“You are allowed to terminate your relationship with toxic family members. People who have wronged you are permitted to end their relationship. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for taking care of yourself.” ~Unknown
You might think I’m a monster because I don’t have a relationship with my parents. I don’t spend holidays with them; I don’t call them and reminisce; they don’t know pertinent details about my life, my friends, my family, my work, or even the person I have become. These facts might shock you.
You may have had loving and supportive parents. You had parents who would be open to you discussing your relationships, respecting your boundaries and being part of your lives. That’s probably why you can’t understand how I don’t feel the same way about my parents.
When you learn that I don’t have a relationship with my parents your instinct is to deny my reality. My parents are my unconditional love, your mother is still concerned about me, and you tell me my parents were loving me. You assert that I should try and reconcile with my family, and tell me over and over that I will regret it if I don’t.
I don’t agree that they love me unconditionally, that they still care about me, that their actions are based on good intentions, or that they abused me in order to make me a better person. This may upset you, or challenge your perception of family.
Your aggressiveness tells me to try harder and that I need to be more flexible, accommodating, and kind towards my parents. Your aggressive words tell me I must forgive my parents for all the wrongs they did to me. You also tell me repeatedly that forgiveness can bring about healing and peace.
But you don’t get it; I have already healed by not having them in my life, by accepting my painful reality.
Your opinion is that I should contact my parents to have a normal conversation. This would lead to an amazing Hollywood ending that includes apologies and validation as well as love and forgiveness. This will allow me to have my family and will make us stronger, happier, and more supportive.
It is time to put an end to your intransigence and stand firm. I am being traumatized by your inability to understand my situation. I can’t contact my parents to try and have reconciliation. Do you think I didn’t try to have the conversations that you’re suggesting? Don’t you realize that I tried so hard to adapt, to do what they wanted, to apologize and accommodate my parents, yet nothing ever changed? My efforts were never sufficient!
They showed me how deeply they despise me. How little they think of me. And how unwilling they were not to listen to my story, understand me better, or to spend the time to learn about what I was going through. My heart broke each and every time I tried to make it harder. I saw the picture of my perfect family crumbling away and it became more and more clear.
They were not my parents, who unconditionally loved me the same way they should. If I excelled in school and did more to help them at home, these parents might be able to love me.
They didn’t care about me as a person because they thought they were the evil, flawed monsters they created. However, I was not an evil monster. Instead I was an adult who was desperate for a healthy relationship. Although I made mistakes as a teenager, I eventually became an adult and was able to see and understand the family dynamics.
My hardest decision was to cut off contact with my parents. Contrary what some may believe, I wasn’t able to wake up in the morning and declare that I no longer wanted a family. Rather, I woke up one morning and realized that if I didn’t end the relationship, I would continue to get hurt by my parents for the rest of my life.
My parents were officially called estrangement. I was able to let go of their contact and accept my circumstances. This allowed me to create a life that helped me heal and self-validate.
Although this has been difficult, there have been times when it was hard to know if I had done the right thing. However, there are also times when I realize how much better my life is without my parents’ lack of compassion, respect for my boundaries, or willingness to work with me to have a healthy relationship.
I am traumatized by your constant adherence to Hollywood’s notion of reconciliation. I know that I can’t have a relationship with my parents because this relationship will never be healthy. However, each time that you propose reconciliation with me, I question myself.
It is something that I’ve learned to be able do over the years. Society doesn’t affirm or condone my choices, and it does not support the reasons why I cut off contact.
I learned a lot from my parents how to challenge myself and evaluate my self-worth. You see, I couldn’t be doing what was best for me because to them, I was wrong, I was a bad person, and I never remembered situations and events accurately.
Maybe you don’t mean to cause me to question myself, but each time you bring up reconciliation and the notion that the relationship with my family could be fixed it takes me back into that space. I’m forced to remind myself of all the reasons why I had to cut contact. I’m forced to relive the painful conversations and the intense, overwhelming longing for apologies, validation, and love I know I will never get from my parents.
Before you tell me I need to see things differently and that most relationships can be fixed, I’m going to stop you. I’m going to remind you that it is hard for people to change. For people who want to be able to excuse themselves or save face, it is easier to claim that they have made a change.
