Cut-Off Culture

Is cut-off culture toxic?

I cringed a little just typing that out. This is why: I personally believe that the word “toxic” has lost its meaning in the last couple of years. It’s become an automatic trigger word, and anything or anyone deemed as “toxic” is immediately canceled without question. The word itself doesn’t quite hold the same magnitude and meaning as it once did since it’s being used to describe every scenario – from something or someone actually being toxic to just using the word to describe any minor inconvenience. But, for the sake of simplicity, I beg the question once more… Is cut-off culture toxic?

To answer the question, “Is cut-off culture toxic,” I would say yes and no. There are legit times and situations where cutting someone off is necessary. The act of cutting someone off is not in itself toxic or wrong. Depending on the situation, cutting someone off can be for the better. However, the act of glorifying cutting people off to uphold a certain persona and fa├žade is toxic. The “trending” trait is to put up a front and be proud of being unempathetic, petty, and quick to drop someone if things get hard. Social media plays a big role in that, the idea that the cheese stands alone and doesn’t need anyone’s companionship. Though that is admirable to an extent, it’s also very unrealistic. The act of cutting people off turns problematic when it’s done in such a high volume for minor issues to avoid communicating and confrontation.

There seems to be a division between people’s view on cutting people off. Removing someone from your life in an abrupt and obvious way because of an argument, misunderstanding, or history of manipulation can be very liberating. Overall, the trending advice is in support of cutting people off. But where do you draw the line? When is cutting someone off too excessive and not justifiable? There are those that are proud of their ability to throw out a relationship, whether that be family relationships, romantic relationships, or friendships. Usually when someone says they cut someone off, we tend to congratulate them – assuming that if they’re the one that did the snipping, the other party was automatically in the wrong.

Depending what algorithm you get on your socials, other people’s opinions on cut-off culture can become an echo chamber. Ironically, my Instagram algorithm literally brings up both sides of the coin. I come across posts that praise others for cutting off toxic people that were once in their circle. A lot of these posts are intended to be empowering and motivation to others to “clean up” their social circle of all the untrustworthy, draining, and “toxic” people in their lives. These posts glorify how liberating it is to remove people from your life. Though that may be true, it doesn’t give the full scope of what someone goes through if they do decide to cut someone off. Yes, it can be liberating, but that’s usually later down the road when everything that transpired has been processed. The general message circulating is that cut-off culture is a good thing, it’s what people who want to heal do. Cutting someone off is sold as a way to protect yourself.

The problem with the media’s oversimplified justification and support of cutting someone off, is that viewers start to think that the only way to achieve happiness or find peace is to dispose of a relationship that isn’t perfect. As we all know, no relationship or friendship is perfect. There will always be disagreements, small tiffs, and room for improvements on both sides. Like the old saying goes, there is growth in staying and growth in leaving, you just need to know which one to pick. And with time, the answer may change. The nonchalant support of cutting someone off doesn’t clarify on what grounds you should consider severing ties with someone and when to keep trying. But of course, it is all personal preference.

Like with most things, cutting someone off is not as simple as black and white. It’s not fair to say cutting someone off is 100% right or 100% wrong. There is always a gray area with pros and cons. When you plan to remove someone from your life, it doesn’t mean that you’re just upset with them and plan to give them the cold shoulder for some time. A real cut-off is removing someone completely out of your life. This is usually a permanent action one takes when they feel like they need to protect themselves emotionally, mentally, or physically from another. It may or may not bring closure to both parties, and it is not uncommon for one party to be totally lost and confused as to what happened. Prior to the cut off, an explanation may be made, but it isn’t mandatory. Cutting someone off is like the death of a relationship and ghosting all at the same time.

Sometimes distancing yourself and ending relationships with people that you were once close to is necessary. Cutting someone off is not always a negative thing. In certain scenarios, it is necessary for someone to move on, get closure, or put themselves first. And putting yourself first and being selfish is not always a bad thing. When you put yourself first and start listening to your wants and needs, you will learn more about what you will and will not tolerate. When you find that some people or situations don’t meet that requirement anymore through their actions and words, it is up to you to set that boundary. When someone else can’t respect that boundary, they may feel the need to cut that person off. When it’s not meant to hurt someone and it’s more so coming from a place of self-care and self-respect for yourself, you know that ending ties with someone is for personal growth.

