Avoiding "Cutting Off" Our Loved Ones

*Emotional "cut-offs" are not the optimal way to manage stressful or toxic relationships with our loved ones.

Many years in social services has convinced me that biological family members experience an overwhelmingly powerful draw to one another, even at great risk to themselves or others. Our human will-power is weak, and we hold fantasies of relationships and reunification that could be. For this reason, and the observations that others have made, both personal and clinical, it is (mostly) a losing bet to completely alienate people from our lives. We simply cannot resist the powerful urges to revisit those hopes and dreams.

Examples of cut-offs ( which usually fail).

1) A narcissistic parent compels us to move across the country. Living close is just too chaotic.

2) An adult drug-using son. Closing the door and shutting him our permanently.

3) Emotionally fleeing a family because they are "so screwed up" by marrying someone they hate.

4) Deciding to never speak with a sibling again after another blow-up.

Unhealthy alliances and family dissension cause deep pain and strife, even destroying marriages and once-close relationships. 

Asking one person to disavow another family member rarely works; instead, deceit and dishonesty often ensues (For example, pressuring mom to break off contact with her financially abusive adult-child rarely works. Her guilt or overcompensation is greater than her desire to please her spouse or other children).

Some relationships are worthy of termination; however, over the course of our lifetime, it is unlikely that we will stick to the conviction of never speaking to them again.We are powerfully drawn to our biological relatives, whether we should be or not.

The solution lies in better boundaries with those people that cause us great emotional turmoil. 
Allowing natural consequences to others' bad behaviors, without feeling punitive or resentful can be a huge step in the right direction.

Learning how to stop rescuing the person that has made a bad decision.
Avoiding making threats or ultimatums.

Avoid unreasonable expectations.
Set time limits in advance of exposure to the disturbing party ("We will have one hour for lunch, then I have a doctor's appt").
Create escape valves in advance, in the event that your time with this challenging person needs to be cut short.
Choose safe places to be together, where a disturbance is less likely to occur.

Remember that each family member has a unique and different response to the identified loved one's behavior.

Family therapy, with all present, can be very effective. A well-thought out treatment plan towards unity is often quite successful. 

Staying psychologically healthy while also maintaining some form of manageable relationship with our loved ones is the ideal goal, and while not easy, and it can be achieved.

*This post is referring to emotional challenging relationships with difficult people, Not abusive persons (i.e. physical abuse, child or elder abuse, or those with dangerous or criminal behavior are not addressed in this conversation).

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Stick to the specific issue that makes you mad. 

e.g. "I really hate it when you look at other men/women," 


"You are such a flirt. You crave attention with that big ego.

The hardest part is to stick to the original complaint. 

Do not follow your partner/child/friend down the rabbit hole with digressions and further, piling on, character complaints. 

Repeat, like a mantra, "I don't like it when you look at other people." 


Adolescent Females in Therapy & Body Image

When I sit down to chat with adolescent girls and young women, I will almost always ask something like "How do you feel about your body?"

The answer is typically, "Oh I hate my body!" 
My response then goes to, do you hate your feet? 
No, I don't hate my feet. 
How do you feel about your ankles? They're OK, laughingly.
How about your legs? Well my thighs are too muscular. 
OK how do you feel about your rear end? Oh I hate my rear end. Why? 
"Well, hmmm..." and now in almost every case she will actually start to think about her answer. 
I move onto all the other body parts:  what do you think about your face. Oh I hate my face. Really? How do you feel about your nose. 
My nose is OK. What about your cheeks. OK eyebrows. I hate my eyebrows. They're too light. How about your hair. My hair is I like I really like my hair. 
Then I moved to a bigger scope question. Do you think you're cute? Pretty? Ugly?

 This exercise is not intended for me to get anywhere specific or to provide an analysis; only to give words and language to thoughts and beliefs that are knocking around in her head, perhaps causing self-hate, feelings of inferiority or low confidence. 
The questions are very specific and will allow her to give voice to something that she's thought or felt without consciously understanding...these are negative, low-level background self-criticisms. 
So, in the case of a very poor body image were able to break it down, right-size her subjective and highly critical body image. 
A positive shift may look something like this at the end: "I think I'm attractive but I really dislike one of my specific physical attributes that, most likely I have no control over i.e. shape of a nose or color of  hair.
This line of inquiry is revealing, valuable, therapeutic - and will begin the process of seeing one's self from a more objective position, even self-compassionate! 
And, it is much more effective than simply complimenting her ("But you are so beautiful. Trust me!"). Those words are meaningless if she has not internally challenged her own belief system.

Calling All Worry Warts

Are you addicted to worry in? Worrying is a mentally habitual behavior.  
In some families, to say "I'm worried about you" means I love you. 
It can be a value- I really really love you therefore I'm really really worried about you. 
But, in fact, worrying is a useless feeding frenzy, a marinade of toxic internal stress. 
Have you ever seen a couple experiencing a huge external stressor (home loss, death of loved one, addiction, illness), in a family crisis? 
One is the worrier and one is not. 
Yet, you can visibly watch the worrior age before your very eyes, while the non-worrier, although he is concerned and engaged, often looks fresh as a daisy. It's a rapid aging process behavior, much like we joke about our presidents graying hair during their term.
Find new things to do with your beautiful vibrant brain!