Do some people steal your happiness and mental peace every time they’re around? Despite how close or important a toxic family member is in your life, sometimes it is okay to cut them off to recover from abuse and protect your sanity and self-esteem.
Is your family toxic?
Family always comes first. Our parents, siblings, partner, or even our friends hold a very special place in most of our lives. They support us through the dark tides of life and give meaning to our life. Unfortunately, for some of us, this definition of family may not be applicable as our family lives are riddled with drama, hatred, arguments, abuse, manipulation, and even domestic violence.
Having toxic family members can be emotionally draining and make you feel angry, sad, betrayed, guilty, hurt, and confused. Studies have found that family instability can negatively affect our well-being. In fact, in the long run, it can adversely affect your physical, emotional, and mental health and lead to the development of chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.
“Children who experience early life toxic stress are at risk of long-term adverse health effects that may not manifest until adulthood,” explains a 2014 study.
Research also shows that poor family relationships can have long-term negative effects on the sufferer’s health and increases the risk of premature death. According to another 2017 study, toxic family relationships can result in stress, reduced self-esteem, unhealthy coping behaviors, and reduced overall wellbeing. “Family relationships are enduring and consequential for well-being across the life course,” adds the study.
A toxic family member will not hesitate to manipulate and exploit you. They will never think twice about polluting and corrupting the sacred loving bond you share with them. Even when you are emotionally hurt, they will not step back as they realize you are stuck with them because they are your family.
When you allow such toxic family members to abuse you whenever they want, they will not stop sucking out every ounce of happiness you have in your life. Unless you set clear & strong boundaries and remove yourself from that environment, they will continue to ruin your life.
Why you should cut off a toxic family member
Even though we may know what we need to do to protect ourselves, we often wonder whether it is morally and ethically right to cut ties with a toxic family member. But it is never about what is right or wrong as it is a very subjective issue. What matters here is what is best for you and your mental health.
Some people behave the way they do because that is how they are. They may have a narcissistic personality or they may like to feel superior by putting you down. But it is not about them, it is about YOU.
It is about you taking charge of your life. It is about refusing to accept abuse and negativity in your life. It is about creating your own happiness. And the unfortunate fact is, once you cut ties with the toxic person, they will find someone else to abuse and feed the ego. Even though it may create a void in your life, cutting ties will not make any significant difference in theirs.
So instead of putting up with the toxicity on a daily basis, define what behavior is acceptable for you and remove the rest. If the issue can be resolved through an open discussion, then you must communicate honestly with them about how their behavior affects you.
However, if that is not an option, you need to walk away for yourself. You should always choose YOU as you are the only permanent thing in your life. Instead of turning a blind eye towards their abusive & manipulative behavior and pretending that everything’s still fine, realize that walking away is OKAY!
It doesn’t make you a horrible, selfish person. It makes you human. Someone who is simply looking to protect themselves.
Why You Should Cut Ties With Toxic Family Members
If you are still having difficulty realizing how this relationship is draining your mind and destroying your life, here are a few reasons that will help you gain insight-
1. They manipulate you
They are master manipulators and will use an array of strategies, like guilt and denial, to distort the truth in their favor. They will make you seem like the abuser, while they will pretend to be the victim even though they are the abusive ones in the relationship.
2. They judge and criticize you unnecessarily
Toxic family members love to judge and criticize you in a rude and derogatory manner. Instead of providing constructive criticism, they are more focused on breaking your self-confidence and shattering your self-esteem. They will constantly make fun of your imperfections and make you feel adequate to hide their own insecurities.
3. They violate your boundaries
Abusive individuals have no respect for personal boundaries. Regardless of the boundaries, you have set to limit your interactions with them, they will intrude into your personal space and completely disregard your boundaries to show their dominance.
4. They control you and make unreasonable demands
They can stoop to any low to control your life. They use subtle techniques such as gaslighting to control your mind and make you doubt your own thoughts.
Moreover, they are highly demanding and will keep asking for favors from you, but will always have an excuse for not returning them.
5. They are unreliable
You can never completely trust them or rely on them for anything. A toxic family member will never hesitate to harm you for their own gain even when you’re related by blood.
