It’s not an easy or quick decision for most of us.
It’s a decision that, if made prematurely, can land us in more sticky situations. If we cut off contact with family and then a situation arises which requires us to communicate with them again (such as coordination on tax dependent filing status), we then end up inviting even more stress into our lives than we would have originally endured, because we have to explain to family why we cut them off, and hope that they won’t be retributional or make the simplest of tasks and communications difficult for us.
When escaping narcissistic, abusive, self-absorbed, or controlling family members, it generally benefits us to “play nice” until we are absolutely sure all ties can be permanently cut. The break should be something completely unanticipated by our family members. There should be no time for them to plot ways to sabotage our path to freedom.
As it is, the self-extrication process is riddled with shame, second-guessing, fear, confusion, and often loneliness for those of us seeking to reclaim our energy that the black hole of self-focused family members has stolen from us (leaving us with nothing left to give the broader world that deserves our energy and love). We don’t need additional logistical complications on top of that emotional and mental journey to rediscovering our authenticity and individuality.
It’s true, even the most narcissistic person in the world is broken and deserves love and healing. But that doesn’t mean that we are the agents to provide those. In fact, as long as we stick around, we will only feed the narcissist’s addiction and prevent them from feeling the need to search within, admit their own mistakes, and stop projecting onto other people (usually family members). The narcissist’s only chance for healing is to be cut off from the source (generally permanently). This is their opportunity to learn to love themselves and find inner strength, wisdom, and genuine compassion for others.
As long as the truth tellers and scapegoats of a family remain in the presence and emotional access of the narcissist, the narcissist will never even recognize a need to search within. Or, if they do, they will quickly evade any discomfort that arises by projecting whatever they discover about themselves onto the family members around them.
While still at my family’s house, I bore the brunt of judgment and blame for my older brother’s suffering, even though the rest of my family members were much more impatient and harsh with him. My only problem was feeling sexually objectified by my brother and wanting my own space and protection. I avoided him a lot because of this. But me having this concern about my brother was an opportunity that my family pounced upon to shift their own shame for their treatment of my brother onto me. I was the evil sibling/daughter for feeling uncomfortable around my brother and avoiding him because I didn’t feel safe or sane while being objectified or even having the history of being objectified. I still loved him; I just wanted peace, sanity, and safety.
And yet every day, I struggled with self-hatred because my family blamed me for my brother “not being saved” because I wasn’t “loving” him enough, and for his loneliness, even though my parents made the choice to move us all out into the rural country, without helping prepare us for the workforce or financial independence apart from connection to them. We were largely isolated from outside community. We helped my parents with their business, and often saw little hope and few possibilities outside our small, cloistered, and ever-shrinking world. One by one – or sometimes in waves – friends would begin to withdraw or diminish their communication, as they saw that we were adults “going nowhere” in life.
I did manage to work a few jobs outside of my parents’ “employment.” But while I did, family was bombarding me heavily when in their presence, to demand more emotional energy and “duty” from me. I had no energy left, but they wanted me to help out with chores (beyond the basic cleaning of my sister’s and my bedroom/bathroom area), even though others in my family were working and contributing far less. (Bear in mind, I was also the sibling who had helped out the most with chores while growing up.) I was working a full-time job and trying to get ready to move out, yet was still expected to contribute more on top of that. I was working to become less of a financial burden on my family, but when I saw that they were going to lay a heavier load on me – and my energy was already waning, to the point of wanting to sleep in the car rather than expend the energy to walk inside when I got home (also to avoid my brother) – I quit my job, because I knew that this was unsustainable. (I also wanted to support my mom and grandma because of their health issues, study programming languages, and heal from spiritual numbness. And I planned on helping out with the business. But if family hadn’t laid this expectation on me, I might have pushed a little longer at work to move out so that I’d be able to heal, regain energy, and not financially burden my family.) Like a crab trying to escape the bucket, I was pulled down and overburdened before I had the chance to find my own freedom.
I have forgiven my family. But it is important for me to remember the energy they took from me so that I don’t let it happen again. I don’t have enough energy to give my fiance while still feeding the bottomless pit of my family’s emotional abyss of neediness. Many of my family members don’t love themselves. I can no longer strive to be a replacement for their lack of self-love, nor blame myself for never being enough. I am not the answer. They have to find that inner well – inner source of life – first. To continue to try to be that well – essentially God – to them is merely an unhealthy, unsustainable, and untruthful blend of self-idolatry and martyrdom. It doesn’t push me or them closer to reality or healing.
Sometimes, the best way to love someone is to walk away. Sticking around is like trying to feed a starving dog. You can keep throwing bones at the dog to keep them satiated for a while, but once you run out of energy or resources, they will come to eat you. You have to get out while they are still eating a bone you’ve thrown them.
It’s the same with narcissistic family members. Once you have nothing left to give, they will shame you and beat you down and use you for the only thing left that you’re “good” for to them – scapegoating. I used to be a “golden child” in my family, until I ran out of energy. I still try to “play nice” and give as I can right now, because I’m not yet at a place where I can completely cut off family, but whenever I take a break from communication for too long, my family hounds me with “worry” and thinly veiled anger or frustration because I’m living my own life and not getting back to them quickly enough.
I still battle inner shame and second-guessing virtually every day for my plan of cutting off family. What keeps me going is having a greater cause and loyalty to live for – my fiance, who deserves love and healing from his abusive family, and the greater world out there that deserves to discover liberation in every form – physical, financial, mental, emotional, and most of all, spiritual. This cause reminds me that it is morally OK to cut out anything and anyone that would hoard or bury in a basket the light and love that the world deserves to receive. There are needier people out there than my biological family – victims of abuse, selfishness, and greed in the world – who deserve love and liberation and have no means of obtaining them unless someone reaches out.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.Jesus (Matthew 5:14-16)
Even if our family member(s) are not narcissistic – only blind and unwittingly destructive – there can be a time to move on. This is a decision we must all individually evaluate and make if/when it is right. If our biological family is unable or unwilling to hear the truth (especially from other family members), all we can do is move on and model healthier lives that point to an inner Source of joy, love, and healing. We can’t change or heal our biological families by “loving” (i.e., sticking around and enabling the abuse) or by directly speaking the truth. They must arrive at the truth on their own, when the artificial energy source (us) is taken away.
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.Jesus (Luke 14:26)
For whoever does the will of God, this is My brother, and sister, and mother.Jesus (Mark 3:35)
We can have love and compassion for all people, but our inner, intimate circle of friends should be comprised of those who also have an inner source of life and love – people who are whole and connected to God, the higher consciousness and source of life – for their vitality. Our spiritual connection should be with those who know or seek to know God within – not those who pretend to know God while actually feeding off others to maintain a facade of wholeness.