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

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Update on Estrangement Polls - Please share your thoughts

On April 6, 2009, I began two polls on family estrangement. I'm starting a new poll and I'm going to keep the old polls going as well. Thanks to everyone who has participated so far! Your input is greatly appreciated!

So far, 71 people have given 175 responses to the question:

If you chose to estrange from a family member, what were your reasons?

They didn't accept my spouse 11 (15 %)
They didn't accept my choices -26 (36%)
They didn’t accept my sexuality 4 (5%)
Boundary issues – 26 (36%)
Abuse – 40 (56%)
Addiction -10 (14%)
Mental illness – 16 (22%)
Family business dispute - 5 (7%)
Wedding stress - 1 (1%)
By-product of divorce - 4 (5%)
Stress caused by the death of a family member - 4 (5%)
It just wasn't worth the aggravation – 18 (25%)
I don't know how to solve our conflicts - 9 (12%)

The other poll:

30 people have given 73 responses to the question:

If a family member estranged from you, what were their reasons?

I don't know – 5 (16 %)
Addictions – 4 (13)
Mental Illness – 7 (23%)
Didn't know how to resolve conflict – 9 (30%)
Selfishness - 11 (36%)
In- laws - 1 (3%)
Intolerance – 6 (20%)
Couldn't let go of the past – 7 (23%)
They believed lies about me – 10 (33%)
Can't forgive a mistake – 5 (16%)
Said I was too involved in their life – 2 (6%)
Abuse – 6 (20%)

There appears to be a wide range of reasons for estrangement; yet, I've been wondering a lot about the "divide" between estrangers and estrangees and how each camp views their estrangements quite differently.

After years of communicating with people dealing with estrangements, estrangers give multiple reasons the estrangee doesn't know why the estrangement came about, or sees it differently:

a) I didn't tell them why.
b) I told my family member why, but my family member didn't "hear" the reason,
c) I told my family member why, but my family member thought it was a bad reason, or
d) I told their family member why, but my family member rejected the reason as false.

For those who wish to re-establish relationships with estranged family members, reconciliation is difficult when the reason for estrangement is not understood. Most estrangers I have communicated with have told me that if the "reason" for estrangement no longer existed, they would be open to reconciliation. The problem seems to be that each "camp" sees the reasons differently.

I would appreciate any input from readers. If you have estranged from a family member, please vote in my new poll and, if you'd like, leave a comment as to whether:

a) You never told them the reason why.
b) You told them why, but they didn't "hear" the reason.
c) You told them why, but they thought it was a bad reason.
d) You told them why, but they rejected the reason as false, or
e) Any other answer not listed here.

In my own situation, continued extreme family violence was at the root of my decision to estrange from my mother.

In the years leading up to our estrangement I told my mother multiple times that the abuse was the root of our relationship problems and she didn't hear me; however, one day, I simply walked away. I stopped calling her or visiting her and she never called me. So for her, a) I never told her, and for me, b) I told her but she didn't "hear" the reason.

When I stopped seeing my mother, my grandmother and three brothers stopped seeing me.

My grandmother told me her reason: She didn't believe our abuse was as bad as I said. She said I was incorrigible and as long as I wouldn't see my mother, she wouldn't see me. So, for me c) I thought that was a bad reason to stop seeing a granddaughter and d) I rejected her reason as false.

My oldest brother told me he thought I was mentally ill - again, d) I rejected this reason as false. I believed he didn't see me because he took the path of least resistance. Rather than confronting a huge abusive family system, he participated in scapegoating me.

Another brother never told me why he estranged from me. After we reconciled, he said it was because he thought he had to choose between Mom and me. So, for me, I'd say a) he never told me - but also took the path of least resistance.

My youngest brother told me in a letter that he stopped seeing me because I single handedly destroyed our family. d) I rejected this reason as false - again, path of least resistance.

Since I am both an estranger and an estrangee, I can see how complicated this is. As an estranger, I was frustrated my mother didn't "hear" my reasons and wasn't willing to change. As an estrangee, I was frustrated by the "false" reasons of my family members.

How does a family, let alone an "outsider" determine the legitimacy of an estrangers reasons?

In order for me to reconcile with my family, it took the estrangee (my mother) to at least acknowledge abuse as my reason - (without rehashing the past). It also took her willingness to curtail major abusive behaviors, and my willingness to accept responsibility for myself and set great boundaries with her.

As the estrangee concerning my brothers, it took a willingness on my part to understand their reasons - whether I like the reasons or agree with them or not. In other words - they did the best they could - given our family circumstances.

I needed to heal from my past abuse enough that I no longer need their support and understanding. I had to be willing to stop trying to change their perceptions, be able to maintain excellent boundaries, safe-guard my own well-being, and find new ways of behaving and coping with old family problems.


Anonymous said...

wow, what a wonderful post. i have had a history of estranging from both family members and friends. it seems sometimes like the list of people i've been close to in my life but felt the need to cut off from in order to feel safe, just keeps getting longer.

i will vote in your poll.

thank you for talking about how you were able to reunite with your family. it's nice to see how that's possible. to hear a positive example that sounds healthy.

Anonymous said...

oops, i hope i didn't mess up your poll. i actually voted four times. one for the each of the major estrangements in my life.

mother - i voted that she didn't hear the reason. i actually haven't estranged from my mother, but i am referring to her reaction to my cutting off from my brother. she can't hear my reasons. she seems to think he can do no wrong. he's her "baby boy" (despite that he's almost 40). i think this is her denial to protect herself. if he has done anything wrong it suggests she failed as a parent and she can't think of that.

brother - thought i had a bad reason (didn't think he had done anything wrong)

father - didn't tell him (i voted this way because i didn't tell him when i cut off from him the reason, but i felt ok about that because i had confronted him before, so i felt like he knew the reason - though he denied it) - maybe this should have been a vote that he said my reason was false?

mother-in-law - they said the reason was false - she outright denied having ever been abusive and acted like we were crazy for wanting to keep away from her.

no wonder i feel crazy sometimes. seeing this all written out. :(

thank you for this poll.

healandforgive said...

Hi MM,

Don't worry; you didn't mess up the poll.

In my two "Reasons" polls, I remembered to check the box that voters can answer multiple times; however, I forgot to check that box when I set up the "did you tell them" poll and blogger won't allow you to go back and edit the poll after voting has begun - so it only takes one vote.

It stands to reason that people either "don't hear,"think it is a bad reason," or a "false reason." If they heard, and/or agreed with the reason, there probably wouldn't be an estrangement in the first place.

And you're right - it certainly can be "crazy making!"

healandforgive said...

Thanks MM,

It is nice to know that reconciliation is possible.

After 14 years of estrangement, I was positive I would never reconcile with my family - let alone my mother.

Yet, sometimes the impossible happens! My mother called me and apologized for my abuse!

Fortunately, I had healed enough to explore the possibility of reconciliation.

We've been reconciled for 2 and a half years!

Anonymous said...

that is so wonderful! i'm so glad you have had that experience. :)

Anonymous said...

"If they heard, and/or agreed with the reason, there probably wouldn't be an estrangement in the first place."

here here! :)

healandforgive said...

Thanks MM!