Ending the Toxic Relationship and Giving Yourself Time and Space to Find Yourself

photo credit: AmyJanelle

Some relationships are deeply damaging and unhealthy for the people within the relationship. Unlike healthy relationships, which have peaks and lows, which have struggles now and then, a toxic relationship is poison to the people involved.

But what happens if the toxic relationship is within the family sphere?

Imagine your daughter telling you that every time she was with her boyfriend, he insulted her, gaslit her, made her feel small and insignificant, mocked her interests, tried to change her personality, deprived her of what she loved, cut her off when she was speaking, demanded her to always agree with him, ignored her when she differed in opinion, expected only adoration, and left her feeling stressed-out, sick to her stomach, and emotionally wounded.

Would you tell that daughter to continue seeing that boyfriend?

No. Absolutely not. No one would. However, what if the people involved was a friend telling you about an abusive parent? Myriad people would say, “But it’s family. It’s blood.” And if the family is involved in a religion, the religion will also be used as an excuse. “But it’s family. But they’re [insert religion].”

The excuse of “being blood” or “being family” is no excuse. People should expect more from their family members—not less. Families should be safe havens for the people within them, a shelter of love, hope, support, and affection in a vast world.

However, many emotionally abused children (and adult children caught in the cycle of emotional child abuse far into adulthood) do not have such birth families.

When Is a Relationship Toxic?

A toxic relationship is not limited to abusive boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses. A toxic relationship sometimes exists in the biological family as well. But when do people step over the line of “family being family” and  into “a toxic relationship”?

In Sherrie Bourg Carter’s article, Toxic Relationships: A Health Hazard, Carter offers six questions to help gauge whether a relationship is toxic:

  1. When you’re with [the person], do you usually feel content, even energized? Or do you often feel unfulfilled and drained?
  2. After you spend time with him/her, do you usually feel better or worse about yourself?
  3. Do you feel physically and/or emotionally safe with this person, or do you feel threatened or in danger?
  4. Is there a fairly equal “give and take” in the relationship? Or do you feel like you’re always giving and he/she is always taking?
  5. Is the relationship characterized by feelings of security and contentment, or drama and angst?
  6. Do you feel like he/she is happy with who you are? Or do you feel like you have to change to make him/her happy?

Unlike healthy relationships—which inspire happy, contented feelings with only flashes of “normal” disagreements—a toxic relationship is the inversion of that definition. A toxic relationship mostly summons exhaustion, hurt and blue feelings with only flashes (if any) of happiness.

(To better understand whether your relationship is unhealthy, please talk to a mental health practitioner.)

You Don’t Want to Be Abused Anymore… So Now What?

If you awaken to the truth that you’re in a toxic relationship, what can you do? Because this site focuses on emotional child abuse and adult survivors of emotional child abuse, let’s focus on the answers in that light.

photo credit: Todd Klassy

Build boundaries

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse  needs to understand that a boundary has been crossed. Somewhere in the timeline of the parent/child relationship, the child’s boundaries were crossed and violated. In some extreme cases of emotional child abuse, boundaries were not allowed to be established.

The adult survivor has to establish a boundary, which “defines what is me and what is not me”( from the Boundaries book).

“A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.” (Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life, pg. 38)

The adult survivor of emotional child abuse will need to learn to reclaim what belongs to him—time, space, emotions, a voice. The only way for the adult survivor to establish that is to take a break from the relationship with his parent. (Note: Only the adult survivor can determine whether the break should be permanent or temporary.)

“Adult children who have never spiritually and emotionally separated from their parents often need time away. They have spent their whole lives ’embracing and keeping’ [Eccl. 3:5-6] and have been afraid to refrain from embracing and to throw away some of their outgrown ways of relating. They need to spend some time building boundaries against the old ways and creating new ways of relating that for a while may feel alienating to their parents.” (Boundaries, page 38)

For example, a grown son who has been trained to call his father every day may decide to limit the call to once a week or once every two weeks. Or a daughter who has been trained to tell her mother all the details of all her relationships, including her husband, will no longer share all the details of everything for the sake of her privacy, her friends’ privacy, and establishing separate relationships from her mother.

Learn to say no, learn to take back your life

An emotionally abused adult child will not realize the power in the word No. They have spent most of their life saying Yes to the abusive parents… or if the adult child ever said No, the adult child was punished with the silent treatment or verbal abuse for speaking out and therefore has learned that saying No hurts.

But saying No is liberating.

