What I Learned from Cutting Off a Toxic Family Member: A Love Ethic Manifesto

by Phanesia Pharel

No man has ever loved me the way I deserved to be loved. And when it comes to my relationships with women…I can count the women that have made me feel truly loved on one hand.

I realized I needed to heal, refine and distance myself from those incapable of loving me after I made the decision to end a relationship with a toxic family member.

But cutting them off was a journey. And on this journey, I developed an understanding that so much of the anger and angst I held growing up was from being outraged because of a lack of healthy and loving relationships in my circle, family, and town. It took leaving my hometown and going to college to realize that it is normal for people to consistently show up with care, intention and dedication to those in their lives.

I do not mean to say that prior to college there weren’t incredible people in my life, but there are simply barriers preventing a lot of marginalized people from offering and receiving the love they deserve. Both platonically and romantically.

For example, in high school, I attended a theatre magnet program at a low income underfunded high school. Mostly low-income students of color (most of us either the children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves) some families were neglectful to students due to financial barriers and others may have been unable to care for their children due to unaddressed generational trauma. As a result, many of the relationships in my theatre program were toxic and mirrored our home environments. When I go home and revisit many of my friends it seems we are all trying to run away from these issues in our own way-I just ran to New York and learned I needed to address these issues to survive. I’m not better than anyone-but I am perhaps a bit luckier than some.

I also had to learn that while this generational trauma is structural and is not the fault of marginalized people, it is our responsibility to take power over our communities and ourselves. No one will be able to heal the us-the way we can heal each other.

But damn, the healing part is hard. Because it starts with the admission and acceptance of the toxic things in your life. The ways you weren’t loved, the way you deserved to be loved. The family member I cut out from my life told me he loved me this summer and when he did, I felt physically ill. I was anxious for days. My soul and body cannot sit with the idea of a “love” that is spat down on me and beaten in with spikey soles of shoes. My brain kept replaying moments of my trauma and tried to piece together whether or not there was a single moment of kindness or love.

I couldn’t find one.

Real love is not abusive. You can’t hurt someone and say you love them—you may care for them and not want to lose them sure…but that’s not love.

I did not let this person go on my own-a friend pushed me to do it. And since then every person that loves me has agreed it is best. I have never been happier. I have been kinder to myself in allowing myself to let go of a person that could’ve been a decent person for nineteen years and chose not to be. It’s helped me let go of toxic friendships and potential lovers. I am so much better at cutting off what doesn’t serve me and I am thankful for all have learned, and am still learning.

In my reflection of my life and trauma, I realize that our society needs to develop a love ethic. As Bell Hooks states in her incredible “All About Love” book: “Embracing love ethic means that we utilize all dimensions of love– “care, commitment, trust, responsibility, respect and knowledge”– in our everyday lives.”

We all know what violence looks like but really-think to yourself. Do you know through and through what love looks like and feels like?

I don’t.

But I can radically imagine that it is a form of comfort. I can imagine that when loved-I rarely feel anxiety about losing the people closest to me. I can be awkward-flawed-and say stupid things.

True, safe and healthy love may feel unimaginable for many of us-but a life where we build with each other instead of holding each other back is a step towards a loving society. It seems idealistic-but if we have self-driving cars and forms of virtual reality why is “love” depicted as the impossible? Idk? Why does love feel futuristic? Insurmountable? Think about Black Mirror-love is consistently the thing that escapes people. Some may consider me to be a hopeless romantic but love is my driving force in life because I believe achieving that level of closeness and acceptance for another person is the greatest part of being a human being.

I always told myself that I was loved because I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that I felt loveless. But I realize in order to survive this maze of a life, I have to be honest with myself about what love and healthy relationships mean to me.

A love ethic is more than a list of rules. It’s acknowledging your need for a specific type of romantic/sexual/asexual/aromantic experience, validating it, and living it fully.

Here is what I need from one who loves me:

One who loves me will not think LOVE is silly or impractical. They will understand that it is a force can combat greed, isolation, and ego. Greed cannot exist as rampantly in a society with a durable love ethic and isolation will be limited if you are constantly reminded by the actions of those around you that you are loved and valid.

One who loves me will not try to save me-but rather support me in my journey.

My love ethic requires those who love me to do so consistently. No one is perfect but we are all deserving of consistency.

To have a love ethic begins with me. Confronting the monsters under the bed of my mind. Taking charge of the life I deserve and become my primary provider of joy.

Having a strong love ethic does not mean I just become a doormat and allow the world to stomp all over me. Being nice can often be unkind when layered in fakeness.

Love ethic is free from abuse.

I am forgiving of the fact that most of the people in my family and my ancestors have experienced unimaginable trauma and weren’t offered the tools to heal. But in order to heal myself I must know what I can, cannot and will not accept.

I had to really question why I could allow people that do not care for me to take up space in my life. Caring is an active verb-for someone to care about me, they have to be an active participant in my life.

Love also requires commitment. You deserve to have someone claim you and respect your time. “Friends with benefits” and “Netflix and chill” situationships-are not love. A person should at least want to be seen outside with you.

Love is trust.

Love is responsible.

Love is knowledge shared, given and received.

Love is sharing.

Growing up I didn’t have standards for my romantic or platonic relationships. I didn’t have the space to think about what a healthy relationship could look like. I grew up constantly receiving messages that love would be unattainable to women of color. I am now learning to surround myself with those who see me as the divine feminine power I am with the incredible aspects that I can and cannot see yet. As for romantic love-it needs to be right but I am lovable and love is attainable. This is something I have to constantly have to remind myself, especially as a darker-skinned black woman.

But I’ll tell you one thing I will get the love I deserve before I leave this world. And I hope you do too.

I’m not a hopeless romantic. I’m hopeful. I choose hope, I choose to believe that my newfound love ethic will attract the right people into my life.

I want this and so much more for you too.

the unplug collective

1 thought on “What I Learned from Cutting Off a Toxic Family Member: A Love Ethic Manifesto”

  1. This is an outstanding production! It embodies a vision of hope, self expression and empowerment. Congratulations to the Founder, Amanda and this team of talent who have the creative mindfulness for all to benefit.

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