In this series, in December, we have examined together what family estrangement is, some of its causes, and how we can learn to enjoy our lives despite being separated from our family of origin.
In this article, we are going to focus on some concluding thoughts on family estrangement. We are also going to focus on the resources of the CPTSD Foundation that anyone can take advantage of to help overcome the pain that comes with family estrangement.
A Brief Recap of the definition of Family Estrangement
Family Estrangement is an emotional distancing and cessation of communication between one or more members of a family. It is the breakdown of the support from and to a person who can no longer trust their family to be on their side any longer.
Often family estrangement happens when two members of a family disagree on the facts of a matter such as in the case of childhood trauma. The adult survivor might come out and talk about what happened to them, but the other member or members of the family think he or she is lying. This can lead to family estrangement, where the survivor refuses to speak to the family and often vice versa.
Family estrangement can also happen when family members disagree over religion, sexual choices, politics, and about any other topic that can place a wedge between them.
Family Estrangement Need Not Last Forever
Even when family estrangement occurs, that does not mean it will last forever. Sometimes members of the family in question can and do find familiar enough ground to resume speaking and even visiting with one another again.
Reestablishing contact with an estranged family member may be what is right for you, but take the time to make sure that’s what you want. You can leave the door open to reconciliation later at the time you decide to stop communicating with your family member and this will make it easier later. However, few have the luxury of knowing ahead of time they are going to cut ties and the emotional turmoil that accompanies family estrangement may preclude making plans for the future.
One must approach the canceling of hostilities in the future cautiously and not allow that family member or any other member of the family to pressure you into a reunion you do now desire or want. Your protection comes first, meaning your mental and physical health is paramount. If that family member remains a danger to your health in any way, then you have the right to remain aloof and out of harm’s way.
When the Family Won’t Stop Shaming
Unfortunately, after one has asked for space away from a family member, the rest of the family may apply pressure for the estrangement to end. Instead of supporting the person who was hurt, they try to use guilt and rewards to lure you back into the fold.
The family may send you presents, postcards, letters, or attempt to make phone calls and texts to cause you to feel guilty and ashamed. Keep in mind that what they are doing is wrong and signs that you were right to cut ties. A loving family would never serve you guilt on a platter; instead, they would allow you the room you have requested to think and heal.
It is entirely okay to ask for room and time away from the family and it is okay never to go back if you deem them too toxic for your safety. No one, and I mean, no one has the power to control you except that which you give them. If your family of origin is too toxic, then turn to your family of choice instead.
Adults Have the Rights and Choices to Make
As adults, we are no longer helpless children who cannot choose to leave a family or family member who is harming us. Adults have rights.
- We have the right to feel safe.
- We have the right to be respected.
- We have the right to choose with whom we will associate.
- We have the right to live guilt and shame-free.
While these rights are lovely, so many survivors, do not know they have them and suffer inside from the choice to stay away from toxic family members. So, I’m going to make some statements that are also true.
- You have the right to choose to stay away from toxic people.
- You have the right to be and remain healthy, spiritually, physically, and mentally.
- You have the right to tell anyone you wish that you do not want to communicate with them any longer.
- You are NOT hooked at the hip with your family of choice.
You Are Whole Without Your Family of Origin
The family you were born into wasn’t your choice, and when they are toxic, they can harm you in a myriad of ways. Sometimes we listen to society that states that our future is forever linked to those who gave us birth.
This is completely and utterly untrue.
Yes, we carry the surname of our family of origin, but that does not forever tie us to the yoke they have chosen to place upon themselves. The son or daughter of a narcissistic and cruel parent is not forever destined to be as nasty as that parent.
We are our own person, and we make our own determinations as to who we are and what we do with our lives. We are whole without our family of origin and we are free to move on and leave them behind in the past.
Family Estrangement Doesn’t Always Mean You Have Stopped Loving Them
It is highly unfortunate that children bond so closely with harmful members of their family. However, we do, and just because we’ve chosen to become estranged from the toxicity of the family does not at all mean we have stopped loving them.
This last paragraph may be hard to swallow if you are fresh to your family estrangement, but if you don’t love them, why does it hurt so much?
Being good parents, brothers, sisters, daughters, or sons, we cannot get away from the love that we have even though that family member has betrayed us.
In my own experience, when I became estranged from my father’s family, I still loved them. The pain I felt then and that I still feel today hurts because I lost who I thought they were and the withdrawal of their love for me. To be sure they never did love me, or they could never have disowned a fifteen-year-old little girl, but as history has it, that’s precisely what they did. I am still hurting from how they treated me even though it has been forty-three years.