“The most basic boundary-setting word is no. It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you. Being clear about your no—and your yes—is a theme that runs throughout the Bible (Matt. 5:37; James 5:12).

“People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that if they no to someone, they will endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. Sometimes, a person is pressuring you to do something; other times, the pressure comes from your own sense of what you ‘should’ do. If you cannot say no to this external or internal pressure, you have lost control of your property and are not enjoying the ‘fruit of self control.'” (Boundaries)

Get help

At The Invisible Scar, we cannot stress enough the need for an adult survivor of emotional child abuse to find professional help, whether from a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or minister. Just make sure to interview the professional first, so you know the therapist’s bias, whether you two are a good fit, etc.

Help can also come in the form of knowledge. Read books about emotional child abuse, read about healthy relationships, etc.

Find support in other people

Turn to good, healthy supportive friends during this boundary-setting time.

During the painful first stage of realizing the truth of the abusive relationship, you will need strong, good, caring friends who believe you, who understand your need for healing, and who will love you. People are social beings, and we need to surround ourselves with good, loving folks.

Don’t immediately run back

Once you’ve begun establishing your boundaries, the abusive parent may react by:  increasing the abuse, ignoring you completely, or changing immediately.

For now, let’s look at the last one: changing immediately.

Long-lasting change does not happen immediately. How many cases have been shown on the news of people in toxic relationship who returned to their abusers when they thought it was safe? They often ran back as soon as the abuser expressed an “I’m sorry.”

Inward change does not happen so quickly.

“Many people are too quick to trust someone in the name of forgiveness and not make sure that the other is producing ‘fruit in keeping with repentance.’ To continue  to open yourself up emotionally to an abusive or addicted person without seeing true change is foolish.

“You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment. If you have been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe and until real patterns of change have been demonstrated before you go back.

When Your New Boundaries Are Constantly Violated

When faced with adult children who are establishing long-needed boundaries, some emotionally abusive parents will refuse to acknowledge any hurt or damage that they caused, negate responsibility within the relationship, and in some cases either escalate the abuse or cut the adult child out of their lives until the adult child returns to the long-established patterns of behavior.

“There are truly some parents who are too toxic and are what I call the “untreatables.” If someone is abusive and cruel and continues to be without remorse or empathy, it cannot be healthy for anyone to be around that person. That’s OK and important to know.” (Karyl McBride, Psychology Today)

In such extreme cases, the adult child may choose to go “no contact.”

“Going No Contact  (NC) is not necessarily a decision to stop loving the person. It is a decision to stop struggling with them and let them be who they are going to be while not letting their behavior hurt you any more.” (Out of the FOG website)

That point merits repeating. In myriad cases, an adult child who goes NC with a parent is choosing to do so to protect himself, protect his self-esteem and guard his self-worth. (In rare cases, adult children may willingly go NC to hurt their parents over trivial matters, but this website concerns itself with adults who have been emotionally abused by their parents and thus have good reasons for considering NC.)

In most cases of NC, the abusive parent has repeatedly shown himself to be neither remorseful nor willing to change or acknowledge their destructive behavior. The adult child, for sake of emotional survival, cannot have contact with the abusive, toxic parent.

Advice regarding how to go NC can be found at the following pages: Going NC, How to Go No Contact, and No Contact 101.

Benefits of Going NC or LC (Low Contact)

Why go NC? Aside from no longer putting himself in the path of constant maltreatment, the adult child of an emotionally abusive parent will enjoy:

  • A sense of peace (All the jitters of constantly expecting an emotional ambush will be gone.)
  • A sense of empowerment (For the first time, the adult child is speaking up in self-defense and protecting himself.)
  • A sense of being a real grown-up (and no longer having your life dictated by your parents)
  • Freedom (to make adult choices)
  • Holidays that you can enjoy (without the drama, the demands, the painful interactions)
  • A sense of being more you
  • A better use of time (in doing what the adult child wants, needs, or plans to do—rather than the abusive parent’s plans
  • Growing more comfortable in your skin
  • Discovering new facets of their personality that were buried beneath the abuse
  • New fulfilling relationships with emotionally healthy people
  • A sense of wonder in discovering new things that the abusive parent had disallowed
  • Joy in being untethered and a true grown up
  • A voice that speaks the truth
  • A voice that says what he doesn’t like, what he does like, what hurts him, what gives him joy—all without fear of repercussions
  • A better view of the world (and less feeling like the world is going to ambush you with its demands, pains, and abuse)

Some of those benefits will come immediately from putting a halt to the abuse. Other benefits, such as finding one’s voice, may take time and therapy…. People who come out of deeply emotionally abusive relationships often have a form of PSTD (post-traumatic stress disorder), so the movement from feeling abused to feeling happy will take time, patience, and support.

