The (lack of) rules of removing toxic people

Heading into a grocery store cafe to do some work before my afternoon plans, I was worried about seeing my mother. As I’ve described before, I cut contact with my mom over 18 months ago and have only seen her twice, when my stepfather died.

The process of cutting her off has involved dreams, therapy, and low-level anxiety whenever I’m somewhere I might run into her.

In one of the first dreams, it was winter and I was meeting my mom at a shopping mall. I thought to myself in the dream, “Maybe mom will buy me a winter coat since I need a new one.” I woke up thinking, “I’m not talking to mom. I have to buy my own winter coat.”

I had another dream that I ran into her at a crowded restaurant. She was wearing a denim jacket with a bedazzled rhinestone design on the back (not typical of her style, if that matters). I took care to avoid her so she didn’t see me.

The third dream was about this very grocery store where I am typing this now. I ran into her in the produce department and she asked if I had anything to say to her. I simply said, “No,” and kept shopping.

These dreams happened over the course of about a year, and through them all I was in therapy, frequently discussing my mom but also my marriage and the ways my issues from childhood were affecting my ability to be a functional partner (spoilers, they weren’t the problem).

My therapist once asked, “What do you think your mom would think about ___________?” and my response was an emphatic and immediate, “I don’t care!” It was that moment that finally clicked for me that it no longer mattered what my mother thought about me. It’s still an ongoing process, but a very healthy and helpful one to continue unpacking.

As I walked into this grocery store this morning, briefly worried if I’d see her, I saw with perfect clarity what I would do if I did. I would offer her a hug and ask how she was doing. If she wanted to talk, I would talk. And if she questioned any of it at all, I knew my answer would be, “I love you even if I can’t have you in my life.”

Even though I do not forgive her, I love her and would offer her compassion.

I can love someone and be angry. I can love someone and not forgive. I can love someone and have boundaries. I can love someone who isn’t part of my life anymore for my own health.

But the key is: It would be MY choice to speak to her in that moment.

My decision to offer my mother compassion is about ME and is not a prescription for anyone else who might be going through the process of removing a toxic person from their life.

Don’t take this as instructions on how it’s best to forgive, be compassionate, and move on. Nope. You can be as mad as you want to be and I will never tell you to let it go. If it serves you, protects you, and gives you a reason to get out of bed and make the world better (even if it’s just a world of one), hold onto whatever you need. If it hurts you to be angry, maybe think on that. But I don’t tell you what to do. You make the rules.

I make my rules.


6 thoughts on “The (lack of) rules of removing toxic people

  1. Completely get this feeling. I had a lot of dreams too when I was cutting off my mum, we are now in contact again but had so many dreams about seeing her car or suddenly being back in her house. It’s how your brain helps you to process it.

    Well written ^_^

  2. I don’t consider my maternal relationship to be toxic as such, but I am currently investigating how best to help her without getting overly involved. Maybe that takes cutting her off for awhile. I’m on a waitlist for therapy, so in the meantime I’ll make do with you, my local library and Kati Morton on YouTube. Thanks for another great post!

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