A big part of what makes cutting someone off toxic or not is how it is dealt with after the fact. When it’s dealt with privately and the person doesn’t feel the need to justify their actions to others or on social media, it’s usually a good sign that it was for themselves. Of course, they may talk with their close circle of friends to vent, but there’s no need or want to have to explain themselves on public platforms. This is where the true healing takes place. Healing happens when you don’t feel like you have to prove anything to anybody else, when you’re content with letting people think whatever version they choose to believe.

But even if going separate ways for good is the “right” thing to do, it doesn’t always mean it’s an easy thing to do. I’m sure that plenty can relate to knowing someone or something isn’t right for them, but it pains them to let that relationship go. This is why it’s important to really weigh out your pros and cons to see if cutting someone off is necessary or not, because it’s such a drastic step. Whether it’s a family relationship, romantic relationship, or friendship, we usually think long term and never anticipate that these relationships will fall apart. So when they do, and even more so if it’s your choice to let go of the relationship, it can feel like the death of what once was. They aren’t “gone” permanently like in death, but figuratively, they no longer exist in your world, and that can be a lot to process. And even if you’re the one doing the cutting off, it sucks to admit that it still hurts to some degree to do so, regardless of how “done” or confident you are in wanting to sever ties.

A lot of people think that cut-off culture is problematic because it gives people an easy out to avoid conflict. It’s so much easier to sweep something under the rug and act like nothing happened – or even more extreme – that someone doesn’t exist after a bump in the road. Some claim that cutting people off is an action done by people with poor communication skills. Yet again, I agree an disagree with that explanation. Yes, I do believe that people use cutting others off as a way to avoid the real issues at hand. Sometimes it can be something so minute, but it can lead someone to end a relationship. There are some people that would rather ghost you and act like you never existed than see their part in an argument and admit that they’ve caused some hurt. But on the flipside, if someone feels like they have been taken advantage of to some degree, they may not feel the need to explain why. Or maybe they have tried time and time again to communicate the issue and voice their opinions, but were shut down or ignored. At that point, I wouldn’t feel the need to try to communicate. But how can you tell which scenario it is – plain immature, or someone at their wits end?

For me, one of the biggest red flags is knowing that someone has a history of cutting people off. If someone is known for claiming other people are toxic and boasts about how they cut them off, it almost always has me questioning who was really the problem. When a person uses cutting people off excessively, or as leverage to manipulate others, is when it becomes toxic. This is probably why some think that cut-off culture is toxic, because it’s being used as a tool by people that go back and flip flop on their word. You know, the kind of people that talk all that mad shit when they cut someone off, but you see them with the same individual some time later. This is not to say that you can’t change your mind on wanting someone back in your life. But it all comes down to how it’s done. If you’re always having a dramatic exit with multiple people and publicize it for everyone to see, don’t be surprised when you’re labeled as the person that cried “cut-off.” It’s just a clearer indication that people like that really don’t know what they want and have poor impulse control.

We have created a reality where it’s everyone’s word against everyone else’s. This is a dangerous game because this gives people the power to claim toxicity with any minor inconvenience. Some have fallen into a pattern where any disagreement or differing opinion from their own is considered valid grounds to cut someone off. It becomes toxic when someone is just cutting people off because they don’t want to hear the truth, a different point of view, or don’t like what they’re hearing. Most of the time, the cut off isn’t mutual, and because of this, there will always be 2 different stories, 2 different realities.

I especially find cut-off culture problematic when people feel the need to boast about how they cut someone off on social media. It’s one thing to end a relationship for your own well-being, but to bring it up time and time again in an distasteful manner is something I get second-hand embarrassment from. It’s the bragging for me, when it’s apparent to everyone else that there’s still some hurt behind the gloating. The goal in airing out the tea on social media is to get people to back you up and see your side, and to see the other person to be in the wrong or toxic. Usually when this is done, the goal is to have others cancel them or at the very least, see them in a different light. And then for the biggest cherry on top for the second-hand embarrassment sundae is when these actions are claimed to be being the bigger person, taking the higher road, and choosing not to associate with drama.

