We all want to fix situations with people we genuinely care about and/or have long-standing connections with, but sometimes the actions those people take toward us make it clear that they don’t value the relationship as much as we do. If that’s been happening to you with people you feel you should have a better relationship with, it may be time to go no contact.
Going no contact is a last resort for protecting yourself from family members, friends, and former romantic partners who don’t respect you or value you. It’s exactly what it says on the tin — you cut off people in your life who have caused you emotional distress and are intent on not understanding how and why they’ve hurt you.
We reached out to a mental health professional and someone who’s gone through the process of going no contact to help you with your own journey towards going no contact with a narcissist, abuser, or the like.
Why Would You Consider Going No Contact?
Going no contact a.k.a the no contact rule was popularized as a method of getting over former romantic partners. The basic idea is to have zero, nada, zilch contact with a former partner so you don’t have to think about them, and waste precious mental energy, or be roped into a situation where you’re forced to stay in contact for politeness’ sake. Easier said than done, and really, much easier to do with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. Not so easy when it’s a family member who you want to be able to depend on and want to foster a better relationship with.
“It’s never easy to break off ties with a family member.” Jen Rivers, an Associate Clinical Social Worker who specializes in LGBTQIA+ therapy, shared with us, “If folks are considering no contact, then they realize it is for a legitimate reason, even when it feels like they don’t have a legitimate reason. This is key.”
While that may make going no contact sound like a decision made on a whim, Rivers makes it clear that this isn’t the case. In fact, the reason why it may be hard to go figure out why you want to go no contact is because of lingering expectations of what the relationship should be like or could be like if you stayed and tried to “fix” things.
“I see it with clients all the time. They want their parent and/or family member to see them, be present with them, love and nurture them, and they also see how toxic and damaging it is to have these folks in their lives.” Rivers says.
Wednesday Lee Friday, a writer at The Roots of Loneliness Project, shared with us her no contact story. Friday decided to go no contact with her family a few months before she turned 25 years old back in 1995. She says she continues to have no contact with both her mother and her husband as well as one sibling.
“This was spurred mainly by my mother’s untreated mental illness, and her violent opposition to my seeking mental health treatment.” Friday explained, “She had been violent and mentally/emotionally unstable my entire childhood, leaving me with a traumatic brain injury.”
Friday says the decision to cut off her family was difficult but that she had explained to them that she wanted to be treated better before she would consider re-establishing contact.
“I literally said, “I’m leaving. Do not contact me until you’re willing to treat me with some basic goddamn courtesy.”” Friday said. She adds that she has, so far, not heard back from her family members for the past 27 years. “All I wanted was a sincere apology and an admission of what she’d done to us. We got neither. “
How Can Going No Contact Benefit You?
The obvious and primary benefit of going no contact is that it gives you space to process what you feel and focus on your healing — without having to worry about anyone else taking it personally and/or making you feel like you have to deprioritize your mental health.
Jen Rivers says going no contact lets you “give space to what is happening internally”. According to her, it also lets you re-regulate your nervous system which may be perpetually stuck in the four Fs of trauma response: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Going no contact can also be a way to move your relationships towards a positive direction as it lets you re-evaluate how you would like to have a family member, friend, or former partner in your life — if you want them around at all, that is.
“Clients talk all the time about the connection they have toward the family member, even though it’s toxic and hurtful.” Rivers told us, “Sometimes that connection is enough to keep folks from staying in toxic, abusive family dynamics and relationships.”
What Are the Drawbacks of Going No Contact?
Part of the struggle to make act on the desire to go no contact is because of the connection that Rivers talks about. Often, we find ourselves emotionally dragging our feet because we think back on fond memories, the good in a person, and the hopes we have for a relationship. This can make going no contact emotionally taxing even after you’ve already cut ties.
“Other drawbacks include losing other family members who may “side” against you, feeling isolated, and feeling like you’re the problem or at fault.” Rivers adds. But she says a good way to combat this loss of support is to build a chosen family — close friends or a new community — outside of your biological family that can meet your emotional needs.
“Perhaps you had a mother who couldn’t attune to you and your emotional needs, maybe you seek out friendships or mentors who can. Folks can still get what they lacked in childhood in the present.” Rivers goes on to explain.
Creating a found family or chosen family is a good way to establish strong connections that keep you from going back to situations that didn’t work for you out of a need for familiarity. Because of this, it’s also an effective way of supporting yourself through leaving a cult.
Dealing With What Happens After You Go No Contact
Going no contact won’t be easy, clearly, but part of why that will be is because the other person may not be too happy about being cut off. Some people you cut off may respond by fawning over you with gifts and praise, reminding you of the good times and maybe even telling you that you’re the one being unreasonable in this situation. A lot of these are tactics to make you doubt your decision and re-enter the unhealthy relationship dynamics you had with them. These fawning tactics typically fall away once you get past the honeymoon phase of re-establishing contact.
Another thing about going no contact is that it will change your relationship dynamics with someone, whether they’re a parent, partner, or friend, drastically. No contact is a two-way street and the other person may later decide that they want to remain no contact even if you find yourself wanting to revisit the relationship.
Regardless, if you’re dealing with someone who causes you prolonged, repeated, and significant emotional distress, you likely won’t want to come back anyway.
Friday just has this to say about the aftermath of her going no contact with family members,”I moved out, moved on, moved forward pursuing all the things she always told me I was too stupid or lazy to do. Meanwhile, she’s a bitter recluse who yells at her TV and is afraid to answer her phone.”
Hey, thanks! I love how this piece turned out.
And thank you for talking to us! Your story was really touching and we checked out the Roots of Loneliness project — really cool.