I was talking to a friend recently, who has greatly limited contact with her family. She cut way down on the time she spends around them, and the time they get to spend with her too. Over the years, she has figured out and put into place a way of dealing with her emotionally unavailable parents and traumatized siblings. It works for her in a way that it would never have worked for me, with my family. Sometimes she calls me, when a family member launches a particularly strong assault on her boundaries, but that is becoming increasingly more rare.
The conversation made me think though, about limited contact and how it can work for people.
Limited Contact Is Not Always Enough
I just want to start with this point (before I have 10 people jumping down my throat): limited contact does not always work. In fact, I think it is very tricky to maintain. Toxic people are after all notorious for not respecting your boundaries, so why would they stay behind this line?
I think there are a few elements that determine its success.
Is the toxic person ignoring or an engulfing type of person?
My family is very engulfing. What that means is that they will swallow you whole when you extend them even the smallest bit of attention. It is not attention or interest that they sweeps you up, but a type of entitlement. They are entitle to know your business, to criticize you, to interfere with you life… They own you, it is their right to have access to you.
If you are dealing with an abuser like that, limited contact will be impossible to maintain.
What is your role within the toxic dynamic?
As we have often discussed there are various roles in the abuse dynamic, outside of the abuser and the target. Some of these players in the dynamic will never want to leave it, like for example the golden child. The person most likely to want to leave is the scapegoat, the main target for the abuse. Now, unless the abuser has a new target all lined up and ready to go… they are not going to let you just walk off into the sunset.
If that’s you, this will make no contact harder to achieve, but limited contact harder to enforce.
What is their relationship to you?
The setting of the abusive situation will have a great impact on its effect on you, and therefor the choices you will make about limiting or breaking contact. Maybe you feel socially pressured to make certain choices, or perhaps you don’t see your abuser that often anyway, so you want to let sleeping dogs lie. Just remember that you are completely in your right to make your own choices, change you mind, readjust your course…
How Limited Contact Can Work
We have all heard the expression ‘pick your battles’, I am sure. Limited contact is more of less like that. It is about making a choice to accept some contact and interaction, in order to forego the “no contact battle”.
Slowly does it!
Like I mentioned, toxic people and abusers are likely to kick up a fight when they notice you leaving. If you are not (yet) ready to face that increase in toxicity, it may be helpful to slowly limit contact. I say slowly, because otherwise they may still respond to you setting boundaries as an attempt for you to get out.
Start letting their calls go to voicemail from time to time, and decide when you feel strong enough to call back. Announce a “Facebook Fast”, they are pretty hip these days, and they give you a couple of weeks of not sharing information with the toxic person through your social media posts. Every time you find they have accepted a boundary, try another way to limit their access to you.
Decide what ‘wins’ you will give away
When it comes to boundaries and toxic people, I always reference dog training. In other words: consistency is key! Sometimes though, it is okay to let them have a perceived ‘win’. They like the feeling of getting one over on you, so decide for yourself which wins you will give away.
For example, my parents write a letter to my in-laws about once every other Christmas. It usually is some negative martyr style letter of woe questioning why their daughter has left them. It upsets my mother-in-law especially, but she understand where I am coming from. Usually the effect of the letter is that she and I have a good talk, which is actually pretty positive. At some point we talked about the possibility of sending a cease and desist as a response. I explained to her though that, all though I would fully support her, I figured it would just lead to more letters. Once the know that they got to you, that they found a button that gets a response (whatever response) they will start hammering that button obsessively.
So, we decided to let them get away with the biennial letter writing. As long as that keeps them happy, we will accept it and deal with it.
Like I said, limited contact is all about picking your battles.