When it comes to friendships, it’s easy to say “Cut ties” if the relationship turns toxic, a fact evidenced by the sheer number of articles published by all sorts of big-name sites like Huffington Post, Reader’s Digest, and WebMD. The same can be said for romantic relationships — though emotions often run higher here, the final advice is the same: If your partner is mistreating you, end the relationship.
But when it comes to mothers, brothers, grandparents, and cousins — or any toxic family relation — cutting ties may lead to backlash from onlookers. “But he’s your father,” a well-meaning friend or family member might say. “You have to love him!”
No, no you do not.
There are certain societal expectations involved in cutting ties with a relative or relatives. Parents have to love their kids; that’s just what parents do. And while that may be true for some families, it’s not true for all of them.
In high school, an acquaintance of mine, whom we’ll call Alice, expressed a desire to get away from her mother. The two regularly argued, her mother would throw out her clothes and possessions, verbally abuse her, and sometimes refuse to buy food. It was clear to anyone that knew Alice that the relationship was toxic. But when she told teachers or friends what was happening, they’d often say, “Your mom knows what’s best; you’re just going through a rough patch.” Or, even better, they’d argue that Alice must have done something to deserve her mother’s wrath and mistrust, perhaps by misbehaving in some way.
This was not helpful “advice” to someone who was struggling with a toxic relationship. This was not a rough patch or something she deserved; this was abuse and neglect. If a friend had treated Alice this way, would teachers and friends have reacted the same? I doubt it — and repeatedly telling someone that abuse and neglect are love will not have positive repercussions on their psyche or future relationships.
Those who have already removed a toxic relative from their life experience a slightly different dilemma rooted in the same societal expectations. If someone says that they have limited or no contact with an immediate family member like a sister or father, someone else invariably asks, “Don’t you miss your dad?” Some people may answer yes, but if someone says no, the next comment is often the one this article opened up with: “But he’s your dad! You have to love him.”
Let’s make something clear: if someone has mistreated you, you do not owe them anything, not your time and not your love. This is true whether the toxic person is a parent, sibling, cousin, or friend.
Once more for the people in the back: You do not owe anything to someone who is mistreating you. If someone is regularly and purposefully hurting you, you can choose not to associate with them — to distance yourself — and you can replace them with someone who treats you well; you can choose your family by qualities other than biology, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
For readers with a pop culture bend, Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 deals with the chosen versus biological family issue. If you have an interest in this subject, I recommend seeing it — and if you already have, you can read more about it here.