Keep Your Ground

An adult child of emotionally abusive parents who has finally set up boundaries is disrupting the landscape of the adult parents’ lives. Depending on the abusive parents’ personalities, they will react in some or all these ways: The abusive parents will try to manipulate the adult child back to the fold, play the “we’re old” card, use friends and other family members to get the adult child back into the appointed role, threaten the adult child with outrageous statements, smear the adult child’s reputation, spread gossip about the adult child to explain the adult child’s “sudden disappearance” in the parents’ lives, ignore the child as “punishment” for setting boundaries, send siblings as flying monkeys to badger the adult child back, use the “grandchildren miss me so much” card, send abusive cards, leave cruel messages, etc.

That all will distress the adult child… but, in the end, all that matters is that the adult child protects his heart and guard the treasure that God made him to be (rather than serve in the image that the adult parent attempted to make him).

True friends will listen to your story and believe you. True therapists will help you in your new life as a “real grown-up” freed from the clutches of the abusive parent.

Keep your ground. And remember the following C.S. Lewis quote:

photo credit: unknown
photo credit: unknown

Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications.

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65 thoughts on “Ending the Toxic Relationship and Giving Yourself Time and Space to Find Yourself

  1. I love your site – so many great articles and much that resonates with me, thank you. I have one suggestion, and that is to substitute the term “family of origin” where you have used birth family or biological family.

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  2. I know this article is old, but it offers great advice and information about childhood emotional abuse. I am an adult survivor trying to pick my way through the muddled mess my parents left me in. I have nc with one parent and lc with the other and my sister. The biggest hurdles I face is learning how to set boundaries, knowing where others thoughts and attitudes end and where I begin, and trust. And finding a good shoulder to lean on for support. Abuse doesn’t have to be physical to cause pain. And it can leave scars that last a life time. Thank you for posting this article. On a day I question my reasons for nc and lc, it made me realize I am doing the right thing for me at this moment. Thanks for that.

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  3. This site made me feel I did right to go NC with my mother. I didn’t want my kids to feel the way she made me feel for too many years. In the moment she started being abusive to them, I realized that is was time to go NC with her, boundaries and LC weren’t enough. Thanks for creating this blog, it has been very hepful to me.

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  4. Anyone have advice on whether to tell your parents when you first start NC and why? What about on holidays? Do I not attend the events and warn my relatives ahead of time? If so, do I just excuse myself or do I tell them the short version of the truth? Out of my two parents, one of them may try to improve once confronted, so what do I do if he calls and wants to try to earn my trust back? It’s only been 6 or 7 weeks since I stopped communicating with them. I’m so new at this and I don’t have a road map for what things will look like moving forward as the holidays come.

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    1. Hello. My advice to to read the varies posts on this site– there is an abundance of information! It helped me a lot when I went NC with both of my parents (I confronted them first; they did EVERYTHING listed in the great book “Toxic Parents” by Susan Forward, Phd, about “reactions”). There’s also another great website I found through this blog, the website is the Luke173 ministry (particularly good if you have any faith/religious beliefs).
      Read the comments of what others have done– find what is best for YOU. Now is YOUR time to think, to have space, to heal. . .
      I also recommend reading a few books (several are posted on this blog!). I found “It’s Not Your Fault” to be good reading (still reading it); “Will I Ever be Good Enough” (still reading it); “Toxic Parents” (still reading it); and “Adult Children: the Secrets of Dysfunctional Families” (still reading that one, too!). I’ve pecked at “Trapped in the Mirror,” but haven’t done full reading on that. I really have to piece-meal it or I get “triggered.”
      I hope this helps you in your journey.

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    2. Oh, yeah, one more about boundaries. The most beneficial one for me was “Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin” by Anne Katherine. It’s a short book, and I think more concise than her other boundary book (I did read both in full).

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    3. *I’m not a licensed therapist or anything like that; I’m just a man trying to sort through his own struggles with his narcissistic parents. Take my free advice as such… 🙂 *

      I’m navigating this same issue right now…without a road map, just like you.

