😮🤑😱 This article was co-authored by Adam Dorsay, PsyD and by wikiHow staff writer, Amy Bobinger. Dr. Adam Dorsay is a licensed psychologist in private practice in San Jose, CA, and the co-creator of Project Reciprocity, an international program at Facebook's Headquarters, and a consultant with Digital Ocean’s Safety Team. He specializes in assisting high-achieving adults with relationship issues, stress reduction, anxiety, and attaining more happiness in their lives. In 2016 he gave a well-watched TEDx talk about men and emotions. Dr. Dorsay has a M.A. in Counseling from Santa Clara University and received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 2008.
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😮🤑😱 Being treated badly by someone is painful enough, but when you’re hurt by a family member, it can be especially hard to overcome. Whether the person did one really unforgivable thing or you’re ready to walk away from a pattern of abusive behavior, sometimes cutting ties with your family member is the best thing you can do for your mental health. It’s not always easy, but by setting clear boundaries and turning to the people who love you, you can begin to move on.
Part 1Part 1 of 3:Deciding How Much Space You Need
- 1Examine the big picture of your relationship with your family member. This person may be nice once in awhile, and they might genuinely love you. They might even be a really good person in other areas of their life. However, this doesn’t mean that the relationship is healthy for you.XResearch source
- If you get a negative feeling every time you think about a person, even if they’re usually nice to you, it may be because they’ve hurt you so deeply that you have a hard time moving on. In this case, you might want to take a little time away from them to focus on yourself.
- 2Don't rationalize the person's behavior. It doesn't matter why they did what they did, or whether they're sorry. If it's a pattern of an ongoing unhealthy relationship and you feel you'd be better off without that person in your life, you have to make the choice that's right for you.XResearch source
- For example, if someone is frequently unkind to you, don't rationalize their behavior by saying something like, "He must have had a bad day," or "She's been under a lot of stress lately."
- Similarly, don't blame abuse on yourself by saying things like, "If I hadn't accused him of lying, he wouldn't have hit me."
- On the other hand, if someone who is generally very nice to you snaps or says something short-tempered once in a while, it's fine to take their circumstances into consideration.
- 3Consider other family who might be affected. Part of the reason that family relationships are so complicated is because of the number of people involved. When you’re deciding whether to cut a person out of your life, you have to take the rest of the family into account, since it may affect your relationships with them as well. However, sometimes this is unavoidable.XResearch source
- If you’re cutting ties with one parent, it might affect your relationship with the other parent. If you have trouble with a sibling, you might lose contact with your niece or nephew. Also, you might be uninvited from family holidays or other events where the other family member may be present.
- However, there will likely be some family members who choose to support you, so don’t let this be your only deciding factor.
- Never demand or expect other family members to cut off their relationship with a person just because you do.
- 4Take a step back from a one-way relationship. If you notice that whenever you talk to your family member, it’s all about them rather than being a give-and-take conversation, it’s likely a toxic relationship. This narcissistic behavior is unlikely to change and you’re probably better off keeping your contact with that person to a more superficial level.XResearch source
- In a situation like this, you may notice that the person uses you for emotional comfort during their troubles, but then becomes dismissive of you when you talk about the things in your life that are stressful.
- The same is true for someone who only talks to you when they need something from you, like money or advice.XResearch source
- 5Get distance from family members who feed off of drama. If there’s someone in your family who’s always at the center of conflict or who loves spilling other people’s secrets, it can be hard to have a healthy relationship with them. You don’t necessarily have to completely cut off your drama-loving kin, but you’re probably better off if you keep them at arm’s length.
- A person who loves drama often alternates between acting like your best friend and then pushing you away if you criticize or contradict them.XResearch source
- If someone in your family spreads gossip about you, this is definitely someone to stay away from.
- The same is true if a person is frequently dishonest.
- 6Avoid people who always make you feel stressed or unhappy. Whether it’s an aunt who always criticizes your weight or your sister who always "jokes" about how she’s so much more successful than you, you have every right to avoid being around anyone who makes you feel bad. If you find that you get stressed out just thinking about being in the same room as a person, avoid situations where you know you’ll see them.XResearch source
- Sometimes, a temporary break in a relationship like this can help soothe your hurt feelings. However, if the person’s behavior persists, you might be better off cutting ties permanently, especially if you find yourself thinking about the things they said even when they’re not around.