Concentrating on the Now and the Future
It is very tempting to dwell on the past and what we want from our family of choice. To be clear, we have the perfect right to wish our family of choice to love and protect us but sometimes they either will not or cannot, then it is time to move on.
By concentrating instead on where we are not in our lives and where we want for our future, we allow ourselves room to heal and make a life for ourselves without the drama of a family that was not worth keeping.
New Year’s Eve is coming soon, and on that evening, I usually sit down with a piece of paper and write down the things I am grateful for in this present time. Such as I am thankful for the chance to write articles for the CPTSD Foundation to spread information and truth about CPTSD and all the subjects related to it.
This New Year’s Eve, I’m also going to sit and write down what dreams I have that are not met yet and make some plans to reach them. It doesn’t matter whether I will ever be capable of realizing them but having something to strive for keeps my mind fresh and away from concentrating so much of what could and should have been with my family of origin.
Neither yours nor my present or future happiness is predicated on the pain and those who caused it in our past. We are adults and entirely responsible for our healing and our lives and we have the perfect right to be happy despite those who harmed us.
Reaching Out to Make a Brighter Day
Reaching out to others is the best way to make the present and future brighter after family estrangement. You can join a service organization, a church, or join one of the many different supports offered by the CPTSD Foundation.
The foundation currently is offering the following opportunities for healing to you:
The Healing Book Club. The healing book club meets each week to read and discuss trauma-related healing books from world-renowned authored.
The Weekly YouTube Chat. Athena Moberg, the founder of the CPTSD Foundation, holds a weekly YouTube chat every Monday where she interacts with those who attend and answers your questions on topics related to complex trauma. The chat is a safe place for survivors to be supported and has their voices heard and their feelings validated. The weekly YouTube chat is free of charge.
Daily Peer Support Calls. The CPTSD Foundation staff lead interactive daily calls held in a safe atmosphere with world-class coaches, clinicians, authors, and advocates who know what it means to not only survive complex trauma but to thrive.
24/7 Free Closed Facebook Support Groups. The CPTSD Foundation offers safe support groups on Facebook for survivors to go and receive the support they deserve. Encouragement is always in abundant supply from others who know what it means to struggle in daily life as a survivor.
Meditation, Prayer, and Mindfulness Meetups. Beginning in January 2020, the CPTSD Foundation is offering a brand-new support group formed around the concepts and practices of meditation, prayer, and mindfulness. Even if you are not religious, learning about the power of meditation and mindfulness is essential and leaning on something higher than yourself is vital to healthy and successful healing.
Some of the above programs include a fee; however, all the money collected goes into a scholarship fund to make it possible for those who cannot afford them to attend.
Despite the Pain, the Future is Bright
If you are freshly disenfranchised from your family, life may seem bleak and cold to you at this present time. To you, I offer words of encouragement and hope.
Just like when someone dies, their memory lives on in the minds of those who loved them, and those who have lost the dream of the family they wanted will remain painful forever. However, although the pain you are feeling will never go away, but in time, it will lessen, and you will smile again.
One day you will decide that enough tears are shed over those who harmed you and you will decide to move on with your life and will choose a new family, one of choice. On that day, healing will have indeed taken hold of your heart and life will begin to improve.
As an adult, you have the power forever to change, and that is the most significant power of all. You can change your destiny, change your heart toward others, and most of all, choose to make a brighter life for yourself in the future.
No one said it would be easy to move on from family estrangement because that would be a lie. However, after the struggle has passed and life has begun, the sun will shine on your heart again and you will glow with happiness simply because you are enough.
By Anne Peterson
I know you are tired
standing next to measuring sticks,
not reaching high enough,
not being enough.
But may I tell you something?
You’re using the wrong tools.
I never chose those methods,
those are not my ways.
I don’t care what the world is telling you:
how what you do, defines who you are,
how what you own reflects your worth.
No, my child. No, a thousand times.
You are a person of worth:
Not for what you do.
Not for how you look.
Not for what you own.
Not even for who you know
I don’t use the tools the world uses.
They are of no value to me.
You are a person of worth,
I take delight in you.
I value you.
Not only sometimes.
Not when you lose a few pounds,
or get a raise.
Or accomplish something
that makes the world clap.
You are valued.
You are precious.
And you ARE enough.