Did you walk away from an abusive family member?

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by Annie Kaszina on February 28, 2017

 Did you walk away from an abusive family member?

Did you walk away? Or, more correctly, did you grow up in a family where one member (or more) behaved abusively to you so that, in the end, you had to walk way?

Last week’s newsletter stated (Secret #5, now slightly revised) that people who  are highly critical of their parents and want little, or nothing, to do with them could well be abusive. That upset some readers who have felt compelled to walk away from an abusive family member. Unfortunately they read that as a judgement on them . That was never my intention.

Rather, it was shorthand on my part.  As someone who walked away from my entire family of origin, I know how hard it is to walk away from an abusive member  and how terribly hurt you have to be to do so.

Even if you were raised by a family of hyenas, you do not walk away lightly.

That statement reflects not just my experience but the experience of a number of clients, also. You only walk away from an abusive family member when you absolutely have to, when you can’t take the crazy-making any more, and you know that that person is just too damaging to be around.

It is as painful to cut yourself loose from your family as it is to leave an emotionally abusive partner.  It is, after all, simply another kind of unbearable, another admission that you cannot make someone who – should love you – give you the love you need.

When you walk away

When you walk away from an abusive family member, you are forced to cut away your own roots.  You can feel horribly guilty for doing so and even wonder yourself what kind of person you must be to do that – even when you know you had precious little choice.

You end up carrying with you the shame of a choice that you were forced into by the abuser.

Of course, in an ideal world, you would have been ‘the bigger person’ to quote a rather silly, smug phrase.

Who can seriously think of being a ‘bigger’ person when they are hurting unbearably?

That torment is, I believe, essentially, what separates you from an abuser who walks away.

The victim of emotional abuse walks away from an abusive family member as a last resort, having done everything they possibly could to make the relationship tolerable, yet still feeling somehow to blame for the breakdown. (Naturally the abusive family member will blame you for the breakdown.)

Do the victim badmouth their abuser?

In my experience, they do not.  If anything, they minimize the awfulness of what they have been through, and show remarkable restraint in the way they describe that abusive family member.

This is not to say that an abuse victim does not ever feel anger, or express harsh judgements about their abuser.  However, the victim has no wish to live with that corrosive anger and will work hard to be free of it. The victim knows just how toxic that anger is.

The estrangement of the abuser

Contrast that, if you will, with the estrangement of an abuser.  The abuser will,

  1. Walk away without regrets.
  2. Badmouth the person that he/she has walked away from – without regard to the truth, and with the intention of making the victim look so awful that people will shun them  – or as my mother used to put it, “You won’t be able to hold your head up”  anywhere that the abuser’s words reach.

By way of illustration, I was one of three children. My parents made it very clear to me that I was expendable.  So, too, did my brothers.  One brother informed me recently – just because he thought I need to know, no doubt – that he doesn’t think about me from one year’s end to the next. ( They’re warm-hearted in my family.)

If you asked them about me – or even if you didn’t – they would doubtless tell you that I am a selfish, heartless, ungrateful, trouble-making, unnatural creature from hell.  They would probably cite chapter and verse.

When I separated from the wasband, my daughter continued to see him – until he started to make her visits unbearable. One day, she could take no more of his emotional manipulation, so she walked out to come back home.  He followed her down the street shouting,

“If you walk away, you will regret it for the rest of your life.”

Do you notice the total lack of responsibility and remorse, in both scenarios?

That is what sets an abuser who walks away apart from an abuse sufferer who has to walk away from an abusive family member.

Those of us who have had to walk away from an abusive family member have done so not to hurt or humiliate the other person, but merely to preserve our sanity and protect ourselves.

We’ve asked ourselves –  endlessly – what it says about us that we had these horrible experiences in our background. We ask ourselves,

“If a family member treats me/sees me like that, what does it make me?”

“If a family member treats me/sees me like that, what does it make me?”

I struggled with that one for a long time.   So, too, do my clients. Not that they normally ask the question.  Instead, they assume that they know the answer – which is that it makes them some kind of outcast.  That is what their abusive family member(s) would have them believe.

But how about we reframe the question,

  1. “If I walk away from an abusive family member because of the way that they treat me, what does it make me?”
  2. “It makes you someone who has had to make the painful choice to walk away from an abusive family member.”

Q 2. “If I have to walk away from an abusive family member, what does that say?”

A.2 “It says that that abusive person does not choose to behave in a half-way decent manner. However, chances are, they know exactly what they do because they probably would choose not to behave that way around someone whose good opinion they need.”

Conclusion

The dynamics of an abusive family limit your choices. That means you may well have to walk away from an abusive family member. If you do so, to limit your own pain, that has to be the best choice you can make at the time. It may well be what you need to do to save your own life.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rosie March 24, 2017 at 2:02 am

Annie
Thank you for your wise counsel once again. I have received your emails for many years and always find that you seem to speak directly into my situation.
Thank you for sharing your decision to leave your family of origin. With a heavy heart full of pain This was my journey also.
The overriding legacy is a daily feeling of shame and rootlessness. In my late fifties I feel like a motherless child. A tree with no roots. Guilty that I have no loving family of origin. I seem to be alone in my social media prod where everyone else has family. The uniqueness of my situation silences me and makes me feel small unworthy.
My husband has a large close family. I look forward to the podcast. Perhaps I might find strength and advice to make peace with my situation.

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