How to Cut Ties with Family Members Who Hurt You

Being mistreated by someone is painful enough, but being mistreated by a family member can be especially difficult to overcome. Whether the person did something truly heinous or you’re ready to walk away from a pattern of abusive behaviour, cutting ties with a family member is sometimes the best thing you can do for your mental health. It’s not always easy, but by setting clear boundaries and reaching out to those who care about you, you can start to move on.

Part 1

Deciding How Much Space You Need

1. Take a look at the big picture of your relationship with a family member. This person may be nice every now and then, and they may genuinely love you. They may even be a really nice person in other aspects of their life. This does not, however, imply that the relationship is healthy for you.

If you get a bad feeling every time you think about someone, even if they’re usually nice to you, it could be because they’ve hurt you so much that you’re having trouble moving on. In this case, you should take some time away from them to focus on yourself.

2. Don’t try to justify the person’s actions. It makes no difference why they did what they did or whether they are sorry. If there is a pattern of an ongoing unhealthy relationship and you believe you would be better off without that person in your life, you must make the best decision for yourself.

For example, if someone is frequently unkind to you, don’t justify their behaviour by saying things like, “He must have had a bad day,” or “She’s been under a lot of stress lately.”

Similarly, don’t blame yourself for abuse by saying things like, “He wouldn’t have hit me if I hadn’t accused him of lying.”

3. Consider other family members who may be affected. The fact that there are so many people involved contributes to the complexity of family relationships. When deciding whether to cut someone out of your life, you must consider the rest of your family, as it may affect your relationships with them as well. However, there are times when this is unavoidable.

If you cut ties with one parent, it may have an impact on your relationship with the other. If you are having difficulties with a sibling, you may lose contact with your niece or nephew. You may also be excluded from family gatherings or other events where the other family member is present.

On the other hand, if someone who is generally very nice to you snaps or says something short-tempered every now and then, it’s fine to consider their circumstances.

However, some family members will most likely choose to support you, so don’t let this be your sole deciding factor.

Never demand or expect other family members to end their relationship with someone simply because you have.

4. Remove yourself from a one-sided relationship. If you notice that whenever you talk to a family member, it’s all about them rather than a give-and-take conversation, you’re probably in a toxic relationship. This narcissistic behaviour is unlikely to change, and you should probably limit your contact with that person to a more superficial level.

In a situation like this, you may notice that the person relies on you for emotional support during their difficulties, but then dismisses you when you discuss the stressful aspects of your life.

The same is true for someone who only communicates with you when they require something from you, such as money or advice.

5. Keep your distance from family members who thrive on drama. It can be difficult to have a healthy relationship with someone in your family who is always at the centre of conflict or who enjoys spilling other people’s secrets. You don’t have to cut off your drama-loving relatives completely, but you’re probably better off keeping them at arm’s length.

A person who enjoys drama will frequently act like your best friend before pushing you away if you criticise or contradict them.

If someone in your family spreads rumours about you, this is someone you should avoid.

The same holds true for someone who is frequently dishonest.

6. Avoid people who make you feel stressed or unhappy all of the time. You have every right to avoid being around anyone who makes you feel bad, whether it’s an aunt who constantly criticises your weight or your sister who constantly “jokes” about how much more successful she is than you. If you get anxious just thinking about being in the same room as someone, avoid situations where you know you’ll see them.

A temporary break in a relationship like this can sometimes help soothe your hurt feelings. However, if the person’s behaviour continues, you may be better off cutting ties permanently, especially if you find yourself thinking about what they said even when they aren’t present.

If a person denies saying something hurtful or tries to justify their behaviour, they are unlikely to change in the future and should be avoided.

7. Get out of any abusive relationship as soon as possible. Any relationship, whether with a parent, grandparent, sibling, or distant relative, has the potential to become abusive. Furthermore, abuse can take a variety of forms, ranging from being constantly put down or yelled at to being hit, kicked, or sexually abused. If you believe you are being abused, you should leave the situation as soon as possible.

Other indicators of abuse include the silent treatment, controlling behaviour, or being constantly blamed for things you did not do.

If you are a child who is being abused by a parent, you should seek the help of a trusted adult in whom you can confide. This could be another family member, or it could be a school counsellor or teacher. There are also helplines you can call, such as 1-800-4-A-CHILD in the United States or 0800 1111 in the United Kingdom.

If you are a parent, you may also choose to end a relationship with someone you believe has abused your child.

Part 2

Creating Distance

1. If you don’t want to end the relationship permanently, take a break. Sometimes you just need to get away from someone before you can forgive them for something they did that hurt you. This is especially true if you are normally close to the person and they did something careless. You might even be able to accomplish this without having to confront the individual directly.

If you need some space, try telling a family member that you’re busy, but you’ll get back on track soon.

Once you’ve calmed down, consider telling them how much they hurt you so they can make amends and avoid doing the same thing in the future.