There is always a gray area in everything. It’s true that cutting someone off can be valid in some cases, but toxic in other cases. There are scenarios where cutting ties with someone is necessary, and then there are other times when it’s not. Don’t let social media fool you, it’s okay to set boundaries with others and let time tell if the relationship with blossom or end. It’s okay to not jump the gun, don’t make rash decisions because the media is telling you that you should handle a situation this way or that way. Whether some like to believe it or not, we all have toxic traits. No relationship, friendship, or family is perfect. It just depends on who you think is worth the effort and grace.

Pushing Forward

For the sake of the individual’s safety and privacy, they have chosen to share their story anonymously.

Do you ever think back to the times before something very significant in your life happened? You can remember the exact moment when someone entered your life, and little did you know at the time that life as you knew it would never be the same again? This is one of those stories. Their story started with a handshake.

It was kind’ve awkward to be honest. Jordan said hello, but Alex stayed mute, keeping their eyes down to the ground, and finally they shook Jordan’s hand. At work, they befriended the same people and were in the same department. They were bound to have conversations and bump into each other regularly. Alex started to notice that Jordan was taking an interest in them, maybe even trying to pursue a relationship. Jordan was very flirtatious, and Alex didn’t know how to feel. Alex definately thought that Jordan was out of their league – there was no way a romantic relationship would develop between the two. But Alex started to feel themself getting attracted to Jordan’s charming ways. Alex really liked that Jordan’s presence came off as “in control.” One day Alex caught a glimpse of Jordan’s eyes in the sunlight, it was a done deal.

From there, the couple moved pretty fast. They moved in together about 6 months into their relationship, and they were already planning a wedding by the end of their first year together. Alex describes everything in their relationship as “moving fast.” From “I love you’s,” to moving in, to taking “what’s mine is yours,” very literally, and so on. At the time, Alex didn’t see that as a red flag. And why would Alex second guess Jordan? Jordan swept Alex off of their feet and played the part well – making their love look so real, and making Alex feel like their love would last a lifetime. Alex was ecstatic, they never thought that a person like Jordan would be in a relationship with them. However, moving fast in the relationship was just 1 red flag of many. And unfortunately, Alex’s happiness did not last very long.

Alex explains that initially, these red flags didn’t even come up as red flags to them at the time. Why? They were so wrapped up in the “bubble” of happiness and the relationship, that they didn’t think twice about the manipulation. In fact, it took almost a decade later for Alex to understand that they were a victim of domestic abuse. Alex’s therapist helped Alex see all of the red flags that they missed throughout their 8 year long relationship. Moving fast in the relationship, Alex learned, is a tactic narcissist abusers use to start controlling their partners. But Alex was so caught up in the bubble, that they didn’t even realize Jordan’s actions were signs of control.

Very early on, Alex would hear the way Jordan would treat and talk to their ex-partners, since Jordan had children from previous relationships. Alex would always try to get Jordan to see the ex partners’ side, especially since Jordan had to co-parent with them. Jordan would boast about having children with different partners, and how there were probably more children they didn’t know about. Alex thought it was odd that Jordan would take pride in that, but brushed it off. 7 months into their relationship, Alex and Jordan got news that they were expecting. Alex never expected that co-parenting would soon be in their distant future, and they would be in Jordan’s exs’ shoes.

As soon as their relationship started, so did the rules. Jordan didn’t like the fact that Alex had personal social media accounts. Alex was forced into deleting their personal accounts, and had to replace them with joint accounts that they shared with Jordan. The people that they followed were mostly Jordan’s family and friends. Every friend / follower was approved by Jordan. Jordan got to choose who Alex interacted with on social media, and made sure Alex wasn’t searching or interacting with anyone they didn’t approve of. This meant that Alex couldn’t keep in contact with their own friends if Jordan didn’t approve of them. The first round of cut off’s happened with social media, and Alex didn’t know that they’d lose a lot more friendships due to Jordan down the line.

