“Do you think I should go no-contact with my narcissistic mom?”
“Do I have to see my emotionally abusive dad at the holidays?”
“I don’t want to ever see my parents again, but I feel like cutting them off would be wrong. What do I do?”
Hearing these questions from clients always makes my heart skip a beat. I always take a slow, deep breath before I answer. Not because the question scares me, but because it is so big, and so important, that anything less than full, serious attention to it would be disrespectful.
I will never forget a client who came to therapy because she was on the brink of ending a relationship with her mother forever. Years of frustration, invalidation, intrusive behavior, and boundary-stomping had left her feeling like she had no choice but to walk away. In our time working together, she ultimately decided that she did not need to go no-contact. Setting boundaries and shifting her perspective showed almost immediate benefits.
I have other clients who come to me having already tried numerous times to set boundaries and to express their hurt at being abused. They have set boundaries, begged, pleaded, and given warnings in a desperate hope that their parent will realize the precipice on which they stand. These clients come to me already grieving the loss of a relationship that may not be salvageable.
Part of our work as humans is to determine where our boundaries lie, and how to express them in relationships. In a healthy relationship, those boundaries are respected. In a narcissistic, emotionally abusive, or emotionally neglectful relationship, they are more likely to be stomped.
Each person has a unique and individual level of tolerance for their loved one’s boundary-stomping behavior. Each person has a unique and individual level of acceptance that certain hurtful dynamics in a given relationship may never change, no matter how healthy the boundaries they create. And each person has a unique and individual choice to make.
And that’s why my answer usually boils down to some version of this: I don’t know.
But you do.
You may have been taught to doubt your intuition, or to place the welfare and feelings of everyone else ahead of your own. You may worry about how the other person will feel. And the guilt of having to hurt someone – no matter how much they may deserve to lose you – may keep you stuck for longer than you’d like.
But your intuition knows what you need. Learning to listen to the parts of you that have opinions about cutoff deserve their chance to speak. Theirs – yours – are the voices that matter most.
So when you ask me if you should cut off your abusive mom, your narcissistic dad, or your manipulative brother, I won’t tell you yes or no. This is your life, and that choice needs to be yours. I will support you in working through everything related to this choice. And I will recognize and celebrate your strength and courage in making that choice, whichever way it falls.
Courage comes in many forms. There is courage in remaining connected to someone who can’t love unconditionally it that feels right and true to you. And there is courage in choosing to walk away from a relationship that makes you less of yourself. I will support you as you choose your courage.
I know you can do it. And I will be here with you every step of the way.