People don’t change for others; they change for themselves because they realize that there are benefits to adjusting their behavior. A parent who is uncaring or disconnected will not change their behavior for a child they have never loved.
You will feel uneasy if you make poor choices. I took your family picture and I broke it into a million pieces, pieces that can never be put back together. Because I don’t believe in the love, support, and forgiveness that you are describing, I had to challenge your perceptions.
Don’t tell me that time can heal all wounds or that time fixes relationships. The truth is that time has proven me right.
When I look at you and your family, an incredible longing remains in my heart. Your family provides support, love and mentoring that is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Instead, instead, I’ll be looking through the windows at your seemingly perfect family. It will make me long for the feeling of being loved and supported in the same way as you.
It will be a painful experience to not have that photo as mine. A part of me will never forget why it was denied to me. A piece of my heart will ache with pangs of longing, longing I have learned and accepted is a natural part of life when you don’t have parents who are loving and supportive.
Don’t downplay my pain or deny my lived experiences. Don’t tell me that how I feel now will not be the same way I feel six months or six years from now. I don’t mean to be harsh, but you have not lived my life or walked in my shoes, and I am relieved for you.
Don’t remind me that my siblings have a great relationship with my parents, so therefore, I might be able to improve my relationship with them.
Remind me, children in family like my are not treated equally
While some children are considered the “golden children”, they receive love and support. Other children are often neglected but are still able to keep in touch with their loved ones, hoping that the relationship will one day improve. The toxic family system makes other children the scapegoats. Capegoats do not love their families and are held responsible for circumstances beyond their control.
Some children from these dysfunctional families may choose to ignore the fact that their parents are not there for them. Society teaches us that every person needs a family. Because the alternatives are so painful and stigmatizing, they choose to stay connected with their uncaring parents.
Stop! Don’t remind me of the way my mother acted when you were over at my house growing up. Don’t tell me that she treated you well over the years and was very interested/invested in your life. Please don’t tell me she asks about me every time she sees you or that she has no idea why I cut contact with her.
I don’t want to hear about how kind my father was. I don’t want to relive backyard barbecues where my parents acted kind and hospitable. It’s clear that they did act.
Parents who are toxic can be compassionate and kind to all people, except their children. You and everyone else were not privy to their private lives, but they could be very different.
They may have treated me with kindness, or pretended to care. All this was a ruse. I don’t want to show you who they really were behind closed doors because I doubt that you will believe me. I know this makes it harder to understand my perspective, but I don’t want to live in the pain of the past. With an open mind and optimistic outlook, I prefer to live in the now and not dwell on the past.
Reiterating: Choosing not to be a parent is stigmatizing as well as painful. Not being understood can cause pain and stigma. Assumptions that I am somehow wrong for cutting contact with my family, or that I have done some terrible thing to warrant being excluded from the family.
I will try to change that image. My only mistake was to challenge you about a supportive loving family.
I have a question for you: What if your friend criticised and judged you and didn’t accept who you were as people? Would that make you a good friend?
What if I told you that after interactions with that friend you were anxious, your entire body hurt, you felt like you did something wrong, you couldn’t sleep, and you questioned your judgment? The interaction was replayed over and again in your head, with more details of abusive remarks, judgmental actions and dismissive comments.
Is it possible to be friends with this person? No, you couldn’t. You couldn’t. It seems so difficult for you to see that unhealthy relationships between family members can happen.
Hold on tight to your family picture, but don’t ask me to repair mine. Accept and understand my broken picture instead.
Don’t ask me to cut myself with the shards of glass through forgiveness, reconciliation, and false hopes of unconditional love and acceptance. I’m sorry if what I’ve said makes you feel uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable to be asked by society whether I can deny reality, grab a glass and open up my wounds that my family has suffered.
Jen Hinkkala has a PhD in education and is also a researcher. It is her goal to find out what circumstances and events lead to higher levels in wellness, resilience and self-care, both for students and arts educators. Jen is also an anxiety coach. Her expertise includes self-care, life coaching, stress management, estrangement and how to overcome abuse and what career options and paths she can take. Jen runs a support group for estranged adults and a group to support personal development. Follow Jen on Twitter.
Join the conversation. To leave a comment, click here
Tiny Buddha published Dear Everyone Who Suggests That I Should Be Reconciled with My Parents first.