The mythology of family reads like a fairytale: loving parents who don’t yell or scold; strong sibling bonds that are forged from mutual respect and a desire to protect one another; communication that’s fluid; boundaries that are flexible but still strong enough to shelter. The images of family our culture promotes highlight the ideals we all wish for and, indeed, deserve. But many families fall short of these picture-perfect scenarios, some, unfortunately, to dangerous degrees.
When to Sever the Ties
Most therapists would agree that family relationships can be an integral part of our support network. Family members, we hope, champion us when we are low and celebrate us at our heights. Rarely do we recommend ex-communicating family members, advocating instead for clients to attempt to open communication, assert their needs respectfully and engage in conflict resolution to attain an equanimous end. But sometimes, clients find that an intimate relationship is destructive or toxic, no matter what efforts are made to change it. Whether due to the presence of violence, substance abuse or emotional manipulation, clients may decide that their very survival requires distancing themselves from people they still love. This decision is intensely personal and individual to each client; and almost always grueling to enact. It can, however, be an act of self-love and self-respect. The bonds that connect us should feel embracing and nurturing. When they become chains of fear or distress, or ligatures that constrict our growth, we may have to choose ourselves over the dreams of a family that is not to be.