- If a person denies that they said something hurtful, or they try to justify their behavior, then they’re unlikely to change in the future, and you should stay away from them.XResearch source
- 7Walk away from any relationship that is abusive. Any relationship can become abusive, whether it’s a parent, grandparent, sibling, or even a distant relative. In addition, abuse can come in a number of different forms, ranging from being constantly put down or yelled at to being hit, kicked, or sexually abused. If you feel like you’re being abused, you should get away from that person as soon as you possibly can.XResearch source
- Other signs of abuse include the silent treatment, controlling behavior, or constantly being blamed for things you didn’t do.
- If you’re a child and you’re being abused by a parent, you should find a trusted adult that you can confide in. This might be another family member, or it could be a counselor or teacher at your school. There are also helplines you can call, like 1-800-4-A-CHILD in the US or 0800 1111 in the UK.XResearch source
- You may also choose to end a relationship with someone whom you believe has abused your child, if you’re a parent.
Part 2Part 2 of 3:Creating Distance
- 1Take a time-out if you don’t want to permanently end the relationship. Sometimes, you just need a little time away from a person before you can forgive them for something hurtful they did. This is especially true if you’re normally very close with the person and they did something that was thoughtless. You might even be able to do this without having to confront the person directly.XResearch source
- If you need some space, try telling your family member that you’re busy, but you’ll catch up soon.
- Once you cool off a little, consider letting them know how much they hurt you, so they can make amends and keep from doing the same thing in the future.
- 2Meet on neutral ground if you can’t avoid seeing the person. If, for some reason, it’s not practical to cut ties completely with your family member, try meeting in a public space when you need to talk. Ask them to join you at a coffee shop, park, or restaurant, where either of you can walk away if you need to.XResearch source
- Talking to your grandmother in the house she’s lived in for 35 years will leave her feeling like she has the upper hand, and you’ll be less likely to get your point across.
- On the other hand, having a confrontation in your home can make you feel like your safe space has been violated, especially if the other person doesn’t leave when you ask them to.
- 3Stay calm if you decide to talk to the person face-to-face. Once you make the decision to cut ties with the person who hurt you, you may decide to have a talk with them to let them know this. Let the person know that you no longer plan to visit, and you won’t be answering their phone calls or other attempts to contact you. These conversations can be emotional and explosive, but try to stay calm, and keep in mind that soon this drama will be a part of the past. If you have a chance, it may help you stay calm if you plan out what you’re going to say ahead of time.XResearch source
- If you have been thinking about the fact that you don’t want to participate in a toxic relationship anymore, and your family member does something to push your buttons, you may not have time to plan what you’re going to say. Go ahead and tell them that you need some space.
- Start the conversation with something like, "I’ve decided it’s best for my own mental health if I don’t spend time around you anymore."
- If the person gets very upset, you could say, "I don't want to argue. I just need some space right now because I don't feel like this is a healthy relationship anymore." Then, leave as soon as possible.
- 4Send an email or a letter if you want to plan out your words. If you want to tell the person how you feel and you’re afraid you’ll have trouble expressing yourself in person, try writing out what you really want to say. Let them know that you plan on taking some time away from them. Consider making a copy of the letter so you can reference it if they claim you said something you didn’t say.XResearch source
- Writing a letter or email is an especially good option if the family member has a history of twisting your words, interrupting you when you talk, or becoming physically aggressive when they’re upset.
- It’s up to you whether you want to let them know exactly what they did wrong, or if you would rather just give them an overview, like saying, "I’m tired of your hurtful words, followed by a lack of apologies."
- 5Be clear and straightforward about wanting to have distance from the person. Whether you’re talking in person or you’re writing a letter, you don’t want to leave this conversation open-ended. Even if down the road you decide you can forgive your family member, they won’t take you seriously if they think you’re just complaining.
- Say something like, "I don’t want to see you or hear from you." If you have children, set clear boundaries as to whether your family member can contact them, as well.
