Going no contact with toxic family members is a controversial issue.
Many people think there is never any reason that would justify no longer being in relationship with family. If that’s you, move along – this video is not for you.
@dinkumtribe Replying to @lattitude26 #NoContact #NoContactWithFamily #ToxicFamily #ToxicFamilyRelationships #DysfunctionalFamily #SpiritualAbuse #EmotionalAbuse #ReligiousAbuse #EmotionalManipulation #MentalAbuse #AbuseRecovery #childhoodneglect #traumatok #traumasurvivor #childhoodabuse #childhoodtrauma #healingtrauma ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel
This video is for those who have had to cut off toxic family to know that they are not alone. We’ve left out years of interactions, and extraneous details, for the sake of brevity.
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Note: this is not meant as advice, or professional or legal counsel – we are simply sharing our experience.
Full Transcript of Video
NOTE: I’ve added headings for easier reading. Occasionally I’ve added a correction, or additional note that was missed in the video recording but will hopefully add clarity. Those additions appear in [italics square brackets] .
Table of Contents
Introduction: No Contact with Toxic Family
I have no contact with my parents and some of my extended relatives, and my husband also has no contact with his parents and much of his extended family.
And we don’t talk about it a lot because it’s a controversial issue for one thing. But the other reason is because so few people are willing to take the time to understand what led to that decision.
Zero tolerance policy
If you just think that there’s no reason for anyone to ever go no contact with family members you should just skip past it and I won’t think anything of it. But also know that anything that you say that is negative or rude will be blocked and deleted.
I just don’t have space to give continuing explanations to people who aren’t willing to take the time to understand.
We went no contact with my husband’s family about five years ago [ 7 years in 2023] and it wasn’t a decision we took lightly. And it took me personally over 15 years of being in regular contact with his family, and of building a life together with my husband, before I finally recognized that that was the only option we had.
And I’m going to give a few details here but I need those of you who are watching this to understand that this isn’t up for discussion or debate. This is the experience we had.
Why we’re sharing our story
And I’m sharing it in the hopes that others who have had to make this decision or maybe considering it will have the… will know that somebody else gets it and that they’re not alone in making this really hard decision for their families.
@dinkumtribe #question from @dinkumtribe why so many adult children are estranged from their parents. @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe #nocontactwithparent #estrangedfamily #estrangement #estrangedchild #notperfectbutreal #toxicparent #toxicfamilymembers #scapegoatofmyfamily #scapegoatchild ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel
How did I end up no contact with my husband’s family? How did our family make that decision? It wasn’t one that happened quickly.
When I first met my husband, which was over 20 years ago now, when we were both in college. Very soon as I started to get to know him I recognized that he had a lot of conflict and a lot of anger towards his parents.
And the mistake I made right off the bat was in assuming that it was standard teenage conflict with family-type stuff. The sort of thing that every normal teen goes through. And that was the way his parents played it off. And he just seemed to be very upset, and sensitive.
And… and I’m telling you how I felt about it at the time. So understand that my opinions on this have changed but I’m trying to share where I was at at the time. He seemed very hurt and unwilling to try to work towards a resolution with his family.
And I assumed that it was a problem in his heart and his life. We’re Christians and so I was under the impression that Christians should always try to work things out.
A faulty understanding of conflict resolution
And I also held this belief that if, as a Christian, I went and tried to work something out with someone else according to the principles that are laid out in Matthew 5 for conflict resolution. (Sorry it might not be Matthew 5) But in the Book of Matthew [chapter 18] there’s some principles laid out for conflict resolution among/ between Christians.
And I was under the simplistic understanding that if a Christian found they were in conflict with another Christian, and they followed those conflict resolution steps that the conflict would be resolved. Because you did everything right in your conflict resolution and therefore, of course conflict would be resolved.
What I didn’t count on is the fact that you have to have two willing parties for a conflict to be resolved. And so in the situation with my husband and his parents, as I got to know him and… over the years I came to realize that that was not the case.
There was only one party who was willing to do any work make any effort toward reconciliation, and that was my husband.
The Cost of Interaction with Abusive Parents
A couple of years before we decided to go no contact with my husband’s family, we moved to Oregon from California which is where they live and… I think they live, I don’t really know for sure, but where they lived and where we at that time lived. So we moved up to California [Oregon].
And we had been pulling back from spending a lot of time with them for several years at that point.
