When Should You Cut Off Your Family Members?


A TikTok trend is now exploring toxic family dynamics, and the best ways to navigate cutting off your family or determining if taking that step is helpful for your mental health. The #nocontactfamily hashtag has explored how toxic relationships with family members may cause additional estrangement or peace and closure from the situation. The people who share their stories about why they decided to cut off their family members on TikTok are building a community on the platform, showing that they aren’t alone in taking difficult but sometimes necessary steps to improve their lives. Psychology Today noted that one in four people experience estrangement from a family member, and another study determined that one in 10 Americans have decided to cut off a parent or child. 

According to the resident therapist at Bloom Psychology, Dominique Mortier, cutting off a family member in a healthy way can be complex and challenging. “It is important to establish the goal; for example, cutting off a family member does not have to mean no contact but can also mean creating more space in the relationship. Creating space in the relationship can be physical (not interacting with them as often) or emotional (not discussing certain topics or sharing certain experiences),” Mortier says to ESSENCE. 

She believes for many BIPOC folks, struggling to end a relationship with family members is also connected to their cultural values. “Ultimately, many of us may need to confront what may be getting in the way of cutting this family member out of our lives. Having to end a relationship may come with feelings of immense shame and guilt. Remember that boundaries are invitations. If you have invited your family member to love and support you in the way that you need, and they have not been able to, you have done your responsibility of communicating what you can,” she states.

When considering if you need to cut a family member off, it can be helpful to reflect on whether you have communicated your boundaries to the other person or what you cannot tolerate. If they have ignored, dismissed, or made fun of your boundaries, this may be a sign that further action may be needed.

A few things for folks to be mindful of when making this decision are:

  • Noticing if they are responding to your boundaries in an appropriate way
  • If they are unable to acknowledge when they have harmed you by taking accountability or apologizing
  • Noticing if their expectations of you are unrealistic, which may result in feelings of shame or guilt
  • Any form of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal)

Jenniel Taylor, another therapist, shares additional ways to determine how distancing yourself from family might be necessary. Not all reasons for cutting off a family member are as clear-cut because family relationships can be complex. A general rule of thumb is that if spending time with your family members consistently leaves you feeling triggered, unsafe, anxious, depressed, or stressed, it’s a strong sign that the relationship dynamics need to change. You get to evaluate what steps must be taken to heal and nurture your well-being.

Abuse of any kind is unhealthy and destructive and takes a toll on mental, emotional, and physical health.

Manipulation and Control:
If a family member constantly tries to control your life or choices and you are not allowed to grow and express your individuality, that unhealthy dynamic must be addressed.

Disrespect of Boundaries:
Boundaries are implemented to ensure a person maintains emotional and physical safety. If a family member constantly disrespects or ignores your boundaries, you must decide if or how you want to continue interacting with that person.

Taylor also stresses that cutting off family members is not easy. This complex and emotionally charged decision should not be made lightly. While there are many benefits to cutting off unhealthy or toxic family members, she urges us to be aware that there is an element of grief and loss that you will need to face.

“You will need to grieve the loss of hope for a better relationship; you may miss out on various milestones or have to live with unresolved ‘what if’ questions. You may face isolation from other family members who think you are the one in the wrong because they do not understand the whole picture. When considering cutting a family member off, evaluating and weighing the potential consequences against the benefits of protecting one’s well-being is essential,” Taylor says.

If you decide that cutting off a family member is the best option to preserve your mental health, here are her five tips to do it healthily.

Take Time for Self-Reflection:
This is crucial, as you do not want to make a permanent decision based solely on recent hurt feelings. Why do you want no family contact? Is it to try to hurt the person or protect yourself? Take time to journal, talk to a therapist, or confide in a trusted friend to help you determine whether the situation requires a temporary reaction or if it is a pattern that needs a more permanent solution.

Set and Communicate Healthy Boundaries:
Take time to clearly define what behaviors you won’t tolerate and how you would respond if your boundaries were crossed. If it is safe, have a conversation with the family member to communicate your boundaries clearly and specifically so they know what behaviors you will no longer tolerate.

Having the conversation may provide an opportunity to begin healing your relationship; if no change occurs after attempting a repair, you will have more confidence in your decision to cut ties.

If it is unsafe to speak to a family member, you can proceed to take the actions that will keep you emotionally, physically, and mentally safe.

Follow through on Consequences for Crossed Boundaries:

If your boundaries are repeatedly violated even after you communicate them to your family members, it’s time to activate the consequence you planned. Depending on the severity, this might be a time-out from communication or even a complete cut-off.

Build a support network:
Prioritize your mental and emotional health as you go through this process. Choose a safe person you can talk to about what you are doing. Consider therapy or support groups to help you navigate the challenges the estrangement will bring.

Stay Focused and Grounded:

As you grieve the loss of the relationship, it might be tempting to return your commitment by reaching out to the family member, or you might feel hope rising again if the family member reaches out to you. If this happens, you need to stick to your resolve. For it to be safe to re-engage with unhealthy estranged family members, there must be tangible and consistent evidence of change over a long period. Until then, rely on your support network and continue your healing journey.

The decision to cut off family ties should never be taken lightly. It’s a complex journey that requires careful consideration and prioritization of your well-being. While the path may be challenging, it helps to know what is involved in the process and remember that you do not have to go it alone. Use the resources and support systems available to help you navigate this complex process so you can continue to heal and flourish.

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