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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5762
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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Im estranged from my entire immediate family due to long term

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I'm estranged from my entire immediate family due to long term emotional and physical abuse, in addition to family violence. I'm in my mid 20's and struggle constantly with the guilt and getting myself back on my feet financially. How do I come to terms with this decision and still respect myself?
Hello, I'd like to help you with your question.

It is always a very difficult decision when you consider distancing yourself from your family because of abuse. Your very nature says that these people are your family and therefore it is important to be with them. You also want to have a family around you and sometimes that need is strong enough that you consider overlooking the pain they cause you. But in the end, you have made the right choice.

Many people who have been through abuse as a child feel a lot of guilt at just the thought of distancing themselves from their family. They feel a sense of obligation to their parents at the very least because they raised them and gave them enough to survive. But one of the best steps to take when you have been abused and continue to be abused by your family is to cut all ties. To continue to accept that abuse just so there is hope of being cared for and loved like you deserve to be is usually only a way to get yourself hurt even more. And you cannot heal if you are constantly being hurt. The wound keeps getting reopened all the time and your pain only continues.

The best way to help yourself come to terms with your decision and to respect yourself is to keep in mind what you have been through and that your family is probably not going to change. If they were willing to see what they did as wrong, they would contact you and you would be open to mending the relationship. But instead, they continue as they always have.

Also, make a list comparing what your childhood and your relationship with your family is like now to what should have been. Sometimes it is hard for people who have been abused to know what they should have been treated like. But by just learning about it and seeing the difference, you can help reinforce your decision. Here is a resource to help you with this step:

An Adult Child's Guide to What's 'Normal' by John Friel and Linda D. Friel

You can also look at how your family behaves. Really pay attention to not only how they treated you, but how they interact with each other and with society in general. Are they verbally abusive? Do they talk down to others? Do they try to hurt other people? If you can really look at how they are with others, you can focus on why you need to stay away- to keep yourself safe.

It also helps to keep in mind that your family will not take care of you. Only you can do that. And you need to. You may have to give yourself the love and care you should have had at home. And let yourself mourn this loss. It is heartbreaking to have to let go of what could have been and to separate yourself from the only people that should have cared about you. It takes time to work through that.

Finally, make sure you have a lot of support. You mentioned going to therapy, which is great. Also, try friends and even family that is far outside of the abusive members circle. Groups on line and in person can also help. You need people around you who treat you right and can reinforce that you do not need to feel guilt over your decision. You did the right thing.

Here are some more resources to help you:

Adult Children of Abusive Parents: A Healing Program for Those Who Have Been Physically, Sexually, or Emotionally... by Steven Farmer

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buck

I hope this has helped you,

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I always end up forgiving and find the same cycle of violence right where it was. Hence the guilt--it is an endless cycle. I didn't add this, but I find that I struggle in my relationship with others and that my self-esteem is low from these issues. I have boundary issues with others, and while I've read books on the subject, there is so much guilt and shame surrounding my family situation and I haven't been able to let it go, or move on so to speak.

It helps to focus on what your family does to you to hurt you in order to help you stay away. That is one step. Another is to change how you are processing the abuse. By that I mean you need to change how you are seeing this situation. You did not create what is happening. You have no say so in how you are being treated. You can only respond to it and protect yourself. That is another step. Finally, rebuild your self esteem. That takes time, but it also took many years to get you to where you are now. Every day, challenge your thoughts about yourself. If you feel down, look at why. Tell yourself that you are worthy. Leave notes for yourself at home. And use your support. Talk to others and see how they dealt with their guilt and shame. Eventually, you will work through this.

TherapistMarryAnn and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for taking the time to offer such a kind response to a difficult situation.

You are very welcome! This is not an easy thing to work through, I know. But you are on the right track. Hang in there.

My best to you,

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