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


The first rule they’ll tell you when trying to heal from trauma is that people don’t heal well if they’re continually reengaging with the situation that caused it in the first place. You’re supposed to get to the point where it’s not going on and you’re not constantly being reminded of it, and then you can work on psychological healing. I’ve also talked to people who had involvement as children or young adults, family counseling and the like, and many regret it and felt it extended a bad situation and simply taught the abusive family member how to make their manipulation more “acceptable.”

Even God does not extend his offer forever to people who reject him, nor does he allow the other person to set their terms for what they see as their own benefit. He offers grace and forgiveness to those who are willing to work with Him, not to those who stubbornly insist that He give them what they want on their own terms.






Campo San Juan Pablo II – Metro Park (Panama)
Saturday, 26 January 2019



There does get to be a point in a relationship where continuing it is only giving the toxic person a near occasion of serious sin that they have repeatedly shown they cannot resist. There is nothing noble or redemptive about supporting that.

Normally, most family squabbles need more communication, not less. They need more patience, more forbearance and more willingness to let go of grudges. That is very true. I think a family ought to do the work to show that they really can’t work it out before they just cut each other off. We ought to give a chance for reconciliation before we cut anybody off so entirely that we’re shunning them. Shunning is an extremely serious step and can be very harmful in its own right. It should never be done lightly.

Sometimes, however, it can be said that a personal or family dynamic has been clearly established as a situation in which the offender has either no capacity or no intention when it comes to amending seriously sinful behaviors that cause serious harm (whether intentionally or not). In that case, both the habitual offenders and the habitual victims–and sometimes, it does go both ways, such that these are roles that are traded–are undoubtedly better off and more likely to advance spiritually if they part ways, even if they are relatives.

Even in a marriage, if it not possible for the couple to live in peace under the same roof, it can be morally permissible to separate with the bond remaining–that is, for the couple to cease having contact with each other, even though they are still validly married, because of the adverse affect on one or both of them if they continue the common conjugal life. This must be true of family members, as well. You have a duty to try to live in peace with all, but sometimes you have to admit that is not a realistic goal but rather a one-way ticket to predictable strife. In that case, separation is the most charitable choice for all, even if the recognition and choice for separation have to be accomplished unilaterally.


Nothing can be more harmful than when one of those “acquaintances” that everyone else runs into and finds “dangerous” is your own parent, child or sibling.

Sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists have families. Addicts and alcoholics who take on all the characteristics of sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists have families. They are also capable of putting on a very different face with their families than with people whose favor they have decided to curry.

There is no amount of “mastery over emotions” that can transform contact with someone who lacks the emotional capacity for a relationship of trust into someone who can occupy a position of emotional trust without using it to harm the person who put them into that position. Yet when we give someone a chance to make personal comments, to make and receive requests or to even keep appointments in an appropriate way, we do put them in that position. There is no “well, just meet them and don’t trust them.” It doesn’t work like that. If you meet with, say, your mother and the entire foundation of the encounter is “I just have to accept that I cannot trust her,” that is itself harmful. Giving her a position in your life in a context where you can place no trust in her is harmful.

Keep in mind, too, that many of these relationships are predicated on a certain amount of gas lighting: that is, the person who is responsible for serious past harm actively denying that past offenses ever took place or were offenses. There is often an active denial that unhealed harm was even harm at all or even took place at all. Expecting that past offenses not only be forgiven but rather excused or even denied altogether is not a harmful action in the past, but an ongoing harmful pattern of behavior.


Your definition of gas-lighting was exactly correct, written by someone who came across it. The question I still have: those persons who consistently(invariably) gas-light others, how did they fall into that vice?? I’ve seen it in business and college, in both those settings the dominant factors will be sociological not psychological. But, in their social lives?? That’s my question!! I can only venture say it’s convenient for them and it tends to work efficaciously - it would require an unreasonable amount of energy to stand up to…(and with those dispositions it would still get you nowhere).

I have to say, on average: this sums up social life. A plentiful read of the OT characterizes society as such.

