The last time I wrote about ending harmful certain relationships, I received a lot of negative mail from people who felt that one should stay close to family, friends, and business associates no matter how abusive, depleting, or toxic they are. Years and countless conversations later, I am stronger in my resolve:

Biology does not make a relationship, behavior does.

Most of us were taught that titles like “mother,” “father,” “best-friend,” etc. automatically call us to be obligated, emotionally intertwined, and unconditionally loyal.

In healthy relationships, this is fine. Yet, for those who are biologically, legally, or professionally connected to people who are unkind, destructive, or disrespectful, it can lead to a lifetime of suffering.

We attach tremendous meaning to relationship titles and consequently, we feel pain when people fail our expectations of kind and decent treatment. Bound by a sense of obligation many people remain in soul-sucking relationships, tolerate unspeakable behavior, and endure blatantly poor treatment. 

Marriages, bloodlines, familial or professional associations do not, on their own, create healthy, or positive relationships. The true value of a relationship is determined by its quality, not its title.

I have sisters I’d lay my life down for and we share no biological link. I have biological relatives that I haven’t spoken with in more than a decade. 

It’s a blessing to be born to a family that actively loves and cares for its members, but many families just don’t function this way. 

I was born into a family with a few racially prejudiced members. As a child, I struggled with society’s images of a loving family and my reality.

It shouldn’t shock us when we fail to meet the image of familial bliss. Families are an amalgamation of assorted personalities, capacities, and values. It’s natural that the full spectrum of wonders, maladies, and challenges are represented. 

As the primary advocate, protector, and caregiver for you, you must make a choice when entrenched in an untenable family situation:

1) work with the relative to improve the relationship (they have to want to work with you, too) or,

2) where the former isn’t possible, remove yourself from harm. 

When I became a mom, I realized that I didn’t have to remain in unhappy or harmful situations. I didn’t have to keep trying to live up to expectations that came attached to the titles I had.

I didn’t have to sit tensely at the holiday table wondering when someone would erupt. I didn’t have to feel guilty for not spending the day doing what someone else wanted while my heart ached. I didn’t have to feel inadequate for not being what someone else wanted.

I also didn’t need to cause a firestorm of upset. I could release myself and the other label-wearers of all obligations, free myself from the upset, and let go in peace.

I’ve gone on to create a new family, brimming with people who have one thing in common, genuine love, kindness, and regard for each other. 

Choosing to move away from harmful, unhappy relationships creates space for real, substantive connections. It improves your self-image and builds self-respect and trust. This confidence effortlessly attracts others with similar mindsets, and your family grows.

Surrendering and releasing destructive family members also cleared the negative feelings I’d held about them. In time, some relationships were reborn—on new and voluntary foundations.

There are a few situations where you may choose to compromise your peace and comfort to bring happiness to another (an elderly, or dying relative, for example). If you make this choice, be sure to understand your motivation and do no harm to anyone—including you.

Here’s to you loving others and yourself.

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