When and Why to Cut Family Ties.

There are many valid reasons to cease contact with certain family members. There is no such thing as family obligation.

image by Warren Wong from Unsplash.com

We do not get the choose our DNA. We have no decision in the matter of with whom we share blood. According to our culture, family are the people with whom we are thrust together and are expected to remain connected, come hell, or high water.

This is a societal mindset we need to reexamine.

It’s one that results in a lot of people remaining steeped in relationships that cause them harm and heartache over the course of their life.

Why, just because you share DNA with someone, should you be obligated to keep them in your life, to remain connected with them, to go out of your way for them, to forgive any cruelty or transgression, to keep giving them chances, to offer them time and resources from you, just because they are “family”?

In every other relationship of our lives, from romances to friendship, colleague connections, and neighbors, there are boundary lines. There are certain behaviors and ways of being that would potentially, eventually cause us to decide, this person is no longer good for me. There are usually limits in all of these other relationships. Such as, if this person doesn’t treat me well, if this person does not respect me, and if this person is dysfunctional, dishonest, and not kind, that for any or all of these reasons, I may cease a connection with them, for my own mental and emotional health.

This is a good decision to make when it’s made with much depth of thought and careful consideration. And it can be a crucial one to the quality of our lives.

There are people we will meet, friends, romantic partners, colleagues, neighbors, and yes, even family members, who are going to cause us far more harm than good. Who are going to constantly drain us rather than boost our spirits. Who are going to use and abuse us instead of respecting, loving, and treating us well. Who are going to hurt us far more often than they help us. And there will come times in each of our lives when we need to decide to stop being closely connected with some of these people because of it.

And sometimes, this will even be family.

We are never obligated to keep someone in our life who treats us badly, who lies to and disrespects us, who cannot be bothered to be good to us, who is cruel and harmful, even if they are “family.”

In fact, why would it make sense to keep such a person in your life?

Instead, for the sake of our mental and emotional health, and to live a happier life over the big picture, there will be times when it is better (and sometimes even crucial) to cease regular contact with such people.

Additionally, I’d like to offer a rethinking with regard to the word “family.” We do not get to choose our blood relationships, but contrary to what most people think, we can choose our family.

In this culture, we misunderstand the word “family.” We assume family merely means DNA and blood relatives. Yes, that is family in its most basic sense. Yet, is a father family if he rapes his daughter? Is a mother family if she is cruel, manipulative, and demanding with her children? Is a sibling really family who could not care less when their sibling gets significantly hurt and has surgery? Is an uncle truly family who harasses his niece or nephew, sending them nasty emails and even once they’ve blocked him, creating new email addresses to be able to continue harassment? Is an aunt or uncle or cousin or sibling really family when they will not protect their other family members from abuse? Is a grandfather or grandmother family who is mean to their grandchild every time they see them? The list goes on and on.

Is any of that love? No, it isn’t.

These types of people?

They are only “family” in title.

They are not family in heart or in action.

Family are the people who love and support us. They are those who treat us with respect and caring. They are the ones who love us, not just with words, but with their actions. They extend themselves for us, at times when it is not always easy. Family are there to listen to us. They are truly interested in the person we are. Family takes the time to get to know the people we care about. Family respect our “no” and respect our boundaries. Family is willing to apologize. Family forgives. Family is honest and they are good to us. Family has our backs.

The people who don’t do these things?

They are not really family, other than in DNA and title.

In which case, you should take action and choose your family.

For many people, this will be blood relatives. For others who are not so blessed, it might not be. And for some, it will be a combination of blood relatives, close friends, romantic partners, neighbors, and more.

Admitting that one or some of one’s family members are not especially great people can be and often is an immensely painful and devastating experience. It hurts deeply. Many people never get over such a loss fully. This is understandable. No one wants to admit that a family member they love and with whom they long for it to be different, is actually not a good person. This is a huge heartbreak and loss. It can cause this person to feel incredibly alone.

For this, counseling can be a crucial healing strategy (one word of caution: not all counselors and therapists are equal. As with any profession, some are empathetic, insightful, are great listeners, and are generally excellent. Others, not so much. So choose carefully and give this decision much thought).

However, finding the courage and strength to let go of “family” who treat you like garbage, who are really only family in title and not so much in their actions toward you, this can be a lead weight lifted from your mind and chest. It can make your life much happier and healthier.

There are valid and important times for either significantly reducing or even cutting certain family ties. Our culture is wrong. Blood is not thicker than water. Family is not family just because they share your DNA. That lets people off the hook way too easily.

People are family for much more than that.

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author. www.brookeenglish.com

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