- 6Be aware they may try to manipulate you or others. Your family member may lash out after the conversation. They may spread rumors about you, try to get other family members not to speak to you, or try to manipulate you into repairing the relationship. If you’re prepared for this ahead of time, you’ll be more likely to stay strong.XResearch source
- Your family member might even be genuinely sad about your decision to cut ties with them. Just remember that you should never be guilted into being around someone who makes you unhappy.
Part 3Part 3 of 3:Moving On
- 1Talk about what happened to someone you trust. Finding someone to confide in is essential when you’re dealing with the end of a relationship. You might have trouble finding other family members to talk to, since they might feel caught in the middle, so try talking to a close friend.XResearch source
- It also may be a good idea to talk to a counselor, since toxic family relationships can have long-lasting effects on your self-esteem.
- 2Practice a routine of self-care. Once you remove a toxic person from your life, you should seek to fill that space with positive activities that you love. Everyone’s self-care looks different, but it’s important for you to do the things that make you feel happy and self-confident. This might mean soaking in a hot tub, taking up a new hobby, or going back to school.XResearch source
- Acknowledge your strengths, especially if your family member regularly put you down. If you need to, write down a list of the best things about yourself and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day.
- 3Don’t dwell on what you wish you had. It can be hard sometimes to see other happy families, or to think back to what your family looked like before the negativity occurred. Just keep in mind that even a family that looks perfect from the outside can have its own problems, and focus on the good things you do have in your life.XResearch source
- For instance, you might have a poor relationship with your children, but you might have an excellent support system in your church.
- 4Set healthy boundaries in future relationships. You might not be able to choose your family, but you can choose who you spend time around, and you don’t have to put up with hurtful behavior. Use this experience to teach you what you will and will not accept from the people in your life, and be firm about those boundaries in the future.XResearch source
- For instance, if you finally decided you had enough of your brother calling you names your whole life, then you certainly don’t have to put up with a date doing it!
- Practice if/then statements in case you find yourself in a similar situation in the future. For examples, you might tell yourself, "If someone says something about me that isn’t true, then I will speak up immediately, because that’s not acceptable."
- 5Let the person back into your life slowly if you choose to at all. The decision of whether or not to mend your relationship with this person is up to you. If you do decide that eventually you would like to let this person back into your life, take your time. Let them prove to you that they can build a new, healthy relationship with you.
- When you re-establish contact, have a conversation where you make your boundaries clear. Say something like, "I will not ever tolerate you making disrespectful comments about my weight. If you do that again, I will leave and not come back."
- If you see the person falling back into old habits, back away again.
- If the person has been abusive to you, it may be best not to allow them back into your life.
- QuestionHow do you deal with hurtful family members?Adam Dorsay, PsyDDr. Adam Dorsay is a licensed psychologist in private practice in San Jose, CA, and the co-creator of Project Reciprocity, an international program at Facebook's Headquarters, and a consultant with Digital Ocean’s Safety Team. He specializes in assisting high-achieving adults with relationship issues, stress reduction, anxiety, and attaining more happiness in their lives. In 2016 he gave a well-watched TEDx talk about men and emotions. Dr. Dorsay has a M.A. in Counseling from Santa Clara University and received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 2008.
Licensed Psychologist & TEDx SpeakerLicensed Psychologist & TEDx SpeakerExpert AnswerSet boundaries and stick to them! If you have a toxic family member, know what your boundaries are, including what will you say yes to, and what is a definite no. Every time you say yes to something that is an absolute no, a piece of you begins to beat yourself up. This leads to an internal and external cycle of consent and resent.
About This Article
To cut ties with a family member who hurt you, be clear and straightforward about wanting to have distance from that person. You can say something like “I don’t want to see you or hear from you.” It’s up to you if you want to explain what, exactly, they did wrong, or if you would rather give them an overview, like saying “I’m tired of your hurtful words, followed by a lack of apologies.” If confronting the person face-to-face is too stressful, then consider writing a letter or an email instead. You’ll also want to consider other family members and how they’ll be impacted to this decision. For example, if you have children, set clear boundaries as to whether or not your family member can contact them. To learn how to set healthy boundaries for future relationships, keep reading!