Washington Post article about cutting off all contact with toxic family members....what is the morality of this?


So I was really struck by this article in the Washington Post

It is about a woman who cuts off all contact with her mother. She spends the entire article justifying it. What is the morality behind this? Obviously, honor thy father and thy mother. What exactly is meant by “honor”? Does this apply to extended family?

The Pope says that families fight. Of course…that’s humanity. However, when the problems go into attempted theft, deceit, nastiness, mocking my faith etc… Yes, you forgive (it eats you up if you don’t), but does it mean you need to spend anymore of your time with them?

Personally, I was/am blessed with wonderful parents. One passed. As for extended family members (e.g. cousins/aunts/uncles)…one part leaves a lot to be desired. Issues are bafflingly generational. I don’t even know how such issues are possible. What are peoples thoughts on this?

Some interesting quotes from the article


Sometimes one must separate themselves from an evil. Period. That in itself is moral but even More so if children are involved or could be hurt.


There’s nothing immoral about cutting off family members who are abusive or manipulative. Reading that article, I’d say the author was justified in becoming estranged.

Sadly, some families are dysfunctional. And sadly some family members are unable or unwilling to recognise it, for whatever reason. In those cases, there is very little others can do except protect themselves as much as possible.


I cut myself off from the Washington Post a couple years ago and have been all the better for it!


Every family is dysfunctional and no parent will raise you perfectly. Learning to forgive is necessary. Tolerating abusive or toxic behavior is not necessary, however. It is up to each person to decide if the interaction lives up to the definition of “toxic”.

My mother, with whom I had a pretty consistently toxic relationship, died when I was 30. It was a game changer for me and my life pretty much “began” (again) at that point.


Enstrangement can be good for both parties. Some people don’t realize that they are the problem until they hit rock bottom and realize that they’ve got no one and have only themselves to blame.


I have had to limit time with family but not cut off.

Mental health must come first.


On a serious note, there certainly are instances where it is better to forgive the family member but still keep far away from them. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily involve inclusion.


My own personal broad-strokes advice is to step away if you must, but to see it as a temporary separation rather than a forever break up.


I’ve cut off contact from my brother. He’s manipulative and I’ve had enough. I have my kids to think about…they’ve been let down by him before and I’m sure it will happen again. Narcissism and mental illness run rampant in my family unfortunately. I agree that all families are somewhat dysfunctional…I guess it’s another way of saying “no one is perfect.” It’s true…no one is perfect. However when someone is this toxic there is no need to constantly endure it.

I pray for him and mourn the relationship that will never be. I wish so much that we were close. Maybe he will come around but maybe not. It’s been almost a year since I’ve last talked to him and I’ve pretty much made peace with it.


We have gone no contact with FIL for a number of reasons that I won’t discuss here. Suffice it to say that he’s not a nice person and only treats people well if they’re useful to him in some way. Honouring, in this context, can be as simple as praying for that person and being open to a reconciliation IF an apology is offered and clear boundaries are set. Sadly we’ve never had that and are unlikely to get it.


OP, a lot of people here are mentioning that you have to think of the kids and how a toxic relative might affect them. Some families are so far gone with issues with mental illness, abuse, addiction, etc. going back generations that the only way to break the cycle of abuse is to excise oneself and one’s spouse and kids from the mess. That way, the kids remain unaffected and can start a new chapter in the family’s history. Think of it as a type of Noah’s Ark rescue mission.


Thanks for the responses…this is not what I expected.

Even though this was coming from the Washington Post :thinking:, every response basically agreed with the article’s conclusion. Btw…this was basically the advice my remaining parent gave me too…(i.e. don’t be so sentimental when they are treating you so poorly. & You must protect yourself from people with mental illness and drug problems.). Guess my problems aren’t so unique…

While I definitely followed this advice already, I don’t know why I struggled so much with it…and still do.

Perhaps it the “protect yourself” part is what I struggled to see. …I mean Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself. Inherent in this is that you should not arbitrarily put yourself in harm’s way.


Another way I’ve thought of it is…am I really benefiting the other person, either? I know with my own mother, I think not only is the relationship not good for me, it is not good for her. She sees me as someone who ought to unquestioningly affirm her behavior, and will try to restore that relationship. It’s not good for her to have someone in her life in that role, who’s there to tell her that she’s in the right no matter what she does. It’s also not good to have someone who she’s constantly feeling attacked by or trying to lash out at. I realize now that there is no choice that allows me to stand behind my own faith and morals, and won’t be read by her as me choosing to hurt her.

