I thought I’d start the New Year off by addressing a phenomenon that is quite common after the holidays- family cut-offs. What I am referring to specifically is the conscious decision a person makes to cut off contact from another family member for a time- this can range from a few days to an entire lifetime. As a family therapist, I am constantly working with cut-offs and they are very tricky to navigate.
Most people I know have been at one or both ends of the cut-off continuum. Either they have had to end contact with a relative because it is abusive and harmful to their well-being, or they have been cut off by another relative and are suffering deeply as a result. Having seen and worked with both sides regularly over the years, I can honestly say that neither is a picnic. Whether you have cut someone out or have been the one cut out, there is most certainly much grief and angst experienced either way. These various forms of cut-off often lead people straight into a therapist’s office due to the unbelievable pain and suffering experienced as a result.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on what to do if you are the person who has been cut off by another family member. I have never seen anybody in so much emotional pain as when hearing a story about how their daughter, mother, sister, or any other close family member has stopped talking with them. The look of anguish, deep sadness, and often bewilderment, can be really heart wrenching to witness. The pain is so great that it is often palpable, and screaming out for some sort of ‘balm’ to ease the distress
I don’t feel that it would be productive to discuss the how’s and why’s of why a family member would cut off contact, for they are varied; sometimes justified and sometimes not. What I do feel would be helpful, is to share some of the tools I offer clients who are at the receiving end of a family cut-off. The fact is, whether it makes any rational sense or not, understanding why someone cut you out isn’t going to make them start communicating with you again, nor will it ease the pain of being cut off in the first place. Sometimes things just don’t make sense and no amount of reasoning can help the situation.
So here are some tools you (or someone you care about) can use the next time a family member cuts you out for whatever reason:
If you are experiencing a cut-off from someone you love, I truly feel for you. It’s a really difficult situation to be in. But know that there are ways to deal with this tough situation (see tips outlined above) and that you are not alone. Many of us survive cut-offs from loved ones in our lives and even grow from the experience.
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