Separating From Family Members

Written by Martina Hughes

Separating From Family Members

In our society, we are taught to value family above all else. Even to overlook hurt and pain caused in the family for the sake of maintaining relationships.

However, there are times when something completely different needs to be done to break the cycles of heartbreak, overwhelm and disappointment.

This is where a period of separation (hard boundary) may be a supportive tool.

Creating boundaries with family members can be excruciating. I have implemented periods of time of not being in contact with family members, and I have had a family member put a hard boundary in place with me. It’s a very difficult experience for all involved.

I have seen many clients and friends go through similar experiences, people who may not have spoken to their mother / father / sister / brother for an extended period of time.

It can be a very supportive step in a healing and transformational journey.

For the person who has created a boundary, it’s often the only choice available at the time. It is usually the result of feeling overlooked and trampled by all the conflicting dynamics in the family.

Sometimes the best way to create a reset, to tune into what is right for each of us, is to take a period of separation.

It can cause a lot of discomfort and judgement to arise for onlookers to the situation.

What I have experienced as essential - on both sides of the equation - is gentleness and compassion. At times when I felt lost in my family dynamic, the only way to make sense of my world was to remove myself from an overwhelming situation.

I say this from a place of full self responsibility – knowing that I needed to remove myself in order to find myself, to find my truth, to delve more deeply into my feelings, to find what I needed.

My Dad died at a time when I had not spoken to him for 3 years. There was a lot of guilt and wondering about what might have been different after he died. But the truth of it is that I needed space from him.

He was asking me to take more responsibility in family dynamics than was appropriate for me as an 18 year old, and in the process he wasn’t seeing me as Martina, but as an extension of himself.

Do I wish it had been different with Dad and I? Yes, I wish he had prioritised my feelings rather than those of extended family members. I wish he had seen me as a unique and independent being with needs and feelings separate to his. I wish I had the communication skills to let him know what was going on for me, but I was 18 years old!

With the benefit of being many years older, I see Dad more clearly now. I see his limitations, I see his gifts, I see and feel his love and know that it was always there.

Since then there have been other boundaries I have created with family members and each time has had its own flavour of discomfort and awkwardness and pain.

But each time, I have had to trust myself to do what was right for me and to open the doors again when it felt right.

Drawing the boundary is only one part of the plan, for healthy new possibilities to emerge; it’s essential to seek therapeutic support. Therapeutic support needs to include processing of the past hurts as well as the ability to communicate clearly one’s needs and boundaries in the present moment.

If you know someone struggling with their family of origin, stop before you judge them. 

Pause for a moment and remember that you can never know what it is like to be on the inside of someone else’s family.

Often the best way of supporting someone is to simply be with them, to hear and feel them, to acknowledge their pain. 

If you are struggling with family members, stop and reflect on what you truly need. 

Speak from your inner world, talk through your concerns with a therapist, and maybe family mediation.

If it’s all too much, take some time away. Use the separation as a time of healing; discover who you are independent of your family so that when you reconnect you bring back a more valued and complete version of yourself.

With Love,  Martina

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