Jordan wanted the joint social media accounts because they wanted to keep tabs on who Alex spoke to. The agreement was that both of them would delete their personal accounts and just have the joint relationship account. Alex discovered that Jordan had personal accounts of their own. Alex couldn’t believe it, they thought it was bullshit that Jordan went out of their way to control the followers and accounts, only to have their own accounts secretly. Alex was pissed, so they decided to make their own personal accounts again. This would only add more fuel to the small fire already burning.

Alex started to lose a lot of friendships quickly. Some ended because Jordan demanded Alex end the friendships, and others ended because some friends were trying to tell Alex that this was not a healthy relationship. Alex would blame themself for the way Jordan treated them – not trusting them, accusing them, and controlling them. When Alex would vent to friends, their friends would tell them how the relationship wasn’t normal behavior. Alex would brush it off and try to justify Jordan’s actions, being oblivious and in denial about their reality. Jordan didn’t approve of Alex’s friends that were of the opposite sex. Jordan forced Alex to block and cut ties with many friends, but the rules never applied to Jordan. They were still friends with people of the opposite sex, and being very suspicious with a certain classmate. It was a double standard, and Alex was the only one having boundaries and rules.

Jordan started to accuse Alex of cheating. To make sure Alex’s self-esteem was low, Jordan would verbally put Alex down – commenting on their appearance, weight, and claiming that they could sleep with anyone. It was ironic to say the least because majority of their fights were due to Jordan’s flirtatious ways. Sometimes, the flirting would happen right infront of Alex. But when Alex would get upset, Jordan would brush it off as Alex having jealously issues. No matter what, Jordan always made Alex feel like they were doing something wrong and sneaky.

“No matter how many times I defended myself, I was always wrong in (their) eyes and I was the cheater,” Alex recalls. “I was upset of course. I could give reason – a valid reason – but (they) would never accept it as the truth.”

Jordan never let up on accusing Alex of cheating their whole 8+ year relationship. But there were multiple times where Alex caught Jordan cheating on them. And everytime Alex would confront Jordan about it, Jordan would say Alex is delusional. But the proof was in the pudding – all the messages, lies, and things not adding up. This put Alex in a difficult situation because by this time, they had a couple of children together already. Alex was tired of Jordan putting them down for things they were not guilty of. The least Jordan could do was admit their wrong doing, instead of projecting it back on Alex.

But that’s what Jordan was best at. Jordan would emotionally abuse Alex by not validating their feelings, ignoring them when they needed support, being very detached from the family. Alex admits that almost 9 years together and they still didn’t feel like they knew much about Jordan. Jordan kept to themselves, and didn’t give too much detail about their personal life and upbringing. This sense of privacy angered Alex because they just wanted to bond. Alex felt as though they only knew snippets of who Jordan really was, and there was no sign of Jordan budging or letting anyone in. They knew the basics of Jordan – like their favorite color, simple likes and dislikes, food, but anything passed that, Jordan kept Alex in the dark.

“8 years with (them), I’m assuming I was the only person who stayed the longest, and I learned about (them) from others,” Alex said.

Throughout their relationship, verbal abuse was very common. Jordan would call Alex names and put them down all the time. Everytime Alex tried to confront Jordan of cheating, even having valid evidence, Jordan would resort to name calling. Psycho. Stalker. Crazy. The list went on. Jordan would comment on Alex’s appearance, saying they gained weight, they should work out, they should do XYZ to themselves. Threats, insults, name calling, and being put down was common in their household.

On top of the verbal abuse, Jordan was notorious for their gaslighting. Jordan was constantly lying, making Alex believe the things they claimed – even if Alex had solid proof. Jordan’s go to defense mechanism was to deny deny deny. Jordan would deny saying something, even when Alex recalled the conversation and the details. It seemed like everything Jordan was guilty of, he would just project it back on Alex. Any questions Alex may have had were always met with accusations of Alex being a cheater, liar, and being at fault for causing a fight. Alex was miserable, but at the same time desperately wanted Jordan’s love. It was a love hate relationship, and that’s what made it all the more confusing.

