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


The problem is with families there is often more than just self-preservation at stake. If I put up with an abusive family member, in a situation where most likely they won’t change, I may be risking the well-being of other family members who are also being abused. They may feel unable to remove themselves from or otherwise stand up to the abuse, because of my lack of setting the example that it is OK to do so.



The topic is not about family. It’s about contact with toxic family members. I don’t care that the term may not work outside the English language. We are, after all, conversing in the English language.

Now back to the topic.

There’s imperfect and then there’s pathology.

I don’t think you can attain holiness by being a doormat.

I will continue to use the word toxic because some relationships can have the potential not just to kill you spiritually but also physically.


I didn’t want to write this, but you deserve the thorough answer.

The article’s take on “toxic” is scientifically false as are all its usages you see today.

In terms of Sociology and Action Theory it violates what Giddens called Double Hermeneutic BUT WORSE it violates Bourdieu’s Habitus. Because the usage given to “toxic” isn’t consistent with Reflexivity. In modern social sciences without Reflexivity you have nothing.

You can see, all the posters on this thread took their experience towards Reflexivity and only there is some sense and are complete solutions to be found. The study referenced in the OP conducted in Boston follows this course to some extent.

BUT!! When using “toxic” as a “buzz-word band-wagon” you throw in and legitimize/enable all false cases without criteria. The powerful example of 90’s Grunge, was all about sub-urban depression and dysfunction, which can also be called “first world problems”. To say all those kids not finding sense to things and falling into depression was bad enough, that adding a “cultural enabler” only worsens things - and more so with the “toxic buzz-word” that proposes to solve everything by solving nothing only to put away any systematic analyses.

Under “toxic” you can label personality incompatibilities, differences in cultural values, anything you like as long as one person feels it’s “toxic”. It proposes to turn a “generation gap” into reasons for “estrangement”. In fact, any “estrangement” becomes legitimized through use of an adjective (“toxic”) how convenient.

All of the above neglects that successful families and marriages go through individual and collective crisis. That the extreme cases are rare and the cases that don’t justify “estrangement” are the vast majority. Thus, without this safeguard, any use of the term “toxic” becomes dangerous and potentially misleading - an attack on the family.


While I see where you are coming from, I just don’t agree that extreme cases of family dysfunction are rare. This discussion is worth having because extreme levels of abuse are common enough…at least in the US. In cases of severe physical abuse that puts somebody’s life in danger, estrangement should be strongly considered. It just can’t be that we say this individual is clumsy and falls a lot or they don’t go outside for weeks because they are so beat up. This stuff happens. The effects of this abuse last generations.

Sometimes you need to greatly distance yourself from family members when you see that such a situation could happen again.

Are their grey areas?..yes. Understanding these grey areas are what motivated this thread for me. However, I think acknowledging how severe problems can actually get in terms of physical and emotional abuse needs to be the start.


You should visit Aberdeen, home of Kurt Cobain. His memorial “under the bridge” is terribly depressing. It is not hard for me to drive there. It is not suburban. It is a city or working poor and working class. The term “Grunge” was apt based on that place. There is significant wealth disparity in the US that I think was the real origin of “Grunge”. I just don’t think “first world problems” is entirely fair. There is much more to understand.

Perhaps problems that can originate from the economic disparity in the US such as abuse are not easily understood outside of the US or even in the wealthier parts of the US.

FYI: Edit “Grunge” :guitar::drum:


My priest and therapist encouraged me to cut out my father. I forgive him but he’s too abusive to remain in contact with


Thank you @jack63 I really appreciate your reply. The fact is the topic in the OP is much more difficult than first seems. [And that is why I think the Washington Post article is dangerously misleading, let me stress the word dangerously.]

I think, the OP masks a further problem -a very serious one- it is this: RUNAWAYS.

(However, there are societies where there are virtually NO RUNAWAYS. Very little family estrangement. It’s precisely sound family culture as a value that avoids such social phenomenon.)

PERHAPS WE SHOULD NOTICE NO ONE HAS BROUGHT THIS UP YET. The Washington Post has a certain Levity in its editorial line that seems unethical and irresponsible. The next time the word “Toxic” is brought up we should be reminded of its potential consequences.

