The Statute of Limitations on Toxic Behavior

Does time heal all wounds?

Kristen Walters
4 min readApr 26, 2024
Credit: Canva Pro

In the legal system, there’s a concept called “the statute of limitations,” which essentially means that if someone commits a crime, breaches a contract, or harms another person, they cannot be prosecuted after a certain amount of time has passed.

I always hated this rule because it allows people to evade responsibility and avoid taking accountability.

It’s left countless victims with no legal recourse.

It sends the message that if you can intimidate, blackmail, or gaslight someone into staying quiet long enough, you can get away with just about anything.

This doesn’t just happen in the legal system.

It happens in toxic relationships and dysfunctional family systems, too.

Someone is wronged.

The offending party refuses to acknowledge it.

“You’re so dramatic.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

If you continue to push the issue, they deflect their wrongdoing back onto you, insinuating that you deserved it and they are actually the REAL victim in the situation.

“Yeah, well, you’re no angel.”

“Remember when you did [X]?

And if that doesn’t get you to back off, they may flat-out deny that anything ever happened.

“You’re making that up.”

“I didn’t do that.”

“You’re crazy.”

The aggrieved person may give up at this point and stop trying to address the issue.

The wrongdoer feels like they’ve “won,” but the person they hurt doesn’t forget.

There’s now a gaping wound in the relationship that may never be repaired.

The offensive act ruminates in their mind for days, months, years—sometimes an entire lifetime.

They are left to navigate a series of shame-inducing mental gymnastics on their own:

Is it me?”

“Am I the problem?”

“Maybe I did deserve it?”

“Maybe I am blowing this out of proportion.”

“Maybe it never happened?”

“Maybe I AM crazy.”

And the cycle of toxicity continues…

Some people succumb to learned helplessness and endure this cycle of abuse at the expense of their mental health, self-esteem, confidence, and personal autonomy.

The “lucky ones” eventually realize what’s going on and either make the difficult decision to go “no contact” with the offender or establish firm boundaries to protect their well-being.


Toxic people don’t like boundaries.

People with boundaries have self-respect and prioritize their mental health, making them much more difficult to manipulate.

This is bad news for narcissists, abusers, and emotionally immature adults who use toxic tactics to control their targets.

If you encounter a person like this, be prepared to fight for your boundaries.

Stand your ground.

They’ll use crocodile tears to get sympathy and feign ignorance —

“I don’t understand why you’re doing this to ME!”

As a last-ditch effort, you try to explain it all AGAIN, calmly and succinctly laying out the unresolved issues, toxic behaviors, and abuse they refused to acknowledge over the years.

And they’ll say,

“Well, I don’t remember that.”

But you do.

You’ve been reliving those events in your mind every single day.

Trying to understand it.

Trying to make sense of it all.

The memory is still clear, raw, and painful for YOU.

However, the passage of time allows them to revise history or pretend it never happened.

For them, the statute of limitations has run out.

They got away scot-free.

They’ll never have to acknowledge their behavior, let alone take accountability or apologize.

At this point, you might feel like a victim with no recourse.

But there IS something you can do.

You can refuse to accept bad behavior, regardless of how long ago it happened.

There is no statute of limitations on unacknowledged abuse.

Time alone does not heal all wounds.

Reconciliation typically requires acknowledgment, apology, and a sincere attempt to do better going forward.

Unfortunately, you can’t control what other people do.

You can’t force them to do their part to repair the relationship they broke.

But you can control how you react.

You get to decide what you’re willing to put up with and what you will NOT tolerate.

If someone repeatedly acts in a way that is hurtful, disrespectful, or abusive and refuses to take any accountability…

Stop engaging.

Don’t argue. Don’t react. Don’t explain.


Walk away.

Stop answering (nonemergency) calls and texts.

Remove or reduce your time, attention, presence, and energy.

Show them (with your actions) that you are not someone they can play around with anymore.

If they want you in their life, they must change their behavior.

If not, well, that’s on them.

It’s their choice.

You have NO obligation to put up with abuse in any form from anyone.

For some, this might sound obvious, but it took me nearly four decades to realize this and build up the inner strength to finally break the cycle.

It’s never too late.