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 more and 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 sweeps you up, but a type of entitlement. They feel they are entitled to know your business, to criticize you, and to interfere with you life. They act as if they own you, and that 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. Like the abuser’s spouse, or the target’s siblings. 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 target is you, this will make no contact hard to achieve, but limited contact harder to enforce.
What is their relationship to you?
The setting of the abusive situation will determine its effect on you, and therefore 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, and would prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. Just remember that you are completely in your right to make your own choices, change your mind, and readjust your course.
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