They may pretend to have your best interest in their hearts, but they will stab you in the back, as and when needed. They are untrustworthy to the core.
6. They lie constantly
Toxic family members are pathological liars who can make up stories on the go and deny even the most prominent truths even when countered with evidence. They are totally dishonest and they lie constantly to hide their low self-esteem, flaws, failures, and insecurities.
7. They use guilt as a weapon
Guilt-tripping you into doing something for their own personal gain is their favorite game. No matter how strong your resolve is or how iron-clad our boundaries are, they will make you follow their whims and fancies by emotionally blackmailing you and making you feel guilty.
However, no matter how hard you try or how much you do for them, it will never be good enough. This can leave you feeling seriously drained and make you question your own abilities.
8. They are available only when they need something from you
9. They always need to be right and never accept their mistakes
10. They are always the victim even if it is their own fault
11. They help you only when it is beneficial for them
12. They always shift the blame on others
13. They blatantly disrespect your loved ones
14. They are jealous of your happiness
15. They are emotionally unpredictable
16. They show passive-aggressive behavior
17. They overreact and create a lot of drama
18. They never acknowledge your emotions
19. They are never really interested or concerned about your life
20. They make you feel stressed, anxious, and hurt every time you interact with them
21. They lack self-awareness & never take responsibility for their behaviors
The truth is that you don’t enjoy spending time with your toxic family members. However, you need to tolerate them simply because they are your family.
You make excuses for their abusive behavior even when they leave you feeling drained. You avoid doing or saying things that may upset them even though it limits your potential in life. But this is not how families should work. A family should never feel like a prison sentence that you need to go through.
Deciding to move away from someone who manipulates you, doesn’t respect you, or values your emotions is not unforgiving or negative behavior. It doesn’t make YOU a toxic person. It simply means that the relationship has lost all value to you due to constant abuse and lack of care from the other person.
When you have gone through years of injustice, criticism, and bullying, you need to look after yourself, take steps to end the abuse, move on and heal your heart and soul.
Why cutting off toxic family is difficult
Irrespective of how many reasons are listed here for you to cutting off a toxic family member, the process can be very challenging when it comes to actually doing it. The process is difficult and painful because we don’t recognize their behavior as hurtful or abusive. They are part of our family and our lives. So we tolerate their toxic attitude and refuse to see it as abuse even when that is exactly what it is.
Here are a few reasons why cutting off toxic family is so difficult, according to psychotherapist and author Sharon Martin –
1. Love and attachment
Despite how chaotic our families may be, we can’t deny that we genuinely love our families regardless of all the arguments, fights, drama, and abuse. Unfortunately, a healthy relationship needs a lot more than love to work. It needs trust, respect, support, care, and kindness.
Yet it is this love that binds us and prevents us from leaving a toxic family environment. Moreover, our own unhealthy and insecure attachment styles can add to the toxic relationship. But you need to realize that love doesn’t necessarily translate into a healthy relationship.
2. Intense guilt
One of the biggest shortcomings of a family relationship is the amount of unreasonable expectations that make you feel crippled. We are expected to sacrifice our happiness and dreams for taking care of our families. So when we try to walk away from a toxic family member, we are instantly taken over by excessive guilt.
It feels we are doing something inherently wrong. “It is not wrong, mean, or selfish to protect your wellbeing, and sometimes the only way to do this is by distancing yourself from toxic people,” explains Sharon.
3. Commitment and loyalty
Being committed, loyal, and devoted to our family is something that almost comes instinctively to us. According to a 2016 study, having lifelong commitment and loyalty toward our family can have “far-reaching behavioral effects” and lead to “extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice.”
However, a toxic family member will use your loyalty against you and try to control your actions and behaviors, keeping you from leaving.
4. Fear & worry
Fear and anxiety are perhaps the biggest demotivators that prevent you from cutting ties. Walking away from a family, no matter how chaotic it may be, means we will have to take responsibility for our actions and that can be a scary realization.
Getting out of our comfort zone is never easy. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome your fears and solve any challenges that crop up. Give yourself time, and compassion, and build a support system,” suggests Sharon.
