I know that other abuse survivors go searching for confirmation that it’s righteous and acceptable to cut their abuser out of their life forever. But when you’ve been abused by your parent, sibling, or other family members, it’s rare that anyone will tell you, “It’s unresolvable” or “Walk away from the relationship completely.”
Recovery from child abuse was always bringing up conflicting attitudes for me. These questions contributed to my cognitive dissonance over the years:
- How can you leave the trauma in the past and live in the present moment, if the abuser is still part of your life and continues to be abusive?
- How do you live your truth with an abuser in your life who has failed to take responsibility for what they’ve done?
- How do you care for yourself and create the safe space you didn’t have as a child, if the abuser has access to it?
Cutting someone out of your life can sound extreme or over-reactive. Maybe other people don’t have all the facts, and they don’t want to tell you to do something rash.
The truth is you’re the only expert on your personal experience. You don’t need anyone to validate your feelings. If your gut is telling you that you need to end a potentially toxic relationship, whether with family or not, you should probably listen.
Psychology Today blogger Peg Streep wrote about cutting off her relationship with her narcissistic mother after she had her first child. Streep says it’s rarely recommended by mental health professionals. This is an excerpt from Streep’s book Mean Mothers:
“Therapists, it should be said, generally also adhere to seeing maternal cut-off as the choice of last resort. Many therapists believe that resolution or healthy attachment needs to be accomplished within the mother-daughter relationship, not outside of it. While some therapists will advise their patients to go on a temporary break, few will ever initiate the recommendation that a patient break with her mother. Even self-help books tend to advocate that daughters be “fair” in their assessment of their mothers; as one writer puts it, “The danger lies in tipping too far, either toward blaming the mother or toward dismissing the daughter’s suffering. An important task of a wounded daughter is to see the mother-child relationship from both sides.”
Think of it this way, if your abuser was your spouse, everyone would readily tell you to cut them off. Blood isn’t thicker than water when abuse enters the picture. You have a right to have your personal boundaries and needs respected. Anyone who shows a pattern of disrespecting those needs and boundaries should lose the privilege of associating with you.
In the end, I couldn’t wait for my therapist to tell me to do it. I just did it. One day I walked into session and said, “I’ve stopped speaking to him, and I don’t intend to speak to him ever again.”
If it’s permission you want more than anything, I can give it to you. You have permission to kick your abuser to the curb. It’s not “running away from a problem.” It’s recognizing that you can’t change other people; you can only change yourself. If a toxic person is standing between you and healing, then it’s time to remove them from the equation.
As an adult, people always told me, “Let it go, leave the past in the past” or “Forgive and forget.” And listening to them just left me exposed to more abuse.
Can you forgive your abuser? I know many survivors who have forgiven their abusers. But it’s not essential to healing.
Will your abuser take responsibility for what they did? There’s a chance. But that’s essential to their redemption — it’s not not essential to your healing.
What is essential to healing is creating a safe place to validate your feelings and grow. Sources of blame, shame, degradation, anger, denial, and resentment keep us from healing. Sometimes the best way to respect and shelter yourself is to weed out negative influences in your life.
Some people may not agree with your decision. Look to others for support. You have to protect yourself from revictimization and your children, if you have children, from becoming victims themselves.
Woman leaving photo available from Shutterstock