Q I am struggling to deal with my family since my dad died and I feel like I have no choice but to cut ties. I didn't have a happy childhood. I was in hospital a lot and I always felt - and still feel - like the black sheep of the family. My father was my lifeline - he supported me and comforted me.
hings were so bad that sometimes I considered taking my own life. I have never had counselling to deal with any of the issues in my childhood.
Despite all this, I have a good life now - an interesting career, good friends and a family of my own.
I don't know how my children would react if we did break contact and I have no idea how to explain this whole situation to them.
I don't want to be that sad person with no connection to my family but I can't continue feeling all this pain. Can you help?
A I recommend that you find a professional to work and support you through this emotional turmoil. Someone who can hold a safe space for you, as you examine, acknowledge and validate your childhood experiences. Being the black sheep in a family, as you describe it, is a very isolating and damaging experience and I am sorry that this was your experience.
There is a lot more detail in your letter to me - and I want you to read it to yourself.
Take a deep breath and ask yourself what would you say to a friend asking what they should do? Stay with this for a bit.
Be aware of your humanness and your human right to not continue to endure or place yourself as a target and await the next psychological injury that has been as consistent as it is has been continuous.
Not all families are healthy or safe. When long-term issues abide and the behaviour(s) are dysfunctional, be aware of ingrained ideas you have about how families 'should be' and think about your family as it is.
Challenge belief systems such as 'families stick together no matter what' and then glance over some of the major events that have left identifiable psychological markers in its wake.
The palpable pain you feel about your dad's passing is compounded by complicated grief.
Its presence is making itself known as you haven't just lost your dad but your whole family.
The clarity of his absence on the family dynamic has left a hole that may be irreparable.
The loss of the family you never had is an incredibly painful grief.
You may now have to experience the loss of the mother you never had and who ignored you and the siblings who let it be clear how they felt you were 'the black sheep of the family'.
These are the core feelings that can be addressed therapeutically.
None the less, you have successfully managed to make healthy connections and relationships as an adult.
Research shows that having just one consistent caregiver can buffer the immense on-going trauma of being brought up within a dysfunctional family.
Also crucial is the support of wider family as when these core attachment needs aren't met at home, it can be possible, throughthe larger family network, to know what it means to be safe and loved.
Notwithstanding the impact of your prolonged hospital stays and the impact of missing school, it was not feeling nurtured, protected and loved afterwards that is beyond acceptable.
Your dad's passing is bringing clarity to what you already knew. But with your dad now gone, what is connecting you to your family?
Before burdening yourself with what to say to your children, allow yourself some space to grieve for your dad.
It will then be possible to begin to create healthy boundaries for yourself and to decide what behaviour you will and won't tolerate in your life anymore.
Challenge the idea of being 'that sad person with no connection to my family'. Ask the questions: is the connection healthy? What do you get out of the interactions?
If the answer is pain, sadness, rejection and/or hurt, then the concept of 'family' needs to be replaced by asking yourself who else in your life would you accept this behaviour from?
You have established yourself within so many important roles and functions in your life. It is not a failing to walk away from a cycle of abuse.
Those family ties, no matter how toxic, can unfortunately bind people in a perpetual rut of pain and shame to stay connected no matter what the cost.
That would be so sad to stay and the question is for whom?
You will work through this in therapy and when you are ready, you can work out how to navigate the conversation with your children and what you feel will be best for you and them.
Unpack this one thing at a time, do it gently and with great compassion, and can I please offer my deepest condolences to you on the passing of your dad.
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