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What to Expect When Cutting Ties With Parents or Family

Gabrielle Applebury
Young adult standing between parents with their backs to her

After years of trying to resolve their issues with their family, some people feel their best or only option is to cut ties with their parents or family members. However, people are often not prepared for the emotional backlash they may experience as a result of taking this action.

Understanding the Emotional Process of Cutting Ties

Cutting ties is a last resort and is much more serious than simply trying to deal with difficult family members. No one makes this decision lightly. Understanding how you might feel should you decide to cut someone out of your life can help prepare you for the fallout.

An Example of Cutting Ties With Your Family

Looking at a case study is a great way to better understand the potential emotions that may pop up after choosing to cut ties. One client had a father who was intermittently in and out of her life. She wanted very much for her children to know their grandfather, but she was not able to rely on him to keep his word and he disappointed her time and again. This client's name has been changed to protect her identity.

"I tried so hard over the years, and he would leave me behind in the wake of a string of broken promises," Lydia explained. "I finally decided to get off the roller coaster and end my relationship with him. It was clear he was not going to change, and I needed to just put him out of my life so I wasn't always dragged down and depressed waiting for a more loving father. It was affecting everything in my life, my relationships and how I felt about myself. I needed to stand up for myself and stop letting him treat me like garbage."

Feelings of Grief

Yet, when the client did this, she went through some unexpected emotions. "I knew that cutting him out was the best thing for me and my family, but I didn't expect the emotions I experienced in doing this. It wasn't as easy as I thought. I grieved for the loss of my father as though he had died. I felt like an orphan."

Missing the Potential Relationship

She continues, "It wasn't so much that I missed him. I missed the potential that someday he would change, that someday he would be there for me the way I wanted him to be, that he would be the type of father I always wanted."

In essence, Lydia missed having a father rather than actually missing her father. "He was never really there for me in the first place, and it hurt me to realize that. After I cut ties with him, I could no longer tell myself that one day we might be closer and have a relationship. It made the reality set in, and I mourned my loss."

You Might Feel Unresolved

Another set of feelings that Lydia experienced was the sense that there will always be words left unsaid between her father and her. "Sometimes, I just want to call him up and let him know how disappointed I feel that he never made more of an effort to be in my life."

If you make a decision to cut ties with your parents or other family members, you might have to accept that you will never be able to explain to them what you feel they did and why you're hurting because of it. Those issues you had with your parents or a family member may take a long time to resolve, including those hurt and angry feelings. You might have to find other ways to work them out, such as therapy or therapeutic process groups.

Relationships Need Give and Take

Often, kids who sever ties with their parents are portrayed as difficult and ungrateful. However, it's unrealistic to blame children as the sole reason for relationship failure, even when they become adults. Relationships are a two-way street. If a relationship is non-functional, often the parents play a big and indelible part in these family dynamics.

This is also true of other family relationships, and the emotional reaction can be the same if you cut ties with a child, sibling, or any other close family member.

Why You May Choose to Cut Ties with Your Parents or Family

Choosing to cut ties with a family member, parent, or parents is an incredibly difficult decision to make. Often those who choose to end a relationship do so because:

  • The parent or parents were abusive during your childhood and you no longer want to be a part of their unhealthy behavior
  • The family member is hurtful, chaotic, and highly uncomfortable to be around
  • The family member or parent is unreliable and poses a threat to your mental or physical wellbeing
  • You may choose to cut ties with someone after you yourself have become a parent as a means of protecting your own little one from an unhealthy dynamic

Cutting Ties with One Parent

If your parents are married and have an alliance with each other cutting ties with one of them often means cutting ties with both. The parent who you'd like to have some semblance of a relationship with may side with the parent you are cutting off. This can leave you feeling even more rejected and hurt. In some cases the parent who you haven't cut ties with may pressure you to reconnect with your other parent. Yoru siblings too may pressure you to reconnect as you leaving the unhealthy family dynamic causes an uncomfortable shift of tension that has to be placed somewhere and often times it's on the siblings or other parent.

Adult daughter upset with mother

Cutting Ties With One Family Member

Similarly to cutting ties with one parent, opting to cut ties with one family member can cause some backlash from other family members who you are still in contact with. They may guilt trip you, shame you, and do whatever they can to get you to reconnect. At the end of the day, you are the only one who can make this huge decision, but knowing that you may experience some uncomfortable or stressful encounters with other family members is an aspect of this process that you may face.

Long-Term Results of Cutting Ties

While you may choose to cut ties with one individual, this may lead to a ripple effect. Because unhealthy family structures are heavily intertwined, when one piece is removed (you), this creates an unbalanced and uncomfortable situation that impacts the remaining members on an unconscious level. This discomfort can lead to grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and siblings either reaching out to attempt to bring you back into your role, which would allow for the family's unhealthy homeostasis to resume, or you may experience harsh rejection. In some cases, you may have a family member who supports your decision and may also want to leave an unhealthy role.

Outcomes and Reconciliation

Keep in mind that nothing you decide is set in stone, so if you opt to reconnect but with different boundaries, you may be able to do so if the other party is amicable to that. There is a chance that they may be too hurt and won't move forward with any future reconciliation. These are all potential outcomes worth considering when making this choice.

Making the Healthiest Decision

If you decide that you need to sever ties with your parents and this is the only way you can have a healthy, happy, and productive life, know that there is an emotional toll ahead even if this is truly the best decision to make. Understanding that this decision will affect you in ways that you may not anticipate will help you on your journey towards healing. If you are not feeling supported enough by your friends or other family members during this difficult time, consider reaching out to a counselor or therapist who can help you move through this process.

What to Expect When Cutting Ties With Parents or Family