You may feel tempted to cut off contact with your parents or family members if they are emotionally immature.
A therapist outlined the signs you might be ready to cut off contact.
They include major boundary violations and constant guilt trips.
Sometimes, interactions with certain family members can be so distressing that it can be tempting to cut them off entirely. When every conversation devolves into a fight, you might wonder if it's time to go "low" or even "no-contact."
You wouldn't be alone.
A 2020 study published by the Cornell Family Reconciliation Project found that roughly a quarter of Americans over 18 are estranged from a family member.
But going no-contact can also feel like a drastic — and permanent — step.
1. You've become more aware of mistreatment
People who grow up in chaotic, enmeshed families can go many years without realizing how dysfunctional their relationships are. Gibson said that once they start going to therapy or reclaiming their individuality, they get better at noticing when they're being treated with disdain or dismissiveness.
"Sometimes, our internal growth makes it so that we really can no longer tolerate things that we used to not be even aware of," Gibson said.
Now when a parent invalidates your opinion or devalues your boundaries, you may feel more bothered because you've learned to regard yourself with more respect.
2. You feel like you've tried every other solution
While some people cut ties right away, Gibson said that in her experience, no-contact is often a last-resort move. "This is not an easy decision for people," she said.
Gibson said that her clients also usually distance themselves over time rather than in one fell swoop. "It might be that they don't call their parent as often, or maybe they turn down an offer to go on a trip," she said.
But when you realize that your boundaries aren't respected or your coping tools aren't that effective, estrangement may become the final option.
"Nobody arrives at the point of estrangement on a whim," she said.
3. The bad experiences far outweigh the good
Part of why estrangement can be such a long process is conflicting feelings about the parents or family members, Gibson said. For example, you might recognize that your parents paid for your education or cared for you when you were sick, even though other interactions were tense and unhealthy.
Still, you may be considering cutting off contact if the bad experiences you've had still outweigh the good times.
4. Political disagreements have highlighted deeper issues
Differing political views are often cited as one of the main reasons families are estranged, but Gibson said that there's usually more to the story.
"We have to remember that everything has a history," she said. The problem might be less about polarized views on Joe Biden, and more to do with how those disagreements are navigated.
For example, you may have had a parent start yelling or become disdainful for not agreeing with you — but it's likely a pattern that exists outside of political debates at Thanksgiving.
Gibson also said that different views aren't a guarantee of familial rifts: plenty of families handle stark political differences by using more neutral phrases like "That's interesting" or "I know you see it that way: I'm of a different mind." Other families make a deal to cut down on these topics altogether in favor of preserving their relationships.
5. There was a major boundary violation or abuse
Gibson said that her clients are more willing to cut contact when "there has been a really egregious boundary violation."
For example, you may have experienced a parent having the keys to your house, entering, and altering the home in some way — like rearranging furniture without permission — which is a big breach of boundaries.
Another huge violation might be ignoring your wishes in regard to boundaries around your children.
Gibson also said that physical or psychological abuse could lead to immediate no-contact.
"When there is harm to your health, you really may be forced to choose between your own physical well-being and contact with that person," she said.
6. Setting boundaries leads to constant guilt trips
You may also be thinking about cutting off contact if setting smaller boundaries hasn't been respected.
When setting boundaries with emotionally immature parents, Gibson said that what seem like compromises on your part — such as limiting visits — often go unappreciated by your parents.
"The problem is that for emotionally immature people, they do this all-or-nothing kind of thinking," she said. If they don't have full access to their child, they interpret it as their child "being mean to them."
7. You just need a break, at least for now
While "no-contact" sounds permanent, Gibson said that "sometimes, people just need a break."
If you have other challenges in your life, like work or health stress, dealing with a volatile family member might not be doable anymore.
She's had clients who phrased estrangement as a "time-out." That way, the doors are open to go back to speaking one day — or continuing to keep a distance. The key, Gibson said, is that "you are beginning to set this norm in the relationship that 'I decide how much contact I want to have or how much contact is good for me,'" she said.
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