      I advise telling your parents, because even if they won’t respect you by dealing with you in a healthy and authentic manner you can hold your head high by giving them that respect. (I’ll be telling mine tomorrow.) Don’t argue with them; don’t ask their permission; just tell them. (Trust me, I had to resolve that guilt first and it wasn’t easy.) I personally find it easier to ‘fire-and-forget’ with email – be direct, short; don’t rehash arguments – but other people may feel more comfortable doing so on the phone or in person. However you do it, it’s a huge step in shattering those chains…

      Very soon after telling your parents, tell your relatives. (I’ll be telling mine this weekend, @1-2 days after telling my parents.) Out of respect for my parents I won’t be going into details with my extended family, but I will be honest about the NC situation and that I’ll be at fewer gatherings with the extended family. I also plan on stressing that I still want relationships with my extended family – which I know will require more intentionality from me to make it happen.

      *Be prepared for some extended family members to side with your parents.*

      If one of your parents may want to step up and improve, tread carefully. If your parents are still married, they still influence each other. If your parent is open to therapeutic resolution; however…let that parent take charge of their own repentance, get the help and make the changes. I strongly suggest not trusting in their words but rather in their actions…

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  5. Thank you for this site, it’s been very helpful. I do not think my father is a full-blown narcissist, however he does have some of those tendencies, and unfortunately they all manifest themselves most strongly in our relationship. I guess more than narcissist, “control-freak” would be the phrase that most accurately describes him. In many ways, he is a good and admirable person, a man of strong convictions who has contributed much of value to the world. However, he is a deeply, inflexibly religious person who prides himself very strongly on being a moral compass for everyone around him, especially his students and his children. I was his middle child, and was born with a strong will, a creative mind and an ability to think outside his box. As a result, I often reached very different conclusions about the world than he did, and now even into adulthood with three children of my own, my opinions are regarded as those of a merely rebellious teenager, and I am often scorned and stared down into silence. (It’s important to note that I did NOT fit the role of “rebellious teenager,” ever, but was often treated as such when I tried to speak my mind or if I got so much as a C on my report card. I tried extremely hard to be the “perfect” child…no drugs, no drinking, no smoking, no partying, no sneaking out, no sex…straight edge to the core.) My mother (whose father was a very similar person to my dad), has always enabled his behavior, and I was endlessly bludgeoned into silence with “The 4th Commandment!”

    It finally reached a breaking point last weekend…he tried to bully me into silence for voicing what seemed to me a pretty harmless opinion, and it was the last straw…instead of shutting up, a screaming fit like nothing that’s ever come out of my mouth before ensued. The worst part was that this happened in front of my children. In the last week, I have finally come to terms with the fact that my last therapist was actually right when she labelled my father as “emotionally abusive” toward me. I’ve realized that you can only pump so much toxic junk into a balloon before it explodes all over you, which is what happened last weekend. I’ve also realized that if my father (who has actually been in therapy for years, but seems unable to fully come to terms with his treatment of me) cannot change his behavior toward me, going LC is definitely something I can deal with…and is blessedly something my older sister, a licensed social worker, supports me in, even if no one else in my family will. I’ll still allow my children to spend time with him, at least as long as their relationship still seems to be a good one.

    I am choosing to see last weekend as a blessing, even though the whole thing made me feel sick to my stomach for days. In finally losing it on my dad, I was able to clearly see, for the first time, that in NO way was his treatment of me ever acceptable, at all. This is a blessing because, in not fully accepting that fact, my husband and I were both slipping into similar behaviors with our own children, the oldest of whom is five, and a very high energy, outside-the-box thinker like I was. I now recognize my own patterns of bullying and thought control over him for what they are, and have made a firm vow to STOP. I KNOW what good parenting is, and I can no longer allow myself to constantly make bad parenting choices just because “my dad did it, and he’s not a bad man.” In many ways, he may be a very good man. But he was not a good father. I WILL be a good mother. Maybe not a perfect one, but a good one. Moving forward, that is my goal.

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  6. Hi, thank God, it is such a relief to be here. Thank you for having this site! I just wrote a whole blog post and it is has been zapped just as I was about to post.

    I am a Christian Jesus is my protector and has kept me all this time. Yet evil never sleeps and this abuse has been unreal and continues in subversive ways now that I am a grown woman.

    My mother is the tormentor. When I was a child she was physically, psychologically and emotionally extremely abusive. Cursing, beating and whipping me when I forgot to remind her to get a pack of cigarettes or stop by the liquor store to stock up for a party she was having. Stupid, wicked stuff like that. “You are always forgetful!!” She would constantly hiss. Probably hoping I would forget her abuse and not tell anyone. It was one of her evil go-to phrases.