So what are my options? Knuckle under and compromise my own morals, hold on to a relationship where I know that she’s going to be lashing out at me and will see me as constantly lashing out at her, or cut contact. (I’d note the article also includes people who have extremely limited contact with family.)


I watched my wife endure abusive, toxic behavior from her mother the first seven years of our relationship, behavior that would have certainly justified cutting her off. The tipping point happened in 2011-2012. My MIL smokes “medicinal marijuana” (not legal in our state). After years of her guilting us about us not wanting her to smoke it or talk about it around our children, we caved to her pressure, explained to our then 13 year old son it was “medicine”, but this seemed to be the green light for her to talk about it all the time and glorify it in front of him. We overheard her telling him “when you’re older, I want to smoke it with you” (completely undermining the message that it’s “medicine” that shouldn’t be used recreationally), and gently and kindly asked her not to do that. Initially her response was “ok, good reality check”, but the next morning, she woke up and started raging against us for having talked to her about that. It was a long, ugly event, where at one point she came close to striking me, even though I remained very calm (I think it was my remaining calm, which she knew made her look even worse, that really angered her). Even that we forgave, but then almost a month later, her husband let us know that she felt we had “battered her”, and she sent my wife an email telling her she was “severing” the relationship. For over a year we did not hear from her, and it was wonderful. But of course MIL thought by making the dramatic gesture of “severing” her relationship with my wife, my wife would come crawling back to her, tell her we were wrong for asking her not to encourage illegal drug use in our 13 year old son. When that didn’t happen, she missed having my wife as a punching bag, and started trying to work her way back into our lives. The emotionally abusive behavior, the passive-aggressive comments, the guilting, the gaslighting, are all still there, and so we’ve maintained a low contact relationship with her. She did insist on visiting and staying with us a few days last summer, which showed how nothing has changed, so we won’'t be making that mistake again.

It is sad that there is still such judgement and stigma around cutting a parent out of one’s life, as several of the comments below the WaPo article demonstrated. No one would think of judging someone for being estranged from a physically or sexually abusive parent, so why do so many people think someone should continue to put up with emotional abuse?


People have a right to protect themselves from bad influences in their lives. If a person’s parents consistently and intentionally make him feel terrible (or worse, are abusive), then he should not be obliged to spend time with them. Respect and love are two-way streets; if a couple treats their child terribly then they have no right to be upset when their child wants nothing to do with them as an adult.


I think the answer is that many people don’t really understand emotional abuse. There’s still a definite idea that people should be able to just “brush off” words. It’s a lot fuzzier for a lot of people, and it’s very easy for actual abusers to pass off emotional abuse as though they were doing something normal. I think that makes people nervous, because they think if we have an argument, is that going to mean I’m emotionally abusive? They don’t understand the differences.

I read something once, that people tend to put themselves in the shoes of one party or another very early in the discussion. Many people, parents especially, I think automatically put themselves in the shoes of the parent and think “how would I feel if my child did this to me?” The problem with that is, they are then attributing their own behaviors and motivations to the parent, which does not capture the full picture. And many parents are very good at hiding their behaviors under a facade of normality - often while the children very obviously suffer from mental health or other issues.


I needed this in 2006


I had a very loving mom and a great relationship with her, sadly she died when I was a young teen. I think because the majority of us do have a functioning and loving relationship with our moms it can be very hard to even fathom, let alone accept the reality that some mothers (and fathers) are abusive to the point that it is damaging for the adult child to remain in contact.

I have had a couple of friends in my life with extremely difficult relationships - to the point of being highly abusive - with their mothers. These individuals can suffer doubly, from the abuse itself and then the lack of understanding from others. Moms especially are always given the benefit of the doubt and unfortunately with some highly manipulative women they can use that against the victim (their own child).


And as someone up thread has insightfully mentioned, the abusive can be generational. An abusive parent may have learnt their behavior from their own parent. I don’t believe it is God’s Will to continue passing pain and toxicity down the generations. Especially when young children are involved, I believe it is very important that they do not witness their own parent being abused.

People with toxic parents often suffer greatly with loving themselves and seeing themselves as worthy. As lovers of Christ I believe we should be merciful and understanding to all in this situation but that we should encourage adult survivors of abuse to know that they have the right to their own psychological safety and peace of mind. Their first responsibility is to themselves and their children. They have the human and I believe, God-given right to healing and safety. If that cannot happen while in a relationship with a very damaged person who happens to be their own mother, then they have every right, reason and responsibility to protect themselves and their children.

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