Spending time together often
There was a time when we tried to get down there once a month to see them. They were about an hour and a half away from us so we would load up all our kids and go down and see them every month. And we would try to get there for birthdays, for family occasions, holidays, things like that.
And most of the time it was us going down to them, even though we had three children and were pregnant with the fourth by that point.
So we moved up here to Oregon and we had already been, like I said, pulling away because we were seeing the cost it was having on our family.
Mental health struggles
And I was seeing that my husband, anytime we spent any time with his parents, whenever we were with them, he would come back and it would throw him into an emotional tailspin. He would be in a state of crash for several days afterwards.
Now we didn’t know he had undiagnosed ADHD at the time. And I was just starting to see that he was having depression-like symptoms and severe anxiety symptoms but I didn’t even know what those actually looked like. I didn’t know what symptoms for that looked like at the time.
Looking back now, I see, “Oh the symptoms had been present for years, and I just didn’t understand what was triggering them so much.”
But I started to recognize that every time we spent time with them it would take him several days to get back to, sort of, a state of normal and balance. And I couldn’t understand why that was because I wasn’t seeing what it was that was causing the issues.
So we moved up here to Oregon, and we had less time with them consistently, because now we had to go down to them which was a thousand-mile drive. Or they had to fly up to us, and so we saw them less often.
But that year, right after we moved up here, we had our fifth child and so I was nursing an infant. And we made trips down to see them two or three times that year in that first year when I had my infant son. And they made a couple of trips up to us.
My physical symptoms
And I started to notice, because I was only seeing them occasionally, I noticed in that year I came down with mastitis, which is an infection of breast tissue that happens when you’re nursing.
I came down with it within a week either before or after I was spending time with them, every single time! I had never had mastitis any of my other kids. But literally every time we were going to see them, or we were seeing them, or had just gotten back from seeing them, I came down with mastitis.
And mastitis, like I said, is an infection. So I noticed that physically, something weird was going on with my system. This was my fifth child—it wasn’t usual for me. And then I started to notice that physically I was having symptoms after, or before, or during spending time with his family.
A physical stress response
And twice, close to times when his family, when his parents were coming to visit, I recognized that I was starting to have, like, nausea, panicky feeling in my stomach leading up to their visit. That it was causing me significant stress. An actual physical reaction was happening to me, to my body, when I knew that they were planning on coming.
And that was really weird for me! I couldn’t figure out, like, why would they be having this effect on me?
@dinkumtribe If you grow up having to protect yourself, you may have physical symptoms as a result of long-term lack of safety. #cptsdawareness #cptsdrecovery #motherhunger #motherhungerbook #traumahealing #traunaresponse #traumarecovery #healingtrauma #traumatoks #maternalneglect #childhoodneglect #childhoodtrauma #childhoodabusesurvivors💜 #childhoodtraumacheck @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe ♬ Heal – Tom Odell
And I was in counseling at the time, and I’m very thankful I was there for something completely different, unrelated to that. But because I was there, the counselor said, “Well that’s really, you know, interesting—why do you think your body’s responding that way?”
Starting to see more clearly
And that was kind of the first inkling I had where my brain started to take the time… You know, five years of… you know, ten years of fog, really. Of having children every two years and so being nursing, pregnant—all of that. Not having a whole ton of time to really assess any feelings.
But finally I did. I was working with the counselor, and I finally did. And I said, “Oh! I noticed that when I know my family’s coming to town, right now my husband’s family’s coming into town, it’s a huge stressor for me.”
And the counselor said, “Huh. That’s interesting…”
What Happened to Reveal the Toxic Behavior?
And so anyway, they were planning a visit in January  and we had made the plans to have them.
An unexpected death
And my grandpa, who lived here with us in Oregon, in this area, my dad’s father died suddenly. Um he was old, so it wasn’t exactly unexpected. But he just had a very short, acute illness and died. Like, he was in the hospital one night, the next day he was gone! And the day after that was when my husband’s parents were supposed to come and visit.
So obviously, we’re all in shock and trying to figure out what is going on here. And so we called them the day before—as soon as, you know, we realized that my grandpa was in the hospital and probably wasn’t coming home, or at least it was going to be a very serious issue.
We make a request, they resist
We had called them, and said, “Can you please reschedule and come visit us at a different time? Can, you know, we need you to cancel. We can’t have you right now.”
This was not okay with them. My husband’s parents threw a legit tantrum over the fact that we were telling them they couldn’t come and visit.
