-siblings-sever-ties

By Jennifer Brick
Source: Friedman, Richard, A., MD. 2009. "When Parents are Too Toxic to Tolerate," The New York Times; Jason Roberts, LMFT, Triangle Balanced Therapy
Reviewed by Marissa Eggert, LMFT, EAP Workplace Consult, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Think about the decision carefully.
  • Build a support system.
  • Communicate your boundaries clearly.

Kim’s relationship with her mother was troubled by emotional abuse. Kim tried to set boundaries like talking to her occasionally. Then she received an email from her mother that was filled with hurtful words and threats. Kim decided to cut ties because her mother wouldn’t respect her boundaries.

Sometimes permanently separating yourself from family members is necessary. It is a serious decision that may have undesirable effects for you or your family members. Certain actions or thoughts will always remind you of the person. You may feel he is still intertwined in your life.

For this reason, it is often best to try to “manage” the relationship. Try deciding how you can act around her or setting boundaries before you cut ties completely.

Setting boundaries

You can’t expect a “fix.” The goal is a relationship where the toxic parts don’t seep into your life. To do this, build a support system of family, friends, and/or a mental health counselor. It can help you feel less alone. It can also help you discuss your relationship in a healthy way.

Look at the relationship and decide which values, traits, and behaviors you like in the person. Which ones do you dislike?

Ask yourself what you want from the relationship. What communication would help with that? Is it OK to see the person over the holidays? To talk on the phone a few times a year?

One method to help figure this out is a trilogy letter where you answer these questions:

  • What do you regret about your relationship?
  • What do you resent about the person?
  • What do you appreciate about him?

You don’t have to show the letter to the person. It is to help you think clearly. If you choose to share the letter or its ideas, don’t expect the person to change. You are sharing the things you need to say to stay behind your boundaries. It gives you a way to express yourself one last time.

If you think that talking to the person will lead to arguing, send him the letter. Include a clear goal like “We can revisit this at a certain point if x, y, and z happen” or “I need space from you for a certain length of time.”

Breaking off the relationship

Sometimes a relationship is abusive and needs to end completely. Other times, like with Kim, you may wish to continue the relationship, but the other person won’t respect your limits. If you’ve tried other options and thought carefully, this can be a healthy decision. When you cut ties completely, take time to grieve. Depend on your support system. Care for yourself like you would take care of someone who just lost a loved one.

It will take a while to heal. How long it takes to heal partially depends on how your other family members react.

Explaining your decision to others

Don’t expect family to take sides or fully understand your reasons. Everyone has a different relationship with the person. Kim’s brothers, for example, have a good relationship with their mother, but don’t speak to their father. Instead, ask that they respect your decision.

You can also set boundaries with these other family members. Think about what you are comfortable discussing. Also be sure to respect the privacy of the person you are cutting off. Tell her that you have put a lot of thought into it, but don’t feel like you have to rehash everything or explain yourself completely.

This can be very hard on family members who feel like they have to walk on a tightrope to respect everyone’s boundaries and rules. Be patient and give people time to adjust to your wishes. Forgive them if they do something you are not comfortable with.

Handling family functions

If there is a special event like a wedding that you would like to attend, talk to the host. Tell him what you feel comfortable with. You have a choice to participate or not. Don’t expect the host to referee or make special accommodations for you. Clear communication and respect is important for handling a situation like this.

Resources

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr. Susan Forward. Bantam Books, 2002.

Eckel, Sara. March 9, 2015. “Why Siblings Sever Ties,” Psychology Today.
www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201503/why-siblings-sever-ties

By Jennifer Brick
Source: Friedman, Richard, A., MD. 2009. "When Parents are Too Toxic to Tolerate," The New York Times; Jason Roberts, LMFT, Triangle Balanced Therapy
Reviewed by Marissa Eggert, LMFT, EAP Workplace Consult, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Think about the decision carefully.
  • Build a support system.
  • Communicate your boundaries clearly.

Kim’s relationship with her mother was troubled by emotional abuse. Kim tried to set boundaries like talking to her occasionally. Then she received an email from her mother that was filled with hurtful words and threats. Kim decided to cut ties because her mother wouldn’t respect her boundaries.

Sometimes permanently separating yourself from family members is necessary. It is a serious decision that may have undesirable effects for you or your family members. Certain actions or thoughts will always remind you of the person. You may feel he is still intertwined in your life.

For this reason, it is often best to try to “manage” the relationship. Try deciding how you can act around her or setting boundaries before you cut ties completely.

Setting boundaries

You can’t expect a “fix.” The goal is a relationship where the toxic parts don’t seep into your life. To do this, build a support system of family, friends, and/or a mental health counselor. It can help you feel less alone. It can also help you discuss your relationship in a healthy way.

Look at the relationship and decide which values, traits, and behaviors you like in the person. Which ones do you dislike?

Ask yourself what you want from the relationship. What communication would help with that? Is it OK to see the person over the holidays? To talk on the phone a few times a year?

One method to help figure this out is a trilogy letter where you answer these questions:

  • What do you regret about your relationship?
  • What do you resent about the person?
  • What do you appreciate about him?

You don’t have to show the letter to the person. It is to help you think clearly. If you choose to share the letter or its ideas, don’t expect the person to change. You are sharing the things you need to say to stay behind your boundaries. It gives you a way to express yourself one last time.

If you think that talking to the person will lead to arguing, send him the letter. Include a clear goal like “We can revisit this at a certain point if x, y, and z happen” or “I need space from you for a certain length of time.”

Breaking off the relationship

Sometimes a relationship is abusive and needs to end completely. Other times, like with Kim, you may wish to continue the relationship, but the other person won’t respect your limits. If you’ve tried other options and thought carefully, this can be a healthy decision. When you cut ties completely, take time to grieve. Depend on your support system. Care for yourself like you would take care of someone who just lost a loved one.

It will take a while to heal. How long it takes to heal partially depends on how your other family members react.

Explaining your decision to others

Don’t expect family to take sides or fully understand your reasons. Everyone has a different relationship with the person. Kim’s brothers, for example, have a good relationship with their mother, but don’t speak to their father. Instead, ask that they respect your decision.

You can also set boundaries with these other family members. Think about what you are comfortable discussing. Also be sure to respect the privacy of the person you are cutting off. Tell her that you have put a lot of thought into it, but don’t feel like you have to rehash everything or explain yourself completely.

This can be very hard on family members who feel like they have to walk on a tightrope to respect everyone’s boundaries and rules. Be patient and give people time to adjust to your wishes. Forgive them if they do something you are not comfortable with.

Handling family functions

If there is a special event like a wedding that you would like to attend, talk to the host. Tell him what you feel comfortable with. You have a choice to participate or not. Don’t expect the host to referee or make special accommodations for you. Clear communication and respect is important for handling a situation like this.

Resources

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr. Susan Forward. Bantam Books, 2002.

Eckel, Sara. March 9, 2015. “Why Siblings Sever Ties,” Psychology Today.
www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201503/why-siblings-sever-ties

By Jennifer Brick
Source: Friedman, Richard, A., MD. 2009. "When Parents are Too Toxic to Tolerate," The New York Times; Jason Roberts, LMFT, Triangle Balanced Therapy
Reviewed by Marissa Eggert, LMFT, EAP Workplace Consult, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as behavioral health care or management advice. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have questions related to workplace issues, please consider contacting your human resources department. ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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