    There have been many other horrible tactics and words to try to diminish me. I won a beauty contest back when I was in college and she was absolutely in a jealous rage. That was years ago. Photographers came to the house to take photos of me for the paper and I thought she was going to explode. Later I found my trophy without a head. It was deliberately smashed and broken off. I was aghast.

    She is also a copycat. Anything good that I do, she mimics and I mysteriously lose the good thing that I had or had accomplished. So there is something psychic and spiritually very dark andevil going on as well. It’s like she wants my mind, my body, my life, my soul. Well, Jesus has my soul! And I’ve been fighting for years for the rest of me! My mother’s an accomplished woman, but she doesn’t want me to have anything of my own. No husband, no family, no money, no life. Nothing. It’s uncanny and I still don’t understand the depth of her dark shenanigans and how I rebuild and rebuild and get reduced and robbed supernaturally and in the physical realm again and again.

    I have spent months with no contact (we live in separate states), because I have run all over this country to try to have a professional career, a marriage and a life. I’m now divorced and have suffered other loss.
    I’m back in contact because the all-points bulletin this woman sends on a “search mission” have been traumatic too.

    Years ago, she called when I was living in California and my Dad died, and I didn’t know it yet. She called and in a sing-songy voice said “DADDY’S DEAD!”. I started screaming. It was like something out of the worst, horror movie. He wan’t sick and he was a very kind man. She wasn’t even married to him anymore when he died. She has been divorced from him since I was a baby, But I stayed in close contact with him throughout the years. My mother has re-married three other times, is now currently married, But just recently she has reverted back to my DAD’S last name using it as one of her four names. How weird is that? /Extremely important note, and part of my misery: She has been after my inheritance for years and has been devising many schemes there. I have only received a partial inheritance because she has been blocking and doing, well Lord knows what trying to get the rest. I know if it weren’t for Jesus protecting me, I would not be alive on earth. But he has. This is the depth of the evil. (And my half-sister sometimes gets in on the act. She also lives near my mother in the midwest.)

    Here’s the latest shenanigan: My mom just made another copycat move and created an award show for herself. It was bizarre. I was the one up for an award. This was just recently here on the East Coast where I now live. Just yesterday I got a call, from a organizer that sounded on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She bizarrely told me that I needed to pay some money before I could get this award for some work I had done. What?! When I was told by the hostess to come to the program and my dinner was covered. It was perplexing and weird, but I lost the opportunity to appear on the program, because she told me at the last minute and I didn’t have the money. (Though I have an inheritance that is being blocked.)

    My mother sends me an email of her copycat award in the midwest where she lives. A full program she devised with her husband’s help. Guess what the date was she had for her copycat invented full program?? (With “refreshments”!) MY FATHER’S birthday. This woman doesn’t do anything randomly so the day of her program to honor herself was carefully chosen. She asked in the email, if I remembered that the date was my father’s birthday. I loved my very, kind Dad, who was also a Christian, very much. How could I forget the date of my own father’s birthday?? (Should I confront her with all of this? I have in the past and the list of things I expressed was so exhaustive, we both were reeling. And she was “hurt”. Ha! And she goes on trying to destroy me and my life.)

    Oh and here’s the coup de grace, meanwhile almost simultaneously, I lose my own award program opportunity that would have helped me professionally. More psychological abuse.

    This is only the tip of a very evil and perplexing iceberg. I have friends, a few new ones I cherish, but really cant talk to a soul about all of this. Oh and more trying-to-invade-my life stuff. She used a male best friend of mine as the photographer for HER FOURTH marriage. And years ago, with another one of my friends she invited herself over to my friends house someone a generation younger than her, and spent the night she said, talking “girl talk.” and laughing and telling stories all night. What?! My friend is my friend and my age. Not hers.

    Thank you for letting me express this. It’s a relief. Oh, she recently said she is coming to “visit” doesn’t know why I won’t accept her Facebook “friend” request and that it’s terrible I haven’t seen her in awhile. Ha! I would love to visit her if she were a normal mother, but she is beyond Mommie Dearest. Truly. Way Beyond. And I am scared witless about this impending visit. She doesn’t know where I live, but has “investigational” skills and is well-connected. Friend request?! Can you imagine?? Oh and her husband sent one, too! A “friend request” to me. And there it sits. Looming. And I won’t accept it, because she’ll just take over my Facebook page and I won’t even recognize it. Plus all my friends. It’s awful. I’m a grown woman just trying to have a life, and it’s been constantly hijacked and sabotaged. FOR YEARS. I need for this to stop and live victoriously. People say I’m a kind, loving person in spite of all of this. Ironically I have helped others through God in other areas and can’t seem to overcome this area of “mother abuse” in my own life. Again thanks.

