Cutting Unhealthy Ties: Recognizing, Letting Go, and Healing, Part (3)

The Path Forward

Dealing with an unhealthy and manipulative family member, especially one displaying narcissistic traits, can take an immense toll on your mental and emotional well-being. The decision to sever ties with a family member is never easy, but when it becomes essential for your mental health and happiness, it’s crucial to navigate this challenging process with care. In this article, we’ll explore the signs that suggest it may be time to cut ties with an unhealthy and manipulative family member, the emotional turmoil that often accompanies this decision, the liberating sense of freedom that follows, and a roadmap to healing. This guide aims to be highly discoverable for those struggling with the difficult decision of cutting ties with a toxic family member.

Understanding Narcissistic Impact 

Before making life-altering decisions, it is vital to recognize narcissistic and manipulative traits in the family member you’re dealing with, as these traits can manifest in anyone, even those close to you. Educating yourself about narcissism and manipulative traits can be helpful, but by itself it is not enough to support you as you navigate your path forward. What will be important for you is to dig down into your own personality strengths and deficits in order to gain clarity in your current situation. A lot of people hyper-focus on the narcissist and lose sight of their own agency in their life. You do have choices, but after being manipulated and lied to I realize this scrambles the idea you once had of trusting your own judgment.

Being Gaslit Impacts Your Capacity to Trust Your Own Perceptions

If you have been gaslit; that is, lied to and manipulated, told things were real that turned out to be lies, or you’ve had the truth distorted as a way to control your decisions, then your psyche has suffered immense damage. None of this is your fault, but what is imperative is for you to work towards regaining your sense of self, as well as, self trust. The perilous downside to being involved in a relationship with a narcissist is that you lose yourself, that is, you stop connecting with your internal physical signals of what is real and what is not. This disconnection is similar to dissociation where you no longer are living in your own skin so to speak, but instead trusting the interpretations of your senses to a flawed and untrustworthy person. Unfortunately that person is not prioritizing your mental health as part of how they navigate life. The narcissist is not equipped to care or prioritise the needs of another in any relationship. They are flawed, limited, and self serving individuals. This is why I believe that learning about narcissism is good, but what needs to be the bulk of your research and recovery will be how well you start tending to getting “you” back.

There is a vast array of information on the internet about narcissism, but this article will focus on your own recovery from the toll that you have suffered from the behaviours, attitudes, as well as, how the negative character traits of the narcissist have damaged you and those you love. This article is going to be a lot less about the narcissist and lot more about you.

The Emotional Toll

Dealing with an unhealthy and manipulative family member, particularly one whom you share a significant relational connection with, can be emotionally exhausting. The pain can be particularly profound in such cases, wearing down your self-esteem and leaving you confused after having been manipulated for so long. For starters it is important that you do a self inventory. That you ask yourself the following reflective questions:

How am I feeling about myself when I am around this person?

  1. How do I feel about myself when this person leaves after a visit?
  2. Do I feel celebrated when I am around this person when there are events or victories that are mine to celebrate?
  3. Do I feel better about myself when I am not in contact with this person?
  4. Do I find myself wanting to avoid this person?
  5. Do I find myself feeling unwell when I have to speak to this person?
  6. Is my involvement with this person strictly obligatory in nature?

Are the feelings you’ve described above pretty consistent, that is, you just feel really lousy whenever you are around this person due to their lack of care, consideration, and awareness of how their words and behaviours affect you? When you have been made aware of the reality of any given situation the temptation will be to focus on analyzing and deconstructing the narcissist. Instead I believe this must be the moment you pivot to take a more introspective look at yourself.

