It is a difficult decision to cut off contact with your family. It could, however, be the best decision for you. Cutting off your family will be a difficult and emotional experience, but it may turn out to be very liberating and empowering in the end. It is recommended that you consult with a therapist at some point during this process to help you set boundaries and understand your emotions.
Method 1 Exploring Your Options
1. Allow yourself to cool down. Many people decide to cut ties with family members soon after a major fight. By taking a few days to recover from a major meltdown, you can make a well-thought-out decision rather than an impulsive one.
2. Consult a therapist. Making the decision to cut off contact with your family is not something to be taken lightly. Speaking with a trained, unbiased professional will assist you in making an informed decision.
3. Consider other alternatives. While severing ties with family members may feel liberating, it may also have long-term negative consequences in your life. Cutting off all contact may leave you with unresolved feelings that can no longer be addressed completely. You might want to consider other options before deciding to cut ties. Of course, your family members must be willing to explore other options with you.
Family counselling may be able to assist you in dealing with family issues. Perhaps you do not feel accepted by your family because of your sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Maybe your family fights all the time, or maybe you’ve never dealt with the aftermath of a trauma. Family counselling could be worth a shot.
If a family member has a drug or alcohol addiction, consider whether things would improve if the family member entered a rehab treatment programme.
Determine whether you could maintain contact with your family if you only cut off contact with one or two members. If you get along well with your siblings but have serious issues with your parents, for example, find a way to keep in touch with your siblings.
4. Determine your level of participation. Cutting yourself off from your family does not have to be all or nothing. You may find that minimising or limiting your exposure to toxic family members is easier.
Communicate only through email or social media.
Only talk on the phone.
Go out to dinner a few times a year.
See them only on holidays or special family events.
5. Maintain an open mind. Recognize that the unbearable situation—or you—might change, and that you might be able to reconnect with your family in the future.
Method 2 Communicating with Your Family
1. Inform them. In most cases, it is best to inform your family that you are breaking off contact with them. This doesn’t have to be a long discussion, and you don’t have to go into great detail. You might want to do this in the presence of a therapist or a mediator.
For example, you could start the conversation by saying, “I have something important to tell you.” I’ve decided that it’s best for my mental health if I stay away from this family for the time being. I’ve been working on some of our family’s issues on my own, and I believe this is the best option for my life right now.”
2. Show that you understand the anguish your separation will cause. Regardless of how dysfunctional your family is, try to see the situation through their eyes. It hurts to feel powerless and disconnected from anyone, let alone a family member.
Say something like, “I understand how distressing this is for you. I’m sorry if I’m causing you pain. But I believe that for the time being, this is what I must do.”
3. Be prepared to face opposition. A decision to sever family ties is unlikely to be well received. You are establishing new boundaries with your family, and they are likely to be angry or upset as a result.
They may press you for more information about why you’re leaving than you’re willing to provide. Say something like, “I’m not comfortable talking about that right now, but I’ll write a letter with that information when I’m ready.”
They may insist on changing and that the situation will improve. You can say something like, “I’m glad to hear you want to change. I’d like to see you take some steps to make that happen, and then we can discuss it again in six months.”
They may also be irritable and defiant. “Fine,” they might say. We don’t want you to be a part of this family, either.” You can end the conversation by saying, “I’m sorry we feel the need for this distance.”
4. Make a letter. If you are too shy to talk to your family in person, you can write them a letter. This can also be a good option if you are feeling intimidated or at a loss for words in their presence.
Writing a letter can assist you in clarifying your own emotions.
Letter writing also gives you the opportunity to ponder the best words to express your emotions.
Before you send the letter, have a friend or counsellor review it and provide feedback.
Method 3 Maintaining Your Boundaries
1. Allow yourself to set boundaries. Boundaries are important in relationships as well as in maintaining one’s own self-esteem. Consider it an important aspect of self-care.
2. Determine what type of contact, if any, is acceptable to you. Establish what is appropriate in a clear and firm manner. If you are vague, you will cause confusion.
Instead of saying, “We can talk on the phone,” a more defined boundary would be, “I will call you once a week.”
3. Keep your end of the bargain. Call them on time or pay them a visit as agreed.
If you intend to pay a visit to your family, let them know when they can expect to see you. For example, “I need some space right now, but I’ll be back in April for Nana’s party.” Perhaps we can revisit some of these issues then.”
4. Prepare for intruders. Your family members may struggle to respect the boundaries you’ve set, especially if they’re upset and looking for answers. You may feel enormous pressure to hire them.
Don’t answer too many phone calls or emails. If you said you’d email once a week, you’re under no obligation to do more than that.
If they come to your house without your permission, ask them to leave. You can say, “I’m sorry you came all the way here to see me, but I’m not ready to communicate with you right now.” I’ll let you know when that happens. For the time being, I respectfully request that you depart.”
Remember that your family will most likely be upset with you for enforcing your boundaries.
5. Seek professional help. A helpful therapist will assist you in naming, maintaining, and validating your boundaries with your family.
A therapist can also help you work through other issues that have arisen as a result of your breakup with your family, such as feelings of guilt, depression, and anger.
A therapist can also suggest a support group that will be beneficial to you.
6. Accepting offers of assistance should be done with caution. Accepting money from family is never a good idea, but be wary of opening the door to other offers of assistance as well. You may feel indebted to them and thus guilty for not being a “better” family member.
7. Be adaptable. Be open to reconnecting with your family if you notice them making positive changes. You can adjust your level of contact to your liking.
Reconnecting with your family may be painful as old wounds are reopened. Consider seeing a family therapist. A family therapist will consider the entire family system in order to provide your entire family with appropriate ways to heal.
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