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  7. My older sister (73) who has always been very cold, dominating, abrasive, demanding, unempathetic and critical, and has always made nasty comments about me. I am 60 and still feel intimidated by this blustering, manipulative, controlling woman.When I complained in the past, she would always say that I am much too sensitive.

    It has taken me a lifetime to deal with a type of toxic family. My parents didn’t know how to be nurturing and supportive, and instead they were cold, verbally harsh and critical. When I was in my early twenties and visiting my sister, my brother-in-law grabbed my breast when I was alone with him in the house. I yelled at him but he seemed to have no clue that he had disrespected me. He never mentioned the incident or apologized, and I was too timid to confront him later about it. Of course my mother and sister said nothing when I described what happened.

    My parents are passed, but I am still trying to set boundaries with this nasty sister. She makes me so uncomfortable I can’t stand to talk to her on the phone, let alone see her in person. She announced recently during a phone call that she was coming to see me and my older brother (who lives an hour away, although we have never visited each other. He is not as verbally aggressive as my sister, but he seems cold and disinterested). At that moment, I told her calmly I am not interested in seeing her because of her nasty comments. I gave examples, and she immediately blew up and denied the comments.

    I have been avoiding her phone calls and my husband and I will be out of town on the days my sister and brother-in-law might show up. My self esteem and self worth plummet when I have any contact with her, so I am going to insist on a no-contact situation.

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  8. I grew up in an emotionally abusive family. It was not just my parents but my older siblings too. I had managed to do most of the things described above and my life was quite happy. Three months ago my mother had to have heart surgery. I thought the right thing to do was to temporarily suspend my no contact policy with her and help my siblings deal with supporting her. My mother took the opportunity to cross my boundaries several times and make me do things that made me feel uncomfortable. My brothers were very disrespectful in subtle ways. I offered to drive them around as they were in from out of town. I changed my whole schedule to help them. During there stay they would change their plans without telling me and when I mentioned it they would simply say things like, “oh there must have been a misunderstanding” and shrug it off. One time it made me very angry and they thought that was very fun. They took a family photo right after they pissed me off and they laughed that I was the only one not smiling. My father who divorced my mother many years ago also came to see her for some inexplicable reason. His flight came in very late but he insisted on me driving him to see her early the next morning.
    During the two weeks the amount of boundary crossing and subtle disrespect was so overwhelming and traumatizing.
    It has been three months now and I still haven’t recovered. My friends have told me that I was so happy before all of them were here and I haven’t been the same since.
    I am so angry that they have done this to me. I am so angry that I didn’t say “no” to them even though I have learned to do that in my life in other areas and I am angry that when I am in their presence they still seem to have this power to make me comply to do things that I don’t want to do. I am so angry that the happiness I had built through years of therapy and rebuilding my life seemed to come undone by spending 2 weeks with them.
    I wish I could run away and never see them again but I have tried that and for me some family is better than no family.
    I have gone back to no contact with my mother. I appreciate this site for saying that is ok. I have only gotten a minor backlash about that. Having no contact with my mom has helped me a lot. I am 46 years old and I don’t feel safe around her and I think we all have a right to feel safe.
    The difficult thing for me is that my family can be very kind and supportive always on their terms. Never if I ask for help. Often I need their financial help and if I ask the answer is no. If they notice I need something they are extremely generous. My psychiatrist calls my family “the ultimate mind f**k”.
    Now, my brothers who I believe genuinely care for me keep asking me if I’m ok. I can’t say no I am not ok because you are all emotionally abusive to me. The whole thing is very frustrating.
    So, I think my two weeks illustrates the power of no contact or limited contact. Two weeks of breaking my no contact rules and I am still very anxious and depressed 3 months later. I am optimistic that I can get back to my happy self again but it is going to take a lot of work and time.

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    1. This is like my family. I’ve cut them all out of my life. They are the most miserable unhappy self centered people. It’s so shocking people behave this way. I’m fed up. Cuz like you after spend even a day with them I’m wrecked emotionally. Never again. I have no guilt cutting them off. None. I truly despise them all. They offer nothing to me. They are all just takers. Soul sucking takers.

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  9. Thanks for this, and for many other helpful articles and readers’ responses I found today.

