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Should I Still Have Contact With My Toxic Family Member?



N.S. Golemi, M.A., LPC

Since so much of our psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being is determined by our environment, it is vital that we surround ourselves with people who are also on the path to holistic health. We can choose our friends, but where does that leave family?

Sometimes, life graces us with difficult family members. Other times, they can be downright abusive. To make things even more confusing, these people can have times when they are loving and wonderful, only to becoming hurtful without warning. The Jekyll and Hyde dance is difficult to predict and children are the most at risk for being hurt by these personalities. These dynamics can become so complicated that you may be wondering if you should wash your hands of the relationship altogether.

But, then you see a social media post about how you “should never walk away from family” or your brother comes to you with the guilt trip and says “but that’s DAD you’re talking about, here!” (To learn more about flying monkeys, read “When Family Protects Abusers”). You may even have your own voices of shame that keep you trapped in the relationship. At the end of the day, only you can decide what is healthy for you. It may be helpful to know that there are different levels of contact you can have. No matter what you decide, you are ultimately in control.

No Contact

Trust has been completely broken and it is not possible for the relationship to be restored at this time. The relationship would be one sided with a high potential of abuse. This is one of the most obvious levels of contact and is warranted in abuse situations. This may require legal assistance to ensure the abuser’s compliance. No contact whatsoever with the family member, and any attempts by the abuser to make contact (such as letters, cards, phone calls, messages and pleadings from other family members) are ignored.

Low Contact

You cannot trust this person not to hurt you or your family, but do not wish to cut them completely out of your life. Some superficial interactions are permitted, but remain restricted and minimal. This is often determined by frequency. Visits may occur in a public space.

Medium Contact

You may moderate how much information about you and your family is given to this person. You may make or receive phone calls, but avoid divulging a great deal of trust in this person because you know they might attempt to misuse that information. You may have time limited exposure (family events, holidays, going out for dinner or coffee) but do not give yourself completely to the relationship.

High Contact

You fully trust this person and confide in them without fear of betrayal. This person is healthy and the relationship is mutually beneficial. You see or hear from this person often.

Final Thoughts

Again, you are in control of how often you and your children see the family member, how much information about yourself and your own immediate family you give out, how much you lean on that person for support, and what level of contact you have with family (yes, even parents!). Other family members, friends, spiritual leaders, doctors or therapists cannot decide this for you. Learning how to drown out the many voices that try to tell you what is best for your life is crucial to your own healing. Remember– you are not a bad person for protecting yourself and your children from a toxic human being, even if they are family. You are not depriving your children of a (insert role here_____), you are preventing them from being manipulated and thereby learning a warped view of love and everything that comes with it.