How do you slowly distance yrself from toxic family and find one anew?
January 22, 2021 7:11 AM   Subscribe

I very much need advice on both halves of this question: how do you slowly withdraw or distance from toxic family without a dramatic departure, and how do you find new "family by choice" when you're a mid-40s never-partnered male bad at finding new friends? Slight bit more after fold.

I've very sadly realized recently that my family is really a problem for me. I don't know if it's a recent change or if my vision on this is just clearing. My elderly mother has proven (or perhaps always was) incredibly narcissistic, turning even {from me: a retelling of a recent physical scare (and) a confessions of emotion} back onto her, and my sibling is deadpan and uninterested in conversation; I hear from that sibling only when they need something. My father is a good person but we have only rarely communicated lengthily.

I'm already terrifically lonely, but my mother and sibling have begun to feel truly bad for me. I want to slowly withdraw myself from them and give my family much less of a place in my support structure, without cutting the lines of communication altogether.

I don't know how to do such a fine-tuned withdrawal, though.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think that you slowly distance yourself from your family by doing things like not confiding with them, keeping interactions superficial, use the grey rock technique as needed, leaving longer gaps when responding to them, having a list of go-to 'safe' conversation topics...

In terms of finding friends, it can be difficult particularly when you at the age at which many of your peers have young children. People I know (mainly men) who have successfully built friendship groups in middle age and later have done so by using structured groups, examples included rambling/hiking groups, meetup type groups, UU churches, improv groups, board game groups. Through these they've made the effort to get to know people and have conversations, in some cases that's been helped a lot by volunteering to organise things within the group.

Unless you're in NZ, pandemic time might make that difficult. But if you crave a sense of connection you could do worse than attending an online small group thing, that has an element of discussion, even if it's only in the short term.
posted by plonkee at 7:31 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]


Step 1 is definitely finding other supports. If you have the means, finding a therapist to work with is a great way to build in one professional line of support, and then - Covid permitting - use your activities and interests to start to build up other networks. (Hobby groups, get together groups, volunteering - these are all pre/post pandemic, other people will have to help with how to find people during Covid.)

Step 2 - Don't call them, let them call you.

Step 3 - assign them special ring tones that will remind you not to pick up the phone unless you are grounded and ready to talk to them. Just let it go to voicemail. Then don't return calls until/unless you are ready to do so.

Step 3 b) For me, I return calls to problematic family members when I'm time boxed, so for example, I have a meeting starting in 10 minutes. I call and say "I only have 5 minutes as I have a meeting at 11:45, but wanted to return your call." That way they give me whatever the important information is, and I don't have time to get into a flap with them.

Step 4 Now if you've re-established your boundaries and found other support, you can (if you wish) start calling them again, because you're in control and it's not a habit.

Step 4 b) Determine the safe topics -- topics where you aren't baring your soul -- and post a list on your fridge or whatever and try to only talk about those. For example, for me one of those is food, I ask what my family has tried lately and chat about what we've tried.

Step 5 - this works with any of them, take initiative in planning activities that work. For example, you might meet your dad for an activity only you and he do and that will naturally keep your mum at greater length.

Family events: Go for a short period of time, stick to your list of approved topics, get out fast. You'll find the balance over time.

If you live with them, have the mods add that info and I'm sure people will have other strategies.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:37 AM on January 22 [12 favorites]


It sounds like the two parts of your question aren’t two halves so much as questions along two different axes: more vs. less lonely and more vs. less family toxicity. I don’t mean to be too fussy with the metaphor here but there’s an important distinction. Staying closely connected with your family, as you describe them, isn’t in & of itself going to make you less lonely—not if your mother isn’t validating your experiences, your sibling only calls when they need something, and your father is largely out of the picture.

My suggestion is to begin with focusing on stuff you love, things that feel fulfilling whether or not other people are involved in them. Is that a hobby, a specific place, your job, a fandom? Something along the lines of “go learn to paint or some shit.” Start with stuff you’re connected to and engaged with, and hopefully that will lead to more connection with others who aren’t in your family. Even if it doesn't feel as organized as something you'd call a "support structure" right away, it will make it more easy and natural to lean on your family less, as it sounds like they’re not being supportive.

Sorry you’re dealing with this and I hope whatever’s prompted this now leads to some fruitful change.
posted by miles per flower at 8:05 AM on January 22


I see you already have some answers on how to find friends and I'm sure you will get more.

Even for things that might be difficult in person due to the pandemic right now, go ahead and start checking into them, see if you can find local groups for those things that are doing online meetups or at least a discussion board. Once you can meet in person again you will already be familiar to others.

We are coming up on a time when many people will be wanting to meet new friends, and you will have opportunities for finding friends that were harder to come by in the past. This is a great time for you to be asking this question and considering how to do this.
posted by yohko at 5:07 PM on January 29


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