Reaching out to relatives in times of estrangement

I'm trying to sit down and write an email to one of my relatives after avoiding replying to her for a while. I'm a little scared.

I wrote previously about how my therapist said I was taking on roles that I don't need to take on. I don't remember the term she used, but basically I'm acting like the delegated "sufferer" in the family, in a way. See, as much as I would absolutely love the feeling of being part of a strong extended family, I've purposefully avoided talking to some of them more than necessary. Perhaps even less than necessary. My T said that there's no reason for me to do this. My relatives are adults, for one thing. For another--my dad is irrational and personality disordered. No matter what I do, I can't affect his behavior. And no matter what I do...I can't always be the protector.

I know it's learned behavior. Kids often think it's their fault when bad things happen. They try to do things as if it could control their world...even when it doesn't. That's why some kids think that they caused their parents to divorce, or they caused a relative to die. I thought that if I figured out how to correctly respond to my father's fluctuating moods, I could keep him happy. For the longest time, I thought I was responsible for his happiness. And I thought that I could protect my little siblings by figuring out how to work around his moods.

That continued well after I was disowned.

There are no blueprints on what you should and shouldn't do with your extended family when your immediate family has fallen apart. I made my choices for two reasons: to protect myself, and to protect my siblings. It's easy enough to protect myself, emotionally. Not having any contact with my abusive father nor my enabling mother has allowed me time and space to begin healing. It's much harder to protect the little ones.

I tried to protect them by demonstrating my best effort of "normal" whenever dad wasn't home. This includes forgiveness and non-over-reaction. And no rage. Absolutely no rage or anger. Sure, I got upset sometimes--but I did NOT want to perpetrate my dad's abuse. And I tried to show unconditional love. If dad raged at them and spanked them heavily, I would try to sneak into their bedrooms, hug them, and give them encouragement. I let them know that it's not them, it's him.

Ultimately, I knew I had to move out. I felt awful...I still feel awful for having "abandoned" my siblings and my dog. But I thought that maybe by being on my own, even keeping in good contact with my family, I could begin healing. And my apartment could be a refuge for my siblings. I pondered sleepovers and days out with me. Things like that to give them a break, and to give them space to perhaps see that yes, what went on at home, behind the "perfect" facade, was not normal. It was not safe.

So, after I was disowned, I tried to keep in touch with them through cards and simple gifts, until my parents told me to stop. After that, I was afraid that other people might get disowned. Sure enough. One entire set of heart-relatives were. The ones who demonstrated unconditional love and considerable forbearance even when dad was being an ass. My little siblings won't remember them so well. I took it as confirmation that any relatives whom I have contact with will be disowned by dad.

And now I'm afraid it's happening to the blood-relatives now. The low-contact thing isn't working...and now my relatives may be losing both my siblings AND me. It's all wrong. My siblings need all the people in their lives that they can get! It makes me so, incredibly mad at my father. So mad. And at my mother too, for allowing it!

So, because of my T's insight on the issue of contact, I'm going to try to reinstate contact with them. It's so hard to write the email, though. I mean, how do you say,

"I'm sorry, I was avoiding writing to you because I thought it would protect my siblings and help keep you from getting disowned by dad, like the way so and so were disowned. After talking about it with my therapist, I realized that I have no control over what my dad does, and I realized how much no communication is hurting both you guys and me. Could you forgive me? Also, I would appreciate if you wouldn't pass any information along to my parents. Love, Holly."

Or maybe that is what I could say. Along with a few other things to make for a slightly more well-rounded email--like how I know I have a nephew, and like how I'm afraid other relatives might be getting disowned. And like how I'm healing. And like how I miss them.

Filed under: Abuse

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