Cutting Ties With Toxic Family Members

Reviewed Feb 15, 2021

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Summary

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

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 they are 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 them 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 them 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, 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. 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 them 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 hosts. Tell them what you feel comfortable with. You have a choice to participate or not. Don't expect the hosts to referee or make special accommodations for you. Clear communication and respect is important for handling a situation like this. 

By Jennifer Brick

Summary

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

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 they are 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 them 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 them 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, 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. 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 them 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 hosts. Tell them what you feel comfortable with. You have a choice to participate or not. Don't expect the hosts to referee or make special accommodations for you. Clear communication and respect is important for handling a situation like this. 

By Jennifer Brick

Summary

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

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 they are 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 them 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 them 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, 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. 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 them 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 hosts. Tell them what you feel comfortable with. You have a choice to participate or not. Don't expect the hosts to referee or make special accommodations for you. Clear communication and respect is important for handling a situation like this. 

By Jennifer Brick

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, 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 contact your human resources department. ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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