A Nation of Cutoffs 
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 1:36PM
Lisa M. Hunter, M.A., LMFT in Anxiety, Couples, Relationships, September

According to Murray Bowen, cutoffs develop as an attempt to adapt to intense anxiety in a relationship. Have you ever said to someone you're in a relationship with, "I'm done. I don't need you anymore. It's just too hard to deal with you?" Cutoff is a distancing posture carried to the extreme. In some cases, cutoff may be the only viable answer, such as in an abusive relationship. Sometimes cutoff is subtle, in the form of emotionally removing oneself from the relationship, but still keeping in contact.  Whatever the form of the cuttoff, most of the time when we say, "I'm done",  we are far, far from actually being done. The intense fusion to this other person doesn't just go away. And in fact, it seeps into other relationships.

America has been called a nation of cutoffs, since most of its inhabitants were immigrants who often left important others across the sea.  Culturally, cutoff is a pattern seen in American families, and is often considered a desirable state of affairs. Children grow up and leave home, and often never 'emotionally' return, thus severing what were once emotionally meaningful relationships, only visiting on holidays or when obligated.

Cutoff is a temporary fix. Cutoff can initially ameliorate intense feelings of anxiety, but over time it will have the opposite effect. People involved in cutoff relationships will often develop an intensification of feelings of depression and anxiety. A history of cutoff in the family of origin can be linked with difficulties in current relationships, including the workplace, friends, and family.

Rather than focusing on the issues that lead to the cutoff, try focusing on the pattern. The distancing pattern may play out several times a day. When we become familiar with our own patterns, we are in a better position to recognize the anxiety that is driving these patterns. Working with the anxiety itself may be more productive than trying to change a distancing pattern. And, as with all patterns, asking ourselves the following three questions might be helpful:

Working to resolve cutoffs with the family of origin is always helpful. Cutoff cannot be changed unless someone steps up and takes responsibility for for his or herself.

(Adapted from Roberta Gilbert's 'Extraordinary Relationships', 1992)




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