Irreconcilable Differences

The last month or so has been incredibly intense for me. Back in the beginning of the summer, I wrote about how I had reached a point where I was no longer satisfied with merely avoiding conflict with my family at the expense of myself, keeping a delicate balance that indicated more about the fragility of the relationship than it did about actual peace. I resolved to pursue allowing myself to be more present in visits, not hiding out of fear of a fight.

Little did I know what door I was opening. Before I even had a chance to challenge myself to live up to my own dedication to authenticity, I found myself embroiled in a toxic stew of insults, cold shoulders, and hostility. Maybe they had always been there and I was just more aware. Maybe this visit was coincidentally bad. It’s hard to say.

Being around my family in that way, with everyone interacting with each other as if they were held hostage rather than fulfilling a desire to see me, opened my eyes.

For the first time, I realized that I don’t really ever interact with my family—I interact with the cult. I am not part of that family anymore. I am a stranger. I could not one of them because I am not of the cult.

For the first time, I realized that nothing has really changed. They may not be able to physically abuse me anymore, but the psychological game was still present, jerking me around.

For the first time, I realized I couldn’t save my parents—from the cult, from the awareness that their abuse had hurt me, or from the consequences that accompanied not taking responsibility for that abuse.

For the first time, I thought about how if this were a friendship, I would have ended it years ago. If it were a marriage, I would have gotten a divorce.

It was then that I knew I couldn’t maintain a relationship with them. I was healthier when they weren’t in my life. The more I tried to hold onto them while they strung me along, the more I betrayed myself.

I wasn’t able to take action on that knowledge until a few weeks ago.

There’s something primal and terrifying about letting go of the illusion of family even if you’ve never had the actual experience of a loving family. Yet each time I tried to talk myself out of this move, telling myself it was “one bad visit” and that “things could get better,” I knew I couldn’t bear to walk into that house ever again.

My own pain is to be expected—managed even.

What intrigues me is the response that others have.

For the most part, we have gotten over the stigma of divorce. There are still pockets of judgment, but they are rare these days. If I were to tell the average person that I was divorcing my husband because he had been physically and emotionally abusive and had refused to take responsibility for that or make any effort to change, I would be praised for the strength it took to make my decision and offered assistance and comfort. If I never wanted to speak to him again after the divorce, no one would question that.

We’ve come to accept that break ups with romantic partners, while unfortunate and painful, are sometimes necessary.

That is not guaranteed to be true for blood relatives.

There is no legal recourse to divorce my parents. Articles and self-help guides that offer support and advice on parent-child relationships more often talk about reconciliation after confrontation or setting boundaries.

If I choose to tell someone that I have chosen to cut my family off, I’m just as likely to be accused of being unforgiving and over-dramatic as I am to be offered comfort and support.

And I don’t understand why that is…

What is it about shared genes that makes toxic relationships something to cling to when, in other circumstances, it would be considered more unhealthy not to end the relationship?

My decision did not come easily. It was years in the making and driven by a multitude of incidents. This last visit was merely the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and came at a time when I had tremendous support to help me through. I don’t think it is meant to be an easy decision, but I wonder if it might have been easier if there had been just a smidge more acceptance for the idea that break ups are sometimes just as necessary with family as they are with partners.

There is a part of me that wants to keep this private because of how painful it is, but I realize if I do that, I contribute to the stigma. If I am willing to talk about my journey when boundary-setting or confrontation are on the table, but I shy away from sharing when I realize that there are irreconcilable differences, I am no better as an author and blogger than the self-help books that I resent right now.

So I share my pain, aware that others may read in horror, judging…but mostly hoping that some who read realize they aren’t alone.


9 thoughts on “Irreconcilable Differences

  1. peacerunjet says:

    Thank you. Keep sharing. Keep telling your story. You have no idea how you have changed my life. So incredibly grateful. I told a few people that I learned to have a perspective on my parents/childhood by using the “forgiveness is bullshit” method. THey say back “I never heard of that one.” 🙂 Saved me. THis blog today, too. You are the brave one. The first I have ever read who really found a way that was not part of some stupid idea that is wrong. Thank you Thank you. Always thank. You.

    • Your words are incredibly encouraging. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to know that others gain courage to follow their own path through my dipping into the courage to tell about mine. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have enough people in my life, including a wonderful therapist, who do not push me to follow a formula but give me the freedom to explore and find my way. In a way, I try to pay that forward, so I’m thrilled when I can help others give themselves permission to break away from formulas that don’t work.

  2. Steve Sparks says:

    The “illusion of family.” We certainly need family but not when it behaves like a “cult.” I know exactly what you are talking about… Forgiveness is fir you first to heal. You can forgive others but we don’t have to enage them when it is painful.

  3. Brad says:

    Thanks for this article, I’m in the process of divorcing myself from my family, and it’s not easy, and it’s not for the weak of heart, either.

    Doing this is like forging a new, independent path in life, requiring you to upend the very way society is structured. It’s a revolutionary act for the self where you have to create a new life with your own two hands.

    It’s a huge burden to carry on one’s shoulders, especially since so few people are familiar with needing to do it. They don’t understand what’s involved with this, and how necessary it is to do for some people.

    I had the misfortune of being born to a family of genuine sadists, so for me it’s a no brainer, it’s necessary for me staying alive. But the immensity of this project of forging a new life, a new identity, a new history, an entirely new life, it’s a ton of work that has to be done while recovering from abuse without the support network of a family, plus the responsibilities of being an adult in a country that has shifted public responsibility to the very families that one has to get away from. Our society (US here) is built so that you almost need to have a family safety net because of a lack of robust public life and resources, Not only that, but our culture encourages exploiting vulnerable people, and nobody is more vulnerable than an abused person without a family who can help them and look after them in hard times.

    So many times I’ve fallen back on “it’s not so bad” and other denial responses because facing the reality of what happened, and the project that lies before me in making a new life for myself without a family of origin in this world, is just staggering. But what choice do I have? What choice do any of us have in this situation if our well-being is in serious jeopardy because of these people?

    • Ugh I’m so sorry you’re having to go through that. I know for me having a chosen family has largely been what helped make me strong enough for this choice, but it’s also hard because I think I feel like that family part of me has been broken. I legitimately have a hard time understanding someone who wants to talk to their mom on the phone. And you’re right, it’s really hard for people to understand that choice. I wish you luck in forging your path and finding peace.

      • Brad says:

        Thanks, I’ll be alright, I’m close to the other side now. I’ve invested my entire life into this project and it’s about to bear fruit. If I wasn’t suited for it I’d probably be dead right now.

        Good to hear you’ve had support in this. I was never able to make a family of choice because i’m a guy, and guys aren’t really allowed to talk about emotions or personal stuff.. Even therapists have looked down on me for talking about some of this stuff. So I’ve had to do this alone for the most part. It hasn’t been easy, I can tell you that!

      • Sounds like you’ve encountered some terrible therapists if they shamed you for emotions.

  4. msophia says:

    Darlene Ouimet (Emerging From Broken) and Daniel Mackler {Wild Truth) are two bloggers who helped me to understand what really happens in family abuse and made it possible for me to go no contact. Daniel also writes a lot about the abuses of the mental health system. Mackler even puts forth the notion that even “normal” families are not free from abuse because of how we are submerged in such a dysfunctional culture.

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