I used to feel uncomfortable when people asked me why I am estranged from my family. It is difficult to explain a life-long struggle in a few sentences. How do you describe the rejection and the hurt? How do you share openly without being judged? People with strong relational families find it hard to understand.
It was a decision that left me with a limp.
How do I explain the fact that I used to live in constant fear; that I continuously questioned people’s intentions instead of embracing and enjoying the joy of companionship? Can one measure the amount of time it took to rebuild my capacity to trust others; to build a new support structure?
“Sometimes the strongest thing you will ever do will be to let go of someone. It will be painful, you will suffer guilt, and you will second-guess yourself, but for your own sanity and quality of life, there will come a time where you hand them to God, with your love, and trust Him to be who and what He is. May our Lord comfort you.” Lee Goff
“Sometimes the door closes on a relationship, not because we failed but because something bigger than us says this no longer fits our life. So, lock the door, shed a tear, turn around and look for the door that’s opened. It’s a sign that you’re no longer that person you were, it’s time to change into who you are. It’s going to be okay.” Lee Goff
It has taken me a lifetime to realise that life has different stages and that I need wisdom to understand when something has come to an end. At first, fear keeps us going… it is difficult to end a relationship, to resign from a job, or to sever a long-lasting friendship. If we cling to past memories and hope, we make it impossible to embrace the new experiences that are waiting for us. If we keep on asking ‘why’, we get stuck.
You simply can’t be in the present and the past at the same time.
Something has got to give. The hardest thing for me was to release the memories. It was a painful experience, to create space for the new things that were to come.
How did I decide to let go of my family?
The toxicity affected all the other areas of my life, we reached a stage where all interactions were negative. I developed physical symptoms with a bleeding ulcer and sleepless nights. The balance of the relationship became disturbed and it started to affect my children.
I had to step back and look at my own actions to see if the relationship could be salvaged. I tried to put space between us, to set boundaries, but I was bulldozed and threatened. Before I made the final decision I evaluated our relationship.
The old, familiar saying, “the best prediction of future behaviour is past behaviour” helped me to distance myself from my emotions. The fact that our history was filled with chronically negative incidents helped me to make an informed and intuitive decision.
I prepared myself for the consequences of breaking ties with one section of the family. I braced myself emotionally, because I knew from previous experience that my whole family would turn against me as they had done in the past. Our family history included cycles of silence that sometimes stretched over five years.
This time was different because I knew that I was not responsible for everyone’s choices and feelings. If I kept going, I would be enabling harmful family members. I also focused on not getting confused by my feelings. I realised that my family of origin was not more important than my own little family. I felt responsible for the well-being of my children.
The hardest thing to comprehend and deal with was to acknowledge how they really felt about me. I didn’t feel unconditional love from my parents. I faced the passive-aggressive behaviours of my sisters and brothers-in-law. I really felt the figurative shoe print stamped on my back, because I felt like I had been used like an old doormat. I tried to be close to my family (this started when I was very young), but it was hurtful because it didn’t work. The situation was complicated and I realised that there would be no resolution possible.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Brene Brown
My decision had emotional and financial repercussions and had a huge influence on my well-being.
There are negative consequences when a controlling family member/spouse doesn’t get what they want from you. They revert to gossip to manipulate and control you and turn other family members against you. The decision to cut people from your life is difficult. Death is final but cutting ties is like death without closure.
“Cutting people out of your life doesn’t mean you hate them, it simply means you respect yourself. Not everyone is meant to stay.” Unknown
The hardest thing when you let go is to teach yourself not to expect anything in return. You will not be appreciated or understood. You have to teach yourself not to replay the same movie over and over in your mind; the one that reveals to you how much you have suffered from your losses. You need to realise that everything is replaceable and that a habit is not a need.
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled.” Ray Bradbury
“I eventually came to understand that in harbouring the anger, the bitterness, and resentment towards those that had hurt me, I was giving the reigns of control over to them. Forgiving was not about accepting their words and deeds. Forgiving was about letting go and moving on with my life. In doing so, I had finally set myself free.” Isabel Lopez
Healing after the split.
It was a long journey and I had to learn that not everyone would let me down in the same way my family did. I had to consciously choose not to withdraw from relationships, to keep myself in circulation, to escape isolation and loneliness (I failed this one for many years).
“When we think we have been hurt by someone in the past, we build up defences to protect ourselves from being hurt in the future. So the fearful past causes a fearful future and the past and future become one. We cannot love when we feel fear… When we release the fearful past and forgive everyone, we will experience total love and oneness with all.” Gerald G. Jampolsky
“If you spend your time hoping someone will suffer the consequences for what they did to your heart, then you’re allowing them to hurt you a second time in your mind.” Shannon L. Alder
There is still social pressure from well-meaning people who prompt me to reconcile with my family. To be honest, I always think and evaluate the possibility when someone brings it to my attention. I can understand it, especially from people with healthy relationships with their families. As a mother, I cannot fathom being without my children and I will always love my family of origin.
“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realising that the only person you really have control over is yourself.” Deborah Reber.
“There are things your blood relatives can give you that no other human being can. There are also things they can take away, which no one else can.” Unknown
The journey after the split
Setting out on my own was daunting, but it was also rewarding in the sense that I was free of the toxicity, and open to love others freely. I also got the unique opportunity to create a life moulded by my own value system, completely seperate from the one I was born into.
God did a deep work in me and helped me, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to make peace with the fact that I was not cut from the same cloth as my family. The hard inner work brought to light the struggle, even as a young child, that I had to fit in.
I belong to Him. He knows me. He created the pattern of my cloth, and He has a specific purpose and place for me. I am completely accepted by Him. He showed me that those who have struggled with early injuries can develop strengths that can serve His Kingdom later in life. He opened up my wounds and cleaned them to change me so that I could respond to His calling.
The most beautiful thing in this whole struggle is the fact that I am supported by my children. They keep me accountable when my heart is overwhelmed by sorrow. They remind me of the journey and provide a safe space where my emotions can fall. They are my witnesses. They can account for the fact that I tried.
Maybe you are suffering today and you feel overwhelmed by your loneliness. I encourage you to hold on to God. Your pain might teach you about different paths or open your heart to be more sensitive to the needs of others. One thing I know, your suffering will build a stronger character in you.