And they said, “Oh, we’ll come up, and we’ll help. We’ll come up and we’ll be super, you know, we’ll just, we won’t be any trouble. We’ll just come up, and hang out with the kids, and take care of the kids, and take care of things at your house. And you can do what you need to do with your grandpa.”
Their unrealistic expectation
And first of all, that was totally fake, because they had already planned to have a wheelchair for my father-in-law. [so how exactly was he going to watch our small kids?!]
And my mother-in-law had spent hardly any time at my house. She’s never been the kind of person to show up at someone’s house and do everything. Like she doesn’t even know where to start with that!
And she was asking for the… for them to come up, and for us to basically hand off our kids to them for several days while we dealt with arrangements for my Grandpa’s funeral and things like that.
[Note: in another video I talk about how this was actually in direct violation of our previous boundary we had set with them, where they were not allowed to watch our children anymore]
So at a time when my family is in the middle of grieving something shocking and huge, she, my mother-in-law and father-in-law, wanted to take the kids away and just “handle them” so that they wouldn’t have to deal with any of the grieving stuff—that I just knew that was not helpful or healthy in any way. Kids need to be present, part of the grief process so that they don’t, so they understand how it goes.
@dinkumtribe Replying to @darlene1friend sometimes someone who is determined to violate your boundaries, will take advantage of a situation where they think the boundary might flex. @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe #boundarysetting #boundariesarehealthy #boundaryviolation ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel
And so we just said, “No, we really need you to reschedule.”
That was not okay with them.
So my mother-in-law tried everything she could to get us to change what we were saying. To still be able to come up and have their fun weekend with the kids two days after my grandpa had died suddenly.
And we told them flat out, “No! If you come, you know, we can’t stop you getting on the airplane. But if you come, you will not be seeing us because we are going to be dealing, we’re going to be present for my family. We’re going to be working with our kids through this grief. We aren’t going to have space to see you.”
They were very, my mother-in-law and father-in-law, were very upset by this, and felt, and decided to take it personally. As though we were somehow not letting them be a part of things.
And they were not okay with the fact that we asked them to reschedule their visit, which was to come up and have fun with the kids. We asked them to reschedule it.
And at first they tried to say it was because they couldn’t cancel their airline tickets. But that turned out to be bogus, because she called, and the airline of course said, “Oh your family had a death in the family. Well of course we can reschedule or refund you the money!” or whatever they did.
We set a boundary and move on
But anyway, that didn’t even end up being an issue, so we just left it with my parents, with our, my mother and father-in-law that way. We couldn’t bother saying anything else about it, because we were trying to deal with, my grandpa had just died very suddenly.
So funeral finishes, we handle all the arrangements, helping my family through it. You know, my dad did most of the arrangements but I was right next door, literally, is where we lived.
We try to reconcile
So we were working on that and we realized we needed to call and try and sort things out with Brian’s parents. And so we scheduled a call.
We asked my parents to watch our kids so that we wouldn’t be interrupted. And we scheduled a Zoom call because they lived down in California. And that call was a huge turning point in my understanding of my husband’s relationship with his parents.
How we felt
We were having this phone call to try to express to them what we felt. And how that made us feel: like, that they would insist on coming to visit us at a time when we were dealing with…
This is the first death that anyone close to me has died in a very long time. It’s the first relative of mine that had ever passed away in that amount of time. My kids had spent time with my grandfather.
And so I was working through things with them. I was supporting my parents—my dad especially, because it was his dad.
Making it about themselves
And my mother-in-law and father-in-law were, just could not see any reason why we should… it would be okay for us to ask them to delay their trip. We didn’t ask them to cancel the trip completely, we didn’t say “Never come again.” We just asked them to put their trip for another time.
That was not okay by them. They had a major issue with that. And so we talked through it, and there was a lot of, drama, for lack of a better phrase. A lot of crying, a lot of tears from my mother-in-law. And a lot of my father-in-law looking contemptuously at us over the Zoom camera.
And we came out of that conversation, and nothing really had been resolved. It was all just, “Oh, we don’t understand why you guys are being this way.” And my husband was livid—he had to go just take a walk and walk off the energy.
I came out of the conversation thinking it had gone okay. And he came out, just… it was really bad. He was really hurt, upset. I could tell this was impacting him and I didn’t really understand the “why.”
So we finished this conversation. And that night we were having our date night, and I was just trying to understand what had happened there. Because our reactions were very different to this phone call.