Alex kept all these red flags from her family. They didn’t want their family’s perception of Jordan to change. Alex was protecting Jordan’s honor, and wanted their family to still see Jordan in a positive light. Therefore, Alex dealt with the abuse alone. Alex’s mother was extremely fond of Jordan. From the moment Alex brought Jordan home, Alex’s mother thought Jordan was great and really loved them. For 8 years, Alex’s family didn’t know how tumultuous their relationship was. On top of that, Jordan started to shit talk Alex’s family. Jordan would categorize them with certain stereotypes, and would judge them. To make Alex more insecure, Jordan would say that Alex’s sibling(s) wanted to have sex with them. Jordan claimed that Alex’s sibling(s) have mentioned it/ have hinted that they would be down for a sexual encounter. Alex didn’t believe what Jordan claimed, but was weary. Alex no longer wanted their sibling(s) around Jordan, fearing that what Jordan claimed was true. Alex started to distance themselves from their siblings.

Alex believes that this is part of the reason why Jordan wanted to move so far away from their family. Alex now sees, over 10 years later, that this was Jordan’s way of isolating them from people they were close to. They moved to another state – far enough that Jordan was confident that Alex’s family couldn’t afford to visit. They moved around a lot because Jordan was never satisfied with their location. Within 2 years they moved 4 times, from apartment complex to the next, to out of state, and another relocation after that. They finally settled in California. Alex had no family and no friends near by. All they had was Jordan, their kids, and Jordan’s family and friends. Alex felt alone throughout their relationship, but this time, they were actually alone, with no one to turn to except their abuser.

Alex was really lonely in California. Jordan would tell Alex that they were boring, and would act as if they were helping by forcing their family to hangout with Alex. In reality, Alex knew that they were just a burden to Jordan’s family, and Jordan forced others to hangout with Alex so they themself wouldn’t have to. Alex’s main and only concern were their children. But it seemed like Jordan always put their family last. Alex had enough. They were tired of the mind games, the name calling, the abuse, the cheating, not feeling good enough, they didn’t even recognize themself in the mirror anymore. Alex hit their breaking point. The relationship was going on 9 years, 9 years too long.

“I wanted to be loved, noticed, valued, and appreciated… but I wasn’t,” Alex shared. “I know now that I will never get those things from (Jordan), (they’re) incapable of it. Instead, I felt like I was a chess piece in (their) mind, just waiting to use me for (their) personal gain.”

A month before their 9 year anniversary, Alex made the decision to end their relationship. Alex was in the shower, taking extra long to avoid their reality. Something about that shower made Alex realize how unhappy they were in the relationship. It dawned on them that they were in a relationship with Jordan for almost 9 years, and never really knew the real them. Alex got out of the shower, and Jordan walked in the room with their phone in hand. Alex knew they had to end it.

“I don’t want to be with you anymore,” Alex told Jordan.

“Okay,” Jordan said.

Not a week later, Jordan was in a relationship with someone else. Alex was heartbroken. Jordan didn’t hesitate to say “okay” to not being together, and didn’t put up a fight for their family. And just like that, Jordan was repeating the same cycle with someone else, saying “I love you,” fast -less than 1 week after breaking up with Alex. On top of that, their lease was ending. Alex wanted to stay in the apartment and was going to take full responsibility of the rent and bills, and just needed Jordan to sign off on the lease. But Alex knew they couldn’t depend on Jordan, so Alex started to look for short term residency for themself and the children, not waiting for Jordan’s response.

Jordan didn’t come through with signing on another lease. This left Alex and their children homeless. For a month they lived in a motel, while Jordan moved in with their new significant other. When the children would go with Jordan, Alex would crash on a friend’s couch. Jordan never offered for the kids and Alex to stay with them in the meantime. Eventually, Alex found a place for themself and the kids. But California was just too much – too expensive, too stressful, too much for a single parent. Alex and the kids had to move back to Alex’s home state.

