Caroline Cranshaw: How to end a relationship with a toxic friend or family member


We all know the importance of breaking up a romantic relationship with a toxic person. But what if that person is a family member or close friend? Just because you’re related, does that mean you have to endure an abusive relationship for the rest of your life?

You have probably been struggling with the strained connection for a long time, but actually ending the relationship brings on feelings of guilt, abandonment, failure and grief – not only from within yourself but from everyone else. No matter how abusive and horrible the relationship is, it's a tough decision to make and follow through on.

Ask yourself the following questions to help get clarity if they are truly a toxic person and if you should end the relationship.

1. Are they always disregarding your boundaries?

If you’re constantly telling someone to stop behaving a certain way and they continue, that person is most likely toxic. Respecting peoples boundaries comes easily to a well-balanced adult whereas a toxic person gets off on defying your boundaries.

2. Are they always trying to control you?

People who don’t feel in control of their own lives have a tendency to want to control yours. Toxic people look for ways to control the people around them, either through subtle manipulation, criticism, anger or openly telling you no.

3. Are they always right?

Toxic people will never admit they are wrong even when it's obvious that they are. They rarely, (if ever) acknowledge when they’ve messed up, or said something hurtful.

4. Are they continually dishonest?

I’m not talking about little white lies or exaggerations. I’m talking about deliberate and repeated dishonesty.

5. Are they always the victim and never take responsibility?

Toxic, abusive people love to play the victim. This might take the form of blaming everyone else and making excuses. The victim mentality is a way to avoid responsibility. If everything bad is someone else’s fault, the victim is free of any responsibility of the impact of their actions.

6. Is the only contact you have with them negative?

Is the contact you have with them always bringing you down? Are they always criticising you, making you feel guilty for not doing enough for them, and making you feel you’re not good enough? If you have told them not that it is not okay to behave this way more than once and they continue to do it, it’s time to end the relationship as this is a toxic person who is abusing you.

When the relationship has a continued theme of abuse – emotional, verbal, mental, physical, or sexual – it’s not okay no matter who the person is. If you are living in constant worry never knowing or able to predict how any contact is going to turn out, it’s important to love yourself enough to let the relationship go.

The best prediction of future behaviour is past behaviour and if this person has always been abusive, they will normally continue this dynamic until the relationship ends.

How to cut out toxic people

Just to warn you - cutting toxic people out of your life can be incredibly stressful. Most likely they will try to do everything possible to make your life hell, but it sounds like your life is already hell with them in it - which is why it’s essential to remove these people from your life.

So how do you remove these toxic people from your life and move on healthier and happier than before?

  • Understand that it may be a process. Getting rid of toxic people isn’t always trouble-free. They don’t acknowledge your boundaries now, so they probably won’t respect them later. They will likely keep coming back even after you have told them to go away. So keep in mind that ending the relationship can be a gradual process.
  • Know that you don’t owe them a massive explanation. Tell them how you feel, which is a topic that’s not open for a debate. Tell them calmly and kindly that due to your past history and hurt, you don’t want them in your life anymore. How much or how little you say is up to you.
  • Tell them in a public place, send them a letter or do it over the phone. It’s up to you with what you feel comfortable with. Abusive people can get argumentative, say hurtful things and even get violent. Talking to them publicly or in other ways where you feel safe will reduce the chance of this happening. If they start to get belligerent, you can just get up and leave or hang up the phone.
  • Block them on your phone and social media. Technology can make ending contact more difficult, so don’t leave a way for them to bully you. You’ve told them you’re done, now stick to it. Blocking their email and other lines of communication may be necessary.
  • Don’t bicker with them. It’s easy to fall into the same pattern by arguing or fighting about the same old stuff — and that’s exactly what they want. If they do contact you again, promise yourself that you will not engage with them. Repeat to them that you have chosen to end the relationship and stop communicating with them.

This isn’t a negotiation and you can’t debate a toxic, abusive person into leaving you alone. Remember, do not feed the trolls. Removing toxic people out of your life can be one of the most challenging things you can do (especially family members!) However, it is also one of the most healing and empowering things you can ever do.

Cutting out toxic people from your life sends an important message to yourself. One that says “I love and respect myself and my happiness is more important than someone else’s dysfunction.” Toxic people will try to take away your self-worth, so don’t allow them in your life.

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.