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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

When Reconciliation is Worthwhile

My brother Rob and I have been largely estranged for 22 years - speaking briefly only twice until recently. Family violence wreaks havoc on families.  We all do what we have to to survive.  Sometimes survival means hurting one another.

At the end of 2013 Rob's wife became terminally ill. We spoke on the phone a few times from then until her death a couple of weeks ago.

During a conversation I had with my brother last week, I said, "When we were little kids, we were so close.    We mourned dad's death together, we commiserated about Ed's brutal violence towards us, we shared inside jokes, secrets, and a special bond.  We understood each other like no other.  I want you to know, that no matter what has happened between us, where ever I have been in the last 22 years, the little girl in me has always loved the  little boy in you."

"It never goes away Nance," was his reply and we softly said good-bye.


Exclusion still exists in my family.  The details are not important; however, what is noteworthy is that some form of estrangement, exclusion, ostracism, or rejection continues to make the rounds. 

The sad part of the exclusion is that it is such a big part of the fabric of our family that it is accepted as a given - even while silently watching a family member in pain.(see: When Healthy Looks Crazy).

The excluded individual must learn to navigate the pain of rejection on their own.  That is where self-care must come in.  I must keep good boundaries so I don't put myself in situations where I will be/feel excluded.  Unfortunately, watching history repeat itself in the younger family generation is painful. My family seems to believe that the victim of exclusion "should not let it bother them" and continue to put themselves in harms way. Unfortunately, humans are not wired to sustain rejection.

Studies show that experiencing a rejection activates the same part of the brain as when we experience physical pain.   The same research also demonstrates that rejection mimics physical pain so much so that taking Tylenol eases the pain associated with rejection.  Psychologists believe this is true because human evolution has wired our brains to link our survival to our dependance on our inclusion in the tribe.

According to Psychology TodayRejection does not respond to reason. Participants were put through an experiment in which they were rejected by strangers. The experiment was rigged—the "strangers" were confederates of the researchers. Surprisingly, though, even being told that the "strangers" who had "rejected" them did not actually reject them did little to ease the emotional pain participants felt. Even being told that the strangers belonged to a group they despised such as the KKK did little to soothe people's hurt feelings. Guy Winch, Ph.D. "10 Surprising Facts About Rejection." The Squeaky Wheel.

You can see the whole article here:  10 Surprising Facts About Rejection

Bottom line, our well-being always comes back to boundaries.  As adults the individual alone is responsible for their own well-being.

When Healthy Looks Crazy

Although we are reconciled, I'm still the black sheep in my family. I've always been "different."

Growing up I often heard, "Why do I always have this trouble with you Nancy? Only you- never the boys? The boys never complain about fill in the blank (being hit by your step-father, etc)."

The majority is always right - right? In civilized society this is generally true; there is a consensus on appropriate behavior.  But who decides in families? Unfortunately for those growing up in dysfunctional family systems - it is the dysfunctional  majority who decides what is appropriate - a crazy making scenario for the healthy few.

In other words, if a family as a group is only familiar with an unhealthy behavior - healthy looks "crazy."  I call this "Island Thinking" - thinking that only holds true on the family island.

For example, a big part of adulthood is being able to take care of oneself.  In order to take care of ourselves and maintain our self-esteem, we must keep good boundaries.  But what if you grow up in a family without healthy boundaries?  If parents don't model healthy boundaries, their children don't even know healthy boundaries exist let alone how to exercise or honor this basic measure of self care.

If and when one family member does learn about self-care and begins exercising boundaries, this healthy behavior looks so foreign to the family who has never seen family boundaries that they all agree that the boundary setter is behaving "crazy."

Being punished for healthy behavior can feel "crazy making," especially as a child.  But understanding "why" healthy can look crazy can make the experience feel less crazy making. 

I still choose to set healthy boundaries even when my family thinks I'm crazy. I am constantly striving to balance receiving the good that comes with family with rejecting that which is harmful to me.

Return to Blogging

I haven't blogged for some time.  I felt like I had exhausted everything I had to say about estrangement and reconciliation.

I am grateful that my blog has been helpful to many people dealing with the pain of estrangement. I want to say thank you to all of you who have continued to reach out to me through blog comments and email even though I haven't blogged consistently for four years. It is comforting to know that the sharing of my journey has helped others.

For the last eight years I have been navigating my family reconciliation.  I must say, reconciliation is very hard and very delicate work.  Reuniting with my family has had some major rewards, enabled continued growth, as well as some pain.  Overall, it has been worthwhile.  Yet, dysfunctional families, don't become functional just because there is reconciliation.  All the dysfunction still exists; the challenge is the response.  I must keep good boundaries, continue to work hard, and bask in the rewards when they come my way.

I thought I would write a few posts at this point on issues that I/we still struggle with as well as what makes our reconciliation worthwhile.