Alex and the kids moved out of state, and for a while the two were co-parenting from a distance. Alex finally decided to seek help. Therapy was Alex’s way to regain control of themself again. Alex felt lost, they couldn’t eat, they couldn’t sleep, and they wanted to find another way to cope with the failed relationship. It is at therapy that Alex learned that they were in an abusive relationship with a narcissist. They couldn’t believe it. When the therapist pointed out all the red flags and all the ways Jordan manipulated and abused them, Alex broke out into tears. 8 plus years of abuse validated. The therapist was confirming that Alex wasn’t crazy, they weren’t psycho, they weren’t making things up and misremembering information. It was abuse.

For a while, Alex felt like they were in a better place mentally. Their progress was tested when Jordan moved to where Alex and the children were after a couple of years of co-parenting from different states. Alex and Jordan became fuck buddies, and with time, it started to give Alex hope. Hope that they could possibly be a family again, or atleast co-parent respectfully. Alex was wrong. They realized once again that Jordan would never be the partner they wanted them to be. Alex admits that the fuck buddy system was put in place only because it was familiar.

The two stopped being friends with benefits, and Jordan found another partner to move in with. After all these years, Jordan was still pulling the same tactics. But even though Jordan has a new love interest, that doesn’t mean they’re over playing mind games with Alex. Jordan brings up occasionally how the two should try for another child. Alex thinks back to the crazy custody battles and how difficult it is to co-parent with Jordan, and shuts down the idea.

To this day, Alex’s family doesn’t know the truth about Jordan and their relationship. Only one of Alex’s siblings knows the truth. When Alex’s mom boasts about Jordan doing a good deed or brings them up in general, Alex can’t help but roll their eyes. But they don’t divulge their deepest darkest secrets, they don’t try to get their family to hate Jordan too, they don’t tell a peep about anything from the past. And in a way, Alex still fights this battle alone. They notice a huge change in the person they have become, but still won’t share it with the family.

And the same goes for friends. After Jordan and Alex broke up, Alex tried to rekindle the old friendships they lost. Sometimes it was successful, and sometimes it wasn’t. They acknowledge that these friendships ended due to Jordan, but sometimes it didn’t seem worth it to rekindle. Long absences usually calls for catching up, and Alex didn’t want to explain the past and relive what they went through. It was their business and they didn’t feel comfortable to share. They also didn’t feel like they needed to explain themself.

“I reached out to them, sometimes it worked and other times I realized it wasn’t a good situation to rekindle anything,” Alex said. “When you’re forced to remove friends from your life and you go back and rekindle things, you face judgments and you go into catching up with them. Oftentimes, there are questions, and I didn’t want to answer any of it so I just left it alone and left the friendship alone.”

Alex’s advice for the outsiders worried about a friend’s relationship is to be understanding. They advise that you hold your judments and opinions, and simply just be there for your friend. It’s easy to say and give advice when you are an outsider looking in, but when you’re actually in a toxic abusive relationship, it’s hard. Yes, give your opinions and voice out your concerns, but don’t make the person feel worse about themselves.

Alex and Jordan was in a relationship for almost 9 years, and they will have to both be in each other’s lives to an extent for their children. Alex has lost hope that they can co-parent peacefully with Jordan. Alex sees how happy their children are to have Jordan back in their lives, and they say that’s what made this journey worth it. But Alex does admit that co-parenting with a narcissist is nearly impossible. They feel as though they’re being sabotaged majority of the time. Alex doesn’t know yet if they’ll ever tell their kids the truth about Jordan. Their main concern is to protect the kids from the illusions Jordan tends to paint.

Alex has come a long way with working on themselves. They put up boundaries, and try hard to not let Jordan’s words get to them. Alex stressed the importance of thinking before reacting, and that has saved them a lot of tears. But of course, there are days when Alex just can’t stand Jordan – they break, they cry, they yell, they blast music to try to remember the bulletpoints of how Jordan tries to manipulate and control situations. There are days when Alex just writes. They write down all the negative things they want to say to Jordan until they feel better. They’ve put up walls, and they know they’re not the same person they used to be. Alex is at a constant battle fighting for themself, their mind, their heart.

“After the relationship ended, it took a while for me to accept what I went through, what my kids went through,” Alex said. “Now I accept it, I no longer deny my experience and my past. It is not my fault. What I went through was never my fault.”