This is where I put my doubts. Severe mental and physical abuse falls under civil law - it should always be considered an exception (however prevalent).

“Estrangement” brings with it another set of vulnerabilities. There are countless families that stress each other out to extremes, and morals is certainly the way to go in those cases. You also understand that “throwing the kid out when he’s 18” is considered unthinkable in many cultures, and I deem those cultures to be right. It has also not been mentioned that should someone fall into grave financial difficulty, the family is more likely than not the only entity willing to help - however dysfunctional.

As I said, the most important thing is addressing the cognitive structures the persons coming from dysfunctional families internalized (because their tendency will be to reproduce those structures). And the only possible justification for “estrangement” of first degree relatives is allowing the necessary space/time to readjust the persons internal structures towards being able to handle their family. Not severing ties ad aeternum without any view on minimal reconciliation (reconciliation has a way of coming in its own time).


Sometimes we have to learn to share space with others. I have learned to share life in the same state with one family member I never really got along with. He lives in one city and I live in another.


I personally find the word “toxic” very helpful and in fact apt when discussing dysfunctional relationships. Toxic = poison, and toxicity can be in the air we breath or water we drink. When a family has a very damaged individual their presence and behaviors can make the entire atmosphere poisonous and can affect the most basic of family functionality.

We also have to acknowledge how bad things can be to see we need the healing of Jesus. Hopefully that can happen while the family remain together. In other circumstances a healthy environment cannot be attained without cutting ties. We have stories throughout history of parents and children having to part due to very serious problems.

Look at the Greek Myths , stories full of dysfunctional families even among the gods


Isn’t it grunge instead of grudge?


St. Francis had a lot of disagreements with his dad. To the point that not only did he give back all his clothes to his dad, in public (not his undies - he had already gotten another pair); but he also hired a homeless man to be his substitute father, so that every time his real father paternally cursed him, his buddy would bless him.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ family locked him in a room at their castle and tried to shove a prostitute at him. A couple of his siblings ended up deciding it was stupid, and lowered him out of the castle in a giant supplies-transport basket. He had to run all over Europe with the Dominicans before they left him alone.

Running off to cloistered religious life to escape family was very typical. Very, very common. Getting sanctuary was common even for members of the opposite sex. (They stayed in a guesthouse.)

But no Catholic family is ever a problem to a saint. Oh no, not at all.


Anyway, there are literally thousands of stories of saints who got the heck out of their toxic families, for cause, and many of them Never went back. Sometimes you just have to knock the dust off your sandals as a witness against them.


We must also remember that as Catholics we need to avoid occasions of sin, including “bad companions”. Sometimes that may include family members.


To be candid, it sounds like she needs extensive therapy. She needs to learn to deal better with criticism. Perhaps she’s upset because the criticism is on point, learn to deal with it better. Perhaps the criticism isn’t justified, then learn to put it aside and love the person.

Routine family conflicts shouldn’t end in this fashion (severe upset). There are rules and techniques to ‘fighting fair’ which even one of the parties can employ to great success.

Her article seemed far more concerned about bad appearances than actual relationship.


I do know why we use the word toxic. Because it feels less loaded, to many people. Because “abusive” has a bunch of legal connotations, and because there are a lot of stereotypes about being the victim of abuse. Because words like “dangerous” make people primarily think of physical danger, of someone who can physically overpower you and break bones. We put a word we had to new use because we didn’t have a good term for people where being around them causes you real harm, whether it be to one’s physical, mental, or spiritual health, that wasn’t already too laden with too much other baggage.

The word came with the realization that some people are destructive. Sometimes to everyone around them, sometimes only to certain sorts of people, sometimes only to a specific few. But destructive they are. The default for many people has been “if you weren’t raped or severely beaten, then you have no right to complain.”

You can’t adapt to dealing with certain people, because what they want is fundamentally hurtful to you. It’s’ the equivalent of learning to live with someone who periodically punches you in the face for no reason, but sees a problem with you trying to block or staying away from them.

I think I understand what’s going on. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t lived it. It’s a sort of criticism that’s dished out just to wound or to beat others down. I’ve had the same reaction to my mother, because even if she was acting normal now you never knew when she would just lash out.