Getting Serious About the Idea of Letting Go Begins with Self Examination

In order to process whether or not you need to remove this person from your inner circle it will be important for you to examine yourself first. In order to get healthy you must first think of what you can control regardless what someone does or does not do. You must let the narcissist deal with the narcissist and completely move your attention to your own mental health. You matter. You always did. You just got involved with someone who isn’t well enough to be in any relationship. As much as it hurts, there is a voice calling out to you from the wilderness saying the narcissists’ behaviour is not about you. Their behaviour impacted you, but it is about them. Getting involved with a narcissist is like playing with a hand grenade not knowing it was a hand grenade. They led you to believe that it was a pineapple, but nope it was a hand grenade. You didn’t cause it, you are not stupid for not recognizing it, and you can’t fix in someone something you didn’t break. The narcissist came to you flawed and unhealthy, but appealed to your inner legitimate longings. Your longings are good, but you had the misfortune of trying to have your needs met with someone who has zero capacity to meet you at such an important life giving level. You deserve love, devotion and intimacy, but instead you found a hand grenade. Time to get you back.

The self that you will be working towards getting back is not just for now, but also your future self. Don’t waste your pain. Let this pain and heartache serve to lead you to become the man or woman you were created to be. So now the shift begins. Remember you cannot control other people, but you can only control yourself. This realization is your superpower.

You Cannot Control Other People, but You Can Only Control Yourself

I suspect that you have already tried all that you could in this relationship. I imagine this is why you are reading about cutting a person out of your life. Regardless if you truly want to be enlightened in this area it will be imperative that you do the self examination on how you in fact relate to your world in your attitudes, communication style, as well as what you bring to the table in terms of your own relational problems solving skills.

Missing the Life Lesson: When Cutting Someone Out of Your Life is Narcissistic 

I recognize that in dealing with a full blown narcissist there is a lot of pain, heartache and many untallable losses. Yet I also know that the internet has a vast array of information championing people to just cut people out of their lives. Our culture has this just “do you” mentality. You don’t have to look far to see, hear, smell and taste the message that you count, your special, and that you matter above all else. Doesn’t that sound similar to narcissism?

I’ve coached clients who jump to cutting out family or friends from their lives for many of the same behaviours that are exhibited by narcissists. For example, many people cut people off, because the person being cut off is not “jumping to the beat” of the person who is threatening to cut them out of their life. Cutting off can be used to control, punish, alienate, dominate and secure favor with others. This is why as a professional I help you examine yourself first. Both the motive and the conclusion to cut someone out of your life will ultimately reflect the reality of your own mental health or lack thereof.

Two Very Different Motives in Cut Offs

Put it this way, I may have two separate clients who cut someone out of their life. On one hand one client cuts someone out of their life, because they have learned to use “cut offs” as a means to control or punish others, while my other client may cut someone out of their life due to the unhealth and destructive character in the person whom they removed. So here it is, your reason for cutting someone out of your life might reflect your lack of relationship skills or it may reflect a healthy decision to manage your life due to the significant unhealth in the person you need to let go.

Here is where I slow you down a bit. As a professional it is my job to ensure that I am not just a “yes” coach telling you everything you want to hear. I am hired to support you to become the best version of yourself where you go out into the world with the best chance at succeeding in your life, relationships and career. I won’t feed you milk when you need a higher protein diet so to speak. Considering cutting someone out of your life might be the catalyst to the best growth within your personhood and this self examination can set you up for future relationship success that you would not have been cued to work on had this confusion not come into your life.

The same is true for when I coach couples’ in crisis. The busting up of some foundational aspects of relationships can become the best thing that happens to some couples. In many cases it is better to go through the present suffering in order to create a better and more solid foundation in which to build a healthy life together.

Let’s Talk About You

So let’s talk about you. How well are you at expressing your feelings and conveying your disappointments, joys, and relaying your experiences to the person whom you are considering cutting out of your life? Have you ever told them how you feel and what you’ve been going through? How their words or actions have impacted you? I do not recommend that you bring a “laundry list” of issues and problems (that you’ve had collecting) with someone. For one thing I think the truth gets really convoluted when that happens. For example, think about someone never sharing anything with you, but instead having highly agreeable behaviours and exchanges with you, then suddenly one day they show up, ask for a sit down, recruit someone else to join them (I’ve seen this happen) and basically go over a laundry list of infractions that you never knew were unsettling them. I believe that the “laundry list” approach is not only a bad idea it exemplifies the person who uses its’ lack of relational problem solving skills period.

