I believe that the family is the most divine institution on the face of this Earth. It is through the trials that we endure with, and sometimes because of, our family members that we become more refined and more like the people our Father in Heaven intended us to be. Clearly, family means the world to me.
This is why I recently had to make one of the most painful decisions of my life when I decided to completely cut ties with a certain family member. It isn’t something I take lightly and it isn’t something that happened over night.
On the contrary, it was something that built up from the time I was very small and didn’t actually come to a climax until I had my own children and realized that I was responsible for more than myself now. I had to pick a side, essentially. Was I going to continue to work toward making amends and trying to help this person, or was I going to protect my children? It sounds like an easy decision but letting go of a family member, no matter how toxic, is a very difficult process.
I have learned a few things throughout this process. I am nowhere near an expert in this field and if anything, I’m probably the poster-child for what NOT to do when it comes to toxic family members. All of the mistakes I made throughout my life in respect to my relationship with this person have accumulated into a reservoir of thoughts and hopefully warnings for people who may be struggling with something similar.
1. Recognize manipulation for what it is
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I think most of us do. It’s easy to make excuses for someone if you love them. However, it’s important to know the warning signs of manipulation and not to excuse people for using these tactics to get what they want.
Some common warning signs of a Master Manipulator include:
- They offer help with the intention of “holding it over your head.” They continually remind you of all they have done for you. This tactic is to guilt-trip you into complying and giving them what they want.
- They make you feel guilty for things they have done. Master manipulators are good at transferring blame and always being the victim.
- They’re only sorry when they believe it will get them what they want. If it doesn’t, their state of remorse quickly morphs into a fit of anger.
- They completely lack accountability. It is never really their fault and they will find whatever way they can to convince you of that. Lying is second-nature to them to the point that they often genuinely convince themselves of their own false story.
- Conversations often turn to their problems, amplifying their role as the victim at all times. They are always worse off than other people.
- If you find yourself apologizing to and/or for this person more often that you do for anyone else, you are most likely being manipulated.
- If you go against your better judgement to help this person when you don’t feel good about it, you are most likely being manipulated.
2. Remember that your responsibility lies with your own family now
Growing up, I always felt responsible for this person. I felt like I was their only chance. The only one who would listen, help, or encourage them. I was sure I could convince this person to get help. Now I can see how I was manipulated into feeling that way.
The truth is, if you are anyone’s last chance at a loving relationship, there’s a reason for that and it’s not your fault or your responsibility. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help.
I finally realized that if I were to allow this person to be in our lives continually, I was putting my own children at risk for being manipulated just as I had been my entire life. Not only that, but I wasn’t emotionally able to handle the relationship which wasn’t allowing me to be the mother I wanted to be.
Before I had children, I vowed I would never allow this person to be part of their lives because I knew how much damage they had created in mine. However, manipulation can be very powerful and most of the time we don’t even know it is happening.
My loyalty lies with my husband and my children now. I had to step back, with the help of my husband, to see how long I had allowed myself to be controlled by this person without even knowing it. Together, we made the decision that we were not going to allow our children to grow up the same way.
3. It’s much easier to prevent a relationship than to end it
Looking back, my biggest regret is allowing my children to become attached to this person. It is extremely difficult to explain to a child why someone they love might make really bad choices. How do you explain the dangers of manipulation? The emotional trauma that comes from being around unpredictable and volatile people?
I have to remember that no relationship is better than a bad one. Even if that relationship seems fine now, I know the inevitable damage that continually follows in the wake of this toxic person. My kids have plenty of good people in their lives, family members who love and adore them and would never put their own happiness or desires ahead of my children’s.
4. You can forgive and still learn from the past
My mother and I discuss this topic all of the time. How do you forgive someone who has caused so much heartache and pain in your life? She has much more warrant to hate this person than even I do. But we are taught to forgive and forget. Seventy times seven times. How do you do that and still prevent yourself from continually being hurt?
I believe more than anything, that this is a matter between you and God. I can’t tell you the cumulative hours I have spent throughout my life, on my knees with uncontrollable tears trying to forgive and forget what this person has done and continues to do. True mortal forgiveness rarely helps the perpetrator. I believe the healing magic of forgiveness is for the victim.
I finally believe myself to be at a point where I don’t hate this person anymore. I feel more of a pity and sadness for them than anything. I can’t imagine waking up in the life this person has created and possibly finding a reason to get out of bed. It is sad, but it isn’t my fault or my responsibility. I put forth the effort I could to help this person and now have turned my energy and focus on raising my kids, not helping a grown adult find their way in life.
So I believe I can forgive without having to allow myself, or anyone else in my family, to be hurt anymore. It has been a matter of prayer and I feel good about the decision I have made. In fact, for the first time in my life, I have felt relief when it comes to my relationship with this person. We are probably both better people when we are apart. I could attend this person’s funeral someday with sincere sadness and grief even if I won’t allow him to be in my or my family’s presence.
5. Seek legal and/or professional help when necessary
If the toxic family member in your life has broken the law or tried to harm you or your family, it is vital that you seek out the proper authority to take care of the situation. I had to get over my embarrassment and guilt that I felt about this person’s behavior and go to my local authorities for help.
The other person may find a way to jump through hoops and avoid consequences. Even if you believe that will happen, do your part to get it documented. The more documentation you have of the potential harm this person can cause, the more protection you will receive. Save messages, voicemails, letters, and any other kinds of evidence. File police reports when necessary and if you need to get a restraining or protection order, find out what it will take.
You may also want to consider getting therapy to find out how you can break free from the years of manipulation of this person.
Remember that you are not required by any law, both earthly or Heavenly, to allow people in your life who hurt you, even if that person is a family member. If a person is toxic to you, you have the choice to remove yourself from their circle of influence. It is easier said than done but it is vital that you recognize a damaging relationship when you see one and to protect your children from harm both physically and emotionally.
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Have you tried to cut ties with a toxic person? How did you do it?