For most of my life, I believed my family was close, and I became very confused when my brother and aunt ignored me for years without explanation. During times of contact, no explanation was ever given. They often lied to my mom about our conversations, directly insulted me, and made up lies about me when talking to my mom. Mom, who maintained regular contact with them, refused to confront any of it. I was left to my defenses, which were dismissed every time.
It wasn't until I became a mom and witnessed my daughter getting bullied that my eyes opened. Feeling the mama bear come out made me reconsider my mom's reaction to the bullying in our family. When I pictured my daughter as the family target, I couldn't fathom defending the instigators instead of my daughter.
Confused about why my mom's maternal instinct never kicked in, I asked her flat-out why she was okay with participating in the family bullying towards me. Never in a million years did I imagine she'd respond the way she did. At worst, I thought she'd huff and puff and tell me she didn't know what else to do (I've tried nothing and I'm all out of ideas). At best, I expected something about not realizing her passiveness contributed to the problem. Rather, she told me I was being immature and to give her a call when I was done with menopause. A few days after the discussion she informed me that I made her drink a lot.
It has been over a year since we parted ways.
The Old Ways Are Dying Off
Abuse has been perpetuated in homes for many generations. Abuse has been an element in every aspect of life, held in place by the belief that respect comes from fear; a cornerstone of patriarchy.
Thankfully, this way of thinking is dying off with the older generations. The younger generations believe respect is earned in every type of relationship.
This makes us incompatible with families that function based on fear. As we individually find the courage to step away from our abusive families (and jobs), we are bravely establishing a foundation of safety and dignity for ourselves and for the generations that follow.
This is no easy task.
Speaking up for ourselves is often met with dismissal and the expectation of falling back in line to maintain the power structures.
We try and give up, we try and give up. We try again because maybe this time they'll feel remorse for how they're treating us and finally stop. Over and over we try and over and over we're told it's not a big deal, we're taking it too personally, and that's just how mom is. Some of us try for decades. Some of us try our entire lives. Some of us bury our parents without ever being loved by them.
Along the way, we become dysfunctional.
- Our bodies start to break down with chronic pain, fatigue, digestive problems, and so much more.
- Our mental health tanks and we develop depression, anxiety, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
- Establishing healthy relationships becomes impossible due to the triggers and belief patterns we develop with our families.
- Ongoing abuse and trauma erode our self-esteem, making us feel ashamed and worthless.
- Our coping mechanisms become a way of life and contribute to our health and emotional challenges.
As we break down with no end in sight, we are faced with a decision: die by a thousand cuts by staying with our families or face the backlash and imminent loneliness of orphaning ourselves.
It feels like an impossible decision. One that is only made once we realize our family will never apologize, and they will always choose to maintain the power structure.
Surviving and Thriving
Deciding to go no contact with our family is an excruciating step, and sticking to it is just as hard. We have to get through the initial retaliation, guilt-tripping, and inevitable self-doubt ingrained in us from our abusers. If you don't have a support system, the isolation can feel shocking. Many of us have turned to TikTok to share our stories. It's a way to tell someone what's going on when we have no one else to talk to.
When I posted my first video, I thought I was an outlier doing some daring, rare thing. To my surprise, I found a community of people dealing with family abuse, deciding to go no contact, and experiencing healing on the other side. With each other's support and encouragement, we learn we matter and deserve better.
What Healing Looks Like
Going no contact requires us to face fear, doubt, guilt, anger, and acceptance. Then comes the relief. And restful sleep. We can breathe again. There's a sense of ease. We stop gorging on junk food or drinking ourselves to sleep. Setting boundaries with people becomes necessary and easier. Relationships improve. Our health improves. Unhealthy relationships die off. People notice we're happier and seem more settled.
We now know that our parents did not do their best, and they could change if they wanted to. How do we know? Because we made the change. We stepped out of the cycle of pain. We faced our fears and there's no turning back.
Children thrive when they are loved and respected. They learn their worth and demand more of the world because of it. And herein lies the rub. The younger generations are losing their fear and without fear, the system falls apart. Without the system, abuse can't survive.
One by one, we're making the impossible choice and trusting we'll be okay. One by one we're breaking the cycles of abuse. One by one we're finding each other and realizing we're not alone. We're part of a movement.
*Originally published in Medium*