What is a TO? and What is a CO?

These are two terms we use a lot. Here is an explanation as to what they mean, and how they are used.

TO stands for Time Out
CO stands for Cut Off


A TO is when you take a break from a person or persons. While they are on a TO you have nothing to do with them. This means, but is not limited to:
  • You do not talk to them;
  • You do not visit them at their house;
  • They do not visit you at your house;
  • You do not text them or read their texts;
  • You do not read emails from them, or send them emails;
  • You do not accept gifts from them or give them gifts;
  • You do not talk to others about them.
You are taking a break from them, and while you do, they do not exist in your universe.

TO's can last for a set amount of time such as four weeks, three months, one year, etc., or until the person(s) does a certain thing or things, typically, until they apologize, change a behavior(s), or until you feel you can deal with them again.

TO's are not a punishment. They are generally considered to be either of the following two things (or occasionally both.)

A TO is a break, a mental vacation as it were, from the stress of dealing with the other person(s). They are to protect you, and your family, from having to deal with someone(s) who is toxic, and/or abusive, and/or a criminal, and/or dangerous, and/or has mental problems.

Or, a TO is a way to “train” a toxic person. It is a way to show them the consequences of their actions. You can't change other people, but you can make them aware of cause and effect. If they do X, then Y will happen - plain and simple. WARNING: all toxic people do NOT learn or change from being part of a TO. Sometimes nothing can be done, and the TO becomes a CO. But, sometimes it can help effect change.

In general (depending on the people involved), it is probably a good idea to let the persons(s) know they are in a TO, that they are to leave you alone until you contact them, and why you are doing so. Sometimes, if the person(s) will not cooperate at first, it is necessary to extend the TO a set length of time, such as a month, for every time they attempt to cross the TO boundaries. When the other person(s) will not leave you alone, while they are TOed, the TO can lead to a CO.

Sometimes, despite your best intentions, TO's have to be put on hold, or ended, due to major life problems happening that involve the TOed person. For instance, you TO your MIL, but then your GMIL, for who she is a caretaker, is diagnosed with a fatal condition, and has only a short time to live. The only way to see GMIL is through MIL, who is in a TO. In such a situation, dropping or suspending the TO is not unreasonable. However, there is no reason why you cannot put the TO back in place,once the situation has changed.

However, one thing you need to be aware of. When you TO someone, there is often what we call collateral damage. By collateral damage, we mean people who are affected by the TO, even if they are not, themselves put in a TO. Some examples of people who fall into the category of collateral damage include: minor children living at home, when one or both of their parent's is on a TO; a spouse of someone who is on a TO; and people who refuse to honor your TO of a third party. These people will wind up being in a TO/CO along with the toxic person, because there is no way to have a relationship with them, and not with the toxic person.

For instance minor children of someone who is in a TO. It is not appropriate to go behind someone's back to spend time with their minor child. Since you aren't talking to the toxic person, you can't arrange to see the minor child. Therefore, the minor child is effectively put in the TO as well.

Another issue that comes up, especially with long TOs, is gifts. There are two issues with gifts. Gifts to other people, and gifts from other people. In terms of gifts to someone who is in a TO, the answer is easy – no, you don't. That is usually easy to follow, until the situation arises of gifts to children of people who are in a TO. The answer may sound mean, but you don't send anything. Not to be mean, but out of respect to their parent(s). If you have put their parent(s) in a TO, it would be rude to then turn around and give a gift to their minor(s). You expect the parent(s) to respect your boundaries and not contact your children while they are in a TO. Therefore, you need to do the same.

As for gifts sent to you and/or your children, from people who you have put in a TO, there are basically three schools of thought on what to do. All three have their drawbacks, so the bottom line is that it depends upon the circumstances and the people involved. There is no one right decision.

The first option is to return everything you receive to the sender. The downside of this is that you are giving the person who sent it attention, which is what some people are looking for. For some people negative attention is still attention.

The second option is Black Hole (BH), not say a word to them, and to donate whatever you get to a charity. If you do that, be sure to get a receipt from the charity, for the original giver or yourself. The downside of this is unless you send them the receipt from the donation, they can tell people how horrid you are. You won't talk to them, but you take their gifts.

The third option is to just keep the gifts, but not say anything to them. This includes keeping them long enough to throw them away. This has the same drawback as the second. They can tell people how horrid you are. You won't talk to them, but you take their gifts.

The bottom line is that you have to decide which solution works best in your circumstances. There is no one “right” answer for every situation. You know the people involved, and what will work best to get your message across.

There may be times when, for assorted reasons, you have to attend a gathering of some sort where the TOed person(s) is also there. This could be a wedding, funeral, graduation, religious ceremony, etc. In situations such as that, avoid contact with them as much as possible. If they try and talk to you, phrases such as, “This is not the place.” “Let's not spoil it for NAME.” “Excuse me,” and walking off, can be very useful. Try not to let them corner you. If you have to say something, keep it cool and distant. Act as you would towards someone you met once, a long time ago. Miss Manners can give you some good advice on being polite, but dismissive.

