Family Estrangements Allow Survival
Family Estrangements Allow Survival in today’s crazy upside-down world. As a new reality in my world I am thankful for an article by Catherine Saint Louis in The New York Times, December 21: “Debunking Myths about Estrangement.” No other time of the year are people more guilt-ridden than the “happiest time of the year.” The happiness gene skipped my family. But thankfully, I now see I am not alone.
In her article, Ms. Saint Louis defines estrangement as “one or more relatives intentionally choosing to end contact because of an ongoing negative relationship.” She goes on to describe four “myths” many attribute to estrangements:
Myth #1 They happen suddenly
My husband’s family is an excellent example of this. His is a family of drama, bitter disputes, grudges and bad communications that provide ample excuses to no longer have any reason to be together – weddings, holidays, funerals, baptisms – none are acknowledged or celebrated. This may happen when one family member does and/or says something hurtful, it lodges into the family psyche and collectively erodes all memories of family happiness. Accusations of abuse, violence and betrayals add to wounds and worsen the stories.
My family is more devious, malicious and damaging as a result of hidden childhood sexual abuse. Living within a family of secrets and ignorance leads to the dis-connection of members. The foundations upon which we base our lifestyles and worthiness are all a lie. Upon reaching our senior years and the final passing of the family protagonist, there is no longer a need to perpetuate the fantasy, wasting time we can never re-gain. And for what purpose?
Estrangement never happens suddenly but develops over years, decades even, as raw, open wounds become targets for siblings as they appear to revel in our pain and anguish. They are the superior ones: the undamaged, the unaware, making them incapable of empathy or compassion for the victim.
Myth #2 They are rare
Really? Thank goodness! Probably this best gift I have ever received. I no longer see myself as some evil sister of shame and damnation. My estrangement is my self-preservation. I choose sanity and self-worth over some false obligation written who-knows-where that “blood is thicker than water.” So? Accidents of birth are not permission that doom us to permanent misery and persecution. Bloodlines are for DNA research alone; no DNA cell provides kindness, empathy, and compassion for one another. Nope. I daresay, just the opposite: our DNA puts us in a lifelong battle for survival and nothing more.
Myth #3 There are obvious reasons
Not always obvious, it takes decades to decipher reasons for us who do not want to become estranged from our families. According to Ms. Saint Louis this may happen when
- we choose a mate over our parents, or
- as a punishment to parents for something so horrible we can not forgive, or,
- sadly, over violence, divorce, failing health.
Myth #4 They happen “on a whim”
As written above, most of us agonize over the idea of walking away from family for decades before we are finally able. Abuse is the single most reason for family estrangement. The dirty secrets, the manipulation, the acts of deceit – the whole story is never discussed. With no way to acknowledge the act there can be no healing. Instead, secrets fester and grow inside of the victim who agonizes over her life choices, trying to understand why her choices are so different from everyone else, especially the closest family members.
Those complicit in the offenses continue to physically and mentally decay from the burden of their lies. As they age those lies require more lies to further hide the truth as the victim matures and begins to remember the tragedy. The protagonist’s (my mother) mental and physical health deteriorate under the deception. Her mind begins to confuse truth with the malicious stories to cover the never-ending saga. More family myths are told; more lives dirtied to cover any hint of the truth. She passes with a full breakdown of her emotional and physical health, carrying her burden to the grave.
Betrayal by those who allowed the abuse is traumatic. When a parent chooses to protect and lie for her abuser brother instead of the victim, her own daughter, there is simply no justification. No child, whether age four or sixty-four, understands the amount of permanent damage done by the one person supposed to protect her from all others. Abuse, beginning with the physical assault, creates permanent emotional damage and inability to trust in others for a lifetime.
The Protagonist’s Behavior:
- Shows no emotional involvement;
- Is unable to show physical signs of affection;
- Provides no life skills training;
- Projects constant negativity;
- Is a perpetual liar;
- A master manipulator to cover up and make disappear evil misdeeds;
- Ignorance of actions and consequences;
- Refusal to acknowledge;
- Verbal and emotional abuse to the bitter end of life.
Family Estrangements Allow Survival. Researched and documented throughout the world, family estrangements are normal consequences for very bad situations. Family estrangements, as described above, can be life-saving.
Do not fear family estrangements.
“It is not enough to merely state that all human beings must enjoy equal dignity.
This must be translated into action.”