2. If you can’t avoid seeing the person, meet on neutral ground. If it is not possible to completely cut ties with your family member, try meeting in a public place when you need to talk. Invite them to join you at a coffee shop, park, or restaurant where either of you can leave if necessary.

Talking to your grandmother in the house she’s lived in for 35 years will give her the impression that she has the upper hand, and you’ll have a harder time getting your point across.

A confrontation in your home, on the other hand, can make you feel like your safe space has been violated, especially if the other person does not leave when you ask them to.

3. If you decide to talk to the person face to face, remain calm. When you have made the decision to cut ties with the person who has hurt you, you may wish to speak with them to inform them of your decision. Inform the person that you will no longer be visiting, and that you will not be returning their phone calls or responding to other attempts to contact you. These discussions can be emotional and explosive, but try to remain calm and remember that this drama will soon be a thing of the past. If you have the opportunity, planning out what you’re going to say ahead of time may help you stay calm.

If you’ve been contemplating the fact that you don’t want to be a part of a toxic relationship any longer, and a family member does something to set you off, you may not have time to plan what you’re going to say. Inform them that you require some space.

Begin the conversation with something like, “I’ve decided that it’s best for my own mental health if I don’t spend any more time around you.”

If the person becomes extremely agitated, you could say, “I’m not interested in arguing. I simply need some space right now because I no longer believe this is a healthy relationship.” Then, as soon as possible, leave.

4. If you want to plan your words, send an email or a letter. If you want to tell someone how you feel but are afraid of expressing yourself in person, try writing out what you really want to say. Inform them that you intend to spend some time away from them. Make a copy of the letter so you can refer to it if they claim you said something you didn’t say.

If the family member has a history of twisting your words, interrupting you when you speak, or becoming physically aggressive when they are upset, writing a letter or email is an especially good option.

It is up to you whether you want to tell them exactly what they did wrong or just give them an overview, such as saying, “I’m tired of your hurtful words followed by a lack of apologies.”

5. Be clear and direct about your desire to distance yourself from the person. You don’t want to leave this conversation hanging, whether you’re talking in person or writing a letter. Even if you eventually decide to forgive your family member, they will not take you seriously if they believe you are just complaining.

Say something along the lines of, “I don’t want to see you or hear from you.” Set clear boundaries about whether your family member can contact your children if you have them.

6. Keep in mind that they may attempt to manipulate you or others. Following the conversation, your family member may lash out. They may spread rumours about you, attempt to persuade other family members not to speak to you, or attempt to manipulate you into repairing the relationship. You’ll be more likely to stay strong if you prepare for it ahead of time.

Your family member may even be genuinely saddened by your decision to end your relationship with them. Just keep in mind that you should never feel obligated to be with someone who makes you unhappy.

Part 3

Moving On

1. Discuss what happened to someone you trust. When dealing with the end of a relationship, finding someone to confide in is critical. You may have difficulty finding other family members to talk to because they may feel caught in the middle, so consider talking to a close friend.

It may also be beneficial to consult with a counsellor, as toxic family relationships can have long-term effects on your self-esteem.

2. Create a self-care routine. When you have removed a toxic person from your life, you should try to fill the void with positive activities that you enjoy. Everyone’s self-care looks different, but it’s critical that you do the things that make you happy and confident. This could include relaxing in a hot tub, picking up a new hobby, or returning to school.

Recognize your own strengths, especially if a family member is constantly criticising you. If necessary, make a list of your best qualities and post it somewhere you’ll see it every day.

3. Don’t obsess over what you don’t have. It can be difficult at times to see other happy families or to remember what your family was like before the negativity occurred. Just remember that even a seemingly perfect family can have its own problems, and focus on the positive aspects of your life.

For example, you may have a poor relationship with your children but an excellent support system in your church.

4. In future relationships, establish healthy boundaries. You may not be able to choose your family, but you can choose who you spend your time with, and you do not have to tolerate hurtful behaviour. Use this experience to teach you what you will and will not accept from the people in your life in the future, and be firm about those boundaries.

For example, if you’ve had enough of your brother calling you names your entire life, you don’t have to put up with a date doing it!

Practice if/then statements in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. For example, you could tell yourself, “If someone says something about me that isn’t true, I will speak up right away because that isn’t acceptable.”

5. Allow the person to re-enter your life gradually, if at all. It is entirely up to you whether or not to repair your relationship with this individual. If you decide that you want to let this person back into your life, take your time. Allow them to demonstrate to you that they are capable of establishing a new, healthy relationship with you.

When you re-establish contact, have a conversation in which you clearly state your boundaries. Say something like, “I will never tolerate you making disparaging remarks about my weight.” If you do that again, I will leave and never return.”

Back away again if you notice the person reverting to old habits.

It may be best not to let the person back into your life if they have been abusive to you.

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