There are no rules or techniques for ‘fighting fair’ that work when the other person isn’t fighting fair. What became clear with my own mother was that anything less than me being absolutely subservient to her, unquestioningly affirming, and in possession of infinite energy, would be taken as an attack on her. An attack that deserved a response of how I was mean and hateful and disrespectful and she couldn’t understand why I was so selfish and insisting on making up awful lies about her.

You cannot work anything out, simply put, with someone who insists that bringing up the mere idea that there is anything to work out is horrible. From the reading I’ve done that is a very common trend in such relationships - that the party on the receiving end of the relationship refuses to work anything out and instead goes on the attack when presented with evidence of how they are causing harm. Reconciliation means only going back to the way it was before, where they could lash out without consequences.


If I could get a copy of those rules for Catholics, that’d be awesome! :smiley:


Btw…I really appreciate that response, and I agree with you.

I started this thread to understand some the “grey” areas of dealing with family dynamics. You are right routine interactions should not be causing anxiety problems…let alone panic attacks.

Fighting fair is very very difficult. If there is literature on the subject (Catholic literature would be nice, but it may not be available) I’d be very interested.


No, it’s not binary.
You can learn to redirect and manage difficult people. Managing them may even mean less frequent contact or just not discussing certain issues. There are many options besides cutting off all contact. Heck, it could even include “you attend family therapy with me” or we are disengaging.

I also know what I’m saying isn’t easy, just that there are more options than “cutting it off”. In my work at a juvenile domestic violence program, I see how nasty it can get between parent and child. It’s only in rare cases that we effectively concede defeat and the child goes to a shelter or into the foster system.

Nobody knows how to push your buttons like family, but you can lean to disconnect or dampen the impact and not go with the gut reaction. Often this can by itself lead to a change in behavior by the other party as they see their old reliable buttons for you aren’t getting the reaction anymore.


Yes, it is very difficult. But the stakes are so high, it’s worth pursuing.

I believe the children of ‘toxic parents’ carry the same attributes or communication skills into their new relationships. Toxic communication skills are passed on just like physical abuse seems to run in families, so cutting the parental relationship may not really solve anything, except you will find yourself on the other side (being toxic) now that you are the adult.

This worksheet is very basic, it’s similar to what I use at work with teens to help them reflect on how their families fight, what they do well and where they might make some changes.

Knowing these rules can help in recognizing when to redirect or maybe just disengage completely from that argument. When the fight starts ‘breaking the rules’ then you have red flags.

Example, if your parent/spouse starts to bring up everything you’ve done wrong, they are trying to bury you and this tactic is actually deflecting from solving the current problem. They think they are winning the argument by pointing out all your flaws. When you see it happening, you can ignore the “bait” they threw out and try refocus the ‘argument’ on the current issue. If that fails, then politely disengage before things escalate further, before that volcano of emotion explodes for either of you.


Maybe. Part of the problem I found with family is that “less frequent contact” for many people means that the other family member will continually initiate contact. I’ve even known of cases where the adult child limiting contact resulted in the parent waiting outside their work or home because they didn’t think they were getting enough contact. I know I’ve been threatened with a mental health intervention before for trying to set boundaries.

I’ve tried family therapy with her before. Ended in her screaming at everyone for “lying to the therapist” and deciding the therapist was stupid and gullible. I’ve also seen how badly those fair fighting rules can be abused. So you’re not supposed to interrupt, but she will talk for 10 or 15 minutes without stopping routinely and then complain that you’re not fighting fair if you interrupt. Trying to take a time-out results in her following (I have literally watched her follow my father out to his car and stand where he can’t leave) because she feels that you’re not taking a break at the right time. “I statements” just result in confusion and being told that it’s unfair to bring up your feelings like that - you’re responsible for your feelings and it’s unfair to mention them like you’re expecting her to change something just because you feel hurt.

I think that’s where I’m seeing the problems. I’m used to dealing with someone who will actively pursue you when you’re trying to disengage, and who will read any attempt to disengage or to refocus as an attack on her and an attempt to not fight fair.

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