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Do I Owe Toxic Relatives an Explanation for My Withdrawal from Them?

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From Australia: My 58 yr old sister and her 33 yr old son have a toxic co-dependent relationship. Both are mentally ill alcoholics, can’t maintain a home, have experienced homelessness three times and my nephew is physically violent. They’ve had all the help and support in the world but they simply cannot function and it is just a matter of time before the next eviction.

A couple of years ago I had to report my sister as a missing person and it took 3 months for police to find her. It was harrowing and I was shaken to my foundations. In the last year both my mother and brother died and I feel utterly depleted. I’m convinced more trouble lies ahead for my sister and nephew and have decided to stop all contact with them as I feel I’m being dragged under. I don’t know if I owe them an explanation and I’m finding it a very hard thing to do

Do I Owe Toxic Relatives an Explanation for My Withdrawal from Them?

Answered by on -

A.

I don’t think you “owe” them an explanation. But since it is so hard for you to distance, I’m guessing that you have felt responsible for trying to fix their situation. It may be that you are struggling with letting go of that responsibility.

As you have discovered through hard experience, all “the support in the world” won’t make them change without their willing participation. They are mentally ill and addicted. You can’t be more invested in their recovery than they are without being disappointed and hurt.

You might feel easier about your decision if you framed it as a break, not an abandonment. Simply tell them that with all you’ve been through in the past year, you don’t have anything left emotionally to offer. If you are up to it, you can periodically┬álet them know you love them and that your door is open when and if they take their recovery seriously. It’s not something to discuss or argue about. There’s no need to go into further explanation than that. I’m just guessing that in your case, saying something might feel better than cutting them off.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

Do I Owe Toxic Relatives an Explanation for My Withdrawal from Them?

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). Do I Owe Toxic Relatives an Explanation for My Withdrawal from Them?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2019/01/20/do-i-owe-toxic-relatives-an-explanation-for-my-withdrawal-from-them/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.