NCP Logo

The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971

Withdrawing from Dysfunctional Families

 People who come out of dysfunctional families often feel obligated to keep close family relationships regardless of continued abusive treatment. They try repeatedly to reason with or find common ground with abusive relatives. They labour under the misconception that a relationship can be established because ‘it’s family’.

It is sometimes correct to leave a relative alone. If a person cannot be reasoned with it is a waste of energy to keep trying to do it - leave them be. Should they become reasonable at some point in the future, then you will hear from them and you can take it from there. Remember, just because people are related to us does not mean we will be able to have useful relationships with them (even outside of dysfunctional families).

When you think about it, what people do with their life, how they conduct themselves with others is really none of your business. It is your business to keep yourself safe and that is most easily accomplished by staying away from people who cannot be reasoned with. You wouldn’t go back and stick your hand into a fire a second and third time just to see if it would burn you again, so why should you consider further interaction with someone who has made it perfectly clear they cannot conduct themselves any other way than irrational, abusive or unreasonable, so leave them be. Don’t offer invitations to family gatherings; don’t make plans to visit them on your next trip to their area.

Leaving them alone is not being ‘cold’ or any other negative word, it is being wise for you and actually being respectful towards them. After all, if they have made it clear they do not have happy thoughts for you, it would not be respectful for you to deliberately cause them unhappiness by forcing them to be with you. If they change their mind about you in future it will be their responsibility to let you know that and say they want to repair the relationship. Until that happens, leave them be, particularly if you have given them an opportunity to play happy families and they have demonstrated that they do not have the ability to do that.

Think of it this way: if they had one leg (and no replacement for the one lost) they would not be able to win a foot race, no matter how many opportunities you gave them to enter races. It wouldn’t be the result of you not having enough belief in them or perhaps not betting enough money on them or not cheering them on enough – it would be because they do not have the ability to win a foot race. Emotionally speaking they only have one leg, so quit expecting them to perform emotionally any other way than what they have demonstrated that they are capable of.

Remember, their behaviour means nothing about you or their feelings for you; it is only a reflection of their emotional problems. It would be correct to say that they are much like their parents, for that is how they learned to be as they are. You would probably also be correct to say they could use some therapy, but, of course, you know that telling them that will not make it happen. They will have to hit their own metaphorical brick wall before that will be clear for them and there is always the possibility that they will never choose therapy.

Have family get-togethers with those members who can share that time in a reasonable way and leave the others out – for your benefit and theirs. You now have a choice to not ‘stumble into the booby trap again’ like has happened in the past. So, use your choice and choose not to stumble into the booby traps that irrational or unreasonable people clearly demonstrate are what is available in interaction with them.

And lastly, if you feel cold inside about your relative, why shouldn’t you? What have they done to stimulate warmth? And if you did feel warmth, wouldn’t you be a rather sick masochist? My suggestion is that you congratulate yourself on feeling cold inside, it seems a much healthier response than feeling warm or feeling you should go back for more – feeling cold sounds like you have moved on from victim mode. Well done.


The Penny Parks Foundation,

Mount Pleasant, Debenham, Stowmarket, Suffolk, IP14 6PT.

01728 860490   E:   W:


Article Menu - Members Directory - Navigation Page - Home