Only talk to toxic family members in the past tense

When you are trying to shift out of an abuse paradigm toxic family members can really derail your progress. If you must stay in touch with them then try only talking to them in the past tense.

The relationship with my mum is difficult. On the one hand I desperately want her approval, validation and love even though I know it’s never coming. On the other, I am a constricted reflection of her knowing that if I express a normal human difficulty I will be humiliated and rejected. I’m emotionally frozen around her unable to express myself freely. I don’t really want to talk to her at all but I can’t quite let go. It complicates things that she’s nearly 80 and I’ve just had a daughter – her grandchild. How can I cut someone so old off from this beautiful new life? I know that a few minutes of conversation can set me back a month in my recovery before the old feelings of shame and fear to finally lift again. So what can I do to mitigate the impact of talking to her?

woman carrying baby sitting on gray surface
Photo by Josh Willink on

One way to do this that I’ve found is very good is to only talk to her in the past tense. I talk to her in the past tense and only share emotionally unimportant events. I only talk about trivial things that really mean very little to me. I have given myself permission to do that and am letting go of the fantasy that I could ever share any more than this safely. I don’t talk to her about my dreams, hopes, fears, difficulties, aspirations, interests, new projects, my relationship, failures, opportunities, health, spirituality, my feelings or anything that has any personal significance for me. I don’t want to hear “I always knew there was something wrong with you” or “You want your arse kicking” or “Don’t be so bloody stupid” or “You know what your biggest flaw is…” any more. It will still happen just less. As I write this I think to myself that doesn’t sound like much of a mother-daughter relationship but that’s the reality. That is what I need to do to protect my heart and to keep my recovery on track without needing to cut her off entirely. That is also the truth that I need to face.


One thought on “Only talk to toxic family members in the past tense

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s