I remember watching Oprah one afternoon when I was in high school, as I pedaled away on my mom’s stationary bike. Oprah had a psychologist on her show who said something that made me stop pedaling and listen.
The psychologist was talking about unhealthy relationships, and she said, “Even if you needed to cut out a family member in order to feel whole and happy, you should.”
At the time, I’d never heard a comment like that. I’d grown up in a home where you didn’t really talk about trauma or toxic people, especially if they were family. In fact, my mother’s father was a pedophile and I was one of his victims. But instead of cutting him out of our life, I was told “he was family” and, well, you don’t do that to family. At 16 years old.
I honestly thought if you had a toxic family member, it didn’t matter, you were stuck with them forever and always. You had to deal with them and the way they made you feel.
Then I grew up a bit more and went away to college. While there, I never spoke to my father. He and my mother had divorced when I was 13 and I could feel his angst. He was moody, had a drinking problem, bad-mouthed my mother and sisters and everyone else he know, and constantly made us feel guilty about money or not visiting him enough.
He was such an angry man, and while I was away, he never came to visit, never called, never chipped in a dime. But I noticed something: I felt happier and healthier without him in my life. I started to realize it wasn’t my job to try to make our relationship something it wasn’t.
I remembered those words I’d heard on Oprah during parent’s weekend when it seemed like everyone had their father there, excited to see them, except for me.
And then, I let him go. I still see him on occasion, but I knew our relationship wasn’t healthy, and I was happier when I didn’t try to make it as such; I felt free.
Because of those words and that experience with my dad, I’ve been able to give myself permission to recognize when someone isn’t a fit for me, even if they aren’t a horrible person, and not to put my energy into trying to make it work.
And it’s been life-changing.
We all have relationships we wish were easier and take work, but that’s different than being in an unhealthy relationship with a spouse, parent, or old friend — the kind that never feels right.
You can hurt someone’s feelings, get your feelings hurt, or have an argument, and still have a healthy relationship.
But when it’s toxic, you feel it — it’s heavy, and you know it’s not right.
Then, when you let go of it and stop trying to make it be something it isn’t, you open yourself up to more meaningful healthy relationships, and are able to put more time into yourself and those who treat you right.
I know it can feel selfish to remove yourself from someone in order to be your best self and live a quality life; it’s not easy to accept and let go — it’s hurtful no matter how you look at it.
But I’ve never talked to anyone who stuck with someone who treated them like shit, made them feel like they come last, was abusive, or manipulative, and said they were happy they stuck it out.
These relationships can be as connected and complicated as a parent, or as minor as a friend or acquaintance on social media who continues to post toxic shit, point the finger at people, or just be an overall downer. Whatever the case, if you’re sick of hearing their nonsense, if they are toxic — unfriend away. Believe me, you’ll feel lighter.
It can be a friend who only calls or reaches out when they want something but couldn’t care less about what’s going on in your life the rest of the time. It’s okay to say “no” to them and put your energy into a friend that wants to spend time with you, share their life with you instead of take, take, take.
It can be your mother who never really felt like a mother to you because she was selfish, or greedy, or just didn’t really know how to love you because she didn’t receive the love she deserved.
Cutting people out of your life if they constantly make you feel shitty and less-than is a great form of self-care and we shouldn’t feel guilty for walking away, even if those toxic people are family.
Sure, some people do change, and there’s nothing wrong with giving someone a few chances, but you don’t have to stay in their life and hope they make the necessary changes in order for you to be in it.
It’s more than okay for you to let them go, and do your thing without them — the people who are meant to be in your life always find you.