How to Disengage from Family Drama
Updated: Nov 3
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16-17 (ESV)
Is your home absent of peace? Does one argument escalate into another? Is there one family member who seems to be the cause of all the chaos? Do you desire to disengage from the never-ending drama without detaching from the person altogether? Or maybe, you feel the only solution is to give the relationship a break for now?
These verses in the book of James speak volumes about how we can co-exist with someone who is controlled by life-dominating issues or self-destructive attitudes and actions. Whether it’s substance or behavioral addictions, mental illness, reckless living, or just plain bad behavior, when a loved one goes off the rails, it has a negative impact on everyone in the family.
Let's face it. As women who love someone who might fall into crisis at any moment, we can go from zero to sixty in about two seconds flat. You know the scenario. The day starts off as an other day, business as usual. Then, an unexpected phone call or text message changes everything. You receive the heartbreaking word that your child has relapsed, was in an accident while under the influence, and was arrested. Without giving it a second thought, you put on your Super-Mom cape and run to the rescue. You fixed it before; certainly, you can fix it again. Or, can you? And, at what and whose expense?
Maybe your husband has a hot-temper and flies off the handle at his boss. As a result, he’s lost another job he couldn’t afford to lose. Perhaps, your beloved brother goes from one crisis to another, and you’re his go-to source for money, the rent, or to bail him out of whatever bind he got himself into.
When our home starts to look more like a war zone than a haven because of the negative attitudes and actions of a family member, we have a responsibility to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. God calls us to disengage from their drama by not getting caught up in their sinful or destructive behaviors. Rather than reacting in fear, we are called to respond in faith.
While the Lord does want us to love people and help them, our lives were never meant to be lived in a state of complete chaos and constant upheaval. There is life-transforming power in learning how to engage biblically with toxic members of our family. So, what does disengaging from their drama look like?
“Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5:36b (ESV)
What Letting Go Looks Like
When we learn to let go, we learn to respond differently when trouble arises. Instead of panicking at the first sound of bad news, God calls us to walk by faith. As we walk by faith, we learn to respond in obedience to God, rather than reacting out of a personal need to save or fix our loved one or relieve ourselves of pain, worry, and fear.
As we pray and wait to hear God speak, we are able to remain actively involved without trying to solve their problems for them. By praying for them, without rushing in to do for them, we can remain fully engaged as we submit to God and trust him to work in their lives.
We also learn to wait on and trust in the Lord for our own lives. Waiting on him allows us to feel all the feelings we try to numb through rescuing and enabling. This is where confession comes in. By admitting to God that we have tried to do things our own way, we submit to his will for our lives and those we love. As we do so, we are able to surrender our hurting hearts to the One who desires to heal us and set us free.
How to Stay Engaged the Right Way
How do we stay engaged without trying to rescue or fix our loved ones? First, we begin with prayerful self-examination. We start by taking a look at our own stuff. We can begin by seeking God and asking him to reveal any areas of sin, lack of faith, or selfishness in our lives.
Staying engaged means working on and asking ourselves the hard questions. “What is the Lord teaching me right now? How is He transforming me? Am I learning to let go and trust Him? What sins do I need to confess in order to receive forgiveness and healing?”
Next, James encourages us to confess our sins to each other. Are you controlling? Are you enabling? Are you manipulating? These are all good things to confess to the Lord and to someone you trust who can offer you godly wisdom and counsel. Seek a confidant who is non-judgmental, understanding, and willing to pray for you.
Let go of any pride or concern about what people might think of you. We all stumble. We all fall. We all make poor choices. Hey, this is a rough ride we're on. Pray for each other. Let go. Receive forgiveness. Be healed.
As you pray, remember that your prayers are powerful and effective. They accomplish big things. By praying you can stay fully engaged in the life of your wayward loved one while disengaging from their drama and your constant need to react. You can let go of what you think is best for them. You can release your need to save and rescue them. You can stop obsessing and start rejoicing as you trust the Lord with their lives.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Psalm 55:22 (ESV)
When Letting Go Feels Like Failure
Letting go our loved ones can feel like failure, like we’re giving up. Letting go usually comes at the end of a very long and exhausting journey, one where our energy is drained and our hope is virtually non-existent.
Like a boxer down on the mat, too weary to get up and fight another round, we determine to will ourselves back up and give it another go, but we can’t find the strength. Reluctantly, we throw our hands in the air and relinquish any semblance of control. We are defeated and giving up seems like the only option left to take.
Our hearts and heads are shouting that we are failures. We should have been able to rescue them, but we gave up too soon. We quit trying when holding on a while longer might have saved them. Instead, we were just too weak, too selfish.
Letting go doesn’t mean “giving up or quitting.” We give up or quit when we lose hope. Certainly, there are times when due to circumstances beyond our control, severing a relationship is necessary. Painful as it is, in those cases, through prayer, confession, and forgiving the one who hurt us, we will be able to move forward without looking back with regret.
Consider this verse from Psalms. It is so rich in promise and reassurance. The New International Version encourages us to “cast our cares on the Lord.” In doing so, we can freely release our worries to him, knowing without a doubt he will carry them.
I remember what it felt like to be so overwhelmed by the burdens I carried. I believed I had to continue to fight and stay in the ring for my son. If I gave up, what would happen? The load I was carrying was like being weighted down with concrete bags while dragging myself through quicksand. I could not take one more step. I was drowning a slow death. How could I expect to save my son?
One day I felt the Lord nudge me. “How is trying to save your son and all this worrying working for you? Is trying to control and fix everything accomplishing anything?” Gulp! Well, it wasn’t working, and it was only leading me further into despair and hopelessness.
Feeling convicted, I decided to let go. I just did it. I challenged myself and my faith to see if what I claimed to believe was truly what I believed. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the best. In the releasing of my son, I found strength and a peace that truly passes all understanding.
My prayers allowed me to stay fully engaged. My faith allowed me to let go. And peace bridged the gap between the two.
I will not claim the battle between engaging and disengaging in my child’s drama is over. It is hard. There are days I want to send a text message with the hidden agenda of sneaking in some unsolicited motherly advice. Sometimes, I’m tempted to send a scripture or meme with the hidden motive of manipulating him to do better or be better.
Don’t get me wrong. Reaching out to our hurting loved ones with a sincere heart and a desire to express our love and care for them is the right thing to do. We just need to check our motives before we press “send” or dial their phone number.
How to Live and Love While Letting Go
What situation are you finding hard to let go of and why? Do you believe you can let go and still be fully engaged? Why not take some time to consider your resistance to disengaging, and ask the Lord to help you see why letting go might be the best way to handle this situation.
As you do so, confess any guilt or fear you have about releasing your loved one to the Lord. It may also be helpful to have an accountability partner. Seek someone who understands and will be gentle, but honest and firm with you when you are tempted to jump back into fix-it mode. As a reminder, ask yourself how living this way is working for you. Change is never easy, but continuing to live in constant fear, dread, and worry is impossible. It’s a burden far too heavy to bear.
Finally, seek peace. When you come to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving, he will grant you perfect peace, a peace that will guard your heart and protect your mind. A peace that only comes when we learn to let go and let God fight our battles for us.
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
We confess that letting go and disengaging from our loved one’s drama feels like abandonment. It is not natural for us to step out of the way and trust you with their lives. Please teach us to wait on you instead of rushing in to save or fix them. We confess we are weak. We need strength to let go. We look to you for our hope, help, and healing. In Jesus name we pray.
Beautiful Blessings, Dawn