Sometimes the person(s) who is in a TO will try and use assorted tricks to get you to break the TO. These include:
  • Christmas Cancer. This is pretending to be ill, or exaggerating the severity of an existing condition to guilt you into breaking the TO. It happens most frequently around major holidays, which is why it is often referred to as Christmas Cancer. The point is, whatever illness is being claimed, don't believe it without proof. If you don't insist on proof, lancing a boil on the head will be called an operation for brain cancer.
  • You need to come as this will be <relative's name> last <name of holiday> and he/she wants to see his/her whole family together. You aren't breaking the TO for the sake of the TOed person, but for <relative>. This is another instance of collateral damage. This is an attempt to guilt you into doing something you don't want to do. Very often, the person whose name the TOed person is waving around is not even aware this is being said. Furthermore, if someone is truly sick, or even dying, that is sad, but not terribly relevant. NONE of us know when we are going to die, and very few know how. Anyone can be unexpectedly hit by a truck, making this Thanksgiving their last one. You can't let what may happen rule your life.
  • Another frequently used tactic to get you to break the TO is an offer of a bribe, in terms of childhood or family belongings and/or memories. For example: your baby pictures, family jewelry, items that belonged to a now deceased relative, childhood toys, etc. Very often, even if you break the TO and show up, you don't receive the items. But, the TOed person(s) now know how to manipulate you. You will have to be strong. If you don't have the items now and are dealing, you can continue to be without them. Otherwise, they will just continue to wave the items under your nose, while they make you jump through hoops.
  • Not as frequent, but still used, is an invitation to come see relative X, or old family friend Y, who are here for a visit. The TOed person(s) claim they have been asking about you, and will be very hurt if you don't come. In reality, a lot of the time they haven't said a thing, and are unaware they are being used as a tool to try and manipulate you. Worse case, they unfortunately become collateral damage.
  • The final standard ploy is the threat of being cut out of the will, of being disinherited. When there is a lot of money at stake, it can be a bit disheartening to be cut out. However, if you give in once, they will use money to control you each and every time. And, there is a word for people who sell themselves and their favors for money...
People on a TO or CO will often try to manipulate you into dropping it, by getting others to try and influence you. These people will typically be family members or old friends of the family. These people are referred as Flying Monkeys (FMs).This name is taken from The Wizard of Oz. The Flying Monkeys are the minions of the Wicked Witch. When she needs a dirty job done, she sends out the Flying Monkeys to do it.

These FMs will argue on behalf of the TO/CO person. They will say things such as “How can you do this to family?” “They were only trying to help.” “After all they have done for you.” “Nevertheless, they are still your <name of relationship>.” They will frequently contact you at all hours, and do anything they can to get you to change your mind.

Bear in mind that these FMs are going after you, without even giving you the courtesy of listening to your side of the story. Therefore, they frequently will not stop without a major shut down. The following responses to FMs can be useful:

“After they did <horrible act> I had no choice but to TO/CO.”
“I am doing this to protect my family.”
“I am an adult, and don't need your permission/approval to do things.”

If, after trying the above, and the FM will not drop the subject, you may have to threaten them with a TO of their own. And, if the threat does not work, go through with it. NOTE: Do not threaten a TO/CO unless you are prepared to follow through.

Some pointers to help you during a TO/CO.
  1. You can block their calls, either through your phone company or through an app.
  2. You can get Caller ID so you know who is calling before you pick-up your phone.
  3. You can assign specific tunes to specific numbers, to help you know who is calling. For instance “Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” for your MIL.
  4. Email from a TO/CO person can be automatically sent to a special folder.
  5. Email from a TO/CO person can be blocked.
  6. If they come to your house don't let them in. If they persist on bothering you, knocking/pounding on the door, ringing the doorbell, rapping on the windows, etc., call the police. That is a legitimate use of the police department.
  7. If they have a key to your house, change the locks.
  8. Make sure anyone who is TO/CO is not on the allowed list to pick your child(ren) up at school, daycare, sports, camp, etc., and is on the never ever let my child(ren) go with them list.
  9. Make sure you have never given any of your doctors or other medical workers permission to discuss your, or members of your family's, health with them. If in doubt, formally withdraw it in writing.

A CO is everything a TO is, but it doesn't normally end. The best way to think of it is, that anyone CO is dead to you. And, as with all dead people, except for zombies, you have nothing to do with them. You don't talk on the phone with dead people, go out to eat with dead people, or exchange presents with dead people, etc.

A TO or a CO is not a step to be taken lightly, or because someone is slightly irritating. It can turn into a nuclear option, with long term effects on your family and the family of the TO/CO person(s). Taking this step may mean that you will never see one or more people again. But, it is something that, unfortunately, has to be done sometimes. When used judiciously, it can be an effective tool in shielding you and your family from toxic people.

See you next week!

The Mod Squad