It can be one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make, and even harder to follow through with. But for those of us who fight trauma, cutting contact with hurtful family members can be necessary for our healing journey.
Notice I said “hurtful,” family and not “toxic” or “abusive.” That’s because I believe in setting the bar low when it comes to people who mistreat you. Anyone who disrespects your boundaries and causes repeated pain in your life needs to at least be held at arms length, and those who cause or trigger trauma have no business in it. At least, that’s my opinion.
If you’re already dealing with trauma you have your hands full without being continually poked by people who don’t respect you. As we get further down our path of healing, we may have more “spoons” to deal with people who cause us pain, but when trauma is fresh it is often all you have room for.
So what does going “no contact” actually look and feel like?
I stopped speaking to my parents (the first time) at the end of 2016, after a particularly egregious bit of emotional abuse. The first thing that comes up is self doubt. Maybe you’re overreacting. Maybe you really are the one who’s wrong. This is amplified by the reaction you get from both the people you’ve cut off and other family members who generally mean well but don’t really understand.
In my case, my parents texted repeatedly for a couple months. My dad called my stand “petty stupidity.” A few different relatives reached out to tell me that my parents were hurting and that they loved me. I patiently explained that if they loved me, they’d admit to hurting me and apologize.
Over the coming weeks I began to notice the difference in my overall mental health. Not having the constant negativity from my parents was golden. The more time that went by, the more confident I was in my decision.
In 2019 I was forced to resume contact when my grandmother went into a nursing home. Over the course of the next several months I was repeatedly reminded why life was better off without contact. In early 2020, my parents came to a therapy appointment with me and behaved so badly we have not spoken since.
Benefits Of Taking A Stand
As I mentioned above, silence is golden. There really is no overstating the relief that comes from not having to deal with people who regularly hurt you. The space allows you to begin your healing journey – after all, you can’t begin to heal a wound while it’s still being inflicted.
But there are other effects as well. First off, putting yourself and your mental health first is massively empowering. Setting boundaries and insisting they be kept is like a strength training workout. The more you enforce those boundaries the stronger you get in other areas of life as well.
Once you’ve stood up to someone as important as a family member, it becomes so much easier to enforce boundaries in other relationships – on the job, with friends, and more.
The gods respect strength and personal sovereignty, and enforcing your boundaries is an integral part of self-ownership.
Drawbacks Of Going “No Contact”
Naturally, cutting off a family member isn’t all sunshine and roses. The truth is, ending a relationship hurts, even if it is a healthy thing to do. You will grieve, especially if it’s a parent you’re cutting contact with. It may seem hypocritical, or it may make you feel like you’ve made the wrong decision. After all, if it was the right thing to do, why does it hurt? Why do you miss that person if they were hurting you?
This is all normal. If you didn’t care about this person their words and actions wouldn’t be so painful. Emotions are messy and complicated. We just have to learn to trust ourselves and stick by our decisions unless and until the person in question shows a real effort to change.
There’s also quite a bit of stigma to cutting contact with family, especially parents. “Blood is thicker than water,” people say. There’s also a belief that we owe parents and family loyalty no matter what. But when it comes down to it, the people judging us aren’t the ones living our lives. Only we know what is ultimately in our own best interest.
Other family members will also feel torn, and most just don’t want to get in the middle. This can be frustrating and make you feel like you’re not being heard. But we have to remember that other people have their own relationships. It’s up to you to decide if you can accept people who remain in contact with those you’ve made clear have been abusive toward you. Their continued contact doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t believe you. It may be that other family members or friends just don’t have the strength to enforce such a boundary.
I’ve made a point (or tried to) not to ask anyone to take sides. My mother’s sister is a good example – she’s expressed sadness over the state of my relationship to my parents, but seems to have understood where I’m coming from. Since their youngest sister has already passed away, my aunt is not willing to lose her only remaining sister. My telling her that I did not expect her to choose sides allows us to stay on good terms.
Eventually there will come a family gathering of some sort – a wedding or funeral – that both I and my parents will attend. Not insisting anyone else take sides will go a long way toward minimizing everyone else’s awkwardness.
So that’s the basics of going “no contact” with hurtful loved ones. Have you cut contact with someone you were close to? Let’s talk about it in the comments!