This post is based upon a survey ‘Hidden Voices. Family estrangement in adulthood’(2015) and if you missed part one, you can read it here. It explains what estrangement is and it gives facts and figures about it. I discuss abuse in today’s post, if that is something you don’t want to read about (now), you’re welcome to check my other posts out. I just want to be upfront about it.
We know that opening up about estrangement helps. It helps to share your story, your burden if you will.
What happens when people open up about their experiences?
According to the survey quite a few people found it very helpful to talk with close friends or their partner. 96% of people in a relationship opened up to their partner. I myself found it very difficult to open up about it to Pierre because I’ve lost people in the past ‘due to my story’. I was very afraid to be considered ‘too damaged’ and not ‘normal enough’ to be viewed as a woman worthy of love and a relationship. I waited ‘till the time was there and we spend all evening around a bonfire talking about my childhood and teenage years. He listened the whole time without interrupting me and finally said that he was happy with whatever I decided to do. Now he does notice sometimes ‘strange’ behaviors on my side but is lovingly enough to let them be.
“I am lucky that I have people in my life who will listen and support me and help me reaffirm that I am an OK person. At times, I have experienced profound depression around this situation; it is so nice to know that I am loved and valued.”
“They listen, they care, they love me. I am seen as a normal wonderful human being. They tell me none of it was my fault, they try to help me get rid of the guilt.”
When you find people who accept you as you are, it can counteract past experiences. I am accepted into my family-in-law. It took me years to ‘trust’ them enough to let them into my heart. I could not stand the thought to trust and love someone again, just to be discarded. So it took me time but now I see proof that I am an ok person to be around without going the extra mile to people please.
Sometimes people were met with not very helpful reactions. Let’s see what respondents had to say:
Sometimes people avoid me because I have so many problems.
Tension, awkwardness, distance—treating me as though I’m odd or broken, and should be kept at arm’s length.
The majority of respondents (68%) felt that there is stigma surrounding estrangement. Perceptions of stigma were similar across genders, ages and the nature of estrangement experienced (from parents, siblings and children).
When asked why there is stigma around estrangement, some key components came to light.
- Judgement and the assumptions of fault/ blame
“That I must be an awful person to not talk to my family, or to be rejected by my family or be rejecting of my family.”
I’ve met this one and it can be so very subtle. I had a colleague who I really liked. She was friendly, funny and we get along quite well. We had similar views on the work we did and sometimes we could laugh-cry like there was no tomorrow. One time after work we went for dinner, to chat, and parts of my story about going no-contact with my mom came out. I just remember that strange look in her eyes. I don’t blame her, it was her natural response. She didn’t ask too much questions but the very next day our friendship sunk below zero. No hard words or anything. Just no words. No contact. After those experiences you can feel very strange and weird about yourself. Like you’re stained or cursed. Of course the words of my mom echoed in my head: ‘Once they get to know the real you, no-one will like you.’ I often thought I was to blame for the mess I got myself in. To not experience more loss of friends or being ‘looked at’ I kept my story to me. When it was important to share I shared pieces but never not the whole story. It was too much.
2. A contradiction of expectations of family life
“Honor your mother and father,” in one phrase. People tend to minimize things, too, “all families have difficulties.” Yes and I understand that reaction. People are willing to help, they want to mend things and make it better. Only, emotional abuse is so discrete I may say, it can be so silent. It plays out in your own mind. When you don’t know who you are, how can you tell your story? Reactions as ‘all families have difficulties’ can be true but what measuring stick is used to define ‘difficulties?’
‘Honor your mother and father’, is one that is maybe not heard out loud from other people but this one is felt beneath your skin. It crawls there, it eats away at your conscience. From my mom I heard that loud and clear. After she beat me, she demanded that I would kiss her hands, ‘the hands that fed me’. She was also deeply religious (?) so I heard the 10 commandments more than enough. But I think that most people like to have their view of families left intact. Imagine the picket white fence with 2.4 children, a dog and good neighbors. There are many ‘new’ families now, blended ones and people adapt to that. Describing your own mother as not loving or caring, can be a step too much for someone. In my experience at least.
3. A lack of understanding or experience
“If I had been seriously physically or sexually abused by my family, I feel people would be more accepting of the estrangement. But emotional abuse and neglect is more ambiguous. I feel that in the opinion of others, this is not a valid reason to cut contact with parents.”
This quote is quite rough. By putting it here I do not want to minimize suffering that people endured. In any form. Abuse is wrong. In the past, in the present and in the future. That is my personal view on it. The point I’m trying to make is that emotional scars are not visible but there are there. Some forms of abuse or more talked about than others. People can grasp the wrongdoing in regards to sexual or physical abuse more clearly. It is clearly not acceptable.
So now over to you in the comments. Do you experience(d) estrangement and the stigma that can come along? How do you deal with that?
Notes, references and sources.
 All quotes are taken from the ‘Hidden Voices.