Now, regarding family life. This one time I’ll remit to the recent speech by pope Francis on the 26th of this month quoted up-thread. Sorry, but I distinguish family life from social/professional life and I don’t take kindly on the “quasi-paranoid” stance/trend to assume and talk about family “as-if” next of kin are consistently sociopaths/psychopaths/narcissist.

Best fact: prevalence of all personality-disorders put together is around 10% but if you take only the ones that have a “de facto” correlation with dangerous/damaging (the 3 you mentioned) that drops to less than 3% (perhaps 1%) because there are several types of narcissists and some aren’t “all evil” but actually quite functional - if you don’t have what they crave you can mostly pass unaffected by their negatives. Psychopaths are just rare (well below 1%) - you do get inmates averaging a positive correlation with “psychopathic traits”, but that isn’t “full blown psycho”. And sociopaths, well, I’ve only met 1 knowingly and they are evil (about as much as the surrounding society enables them to - let me put plentiful burden on society for enabling them).

I must have met well over 100 kids (my age and older) that were children of alcoholic parents. For the most part I don’t consider their parents evil and neither did those 100 kids that I know of…To the contrary, they’ll say their parent was alcoholic, with all his shortcomings, yet loving. As for addicts, the ones I’ve known off went along the same line, their parenting was bad but they loved their children and that much isn’t called into question. I’ve even met quite a few kids abandoned by one parent that still say that parent is loving when they do meet.

“Dangerous” should be defined here as: false, treacherous, deceiving, two-faced, duplicitous, lying, backstabbing. Simple as that: that’s social life!! Not a definition tending towards bodily harm!! And you’ll notice the latter are apt at defending their interests which, normally, includes defending their family.


I meant to say that I was talking about a social relationship that was worse than “you can tolerate being around them, provided you don’t trust them (in areas where they are not trustworthy).” Sure, people deserve to be trusted about different things and to different degrees. Even though we tend have a higher level of trust within our families (and sometimes expect too much), the people in our family are not automatically an exception.

What I was trying to describe was the situation that goes beyond just understanding human frailty and into understanding that the relationship itself is essentially manipulative and/or coercive or that it consistently undermines a healthy sense of self. Not that it has that component or that the person has a weakness in that direction, but that the essential quality of the relationship in spite of charming moments is manipulation, dishonesty, coercion, negativity or a combination.

I don’t think this is particularly common, but I do think it is common for the people in the family to take some time to appreciate that is what they have. So–while under typical circumstances I would say we ought to give our family room for their frailties, I want to recognize that people do need permission to recognize it when their family situation is consistently harmful. Most of the time, we ought to do the work to remain charitable in an world of fallen humans. Sometimes, though, we need to recognize that there are people that need to be avoided for reasons of our own self-preservation, not to mention the protection of our children. That can be not only legitimate, but necessary, and that includes consistently damaging relationships with members of our own families. It also (as others have noted above) denies the offender a near occasion of habitual sin.


No doubt we only here about the disasters and the quiet success stories go unnoticed. This was helpful for me to read!


Very good post @PetraG I especially like this sentence:

I’ll just leave a final note:

When I read through certain psychology thesis written in the US between the 70’s-90’s frequently works come up written by active policeman that in the course of their career -and seeking to further their careers- returned to college to further their education.

What I found in some of those thesis wasn’t scientific, clinical, or sociological. It was a mindset specific to police work that saw the human being as a sick suspect, in an almost paranoid way, that put away with any good and focused only on the bad, as if the evil was the rule.

I don’t think that is a humane perspective. I think it’s a dehumanizing perspective.

And there has to be something wrong with the academic establishment itself to enable such view and tone legitimizing it as academic. Perhaps it suffices to say I hardly find that hardened tone -and sometimes biased view- in the academic institutions of my preference.


Yes. I think it is a mistake to write off every addict or alcoholic as a toxic person who has nothing to bring to any relationship, as a walking sack of poison to their families. That is a very important point to make, and I thank you for making certain that much is clear. Even someone who lacks an emotional conscience or who is emotionally stunted is not automatically incapable of making acts of the will that hold up their end of a relationship. We can’t blame people for not feeling what we wish they would feel, but only for having a habitual willingness to work harm when they deem it is desirable in order to have what they want out of a relationship. (I mean the situation where doing harm is deemed acceptable. It is not necessary that they recognize or admit that what they are doing is harmful, only that they are told it is harmful and even after getting that feedback still deny that it is.)