Rather it is best to get in touch with what is disconcerning you. You know you may have felt these feelings throughout the course of this relationship (maybe you’ve felt disregarded, forgotten, dismissed, overlooked etc. on many occasions). Instead of citing these occasions go for recent history. For example, last week that person came over, went into your fridge and criticized what you were making your family for dinner. Take a recent event that typifies the feelings that have been fostered by this person’s lack of awareness and then schedule a private (no one else present) sit down to discuss how this made you feel. When you schedule a private sit down two things happen. First scheduling a sit down highlights the seriousness of what you want to discuss with someone. If you just have a knee jerk reaction at the time that the unaware person is offensive they might just blow off your frustration as maybe a passing mood etc. When you schedule a sit down you make room for yourself to speak and invite someone else to make room to listen. (I know that narcissists’ are not good at this, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be lousy at it too).

It is during these sit downs where you do your information gathering. Especially if you are struggling with coming to terms to cut someone out of your life or not. Secondly it is during this sit down that you invite the narcissist (who struggles deeply with the awareness of others) the opportunity to make things right. Giving someone the opportunity to hear you, to assess the situation, to ask for clarification and perhaps become aware enough to change the undesirable behaviour actually reflects more on your healthy relating style than it does for the narcissist. It is precisely the ability that you foster within yourself to take ownership and discuss your feelings and experiences is what you will take into all of your relationships period. If initiating conversations in respectful and healthy ways isn’t characteristic of how you relate within your current relationships then what do you think will happen for your future relationships? It will not matter whether you are dealing with a be narcissist or not. You have a responsibility to yourself in how you relate within your relationships. It is imperative that you have crucial conversations with all the people in your circles when the need arises. Conversely it is also important that you are open to letting others initiate a sit down with you when they need to let you know where you have messed up as well.

So hone your own communication skills with the narcissist and with everyone in your relationship circles. The outcomes of how people percieve and relate to you is out of your control. It isn’t your job to make people get you, but it is your job to do what is healthy and reasonable with how you communicate, which is within your control. You are worth it and the health of all of your relationships are worth it.

Like I’ve mentioned that I have witnessed clients’ who have jumped to cut people out of their life never having examined their own lack of relationship problem solving skills. In these cases they just seem to employ “I’ll just cut them out of my life when I’m not happy with them philosophy.” This turns out very badly as those who jump to cut offs as a means to problem solve seriously lack relational problem solving skills and sadly and predictably eventually everyone pisses them off and their social world gets very small.

You’ve Had the Sit Down and the Disrespect Keeps Flowing

Attempting to Salvage the Relationship

Many people make efforts to set boundaries with their unhealthy and manipulative family members in the hope of salvaging the relationship. However, establishing and maintaining boundaries can be uniquely challenging when dealing with a manipulative narcissist, especially when that person is a family member. So you’ve been reasonable and respectful. You have done all that you can. You’ve treated this person in ways that you yourself would want to be treated. Yet, they still ignore your requests to treat you with dignity. They continue to hurt you, are malicious, gossip about you and are back biting. They smear your character and good name to whomever will listen to them. They don’t respect or abide by your boundaries. You’ve instituted clear, reasonable and healthy boundaries and they continue to ignore you and dominate you in ways that leave you feeling abused, used and devalued.

Signs That It’s Time

Certain signs indicate that it may be morally acceptable to cut ties with an unhealthy and manipulative family member, even if it’s a heart-wrenching decision.

These signs include:

  1. Consistent Manipulation: If the family member continually manipulates and exploits you despite your boundary-setting efforts, it may be time to consider the real possibility of letting go.
  2. Deteriorating Mental Health: When dealing with the unhealthy and manipulative family member starts severely affecting your mental health, it’s a red flag that prioritizing your well-being is crucial.
  3. Unhappiness and Stagnation: If the relationship consistently leaves you unhappy and hinders personal growth, it’s worth considering whether maintaining it is worthwhile.

