Estrangement didn’t come easy.
It never ever occurred to me that one day I would make the choice to be estranged from my entire family. After all, who wants to make such a decision as that? It literally feels like taking such a decision is going against your core, against your DNA—it feels so counter-intuitive and strange to do. And, beyond all this, it is just heartbreaking. It’s an earth-shattering decision and it can feel very lonely and isolating. But, there must be a truly profound reason that those of us who are estranged decide to make such a bold life-altering decision, then, right? Indeed, there is.
I think it took me a long time to ultimately become estranged because my family did such a great job of seducing me into believing we had the perfect family,
that others had it worse, and that we were meant to stick together no matter what the challenge or no matter how much chaos. It was hard to see the undercurrent of toxicity, enmeshment, and inappropriate behavior due to the very strong “covering up” my parents did by sending me and my sibling to catholic school, enrolling us in sports and dance studios, while also allowing us to have pets and sleepovers at various friends’ houses. We had birthday parties at amusement parks where we invited our best friends, and we often took cookies and cakes to school to share with the other students. So, on the outside, we looked like the “Leave it to Beaver” family—the wholesome, loving, supportive family who has no skeletons in the closet—the family every family wishes to emulate.
I had plenty of toys, games, and enjoyed the family gatherings during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
We took family vacations and my parents seemed to try their best to attend my competitions and events. So, you can see how despite my body and intuition telling me there were very many things that felt “off,” “odd,” “uncomfortable” and “weird,” I constantly blew them off and told myself I was reading into things incorrectly. I would occasionally mention to my sibling how our house felt strange, that there was something I couldn’t put my finger on and my sibling would agree. It was like there was this tension constantly brewing, like we were in the middle of a volcano that had been building up and waiting to explode but we didn’t know why or what was going on underneath that made us feel this way. All we both knew is that things felt very secretive and that we’d better say and do all the right things or else. Except we didn’t know what the “or else” was.
I grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s and both my parents worked and completed university.
From the time I can remember, I had access to my father’s very vast wall-to-wall Playboy collection. I used to thumb through the pages like they were children’s books and fairy tales inherently knowing something was weird and wrong to be looking at such thing at the age of 3 but nobody ever stopped me as the Playboy magazines never were kept out of a child’s reach. While I do not remember being inappropriately touched by either parent or a family member, my father walked around constantly in a bathrobe making it entirely possible for me and my sibling to constantly see his bits. As we grew older, we would ask him to wear normal clothing around the house or at least underwear under his robe which he literally refused to do. I felt my father was like a “boyfriend” because he was always lurking around the corner and watching/spying on our my every move. When I became a teenager, my father would listen in on my phone calls with my girlfriends—I could hear him breathe or hear the sound of the phone clicking—it would infuriate me and I would announce out loud in the middle of the call, “Dad, we can hear you! Hang up the phone!” And then, he would simply hang up as though he were never there.
My father was a “rageaholic”.
He would become infuriated for very strange and random reasons. He would have me stand tall in front of him as he would press his nose to mine screaming so loudly that I could not make out what he was saying. His spit would be flying everywhere and his face would be as red as a tomato. These episodes would last hours while my mother sat behind me not making a sound; she would literally watch these situations like she was watching television. I would literally beg my father just to hit me in an effort to stop his screaming. I would also plead with my mother to please stop him and she never did. She literally just looked at me with a blank look on her face and not say a word and the raging episode would then continue. My father did hit me from time-to-time. When I got older and mentioned him removing his belt and spanking me, his response was, “I never did that.” While I knew deep down he had, I questioned if I was making things up. Despite my father’s rage, he was a very affectionate father who always said, “I love you,” gave hugs and kisses and wanted to be physically close to me and my sibling. My mother didn’t like his displays of affection toward me specifically and I would watch her evaluating me when sitting next to my father on the couch—she made me feel I was doing something wrong and at times, she would tell me to move away from him and sit at the opposite end of the sofa. I immediately followed her orders but felt dirty due to the unexplained reasons why I had to move away from my father.
My mother was not affectionate but she always made breakfast, lunch and dinner and made sure my homework was done properly.
Every night, she read over my homework making sure I understood the assignments. When I had trouble with any subject, she would stay up till very late hours with me making sure I completed the assignment accurately. My mother appeared fair, reasonable, and very practical. She was not the type to raise her voice or spank us but she would cycle through times when she just decided to give me the silent treatment and her silent treatment would last weeks. I would be asking her, begging her to talk to me, to let me know what I had done wrong and how I could repair it and she literally would never tell me how I could fix things; instead, she went on giving me the silent treatment.
