Toxic people are a little more insidious than toxic waste in that they don't walk around with a gigantic biohazard sign around their necks. And honestly, in my opinion, the best way to deal with toxic people is by having the fewest possible interactions with them, going up to the point of "No Contact," or NC for short.
There are some nice things about NC:
- It's a (more) easily enforceable boundary. That's not to say that other boundaries won't work, but it is hard to be vigilant about a "emotional abuse" boundary if the abuser has no concept of what constitutes emotional abuse. By having NO contact, it's easy to tell when the boundary is crossed. I can't promise that the abuser will understand the concept of "NO," though.
- It's easier breaking free of old patterns when you don't have the abuser trying to reinforce those patterns in interactions.
- Stress levels are lower. It's so much nicer not to have to worry about offending the abuser, letting you tackle other stresses in life, instead. You'll probably find you have no tolerance for other jerks, too, after you cut one from your life.
- You can heal faster. It's hard to be NC with someone, but without them, it's easier to focus on what you need to do in order to heal.
The downside of NC, on the flip side, is what makes it SO hard to maintain it. We keep hoping that eventually the abuser will change for the better, even though they pretty much never do. That's why so many survivors help each other out with trying to maintain NC by reminding us that contact is NOT worth getting hurt again.
- FOG is hard to overcome (Fear, Obligation, Guilt). It's so hard to overcome, especially when the abuser tends to use it against us in order to keep on controlling us. It's a conditioned response.
- It's hard to not be in touch with people we care about...even if they are abusers. It's natural to keep on loving the person who abused you or are toxic, but remember, your own health and sanity comes first. If you can't stay healthy around the toxic person, then you should probably go NC.
- People don't understand NC. Keep in mind that some people grew up in healthier families, some may be able to maintain boundaries short of NC, others may be in complete denial about the true nature of the abuser or the toxic person (especially those who can turn on the charm in public). They do not understand, and they often do not want to understand. They'll use platitudes like "But he's your faaaaather!" or "You only have one set of parents" or "Life is too short" or "I know when I was in my teens I had trouble with my parents, too..." Fear of what others may thing is probably the biggest problem we face when going NC.
How exactly do you go NC?
There's two modes of thought that I've seen online. One is to write a NC letter explaining you no longer want anything to do with the person. However, some may say that only invites further abuse and in the cases of narcs, they will twist your words or try to figure out how to get you back. The other way is to simply not talk to them anymore. Emails go straight to the trash, letters to the recycling bin, phone calls ignored/blocked, until they finally stop contacting you. Some people choose not to announce NC unless the toxic person keeps persisting, and then they will write a NC letter.
I kind of got lucky in so far as my parents did their own NC with me when they disowned me. It happened accidentally when I was enforcing my lesser boundaries. My mom was trying to use the FOG tactics to encourage me to go back to the way things were, and so I told her that I wouldn't stand for that anymore. I would be glad to talk with her so long she didn't try to guilt me into being abused again. (I didn't use the word abuse, but you know...) One email would be fine, but then the next would have the guilt tactics, and I'd point it out to her, and reminded her of my boundaries. Eventually she said she would no longer email me unless I emailed her first because they were tired of my rules. I thought that was a fair thing to do, and went along with it. Which was probably not what she and dad was expecting.
Then when dad emailed out of the blue a month or two later, pretending to be happy "Hey, let's let bygones be bygones!" and invited me out to dinner with them at a restaurant to try to begin anew. I invited my fiance along because I was afraid of my parents twisting reality. I needed someone who could give me a perspective check. I did my best to pretend everything was normal, and deliberately made eye contact with dad and tried to include him in conversations, even though he was being cold and distant. I knew he would feel "abandoned" if I didn't try. (That is to say, I fell back into my old patterns again...)
But after the dinner, my mom emailed me, shaming me for ignoring dad and being rude to him, and I remember being bewildered at that. At that point, I knew I couldn't ever find common ground with them at the moment, and just did not respond. That's when NC began. Mostly.
They did all the enforcing, since they were sure I was being a horrible, awful child. When I sent birthday cards and Christmas presents to the little siblings, they finally told me not to send anything more to them or else it'll be mailed right back to me.
So, I got off fairly easy, actually, in terms of NC. It's so tempting sometimes, to try to break that wall again and find out how my little siblings are doing. I'm worried about them, and wonder how they are doing. Especially in terms of mental health--I'm remembering my own trauma and emotions when I was their ages, and I wish I could tell them, "I remember. That happened to me, too. You are not the crazy one. You are okay. He is being a bully. Take care of yourself. Stand up for yourself. I'm here for you if you need to talk, or just a safe place to be."
That's definitely the hardest part of NC for me.
Filed under: Abuse