The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Answering Questions About Estranged Family Members

Answering simple questions about our families can by quite uncomfortable. Through trial and error, I have learned that the less said - the better.

Estrangement is an unnatural loss. When a loved one dies, others acknowledge the loss with tenderness and compassion. But, when a parent and child become estranged, bystanders usually don't understand the dynamics of the separation. They often assume that the adult child is responsible for his or her own loss.

Sometimes adult survivors of childhood abuse do make the painful decision to estrange from a family member. We may find that even after placing clear and respectful boundaries, we are still in jeopardy of physical and/or emotional violence.

Other times, family members can exile the individual who speaks the truth about the violence in the family.

Regardless of the painful circumstances that lead to family cut-offs, dealing with the embarrassment of exile can prove to be a challenge. People are often judgmental towards those who don't have a relationship with a family member.

Nonetheless, I find that when strangers or acquaintances inquire about family members, it is usually like the grocery checker asking, "How are you today?"

The question is really just about making conversation. Consequently, I usually answer as I do in the grocery store, "Good." Then I change the subject.

Sometimes, an acquaintance has heard about my estrangement, and may ask, "Why can't you get along with your family? They seem nice to me!"

It took a great deal of heartache and practice for me to learn to say, "What happened between my family and me is between my family and me. I don't wish to discuss it."

I've also run into old family friends who ask innocent questions and I don't know the answers such as, "How can I get in touch with your mother."

In these cases, I usually say, "I'm estranged from my mother and I prefer not to talk about it."

Developing a circle of supportive confidants is very important. My friends and therapist helped me move past my defensiveness, and to stand confidently in my decision to protect myself from abuse. Handling inquires about my family became an exercise in honoring my own boundaries. Eventually, my embarrassment faded as my confidence grew.

Wishing everyone peace, love, and safety.


Anonymous said...

Dear Nancy,
I deal with this painful shame/embarrassment all the time because of my estrangement with most of my immediate family. Family gatherings are a part of society and often at work or at social gatherings people ask innocent questions about my parents or siblings and I feel so awful either 1) lying or 2) telling the truth about it. Plus it reminds me that I don't have a "normal" life in the sense of not really having family....also I am not married either so society views you as "illegible" if your'e not connected to some sort of clear familial structure. It's the worst. Thank you for your blog and books and taking your time to help others with these issues.

healandforgive said...

I agree; social gatherings are an awful double bind. When people ask innocent questions about our families there is no way to answer that doesn't feel bad.

I remember it always used to ruin the social outing for me and the sad feelings remained long after I went home. Once I decided not to answer family questions, social gatherings became easier.

Take care,