Is it Okay to Cut Off a Family Member?

Carolyn Light

We like to put our families before anything else, but what if your family is causing you harm?
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

If we're lucky, when we come into this world, we're surrounded by a family that loves us.

We have parents who love us, maybe some siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents -- all of it. Of course, every family looks different and may function differently than the next -- and across cultures, these differences may be even more vast.

Still, one pervasive similarity is that your family is your group of people. They're your built-in support system, the people who will always be there for you, the people who will share in the good times and the bad. They're meant to be the people you turn to first with your happy news and your sad news, and the people that you choose first.

In the United States, we tout family values, and it's not uncommon to hear some variation of the phrases, "family first" or "family before everything."

"We are social beings, and we thrive with community around us, which is why family is emphasized so heavily in our culture," says practitioner Anna Cordova.

Far and away, one of the biggest reasons clients seek me out for therapy is because they're having problems in their relationships.

Frequently, these relationships have soured to the point that the client wants guidance in cutting someone out of their life.

The word "toxic" is a current internet favorite -- we can't log onto any social media site without seeing a meme about a "toxic" group of people or a "toxic" policy. If we scroll, we'll see quotes about ridding our lives of "toxic" relationships -- boyfriends, friends, co-workers -- you name it.

It's a word my clients also use. "She's just such a toxic friend," is a phrase I hear numerous times throughout the day.

We all deserve to live our lives in relative peace and harmony, and sometimes that means cutting the cord with those who cause us harm -- physically, emotionally, or mentally.

But what should we do if the harmful person is a family member? Our mother? Our father?

Familial relationship red flags.

As in any relationship, there may be signs that the relationship has reached its expiration date. Some of the most common red flags are as follows.

Blame. I once had a client whose mother blamed her for everything. "I threw my life away taking care of you," she told her daughter. "You're the reason I never got anywhere in life."

Constant criticism. Never feeling "good enough" is something that many grapple with, and these feelings can come from a significant amount of criticism within the familial bonds.

Invalidation of your feelings. If you were never allowed to have any feelings in your childhood, it could lead to becoming an adult unable to understand or express your emotions -- which can lead to stress, massive difficulty in relationships, and a stunted ability to relate to others.

Disrespect of personal boundaries. This one can be tricky, particularly if the child is a minor, and the parent is working with the sole intention of protecting the child. But if you're an adult, and your family refuses to give you and privacy, reads your texts, tells your secrets, or discusses inappropriate things in front of you, this can lead to a souring of the family relationship.

In any other relationship, these would be reasons to cut bait. But, when the person is in our family, what should we do?

"Family is family," one of my friends said to me once about her narcissistic mother (actually diagnosed, I'm not being gratuitous). "I'll never cut her off because I love her, and who would I have if I didn't have her? You always have your family."

Others feel differently. "Sometimes, limiting or eliminating contact with them is much less damaging than having them in your life," wrote Katya Weiss Anderson in an article entitled When You Should Cut a Toxic Parent out of Your Life.

What do you think?

Are we required to maintain relationships with our family members because they are family? Or, should we let go of relationships that don't work -- even if that relationship is with a family member?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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We're all just out here, doing our best. Pondering: Mental Health | Feminism | Relationships & Dating | Social Climate

Chicago, IL

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