Going to the Emotional Gym

Dear Andrea,I came across you website and wanted some help with this situation:

What ideas do you have about reentering a cutoff part of my family? (I have cutoff from this side of the family for around 10 years).

What are the pit-falls to be on the look out for?

How do I do it and maintain my self?

Is there a healthy way knowing that I have changed, but the reasons for my leaving the system are really still there?

Has such a chapter has been written by any one yet in the field of family systems. Many thanks,“x”

Hi there glad to give you a few ideas.First, there is a book on cut off.My favorite chapter is by Priscilla Friesen. Emotional Cutoff: Bowen Family Systems Theory Perspectives (Haworth Marriage and the Family) (Haworth Marriage and the Family) by Peter Titelman Yes, it is $62 dollars..

Also you may think about getting some to coach you. I will give you more information if you decide to go in this direction.

I can only give you general ideas as I am not able to coach people on e mail whom I do not know.

A recently story on bridging cut off and the impact on functioning is about Justine Henin who just won the US OPEN. She had to wait for her brother to be in a near fatal car accident for the path way to open to reconnect with her family.


In general cut offs are indicators of generations of side taking and deep beliefs in right and wrong, and it all unfolds as someone will be blamed.

People get isolated to protect self from harm or energy going in the wrong direction. It all can make rational sense but emotionally too much of avoiding the difficult people makes us weak.

At the extreme differences are not at all tolerated. Cut off leads to serious problems. At a milder level cut off functions to give people space to be “different.”

You can hear people rationalize cutting off when someone say things like: P People in my family are jerks. It is easier to talk to the people I sit next to on the bus.

Marriages make for a new drawing of loyalty lines. This is often the time when people cut off from the family of origin.

Again, it can seem rational but it goes in the direction of decreasing your flexibility. If you are willing to take on the slings and arrows of stillness from others then you are ready to reenter your family.

The main thing is you need to have a realistic plan and to get in and get out of a negative emotional system without trying to achieve too much. Think of going to an emotional gym.

You get a coach, find out how much to lift agree to keep practicing and then you go home and relax.

If you do begin by trying to relate to some of the more difficult people in your family on the phone, then you might say something that sets an immediate limit. I have five minutes to talk.

If the call gets negative or too intense then just say I will call back later when I am calmer.

Take responsibility for your part in getting out and let the person know you will be back. You never say negative things like: you, you, you are the reason I have to hang up leave etc..

You just let the people know in some way, I will be back because I will always be working on my relationship with you as I care deeply, even when we disagree.

I usually go back to reconnect with family members, with the intention to build my emotional backbone.Often my goal is to get to know more about someone in the family I have heard about but know little about at a personal level.

Often the history of relationships is stuck in the past. For example, my great aunt was upset with me as my great grandmother was not positive about her daughter.

It can take years of relate at a low key level before you can establish a more genuine relationship. When it happens you will know you are no longer seen as a shadow of the past family relationships.

But to get there you have to be aware of the past prejudices and take nothing personal.

It is hard to recover from taking on the verbal projections that people put on anyone who tries to reconnect. When anyone reconnects others can and do get upset. The pattern has been broken and people are dealing with the unexpected.

My question is- How do you keep from not reacting to others and relate at a more genuine level? Hope that helps..



  1. Dear Andrea,
    I am very interested both personally and professionally in Bowen Theory regarding cutoffs. I have a burning question that I have not so far been able to resolve, that I hope you can comment on: What recommendations can you make if a family member has no conscience, and the behaviors you are dealing with are lying, deceit, manipulation, etc.? It seems that in some circumstances disassociating provides some measure of protection. I will be grateful for any guidance you can give in this regard. And I look forward to the publishing of your book.
    Thank you!

  2. Yes, you are wise to note that it is not just on the evening news where we find people who are so very difficult to deal with.

    If any of us are to look back far enough we will find our family tree all the saints and the sinners we need.

    Ok, so life is full of devilishly trickery people, now what do we do, if we want to do more than react and condemn?

    First, as hinted above, it is best to see without any condemning judgment. We do need to know who the person is and what behaviors they demonstrate that makes us reactive. You might not have to tell them the history but it is useful to know how they trigger you.

    Now then you may even know what circumstances operated on this person so that they ended up so very compromised.

    Then, if you are deeply neutral about the person you can be compassionate, sometimes even funny but still tough.

    We can not accommodate brutish behavior or more of it will pop up all over the family tree.

    If someone is un-trustworthy then there are still many things you can say besides good by and good riddance!

    A friend of mine had a good one the other day, he said to a family member “I am unable to trust your words and will watch what you do instead.”

    The principle is to make people responsible for their behavior. You can do this by letting them know what you think you see them doing and what actions you will take. No one is perfect and so at times blame creeps in. But the goal is to stay in contact on some reasonable terms.

    I have used statements like- “If you need to drink/smoke/lie/steal/blame me etc., I can only withdraw and take a vacation till I can figure out how to deal with you.”

    This makes it 50/50. I take responsibility for participating in the relationship and state the conditions. The other is free to come and go. If people like you they may make an effort to come around and grow up a bit to have relationship with you. This is the real strength any of us have.

    Dr. Bowen use to say something like: “I am not going down into Alice and Wonderlands hole again. I have been there I have seen the white rabbit and I will wait up here till you want a hand up.”

    The main thing in dealing with challenging people is to take responsibility for what you will and will not do and let them feel some kind of consequence for their behavior.

    People who have been frustrated often want revenge and it does not matter who they take out their frustrations on so one must be careful. Families can give us the most love and the most pain.

    We need people too much and they react to that need. Side taking and blaming often can be traced back many generations into the past. My grandchildren know its true for they listen to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers singing about Cain and Abel.( 21st Century)

    Here was the first Biblical triangle, leading to serious cut off over the generations.
    According to Genesis, Cain and Abel were the first and second sons of Adam and Eve, born after the Fall of Man. Their story is told in the Bible at Genesis 4 and in the Qur’an at 5:27-32. In both versions, Cain, a farmer, commits the first murder by killing his brother Abel, a shepherd, after God (called YHWH) rejects Cain’s sacrifice but accepts Abel’s.
    Cain and Abel appear in a number of other texts, and the story is the subject of various interpretations. Abel, the first murder victim, is sometimes seen as the first martyr while Cain, the first murderer, is sometimes seen as a progenitor of evil. Modern scholars suggest that the story may have been based on a Sumerian story representing the conflict between nomadic shepherds and settled farmers.
    In most things doing you r best is all there is, we can not control others not matter hwo much we fear or love them.
    Questions are always welcome.

  3. Good, web artificial, specially from the major news corperations with the big slants to the left or right. Did you see last nights Red Eye? haha, that was pitiful! Sorry, I’m rambling on over again. Have a Good day!

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