What I Didn't know about Cutting Ties
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So You've Broken Contact With A Close Family Member

Here are some things you might not have expected to happen.

So You've Broken Contact With A Close Family Member
Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky from Pexels

I'm not here to talk about the great depth of reasons why you might have chosen to no longer be on speaking terms with someone in your family.

I will be heavily using the experience of my own situation so I can best relate to you the point of this article – all the things I wasn't expecting when I made my decision. However, I do not intend to make this a measuring contest; my situation isn't meant to compare to yours, only to provide a frame of reference for the consequences I encountered that I believe could happen to you.

It was a lot harder than many people might think to accept that the toxic behaviors of someone you are close to are worth breaking contact over. Toxic friends are difficult enough for a lot of us to even identify, let alone have the strength to walk away from.

But a close family member? I wasn't ready for how difficult it was to accept my father would not change and that it was unhealthy for me to allow him to be a part of my life. As many reasons as I have for my choice, that didn't make it easy for me; he's still my dad and I have a lifetime of genuinely good memories with him that stopped me from recognizing the toxicity of our relationship at the time that I walked away.

My point, here, is that you are completely justified in any feelings of guilt you might have over your choice to break contact. It doesn't mean your decision was wrong, nor does it mean that you are wrong for still having positive feelings for someone who also hurt you to the extent that the relationship is irreparable. Like with any difficult decision, you will struggle with the path you chose.

it was unhealthy for me to allow him to be a part of my life.

As a TL;DR over my personal experiences: I broke contact with my father when I was around 17. My parents divorced when I was about six. My dad had no custody and no legal right to contact because, among other substance-abuse related reasons, he did not show up to the custody hearing.

Despite having many incredibly valid reasons to deny us a relationship with our father, my mom never really stopped us from visiting him if we wanted to and – while our older brother who was old enough to really know our dad before the divorce, choosing not to continue seeing him – my younger brother and I wanted to see our dad all the time. It was in the next 11 years that I was exposed to my father for who he really was, as I grew old enough to really understand what I was watching him do.

After 11 years of watching my dad tear his body apart through drug and alcohol abuse, physically and emotionally abuse girlfriend after girlfriend, encourage my brother and I to be like him and praise his behaviors (which I readily did, believing my father was infallible for many years), blame everyone and everything other than himself for the many problems with his life, and attempt to turn me against my mom as if she was some vindictive monster determined to make us hate him (despite her being the only reason we ever saw him again?

I admit, he had me brainwashed and I believed him), I had enough when I was 17 and some things happened that made me realize how much of a negative impact he was having on my health and wellbeing. So I walked away.

And what happened?

At first, it was probably in line with what you would expect. My dad initially didn't try to contact me, believing I was just angry about some specific thing and it would blow over. After a few weeks, he realized I was serious and tried in vain to reestablish contact.

In the meantime, however, I had had time to really think about some of the things that I had seen in the 11 years prior and even some things before the divorce I hadn't understood before. I had really begun to understand the absurdity of hating my mother for turning me against my dad while she was the only reason we had any contact with him.

I had started to repair my relationship with my mom that I had damaged heavily in the previous 11 years, siding with my dad the whole time. I also started to realize that while I had thought to side with my dad put me at odds with my mom, the truth is that she always still loved me and cared about me despite me really truly believing she was the devil.

Once the veil was lifted, I realized just how poorly I was treating my mom because of my dad while she was nothing but an amazing mother in return. I still feel awful about that one, by the way. The reality of the situation was that my dad was guilty of the same manipulative behavior of which he constantly accused my mom.

For a while, it was liberating. I was able to repair relationships with my mom and my older brother that had been damaged when I lived in the toxicity of my father. But then some other things started to happen which you might not anticipate out of your own situation.

I had had time to really think about some of the things that I had seen

My dad "changed". If those quotation marks aren't dripping with sarcasm, they should be. After a while, other relatives started to catch on that I wasn't speaking with my dad anymore and when he started going around claiming to have changed, they started to come to me telling me to give my dad another chance.

After all, he's changed, hasn't he? It's easy to just say "oh I've changed" and expect people to believe you. It's another thing to even do a single thing differently. My dad as of this month, three years later, has not changed. He still calls my little brother (who still has contact with our father, a personal choice I do not interfere with) drunkenly and berates our mom and older brother. Actually, I am now added to the list of "disrespectful pieces of ____."

It is hard for me to believe my other relatives that he has changed when he is very clearly still the same person I had to walk away from three years ago. So if you have walked away from a close relative, be prepared for other relatives to convince you they have changed even when you can clearly tell they haven't.

It's easy to just say "oh I've changed" and expect people to believe you.

My relatives started to use their own histories of abuse and walking away from abuse only to regret it years later to convince me I am wrong. Several older relatives have come to me with their stories of having an abusive parent whom they did not talk to for years, only to wish they could take it all back years later.

I want you to be ready for this because this is very important, possibly the single greatest takeaway I want you to have from this article: you should always act on what is best for your wellbeing. The responsibility falls on the abuser and not the abused to act in a way that facilitates a healthy relationship.

By being abusive, they forfeit their right to a relationship and you are not obligated to remain part of a dynamic that hurts you emotionally and/or physically. If I regret not having a relationship with my father into adulthood, my regret will be that he was not a good person and not that I didn't continue to turn a blind eye to the awful things he did. Do I want a relationship with my father? Of course.

But I understand that the reason we do not communicate anymore is a result of the choices he made and that I am not at fault for walking away to the benefit of my mental health.

You should always act on what is best for your wellbeing.

My relationship with those relatives has suffered.

My dad's parents – my Meema and Papa – were not speaking to my father for a somewhat separate issue during the time that I walked away from my dad. Initially, there was no conflict because they too did not speak to him, and my other relatives on that side of the family didn't really get involved either. However, something you should be prepared for is that there might be family members that side with the person you have broken contact with. Usually, they didn't see the same level of manipulation and abuse that you did so they see your decision as some sort of temper tantrum or an overreaction.

Additionally, there is a chance that the person you have broken contact with will get to those relatives first and make themselves out to be the victim. As a result, your relationship with those relatives can suffer when they good-naturedly try to interfere. My Meema and Papa, for example, have since made amends with my father. Once they did, they constantly tried to convince me to talk to my father again.

This has put a tremendous strain on my relationship with them. They did not attend my high school graduation despite having tickets simply because of a dispute we had over my dad (it was a whole thing). Attending my younger brother's high school graduation, one of them made a comment about how important a graduation is and how glad they are to attend. Understand that even though your reasons for cutting off a relative might be even more serious and valid than my own, your relationships with other relatives who have done nothing wrong to you might still suffer as a result.

There might be family members that side with the person you have broken contact with.

As a final note, I want to say something that I feel is important to recognize in these kinds of situations: You are under no obligation to continue to not have contact with this person if you believe it is what is best for you. Right now, I still don't talk to my father.

The reason for this is that he has not changed, and I do not see him attempting to change in a meaningful way other than saying the right words sometimes. However, if at some time in the future he does change in the behaviors that I had to walk away from, I am prepared to speak to him again. Just as you should not let people convince you to have contact with someone who only causes you pain and suffering, you should also not let people convince you that you cannot accept them back into your life if you believe they are no longer toxic for you.

The only thing we can do is what we think is right.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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