Have you noticed that your emotional wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around you have seemingly worsened during the pandemic? Maybe it’s the side eyes you feel when walking down the street. Or maybe it’s your mother calling you every couple days to ask if you’ve seen the terrible news on TV, to which you roll your eyes and groan “Yes, mom.”
Those might be contributing to your anxieties. But there are deeper issues going on. One such issue is emotional cutoff. Cutoffs between family members and family friends have become more and more normal over the decades, and have become socially acceptable during the pandemic.
Grounds for Emotional Cutoff
But if Dr. Murray Bowen, the psychiatrist who came up with Family Systems Theory, were alive today, he would gently remind us there are only a few instances where emotional cutoff is appropriate.
What is grounds for emotional cutoff? Things like serious abuse or neglect – particularly if your abuser and their enablers refuse to own or rectify the damage. In most other cases, it is actually detrimental to both parties’ wellbeing to experience complete emotional cutoff.
Potential Harms of Emotional Cutoff
Emotional cutoff alleviates anxiety and pain in the short-term, but that pain is heightened in the long run. Cutoff may become a comfortable pattern and over time the perpetrator may amass dozens of unresolved conflicts that are simultaneously deteriorating their mental health.
Cutoff is not only damaging for the relationship in question, but can have consequences for new relationships, as well. As a perpetrator cuts off their family more and more, they begin to rely too much on new relationships to fill their social and emotional needs. Relationships with new spouses, children, and friends become predictably unstable and unhealthy.
Ending Emotional Cutoff
So how do you open up the channels of communication? It all starts with taking care of yourself. It’s easier to enter difficult conversations when you feel more content and connected to yourself. Once you are in a better headspace, then you must get in touch with how you’re feeling – a skill that many of us (understandably) have lost during the pandemic.
Once you’ve become stronger at executing these skills after a few weeks of practice, you may feel ready to talk. Take deep breaths and repeat to yourself, “I will remain calm and collected. I am going to give this my honest best, and what happens, happens.”
Pick up the phone and say, “Hi _____, I’m sorry I have put so much distance between us. I know I made you feel _____ by cutting you off and I feel ______ for doing so. Although it doesn’t excuse my past behavior, I want you to know that when you _____, it made me feel ______, which is why I behaved the way I did. I value our relationship and want to be on good terms and I am willing to do the work to get there.”
Grace is one of the greatest gifts people can give. It is profoundly beautiful and healing for both parties. And ending emotional cutoff saves more pain the sooner you do it.
Change Is Healthy
Things won’t be the same as they were before – and that’s healthy and necessary. Both parties must work to repair and nourish the relationship.
You may even purposefully choose to change the channels of communication, and it will benefit you to know which channels you wish to keep open. Setting boundaries from the beginning is important and will save you and others a lot of heartache and headache down the road.
Having some channels open with boundaries is better for your long term wellbeing than having no channels open at all. You know you best, and I trust that you’re going to do what’s right for yourself while also making some kind of a relationship possible.
I am sending you my best wishes in your journey to make amends and move to a healthier space. Here’s to a happier and more connected world!