Ending toxic relationships with family members

Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it. ~Ann Landers

There’s a lot to consider when ending toxic relationships with family members.

Cutting someone out of our lives is often one of the most difficult decisions we will ever make. Ending toxic relationships with family members can be even more difficult than cutting ties with a friend or partner. Unfortunately, there’s a common belief that, ” you can’t turn your back on family.” Because of this harmful (and untrue) idea, many people feel like they have no choice but to put up with mistreatment by their relatives.

Please know that you absolutely do not need to maintain toxic relationships with someone just because you’re related. Yes, our family is supposed to be made up of the people who love us most, have our best interests in mind, and are our No. 1 fans. While some of us are lucky to have exactly that type of family support, there are many of us who don’t.

My own toxic family member caused me years of suffering.

The most toxic relationship I ever had to end was with my father. He was a dangerous child abuser who caused me years of suffering. When I stopped all contact with him several years ago, I felt extremely guilty at first. I started to wonder if some of his love and support throughout my life was sincere. I was torn apart trying to decide if I should forgive him for the abuse and stay in contact.

Wrestling with separating the love and the abuse, I had severe panic attacks every time I would receive his letters. Eventually I realized that someone who caused me so much pain, shame, guilt, and confusion throughout my life was not worthy of my time. My mental health was so much more important than catering to an abusive manipulator.

Your health comes first.

The most important thing to remember here is that nobody deserves to put up with abuse – mental, emotional, physical, verbal, or sexual. Manipulators will play mind games and make you feel like everything is your fault…that’s just part of their abuse. If a family member is treating you this way, it’s important to distance yourself.

Toxic relationships with family members may also be very one sided. If a family member only talks to you when they need something but never returns the favor, that’s a good sign they’re using you. You don’t need to feel bad about cutting ties (at least temporarily) where there is no mutual respect.

You are worthy of love and respect. If anyone in your life is making you feel unworthy, it’s time to say goodbye. This is essential for your mental health and overall well being.

Are you ready to cut ties with a toxic family member? Here are some things to consider:

  • Pay attention to your body.  Do you feel sick to your stomach, anxious/afraid, or angry at the mention of this person’s name (or when you see a text/call/email from them)? If so, that’s a major red flag. Your body is telling you to stay away from this person.
  • Abuse: Has this person abused you in the past? Is the abuse still going on? Either case is reason to stay away for good.
  • Is the stress of this relationship affecting other areas of your life? If your relationship with this person is keeping you awake at night, affecting your job performance, or keeping you from being able to provide for your own needs, it’s definitely unhealthy.
  • Is the relationship worth salvaging? Consider whether or not the problem is worth ending things for good. Some situations are simply a matter of hurt feelings or holding grudges over a petty fight. In that case, I recommend talking things over and making amends.
  • Look at your own behavior. Is the person treating you badly because they’re truly a toxic person? Or have you been doing something to hurt them as well? If there’s wrong doing on both parts, you need to take responsibility whether or not you decide to work things out.
  • Set some boundaries. Maybe your parent has belittled your spouse too many times. Maybe your sibling always makes fun of your weight even though she knows you have struggled with an eating disorder. Neither of those things is okay. It’s perfectly fine to tell the person you will no longer put up with such behavior and keep your distance until they’re ready to be respectful.
  • Making the final cut: If you feel the need to “officially” end the relationship, keep the conversation short. You can simply tell your relative you feel your relationship is unhealthy and you want to end it. If they meet you with anger and defensiveness, end the conversation and leave before the situation escalates.

In all situations, please remember that your safety comes first. You are a beautiful person worthy of love and respect. If anyone who treats you otherwise, know that it’s a reflection of them as a person, not you. Take care of yourself, love. <3

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