PERSPECTIVE: Toxic relationships

Adriona Murphy

Adriona Murphy

When you’re in grade school and learning about bullying, everyone tosses around the word “frenemies.” Your teachers explain that not all of your friends are good friends, and some of them act in a way that is toxic.

They explain that, sometimes, cutting ties between yourself and your frenemy is for the best, and it’s not healthy to try to maintain those relationships. But what happens when that toxic relationship isn’t just a friendship? What about when it’s family?

From a young age, I always heard, “Well, they’re family. You have to love them.” It took me a while to realize that’s not necessarily true.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a difficult relationship with my dad. My parents were separated and I lived with my mom, so I didn’t see him a lot, typically only on Sundays.

Some of my earliest memories of him are him arguing with my mom over the phone and upsetting her.

I remember coming back from a birthday trip when I was 6. He called, and my mom handed me the phone to talk to him. I hung it up.

Our visits consisted of going over to my paternal grandmother’s house and watching TV. Most of the time he’d just sleep or end up going to run an errand, leaving me with my grandma. I’d call my mom to pick me up early.

That’s not to say it was all bad. I have several happy memories of days with him, and he was a good dad when he wanted to be. But we weren’t close in any sense of the word.

I was about 13 when I decided I didn’t want to see him anymore. At that point, I was hardly seeing him regularly and trying to maintain a relationship became draining, even at a young age.

For a long time, I felt guilty about the decision to cut him off; he’s my dad after all.

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. If someone in your life is toxic, why should you keep trying to fix the relationship?

Family or not, it’s not healthy. Thinking about it now, he would say little things to me, and even my mom, that would spiral me into a panic and reduce me to tears for hours. (Turns out, that was the beginning of a fun thing known as crippling anxiety).

There were forgotten — or mistaken — birthdays, calls to say good luck on the first day of freshman year when I was a junior, angry texts out of nowhere. All of these things, both big and small, helped me understand that sometimes it’s OK to cut off toxic relationships with family. A break, whether it’s for a couple days or even a couple years, can be beneficial for both parties to learn and grow. I know it was for me.

Contact Adriona Murphy at [email protected].