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Toxic Family:  

How to Draw Boundaries

People who have left the hardline Churches of Christ often find their families very upset and upsetting: Mothers who insist on having their adult children with them at church on Mother's Day; surprise interventions with family, preacher and elders present; threats of hellfire; threats of health failing; threats of taking away college money or inheritance; telling grandchildren they aren't saved; withdrawal, etc.

What is needed

1. Realize that many people of many different religions have experienced this. Your family is not the first to go through disagreements about church and religion.

2. Focus on the description of the father in Jesus' story about the Prodigal Son. He did not chase the son. He did not guilt the son. He let the son go. That is how parents should act if their children walk away from the truth. Luke 15  Jesus said that God does not act like dysfunctional families act.

3. Tell your family clearly what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior to you. Communicate in writing if in person is too volatile.

4. When your family threatens you, say: "You do what you have to do, and I'll do what I have to do."

5. Threats to withdraw love or money: Let them know that you suspected something was wrong with the relationship all along and now it is becoming clearer.

6. Keep children away from nasty arguments.

7. Keep children away from family members that make toxic pronouncements of hellfire.


How to limit the pain

1. Understand that family members who are the most upset were not permitted to grow up, become independent and think for themselves.

2. They are probably re-enacting onto you what was done to them.

3. They are stuck at a young age--perhaps 12 years old. Would you get upset at a 12-year-old for guilting you?

4. There are other people out there that will be supportive of you, if your family cannot be.


When to draw the line

1. If you spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about how to make your relationship with a particular family member work, it might be time to cut that family member loose.

2. When you tell your friends what your family member says or does, and they react with horror, it might be time to draw the line.

3. When you do not feel safe leaving your kids alone with a family member for fear of what they might say to them about salvation, it might be time to cut off the relationship.

4. When you never know whether a family member is going to be in a good mood or not, and you feel yourself walking on eggshells, it might be time to severely limit the relationship.

5. When it takes you a long time to recover after a family visit, it might be time to stop family visits. When worrying about family interferes with your work or your family life it might be time to limit or cut off family visits.

6. When phone calls, letters and emails just remind you of a clique you are not allowed in, it might be time to limit contact.


Why we hang on

1. Guilt. How awful it would be to let our parents down. How could I hurt them?

2. What will people say?

3. Fear: If you were raised to fear one or both parents, then to disappoint them now may bring up irrational fear. They trigger your fear in ways that you cannot yet control.

4. Fantasy: One day they will see that I am right and they will finally give me the respect they have been withholding.

5. Strings: Parents who send money, give gifts, babysit.


Why you should draw the line

1. They are hurting themselves by making it impossible to be around them. They are the ones who refuse to take responsibility for their disrespectful behavior.

2. It hurts when people tell us we don't know what we are doing when we cut family members off. But they are not the ones who have to live with your family. You are.

3. Chances are that if you are having major difficulties dealing with your family now, they have not been the best and easiest family all along. The worse the family, the harder it is to let go of them. Good parents provide what their children need to declare independence, and are proud of their adult children's independence.

4. Your children need protection.

5. Your children need to be raised by independent adults, not children in adult bodies waiting for unpleasable parents to approve of them.

6. Your children need to be raised by non-depressed parents. Parents walking on eggshells around their own parents are depressed parents. Chances are that if you cannot declare independence from your parents you may be a negative person, complaining about all sorts of things.

7. You need to draw good boundaries with all of the people you encounter from day to day. This is very difficult if you cannot draw appropriate boundaries with your primary family.

8. You don't want to repeat this guilt scenario with your own children later on a different topic.



Visit the support board for more help and discussion.

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Character Disorders:

Narcissistic Personality: Loses temper, insists on having own way, brags

Obsessive Personality: The rules are far more important than relationship, critical, complaining, stingy

Histrionic Personality: Sexy, dramatic, demanding, needs constant affirmation.

Borderline Personality: Impulsive, suicidal, demanding, manipulative, hot and cold

Avoidant: A loner

Sociopath: Enjoys hurting others, has no conscience, can be a leader



The Rick A. Ross Institute lists symptoms of abusive groups.



Here is a support board for people who live with, or have lived with a narcissist.





For a website on the Victim-Rescuer-Persecuter Triangle click here.














Here is a support board for people who were raised by borderlines.