Many survivors of childhood abuse struggle with the question of how much contact to maintain with their family of origin. Not only is this an internally painful topic, it also brings the pain of misunderstandings and judgment by others. During the holiday season in particular, many survivors field questions about “going back home” and “visiting family.” At times, these queries open up old wounds and bring hurt and anger to the surface.
The decision to cut off or severely limit contact with an abusive or dysfunctional family is a deeply personal one. Each of us must grapple with the question of what kind of relationship we want to have with our family. If you’re struggling with that topic or have someone close to you who is I’d like to pose a question:
Is the pain of staying in contact greater than the pain of being estranged?
If being in contact with your family is more painful and traumatizing than being alone, then connection comes at a high cost to you. Often these costs include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, substance use or addiction, and/or sacrificing your feelings, wants, and needs to please others. If your attempts to set boundaries and effect change in your family have not been successful then you might want to consider a period of low-contact or no-contact.
A break from your family does not mean that your needs for connection with them disappear. In fact the opposite can happen. As you gain distance from abusive and dysfunctional family members you might more keenly feel their lack of love and approval. While feeling unloved is a deep emotional pain, it is important to allow yourself to feel it. Staying with the feeling allows you to grieve what you lost, or never had in the first place. The process of grieving helps heal old wounds and creates hope for the future. By feeling and processing the pain of your family, you can free up emotional space and energy to create fulfilling relationships in other areas of your life.
If you’re the close friend of someone who’s estranged from their family please allow them the time and space to feel all their feelings. Try not to judge their decisions – these are difficult and heart wrenching choices. And if you’re not sure what to say during the holidays ask how you can best support them. Or invite them to spend time with you.
If you’d like to learn more about family estrangement, Hidden Voices: Family Estrangement in Adulthood is a great resource.
Katrina Taylor, LMFT-Associate. 512-270-9002
Disclaimer: The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. Reading articles and content on this website does not constitute a therapeutic relationship.