10.17.2017

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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