Heart to Heart
A time to sever family ties
Posted Thursday, May 10 2012 at 00:00
We are always searching for ways to make the family a stronger unit; organising get-togethers and pitching in at family functions. But there are some family members that are better kept at a distance.
For most people, nothing gives a sense of belonging like family. In fact, nothing equals family whether we are talking careers, future spouses or education. People have forsaken wonderful education opportunities abroad; they have declined attractive job offers and have disappointed prospective and seemingly ideal mates, when the decision affects the stability of the family in any major sort of way.
Yes, family is that important that the idea of severing ties with them seems like complete insanity. But significant as it may be, family too comes with all sorts of characters. Do you see all those vexatious, attention-seeking, compliment-hungry, clingy, loudmouthed, pushy, workaholic people? They all have families and you have probably wondered about and even pitied their close family members. Indeed, families put up with a lot of “toxic” behaviour from members yet they will stick to them through thick and thin.
A price to pay
However, the price of holding on to difficult family members is sometimes unbearably high, leaving one wounded and drained financially, mentally or psychologically with each interaction. This is when the idea of severing these blood ties may occur.
Some people have been brave enough to mercilessly cut themselves off completely. While some have successfully gone on with their lives, others soon realise they are lost, afraid and uncertain without family. They soon rush back to apologise before receiving the same expected “toxic” treatment, or even, getting rejected for attempting such a feat. So, what does one do when family interactions spew out only crippling harmful energy, without a morsel of positivity along the way? What steps does someone who is considering picking up scissors to cut ties for the sake of his wellbeing take? And what is the kind of behaviour that usually causes people to live a family-less life?
First, let us hear out Geraldine Nabankema, who is planning to cut her mother out of her life.
“She does not appreciate anything I do for her or my siblings. I pay her loans, look after them in sickness and recently, she was getting evicted and I had to pay through the nose to secure her land and house. However, she never calls if she has no problem, she does not even visit and when I was hospitalised last year, she did not even call or come to visit, yet she throws tantrums and even calls down curses if I inadvertently fail to do her bidding,” she narrates.
In Africa, completely cutting yourself off from the family is quite impossible according to Beatrice Kakembo, a family therapist. She argues that African rituals and ceremonies like burials, last funeral rites and clan meetings usually require that you inevitably attend in person.
“But every relationship should have some benefits,” says Kakembo. “A relationship is like an investment. Not that it should be heavenly, but there should be some giving and some taking.”She says it does not have to be about money alone but it can be about emotional support and enjoying time together. But if a family member criticises how you dress, your parenting skills, and everything in between, then it is best to start by minimising contact.
If it is your mother, Kakembo suggests that you can limit contact to going over only, say, during Christmas holidays, and not calling as often as you have been doing. This is because there is no sense in continually relating with someone who tortures you psychologically whenever you meet. She notes that such people are used to being received regardless that they do not behave any better. So, excommunicating them can, for starters, jolt them into changing for the better.
Say it like it is
The psychologist also suggests that you can come out candidly and put them where they belong. Openly tell them your feelings about their behaviour. She warns, however, that this usually backfires when the other party is your parent because our culture does not allow us to talk back to our parents.
A common example is parents who will want you to help a sibling who clearly exploits others financially by spending his money unwisely. If parents expect that you will take care of his family fees, food and rent, and you fail to comply by talking back at them bluntly, they are wont to call down curses, or even, disown you.
However, if you can survive this verbal criticism, especially from mothers about how they carried you for nine months and how they deserve better for educating you, a verbal tirade that is usually meant to intimidate you into silence and doing what they want, Kakembo says they will be angry at first but they may come around eventually.
It might be immediate, or it will take years, but there is no point in enduring emotional and psychological abuse, or getting financially wrecked because of family. So act on that family member who is affecting your wellbeing.