Navigating the Decision with Care

Severing Ties with Sensitivity

When the unhealthy and manipulative family member is close to you, it’s essential to handle the decision to cut ties with care:

  1. Seek Professional Guidance: Consult a professional coach, therapist or counselor experienced in dealing with manipulative narcissistic relationships to navigate the process and receive emotional support. Waypoint Wellness & Performance Coaching is a trusted expert in supporting clients making this extremely sensitive decision.
  2. Effective Communication: If possible, express your feelings and reasons for the decision calmly and assertively. Clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations.
  3. Protect Your Well-being: Prioritize your mental and emotional health throughout the process. Gradually limiting or ceasing contact may help minimize emotional turmoil. Lean on Your Support Network: Reach out to friends, extended family, or support groups for understanding and comfort during this challenging period.

The Liberation of Letting Go

Embracing Freedom and Healing

Despite the pain, letting go of an unhealthy and manipulative family member, even one who is close, can be remarkably liberating. Relief from constant stress and the opportunity for improved mental and emotional health await. This decision allows you to heal and rediscover your true self, even if it means distancing yourself from a family member displaying manipulative narcissistic behavior.

Maintaining Your Integrity

Throughout this process, it’s crucial to maintain your own integrity. Stick to your principles and values, even when faced with difficult decisions. This will help you maintain a strong sense of self and moral clarity. It will be important to consult a professional to help you regain your connection to your own self. The process ahead will involve some grief work, as well as learning how to manage your triggers resulting from the trauma you endured. You will need support to move forward and strengthen your connection to yourself and find that you can trust yourself again. The healing path is tough, but so very worth it. Reach out for support as you will require specific coaching related to recovering from narcissistic abuse that is complex and will take some time.

Offering a Path to Redemption

While cutting ties may be necessary for your well-being, always leave the door open to forgive those who have hurt you, that doesn’t mean reconciliation. Remember narcissists’ are human beings and they can genuinely repent and strive to change their behavior, but will need professional help to do so. Some manipulative narcissists can undergo transformation with professional help and personal growth.

You must remove yourself from the abusive individual, but also maintain your integrity to always treat others the way you would want to be treated. Please note that I am not suggesting you leave the door open to further abuse, but rather be open in your heart of hearts for healthy respectful and civil spaces.

Be firm however. It is good that you want and ought to receive dignity from those who have hurt you, but you also must treat others with dignity as well. Maintain your distance, and work towards setting yourself free through forgiving this person at some point. Forgiveness is a topic for another article as it is complicated and deservant of deeper examination.

Finding Healing and Freedom

Detachment is an essential part of living a healthy life after removing the unhealthy and manipulative family member from your life. It involves emotional distancing and finding new ways to fill your life with positivity and personal growth.

Cutting ties with an unhealthy and manipulative family member, especially when it is someone close, is a heart-wrenching decision. It requires careful consideration, professional guidance, and support from your network. Remember that letting go of a toxic relationship is an act of self-love and empowerment, leading to a brighter and more fulfilling future, even if it involves distancing yourself from a family member who exhibits manipulative narcissistic behavior. By maintaining your integrity, leaving room for redemption, and mastering the process of detachment, you can find healing, freedom, and a healthier, happier life. If you’re struggling with this decision, know that you’re not alone, and support is available, including expert guidance from Waypoint Wellness & Performance Coaching, to help you through this challenging time.

  • Further reading for adult children who wish to reconnect with estranged parents check out, “Reconnecting Across Time. A Letter from an Adult child to Estranged Parents.” Click Here
  • Further Reading on Conflict Resolution. Check out our conflict resolution series, ” Click Here
  • To reach out to George or Lesley for coaching support head over to the contact page. Click Here
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