    I remember the very first time I decided I really wanted to do something different for Christmas than hang out with my unhappy family of origin, who treated that as an obligation. I was in my mid-20s and really wanted to go on a solo walking tour and have a private spiritual retreat, after two very professionally fulfilling and demanding years. Dead silence on the phone at the other end after I mentioned that. Then manipulation and guilt. But I stood my ground, it was something I needed to do. I said, “You’ve had every Christmas except the one I was out of the country for. This is one for me. Why do you find that so hard to understand? I don’t remember you spending any Christmases at either of your parents’ places when I was growing up.” – “Oh, but we had a family, and you do not.” To which I said, “And how do you think I’m going to have a family of my own when you seem to expect me to spend pretty much all my holidays and vacations with you?” It was a time when I was starting to limit that kind of thing, but in retrospect I should have gone much further, much sooner. Like many people in this situation though, I kept devoting some time to my family because I was vainly hoping things would improve. And guess what, they never did, because that would take both sides to work on it. And though I tapered it more and more, and then to two visits a year after I got married (they never visited us, they always expected the universe to revolve around them), in retrospect I think it was all a waste of every minute of the time I spent on it, and to know that in advance would have saved me a lot of time and stress in my 20s and 30s.

    The hide of them really gets me in retrospect. It would be vacation time and I would get a phone call, “When are you coming? Tonight or in the morning?” and that offended me and I’d try to reason with them, “Don’t you think I have other things I need to do? We’ve already established that you yourselves did not spend the kind of time with your own parents that you seem for some reason to expect me to.” And I’d not come that night or in the morning, and I’d be simmering with resentment over the expectation. Besides, when I did visit them, we didn’t have any quality time together. We never discussed things that were authentic, and it was mostly their interests we talked about, or them trying to triangulate with me over each other and telling me things that were inappropriate for me to know about them, and asking me questions that were also inappropriate for them to know about me (and I’d tell them so, and get this hurt silence).

    Actually, we didn’t spend much time together at all on visits, mostly just at mealtimes, at other times my mother was in front of her TV and my father was doing his chores – all business as usual. I’d increasingly remark upon it: “It’s so strange that I spend so many hours just killing time here, compared to when I visit other people, and when other people visit me. It’s normal for people to spend a lot of time with each other doing things and talking when on extended visits.” And my mother would say, “You can’t expect us to drop everything because you’re here.” And I’d say, “But you expect me to drop everything to come here, and appear to have no qualms about that. But if you don’t want to spend time with me, why do you even want me here?” Many a time early on in my adulthood I’d be in tears on the phone to friends, and increasingly I’d leave earlier than planned (but early on, always feel so wretchedly guilty about it) and continue to reduce the time I would allocate to them in future.

    Visiting them was never a positive experience for me, and was always psychologically damaging and re-opening old wounds and causing me to lose some of the ground I had gained and was continuing to gain in my independent life away from them. I’ve never been acknowledged as who I actually am by them, not as a child, not as a young adult, not when I reached middle age – to them I was always this cardboard cutout version. We have nothing to say to each other as human beings – we can merely talk about the weather, and recycle old rubbish. It’s not a quality relationship. It’s not even really a relationship.

    About the running back issue: I think in many ways, emotionally abused children become prone to that because of their social isolation, which makes it so hard to build healthy support networks when children from healthy families are doing just that. We’re already behind the eight-ball in that before we’re 18. And it’s cumulative. Also, I think when you grow up with that much pain you find it difficult to have conversations with people as a young adult. Because there is so much misery and you’d like to get your bearings and talking would help but you don’t want to be that boring demanding person who goes on about the miseries in their life. When you do talk about it, it’s usually a contact killer and even comes back as ammunition against you, so I had to pretend to the world that everything was OK and be upbeat and never talk about this stuff so that it wouldn’t happen all over again with other people in my own life. And on the whole I think that is true, I think there are very few people you can talk to about this kind of thing and not have it blow up at you in some way. So young people coming out of these kinds of circumstances need to talk about this stuff, but often can’t – and they may not have survivor support groups in their areas, or be able to afford talking to a professional about it as much as would be good, and not all professionals are useful to talk to either. And I’ve seen for myself how they fall into romantic relationships early, think this will solve all their problems, and end up repeating the cycle. It’s really sad. It was a hard road for me to get to a stable place, and it would be great if we brought all these things out into the open a bit more so that people don’t feel like lepers when they have these awful and painful problems. So I’ve been fairly open about this kind of stuff, and I’ve had a radar that was pretty good at picking up distress in others, and when people did talk to me, I would go out of my way to prevent them feel ashamed or embarrassed for opening up, and using humour, and saying, “Yeah, you’re not alone.” I don’t think there are enough friends or mental health professionals in the world to deal with this tide, I think the community needs to own it, we need to own it.