These truly are heart-wrenching decisions. If they aren’t, the person making them is probably being too flippant about shutting out others based on a cost-benefit analysis that only considers their own costs and their own benefits. Christianity is not about going through life asking, “What is in it for me?” Our Lord did teach, however, that there is no benefit to be worked for anyone in “casting your pearls before swine.” Christians do have to take into account whether a situation is going to be made better or worse by their intention to be generous. That isn’t just OK; I think it is part of the moral life. It is why Our Lord also said, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Matt. 10:16)


As always your post is true opera with all elements working together truthfully and harmoniously.

As a Catholic, personally, I don’t believe that I have reached my comfort zone applying this part of wisdom:

God bless.


I think that is a very good sign. This is a very serious decision, akin to deciding it is necessary to live separated from one’s spouse with the bond remaining. There is a duty to the common conjugal life and there is a duty towards one’s parents. To cut that off is not going to be a comfortable decision. Even when the harm being fled is obvious and serious, the day someone has to decide to cut off their family is a sad day, in spite of the obvious relief they might also feel.


@PetraG…thank you for the great post!

I could not agree more. I have seen this. Non-violent people being ostracized because of addiction. It has bothered me deeply. Addiction is deeply complicated, and often the addict is deeply suffering.

Thanks for reminding me of this one. This is a difficult balance. Sometimes the “shrewd as serpent” or “wise as a serpent” part is difficult. People don’t expect this from you based on your faith. Also, it is hard to apply without coming across as “calculating”.


It doesn’t come across as calculating when you have a heart like this:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matt. 23:37-39)

Most of the times that someone set out to harm Our Lord, he avoided them. That was not calculating. He did not go out looking to be subjected to violence. He only went through it when his mandate to witness to the truth required it.


Which is better: to be without family, or with family that does you harm? Sometimes it is indeed best to cut a root that is drinking in poison.

The defense here is predicated on that people don’t, as a general rule, cut family off over minor squabbles. In fact, most people with family estrangement report that they spent years trying to fix the problem, only for it to worsen. It’s not something that people are rushing to do.

I find this whole discussion to be something akin to saying “we can’t talk about letting abused spouses leave the marriage because divorce is too easy.” There was in fact a time in the world where you were expected to remain in the marriage, even if your spouse came home and beat you. That you should just try to be nicer to them. I think that it is rather looking the other way from such cases that helped us get where we are today with marriage.


It’s necessary sometimes to cut yourself off from a toxic person, even though it’s really sad to do so.

I’ve noticed in my life and my family that there isn’t a lot of cutting each other off because of a big argument/self destructive personality. A lot of times we don’t talk just because are vastly different people with little to nothing in common, so it makes conversation impossible, much less a meaningful relationship.


Not just with marriage.

We wouldn’t be having these Church sex abuse scandals if people did not look the other way and protected the abuser instead of the victim.

I bet this is how the Church lost Ireland.


You could say them same of France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal (and these countries are not notorious for prevalence of abuse scandals). Secularization is the heaviest force made of many factors - not one specific reason.

This is heavily factious by imparting the blunt of the blame on a single gender. Let me assure you: I’ve seen no small number of ladies who contributed their share to making some man’s life, unjustly, miserable. And perhaps a significant number of ladies cheered her on in the process…


I never mentioned gender once there. And I’ve been referring to problems with an abusive mother on this board for a long time. You’re the one who stuck gender in there.


Your following sentence I quote is clearly asymmetrical in that regard and underscores the quoted paragraph. I was referring to nothing beyond the scope of that paragraph.


I’ve been aware of physical violence by my mother against my father. And in any case none of that alters my point - that we have in the past pressured people to stay in harmful relationships in order to avoid the harm of divorce. It was even common. That doesn’t mean it was right, nor that we should avoid telling people they’re morally allowed to leave because it might promote divorce.

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