How to End a Relationship With a Dysfunctional Family

Find a trusted friend who can help you decide where to move.
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Growing up in a dysfunctional family typically includes abuse, neglect or both, according to psychiatrist Marcia Sirota, M.D., in “The Inevitability of Fractured Sibling Relationships in Dysfunctional Families” on her website. You and your siblings don’t receive enough love and could compete with each other for what love is available. Sometimes, your best option is to end the relationship with your family and find emotional fulfillment somewhere else.

1 Choose to Change

Staying in a dysfunctional relationship that won’t change is a recipe for pain. Choose to change, without waiting for someone else to change or give you permission, suggests the Texas State University San Marcos Counseling Center in “Dysfunctional Family Patterns.” Taking control of your life could mean moving to avoid your family's toxic environment, suggests psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman, M.D., in “When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate” for “The New York Times.” If you’ve graduated from high school, that’s easier than if you are still a minor. As a minor, seek options with other family members, friends or programs for teens. Explain your home environment to a counselor, social worker or legal official. Some courts will emancipate you under the right conditions. As an adult, you can choose to leave.

2 Get Counseling

Enlist a counselor to get control of your life and cope with the consequences of your family life. Changing your behavior will change the behavior of others and could give you a good start, advises psychiatrist David M. Allen, M.D., in “Stop Running Away From Your Family Problems!” for “Psychology Today.” Your family could strongly resist those changes, so estrangement could be your best option, for at least as long as it takes to make healthy changes. Don’t blame your family, but do set clear boundaries regarding acceptable behavior, suggests Allan. Build a support system that includes your therapist, spiritual community, members of a support group and friends.

3 The Rough Seas

When you decide to leave, it's normal to experience shock, hopelessness, numbness, disorientation, eating issues, sleeping problems, low energy and fatigue, irritability, restlessness, concentration difficulties and guilt for your actions, according to psychotherapist Mark Sichel in “When a Family Divorces” for PsyberSquare. Over the next several weeks or months, the shock will resolve into strong emotions such as rage, revenge, sadness and a hunger to reunite with your family. Hang tough and realize that these emotions will decrease over time as you make more healthy choices about your life.

4 Build a Family

As you recover from the dysfunction of your childhood family, consider building a chosen family from those who love you, suggests Sichel in “Poisonous Parents: Should You Cut Them Off?” for “Psychology Today.” This can include your partner and children when you marry, and others you care deeply about. Allow their love to boost you and create a healthy future. If you decide to reconnect with some or all of your original family when you are stronger and more able to deal with them, it is your choice to reach out and see whether there is hope for a loving relationship.

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.