Removing toxic people from your life
Sometimes, cutting all ties with a toxic person becomes necessary to protect yourself, whether they are your family, friends, boss, coworkers, or even your partner. However, cutting off a toxic family member is perhaps the hardest decision to make as it takes a lot of strength to create distance from someone who is probably a big part of your life.
However, if you have experienced physical or emotional abuse and if it has affected your mental and emotional health, then you need to take a stand so that you build a happy and healthy life for yourself. Yes, letting go of toxic family members feels guilty but it doesn’t make you a terrible person.
You are allowed to look after yourself. You are allowed to care about yourself. And sometimes cutting ties with a toxic person is an act of self-love and self-compassion. Studies have found that self-compassion is positively related to the motivation to correct our interpersonal mistakes and differences in relationship satisfaction, irrespective of conscientiousness.
Further research has revealed that when you refuse to tolerate abuse from a family member and end the relationship you can experience a sense of great relief, independence, emotional strength, and positive emotions. However, there may be some negative consequences of cutting ties with a toxic family member, such as feelings of loss and reduced mental wellbeing.
Psychotherapist and international bestselling author Amy Morin, LCSW explains, “While you may experience a deep sense of relief, it’s important to be prepared for the challenges you’re likely to face after cutting ties with a family member.”
However, when it comes to certain toxic family members or relatives whose sole aim in life is to boost their self-esteem by abusing you, then distancing yourself from that relationship may just be the only way to heal yourself.
How to cut ties with a toxic loved one
As walking away from an abusive person in your family can be difficult, here are a few steps that can help to make the process more practical and achievable. This is how to deal with toxic family members:-
1. Accept that they are abusive
Recognize the fact that your family member is toxic, abusive, and narcissistic. Accept that they will probably never consider your feelings and it is NOT your job to fix or rescue them. You also need to realize that caring about your own happiness is not wrong.
2. Understand that they will never change
Although some narcissists may change over time, most toxic and abusive individuals are unable to change their thought and behavior patterns throughout their lifetime. The more you tolerate their abusive behavior, the more toxic they will get.
3. Have an open conversation
Talk to the person openly and honestly before you decide to cut off all ties. Sit down with a calm mind and talk to them about how their behavior is hurting you repeatedly. Give them an opportunity to explain.
If they still refuse to acknowledge your emotions and take responsibility for their toxic behavior, then you can make the final decision about cutting them off.
4. Walk away
Once you have decided to cut off the toxic family member, walk away from the relationship. Don’t give them the permission or opportunity to manipulate or guilt-trip you into taking them back. Don’t give in to regret or sympathy.
Stand your ground and stick with your decision. Move on & keep the focus on yourself and on improving your own life.
Here are some other helpful suggestions that can help you cut off toxic family ties –
- Delete their contact details from your phone
- Block them on social media
- Avoid speaking negatively about them to other family members
- If they contact you, avoid arguing with them or giving them any explanation
- In case you need to contact them, meet them in the presence of others
- Be patient, set strong boundaries, and work on self-development
- Grieve the loss of the relationship, if needed
- Build a support network with supportive friends and relatives
- Consult a therapist, if required
Limit communication instead of cutting ties
Sometimes, completely cutting off from a relationship may not be possible. In such instances, creating distance in the relationship seems more feasible and practical than completely walking away. However, this depends on the importance of the relationship and the degree of toxicity. Certain relationship issues can be resolved by creating some distance, such as –
- Limiting interaction with them
- Talking to them only about necessary topics
- Restricting their access to your personal details
- Avoiding any provocation for arguments
You should also maintain distance during family gatherings and holidays and limit your emotional involvement in the relationship.
Moving ahead towards a positive life
Getting away from a toxic family member can be highly challenging, stressful, and emotionally draining. This is why it is crucial that you surround yourself with positive, loving, and supportive people, such as family members and friends who realize what you are going through. Consulting a therapist can also be helpful.
However, the most important thing is that you realize you are not doing anything wrong and you don’t owe the abuser anything. You only owe yourself. So make sure to practice self-love, self-compassion, and self-care, and let your heart guide you towards a more positive life.