Despite these cognitive dissonant episodes described above
(and there’s plenty more), I just assumed all families and all parents behaved this way. I thought our family was “normal.” I didn’t like how highly sexualized our family felt and that there was intense tension but I just thought it was the way all families were.
As I left the house for university and moved away, there were periods where I cut my dad off,
due to his infantilizing of me and his rage episodes, as well as, his version of the silent treatment and stonewalling. I never cut my mother off during those times I was no-contact with my father. After 6 or 9 months, I’d always become reconnected with my family and we would never talk about why I went no-contact in the first place. We just carried on pretending nothing happened. But, I hated this. I found it immature and like we were just sweeping issues under the rug. I had started therapy at age 18 and carried on in other healing modalities like Life Coaching, Hypnotherapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, Reiki, Re birthing, Acupuncture, Yoga, Meditation, etc., and I started “waking up.” I read countless books on healthy relationships and healthy parenting and learned terms like “disassociation,” “cognitive dissonance,” “stonewalling,” “silent treatment,” “abuse-by-proxy,” “enmeshment,” and “covert narcissism,” etc., and started to truly realize what I had been raised with.
In 2018, there was an event that led me to completely cut contact with my parents, sibling, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
By creating this psychological and physical distance, I experienced a very difficult “life review.” I realized that by living out this “family-fantasy” all my life prior to estrangement, I had been solely focusing on the “good” family memories and had suppressed very ugly, traumatic, scary memories which ultimately had manifested into anxiety and trauma I didn’t know I was living out in my day-to-day life. It was a tough nine (9) months of going through this “life review” that showed up as nightmares, panic, isolation, withdraw and deep sorrow. But, now that I’ve moved through the initial stages of Estrangement, I see the benefits:
Estrangement has taught me to truly tune-into my body, to really listen to me and my intuition.
Once I silenced all the noise and distraction of my family, I could hear that “small voice” guiding me to my truth. By being completely no-contact, I could get away from their excuses, justifications, and “word salad” and finally stop the dizzying cycle of them trying to convince me of how things were supposed to be.
Estrangement also showed me who is really truly there for me and who isn’t.
It showed me who tries to constantly push their way, their ideas, and their standards upon me versus those who can simply be a witness, guide or support system. Estrangement showed me who is willing to accept me versus try to force me to do things I don’t believe in or things I don’t support.
Estrangement illuminated for me that my family is ill–mentally ill,
if you’d like to call it that…and that if they don’t wish to get help, that is their choice and I also don’t have to be around to watch them continue to be ill and not seek help. I do not hate them. I wish them the best. I want them to be happy. I will always love them. Through my choice of Estrangement, I just see we are very different people with very different belief systems and unfortunately, those belief systems collide and don’t coincide.
Estrangement also showed me that over the years, I was the only one trying to improve and better myself.
I did this through therapy, coaching and other modalities. It wasn’t until I became 100% estranged that I realized I was the only one in the family over the years who was willing to take accountability and responsibility for better communication, harmony, and improving of processes in our family and outside of it. It wasn’t until I chose estrangement in my 40’s that I realized that when people do genuinely unconditionally love others, they will not stigmatize therapy and mental wellness, rather they will do whatever is necessary to repair the relationship. When I saw my family wasn’t willing to be honest and transparent, I knew I had no choice but to finally become estranged because I was willing to be those things with them when they weren’t. It just felt like a very lopsided, one-sided relationship and I was at the point of exhaustion trying to do it all.
Estrangement showed me that being estranged is sometimes the only healthy option.
You can still be a good daughter or son even though you’re estranged. From afar, I wish my family well in my mind and in my heart. I know it isn’t possible to be connected to them physically but it has been through estrangement that I can truly see who and how they are and that I accept them as they are but that it’s okay for me to no longer expose myself to their damaging behaviors.
Estrangement showed me that I can create the family I’ve always desired with my spouse and loved ones.
Estrangement showed me I am safe and secure to speak up and to align with my values and live them out with my spouse and loved ones no matter what. Estrangement has also shown me what positive communication looks like as I’ve continued to strengthen my marriage through ongoing open discussions, as well as by designing how we want to feel individually, as well as, how we wish to feel as a couple throughout our lives—nothing is swept under the carpet. This extreme positive contrast I have with my spouse and loved ones has shown me just how unhealthy my family is (sadly and unfortunately), but that I can now be okay with that.
These are my breakthroughs and takeaways I’ve experienced through my Estrangement.
I am sure there will be many more to come as Estrangement is a lifelong process. I realize estrangement isn’t for everybody and I would recommend before taking such a choice that you read about the stages of Estrangement, what to expect, and how to prepare yourself ahead of time with a therapist so you can feel in your soul if it is the best decision for you.
Wishing you well,