“And when someone apologizes to you enough times for things they’ll never stop doing, I think it’s FEARLESS to stop believing them. It’s FEARLESS to say “you’re not sorry” and walk away.”
- Taylor Swift
I received an email a couple of weeks ago asking if I believed there were any circumstances where family estrangement is okay. I have written about this before, at some length, so I will keep this brief.
Family estrangement trips off a variety of intra-familial patterns and effects, which are seldom limited to the two (or sometimes more) people in question. The legacy of estrangement encompasses other people, other relationships and very often crosses generations. In a family, estrangement may lead to patterns of estranging behaviour as a means of dealing with conflict or managing heightened emotion. We repeat what we know.
Estrangement messes with healthy attachments between people and can create difficulties with healthy attachments in other relationships. Estrangement disconnects us from our tribe, our family, which are deeply connected to our sense of self concept, self worth and self esteem. Estrangement removes us from the fire (sometimes) but it does nothing to deal with our burns. If we estrange, we must do so with the profound understanding that estrangement is a medicine that can hurt as much as it heals.
Considered decision making
All that said, there is nothing to be gained by maintaining and trying to survive dysfunctional, painful, toxic and abusive relationships. There is also no one simple answer to whether estrangement is a reasonable solution or not. Sometimes it is. We each have to work that out.
If someone is hurting you and shows no sign of stopping, you need to remove yourself from harms way. Apologies without a change of behaviour aren’t worth the breath it takes to utter them. When you have told someone how their behaviour hurts you, wounds you and impacts you and they go on to do it again … and again … and again – their behaviour speaks louder than their words. When someone has been fully informed and is well aware that their behaviour harms you and they persist and do it again anyway, their actions become willful harm and willful harm is abusive.
The notion of self protection is foundational to self care, loving and looking after you. It’s not a cop out to walk away from destructive relationships. Often the simpler (and equally as problematic) solution is to stay put. It can take immense courage to walk away. Let’s not forget that.