We all have people in our lives that we would rather not deal with. Maybe you have a “friend” who brings negative energy into your life and disrespects your boundaries. Maybe you’re in a relationship with a toxic partner, or maybe you have a relative who triggers you and denies having abused you while you were growing up. Especially with the first two examples, it’s important not to judge ourselves for being in these unhealthy dynamics. Instead, let’s focus on a way out — it’s not worth saving relationships that simply don’t serve you. It’s okay to admit you’ve had enough when you’re ready.
Specifically when it comes to family, we’re taught that relatives can be given a free pass for just about anything, just because they’re related to us. So making the choice not to speak to them can be met with increasing judgment from certain people who don’t understand your perspective. I mean, what monster doesn’t speak to their mother??
That was a joke, dear readers. Of course it’s okay if you don’t speak to your mother! Parents aren’t always the loving and nurturing people that society makes them out to be, the parents that we want and need them to be.
My parents weren’t these people either. They were the abusive kind, using verbal abuse, physical violence, and psychological manipulation against me growing up — both of them continued to verbally abuse and manipulate me into adulthood too. My dad continued his inappropriate behavior when I was living with him this past fall, so I began establishing No Contact.
The term “No Contact” (NC) comes from books and articles about recovering from Narcissistic Abuse. I use it because my father has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but No Contact can benefit anyone in a toxic or abusive situation.
I’m currently on both sides of the fence with this experience, having had very successfully stuck to my guns regarding my dad, but am still currently struggling with how to navigate NC with my mom.
I’ve learned a lot on the way, and I want you to feel empowered that you can achieve this, too! Here are some first steps which have helped me for you to take on your journey to freedom from whatever toxic connection currently burdens you:
Recognize and Set Your Boundaries
Before confronting the person, it’s crucial to know exactly what your boundaries are. If you were raised in an abusive household, this may be the first time you’re really considering this. Your comfort zone matters, and it’s important to establish what that means for you, inside and outside of your relationship with this person. Ask yourself these questions:
- How do I want others to interact with my physical body? For example, I can be hugged by my closest friends and chosen family, but strangers and my abusers cannot hug me. I set this boundary beforehand with folks, and politely decline without shame when someone I don’t know well enough asks me for a hug. Figure out how you’re comfortable or not comfortable with being touched, and set firm rules.
- In what ways can people communicate with me? Good friends of mine can contact me in all ways. I have an aunt that can call me, but cannot visit me in person. My dad cannot contact me in any way ever. I’m still trying to figure out how my mom can contact me. Be patient with yourself, and know that there is a degree of trial-and-error in this process. Don’t let the abuser or toxic person make you feel guilty if you change your mind about being able to receive texts, phone calls, etc. These boundaries are about respecting yourself and trusting the journey.
- What topics can people communicate with me about? There are certain topics that can trigger you around certain people, meaning that having those conversations with your family is a no-no. Generally, I draw the line in all environments with the topic of sexual assault or if people ask about my genitals (I heart transphobia). I’ve set a rule that my mom and I cannot talk about Dad when we’re together. This allows me to interact with her without feeling threatened or triggered.
- How can people communicate with me? If yelling or long silences are uncomfortable or triggering for you, communicate that. My mom comes from a culture that naturally speaks loudly regardless of the topic or mood. Since yelling triggers me, I ask her to please adjust her tone because it scares me and reminds me of times I felt threatened. She usually respects my wishes.
Setting these boundaries may be enough to foster a dynamic where you can learn to live with this person. However, in my experience, my boundaries were often disregarded and threatened by my abusive parents, which is something they still continue to do. You may experience this type of stubbornness too, some gaslighting combined with projection, thrown together with a seemingly false sense of reality. In that case, beginning the process of cutting off a toxic connection can begin. Hold fast to your boundaries and remove the person who disrespects them.
Cut All Ties
Does this person currently have anything of yours that you really want back? Get it now. In the case of a spouse or parent, were you formerly, or are you still financially dependent on this person? Become proactive in separating your finances and getting monetary help elsewhere if needed. Talk to your banker or financial manager and know your rights. Assess any financial or career-based risk with cutting out this person. If this person is your boss or you live with this person, Low Contact might be more doable than No Contact. In my case, my dad was financially abusive and manipulative, especially because his named was attached to all of my accounts. Ever since we stopped talking, I’ve been secretly moving my money. I’ve also been taking inventory of my finances, and taking over certain bills I didn’t realize I wasn’t paying for, like my Apple Music subscription. While this action was necessary to remove me from abusive influence, it was also incredibly empowering. My finances and their whereabouts have always been tightly controlled by my dad. So it feels amazing to now have agency over my own bank account, and realize that being a bill-paying adult is not as tricky as my dad tried to make it seem.
Make It Official
If you aren’t financially dependent on or living with this person, go ahead and cut them off. You can tell the person through phone, email, or in-person — whatever feels most comfortable. Depending on the circumstances, you may not want to make the person aware of this at all, and would rather get on with No Contact without an announcement. That is also totally fine. After months of having my boundaries disrespected, I called my dad after I moved out to tell him I would not be speaking to him again and told him not to contact me. If you choose to do the same, remember that you are not obliged to give a reason as to why you are choosing this. Stay strong and firm, even if your voice is shaking.
It can be difficult to adjust to No Contact. Sometimes, you just really have an urge to text them. Maybe you miss them; maybe you want to get that last bit of anger out. If you’ve gotten this far though, we both know that the interaction wouldn’t go positively and is simply not worth your energy. Save yourself the grief and just block their number, email, Facebook and Twitter, and delete all their contact info from your phone. It will feel like a weight lifted off your chest, I promise.
I’ve saved abusive emails and text messages from my parents to serve as receipts for the kind of people they truly are. No matter how much I miss them and continue to grieve the people I wish they were, I only need to read through one of these emails to remind me of what would happen if I broke No Contact. Usually, people delete these types of messages to avoid the negativity — and if that’s what frees you, then that’s great. But I find that keeping some kind of reminder of their toxicity, whether it be an email or a memory of an incident, keeps me grounded when I’m feeling weak in my NC.
Practice tons of self care, and fill your time with new activities or hobbies to distract you when your thoughts begin to linger on your abuser or former friend. Reach out to others who are in your shoes, and read self-help books and articles about self care after abuse. Put energy into relationships that serve you, and surround yourself with supportive folks who believe in your choices and journey. It takes work, but I promise you’ll feel so free.
I’ve been on No Contact with my dad for eight months now, and I’ve never felt better in my life. Removing that abusive and manipulative influence from my life empowered me with greater confidence and helped me make so much more progress in my PTSD recovery.
How can you liberate yourself from toxic influences in your life?