    Cheers all

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  10. My relationship with my mom is very toxic. Sometimes i tried not to run away because of course that’s my own mother but usually my temper gone high i destroyed a lot of her things. She ended up taking me to the Police and talked about it but she’s too evil that she wants me to go jail but good thing it didn’t happen. Though an officer who is a mother too gave me too advice. Well ok i must understand mother sacrifices but to insult me further in front of people. I feel humiliated as an adult child. I’m 24 and still living with her because i love her but now i don’t after we talked to the cops about me and guess what I owe her money for the damage. Even i just got hired at a call center. I understand it’s my fault to lose off and break things but I decided to move out once i’m done paying her. She’ll be alright when she gets old she gets her pension and stuff but heh i’m prepared for my new life. I’m traumatized almost everyday. If i’m lazy she gets mad and calls me stupid. It was so tempting to commit suicide but when i think about it what could i get from dying? It’ll be boring even if you take a rest and free from worries but that’s not how it is. I tried the best to be the “great son” but to me it’s like she wanted a kid who is smart just like her. She didn’t say it but i see her that way. I’m tired of this toxic life i tried to leave but i couldn’t.

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    1. Please read Susan Foward book Toxic Parents. Seek therapy immediately this will help greatly like it did me. I know its hard but I don’t want you to wait like I did in near my 50’s to make that decision. Do it for yourself. Love yourself enough to help yourself. Life has some much to offer us if we take it. Skies the limit and you can do it.

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  11. I’m 19 raised with no father but that’s fine. I lived with a mother and my aunt most of my life along with my little sister. It has gotten to point were my mother and aunt are to toxic for me and yell at me even though I do all the needs and wants for them. I decided to leave home and live on my own. Still figuring everything out

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  12. New to NC, one extremely narcissistic control-freak mother and one extremely enabling (but recently leading with his own withering commentary against me) father. More to come.

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  13. When trying to find a way to legally end bio. family and only son’s abuse, to protect my assets. I found this site. After years of becoming a scapegoat after brother who was the scapegoat, I became next victim in their elaborate scheme of taking control of mother’s (she had Altheimers) estate and removing my share and after trying to get any reasonable or legal explanation from any of them,, of course, after 20 yrs, crying, grieving, questioning what could I have done for this to happen, I have to accept that I am no match against them and things will never change. At age 70, and being a Type 1 diabetic, maintaining myself, “in spite of” and on my own all my life , I find myself panicking that they will somehow come after my assets because they ARE my relatives.

    I also want to ask if there is some kind of structure that your site is giving, that before one decides to have no contact with a relative, do they at least try to talk with reason and compassion to that relative before they decide to commit to the no contact clause for life, not just label and establish this painful and permanent dis-union, in order to give the other person some closure in order to accept life’s realities. as I must finally come to, before I can move on. I know for me, I am not going to get this closure, but for other’s who are mad at family members, please remember to have the courage to talk to the person or persons before the event so both of you will know the boundaries. Thank you for this conversation….much needed.

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  14. I came across this article today as it has been almost 6 years since I seen or talked with my parents and siblings. Regrets? At first because I scared the words of my mother would come true….You can’t make it out there in the world without me. How untrue I live those words everyday. Was it a struggle? Yes but I made it. I can’t go back like Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz. I don’t want to. My mother sent her flying monkeys too(My siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends) try to make feel bad. She even used my grandma who I adore make me feel guilty I stood strong. It’s not easy going NC but I wake up happy not in morbid fear of mother hurt me emotional and physically. No more threats of calling the elders of Jehovah Wittiness’s on me. Taunting me to hit her so she can call the police. I would run and cry beg Jehovah to help me. I got some sense got me and my son out of there. My mother wasn’t working she depending on me and my siblings to take care of her. It was truly a burden because she didn’t want to work being lazy. We crippled her and feel bad for that but I couldn’t live in fear like that anymore. I was scared to come home. I cried a lot. My mother scared my son and turned him on me. He would hit me I knew I had to get us out of hell. Allow no one parent, relative, spouse or friend ever to treat you that way. If you were rescue from a ocean full of sharks why get back in that same ocean just to see if the same sharks are there? I wish anyone that suffers this type of abuse safety. We believe you. You’re not crazy. Seek therapy not just any type a good therapist that understand toxic parents or others like in this article or Susan Forward. Let no downplay what you been through the abuse is real. Good Luck!

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