I research emotional manipulation
And I decided to Google “emotional manipulation.” I don’t know why. Like all I can say is, God nudged me. That’s the best explanation I have and I’m not really even sure why I did that.
But I Googled it and there was an article and it listed 20 different forms of emotional manipulation—specific examples and what it’s called. Um, I think it’s like, bandstanding [bandwagoning], um, belittling. Uh, it just listed each of these words and each of these types of emotional manipulation and the kinds of statements people would make with them.
And as I read this list, more than half of the statements that were given as examples had been said in our Zoom conversation! And a bulb lit for me, and I was like, “OH!”
And that was like a lightning bolt for me. I suddenly realized that my husband’s parents were manipulating things. Because I-I just didn’t know what emotional manipulation looked like. I’d never had that explained to me, and you can tell when someone’s obviously doing it, right? When they’re doing it bad.
But people who’ve been doing it their whole lives, they’re really good at it. And I just never realized that someone would want to manipulate another person that way. That somebody would do that on purpose—I assumed that maybe they didn’t know they were doing it, or that they didn’t recognize the harm it was causing.
But in that moment, when I saw that list and started reading through it, and realized how many of those types of statements had been made in one single Zoom call…I finally saw what my husband had been saying for years!
Processing this revelation
And so I went back to my counselor, and I explained this to her. And we talked through it, and I continued to be in therapy with her for several months afterwards.
But we, I realized that for my husband’s mental health, and for our family’s safety, that we needed to severely limit contact with his parents. Because they had no qualms about crossing any boundaries we put up.
Learning about boundaries
And it was interesting because around that time, I read the book “Boundaries in Marriage” because I was sorting through some things with my husband. And the funniest part of it was that as I was reading the book Boundaries in Marriage, nearly everything that I highlighted or underlined I saw in my relationship with my in-laws!
So it wasn’t my husband who I was learning the most about. I was learning that my in-laws consistently crossed boundaries inappropriately. And I had I learned, I finally realized that my husband had been pointing this out for years. That he’d been trying to work things out with his parents.
So they were aware, because he had done everything he could to communicate it. They just didn’t want to change.
Our Choice to Go “No Contact”
So I finally recognized that my husband had been living through years of this kind of emotional manipulation crap. That’s the nicest word I can use. But so I realized this and I finally understood why he would so often tailspin after visiting with them.
There were things that he was picking up on because of his long-term relationship with his family. That they knew how to jab him in ways that I couldn’t see, or even perceive, and to an outsider would look like nothing, because they weren’t directed at me—they were directed at him.
And so, talked to our counselors. Both of us went to our counselors and talked to them about, “Okay, so wow! This is really bad!”
Supporting my husband
And I finally said to him… and he had wanted to limit contact, or even maybe go no contact with them for years, off and on. I’d always talked him out of it, because I thought that he was just being “bitter and unforgiving.”
And I loved him, and I wanted him to have that opportunity, and ‘nobody cuts off their parents,’ right? And that’s what I’d been taught and that’s what I had learned.
“But they’re your family.”— Nate Postlethwait (@nate_postlethwt) February 23, 2023
Would you ever say to someone “But, they’re your perpetrator.” “But, they’re your abuser.” No? Then stop saying it to people who had to walk away from an abusive family in order to heal.
But this time I said, “If you need to not ever talk to them again, I’m okay with that because I see how it’s impacting you.”
Validation is healing
And just me seeing; me being able to validate that I saw what he saw. That I realized the kind of damage their interactions with him were causing him, and also our family as we started to recognize, working through things.
My validation of his experience, and my willingness to stand with him and do what he needed to do for his mental health, made a huge difference in his mental health, and his ability to keep moving forward, and his ability to grow and heal.
Just having one person witness that made a big difference for him.
The nitty gritty of going “no contact” with toxic family
And so we made the decision to not have contact with his parents. We started sending back gifts and cards. Eventually we had to change our phone numbers, blocked them on social media. Any place where they could get ahold of us we did.
We blocked it, we shut the vent, we shut down the way to us.
Um, and it wasn’t like it was a shock to them. But only because they hadn’t heard us say it, how many, multiple times before!
When people are abusive, when people are manipulative, when people are unwilling to change, or unwilling to look at themselves, they don’t want to hear it and so they don’t.
Next Video in the Series: After effects of going no contact
I’ve continued our story of going no contact with toxic family and sharing the results of that decision.
©️ Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2023.