Is it okay to cut off from my family?April 19, 2021
In my Sydney family counselling practice, I see many adult families who are struggling with a difficult parent, sibling or child and are using estrangement to manage their relationships.
There may be very good reasons to distance yourself from your family/a family member and put strict boundaries on the type and frequency of contact with them. However, completely cutting off from a family member – in particular a parent – has long-term ramifications not only for the people directly involved but also for future generations.
Why do cut-offs happen?
- Unresolved hurt or conflict – post-divorce behaviour, sibling problems, mental illnesses and addictions in the home growing up.
- Money – estate issues cause a lot of cut-offs in families.
- Past or ongoing abuse – physical, sexual and emotional abuse; ongoing denial and inaction from other family members.
- Parents who don’t respect their adult child’s choice of partner. Or who don’t respect boundaries when it comes to contact with grandchildren.
- Bullying or narcissistic parents or siblings – power plays or manipulative behaviour; years of treading on eggshells around a person.
- Exhaustion – from interacting with difficult personalities.
- Impact on children or grandchildren – concerns that ongoing conflict will negatively affect new family members.
- A history of cut-offs going back generations – your family may have used estrangements as a strategy in the past
Under what circumstances should I cut someone off?
Sometimes the safest thing to do is to put physical and emotional distance between you and certain family members. You might even choose to cease contact altogether. This is recommended when:
- There has been past physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
- Abuse is ongoing or you are worried about children in your care being at risk if they visit with a known perpetrator.
- Interacting with family members sets off trauma symptoms such as intense fear, flashbacks and dissociation.
- There is ongoing denial of abusive behaviour or victims are blamed for what happened to them.
- There is an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) in place against a family member and you are named in that order as a protected person.
Why shouldn’t I cut off?
If abuse, or risk of abuse is not an issue, cutting off from your family may not be the best way to manage your relationship problems. Here are some reasons to stay connected:
- Estrangement doesn’t actually solve the issue or free you from feelings of hurt. You are better off trying to resolve those resentments.
- Setting an example – there is a higher risk of future generations following your lead. If you choose to cut off from your parents, it shows your children that it is acceptable to do the same to you.
- Loss of identity – children who don’t see their grandparents or aunts, uncles and cousins are missing a piece of their identity. They might think there is something wrong with their family and therefore themselves.
- Troubled future relationships – unresolved issues can travel with you into future relationships, especially romantic relationships where you might be looking for the “perfect partner” and then blame them when differences arise. It is much healthier to learn how to resolve conflict.
- Poor health – individuals from estranged or cut-off families usually experience more ill health, including mental ill health, due to the resulting isolation and stress.
- Existential crisis – cut-off can create an existential crisis in an older parent who becomes isolated near death.
How can family counselling help for cut-offs and estrangements?
Seeking help from an experienced family counsellor can help to restore the balance of power in relationships in the safe environment of a therapy room. This might involve working with you to heal from past hurts as well as encouraging family members to actively change behaviours that are contributing to the problem.
Family estrangements, and the desire to cut off from family, are more common than you might think. The highly trained counsellors at the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists have helped many people resolve painful, complex issues in their adult families – often without the need to cut off from the family. Our therapists can help you develop new communication skills, resolve past hurts and resentments, and establish new ways of staying connected in a healthy way.
This work can be very emotional, but our Family Therapists will actively manage the sessions so that each person feels safe and can talk openly. The therapy is usually structured as a mix of individual sessions and small groups (usually twos) to ensure everyone feels safe in the room.
Cherie specialises in family and couples counselling in the areas of relationship conflict, grief, life transitions, separation and divorce, childhood trauma, and complex adolescent issues.
Cherie is a reflective and insightful therapist. She is fair and supportive, and works hard to help her clients find solutions. Clients say Cherie is gentle but firm when she needs to be and they feel comfortable with her.
Cherie brings years of couple and family experience to her clinical practice. She has a particular professional interest in blended families, foster/adopted families, rainbow families, and those with teenagers presenting with worrying behaviours such as self-harm, suicide ideation, gaming/social media addictions, and mental health diagnoses.
She has extensive experience with separated families around child access and Family Court matters.
“People are often anxious about attending therapy and that’s completely understandable. Please know that it’s my job to provide the necessary structure to give everyone a chance to be fully heard and understood. I will encourage you to think about what you want your relationships to look like in the future, and together we will work towards these goals. With the right support, you can move through what might feel ‘stuck’ right now.”
Families and couples who come to see Cherie can expect to leave sessions with a deeper understanding of relationship dynamics, tools to improve communication and the confidence to move forward.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Cherie holds a Masters in Psychotherapy and Counselling (WSU), a Diploma in Counselling (WSU) and a Bachelor degree in Communications (CSU). She also holds a certificate in Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
She is an accredited group facilitator for the Melbourne University’s Tuning into Teens parenting program, and the Jacaranda Project for adult survivors of child abuse. In previous roles, Cherie was a committee member of the Children and Adolescent Sexual Assault Counsellors’ network and was a former editor of Breaking Free – the monthly newsletter of the Blue Knot Foundation, the peak body supporting survivors with complex trauma.
Cherie is a Clinical Member of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) and a member of the Australian Association of Family Therapy (AAFT).
“When we re-married and tried to bring our families together it got horribly messy and our son started acting out. Cherie helped us to see what was going on. She listened and validated us, and offered practical advice on how to be step-parents. We feel like we’re back on track.” David (47) father of two children and step-dad to 13-year-old son Josh, and Josh’s mum Lucy (44) who saw Cherie Marriott for blended family work.
“Our arguments could get pretty heated but this didn’t seem to faze Cherie. She stayed calm and stepped in to cool things down. In the end, something just changed and we stopped spinning our wheels. I think it was Cherie’s belief in our strengths that made all the difference.”
Samantha (35) and Leon (34) who saw Cherie Marriott for couples counselling.