My mother decided to cut ties with her father and grandmother when my sisters and I were young. It was not an easy decision to make, but she did it for the good of our entire family.
Over time, I have learned that cutting ties with certain family members is not unusual.
In the United States, more than one in four people aged 18 or older have cut off all contact with a family member, at least 67 million people, although the number is likely to be higher, according to a national survey published in 2020 and conducted by Karl Pillemer, Professor in the Department of Psychology and Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.
A 2015 survey of college students in the Northeast published in the journal Psychology and Behavioral Sciences showed that about 17% of them had cut ties with a close family member. In a another study Of the mothers between the ages of 65 and 75, the researchers found that about 11% of them had cut ties with at least one adult child.
Family members may fight for a variety of reasons, including verbal or physical abuse, financial problems, disagreements, and the need to get away from toxic behavior. It is also the toxic behavior of some members of my family that pushed my mother to move.
How to know if the members are toxic?
Toxic behavior can be abusive, demeaning, hurtful, or exploitative. “Behaviors in these categories lack an essential ingredient: respect for another person’s emotional experience and well-being,” says Andrew Roffman, director of the family studies program and clinical assistant professor in the NYU Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Langone Health. “The toxicity of this behavior is amplified in families, because family life is, ideally, the context in which one wants and needs to feel more secure, protected and accepted. »
Toxic members can bother you or make you feel bad whenever you’re around them, says Leslie Halpern, dean and professor at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. “They are usually people who are quick to criticize you or other family members and tend to blame others for problems and misfortunes in their own lives,” she explains.
they can also gas lighter, a form of psychological manipulation where a person makes you question your own perception of things. “Sometimes they can be manipulative and act like it’s your behavior that hurts them or that you don’t show them enough respect or love,” she adds. “Sometimes they seem like containers that can never be filled, because everything you do for them is never enough. »
Being the victim of such toxic behavior by others can lead to mental health problems, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, stress, and depression.
Sometimes it is necessary to cut ties with toxic parents. “If one family member cannot reduce their negative interactions with you or your children after you ask them to, and it is clear that your children are not benefiting in any way to another from that relationship, then there is no point in continuing. . having a painful relationship,” says Dr. Halpern. It may be time to cut ties with the person if you or your child begins to fear visiting this family member, especially if you only interact negatively with those around you.
It took a long, long time for my mom to get away from her dad, and that’s understandable. Michele Goldman, psychologist and counselor at the Hope Research Foundation for Depressionexplains that there are a number of reasons why some people stay in toxic relationships with family members.
“Some of these reasons are fear of being alone, inability to recognize toxicity, comfort with the status quo, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, financial reasons, the belief that things will change,” says the Dr Goldman.
For many, it is also because it is family. “Sometimes we have a sense of responsibility towards the family; it can be due to tradition, culture, religion, or personal beliefs,” says Dr. Goldman. “The idea of ending a relationship, even if it is not healthy, is not seen as an option for some people due to the importance of family, respect or responsibility towards elders. »
Dr. Roffman, however, says it’s important to decide not to stay in a relationship with toxic members, but rather to set limits on the relationship.
“You will always have a relationship, whether it is active or not. Family relationships continue on an emotional level whether we are in active contact or not. You can choose to have a much more limited relationship, see them less often, or in circumstances that don’t require much interaction. »
It is also helpful to consider the possible reasons for the toxic behavior of the parents. “I encourage thoughtful work to understand why this person might have become this way,” suggests Dr. Roffman. In my grandfather’s case, he suffered a tragedy when he was younger. “It’s not so much about making excuses or forgiving, but about making that person’s behavior less personal to you,” says Dr. Roffman.
“Their actions reflect many things about them that may not be understandable. Having an idea of this can help mitigate some of the lasting effects of experiencing the hurtful actions of others. »
Of course, toxic situations must be treated on a case-by-case basis. It’s about deciding whether to stay in a relationship or get out of it. It is possible to fix things over time. My mother, for example, found her father 10 years later. But, as experts point out, the estrangement may be necessary for the good of her family.