thread for family estrangement support

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i thought it might be nice to have a general catch-all thread for anyone who has to estrange family here.

i made the decision to estrange mine two years ago, sort of de facto, but i've made my intentions more clear because of two recent exchanges that really resolved my will about it. it feels good to know really strongly that it's the right way to go for me.

so anyone else who needs to estrange, i just want to say right off the bat that, yes, you're making the right decision, and yes, it's hard, but you've got a lot of good stuff and people in front of you.

ꙮ (map), Monday, 29 January 2024 23:33 (two months ago) link

thanks for starting this thread, map. nothing else to say right now :)

Kate (rushomancy), Tuesday, 30 January 2024 01:32 (two months ago) link

lots of love to you both & to anyone else going through this <3

Deflatormouse, Tuesday, 30 January 2024 01:41 (two months ago) link

good thread and if i'm not careful i might post on it

love to everbody rockin' that self preservation

what followed the axes was just the beginning (cat), Tuesday, 30 January 2024 07:06 (two months ago) link

I found it really hard to cut off ties with close family were toxic towards me while preserving relationships with other family members who liked those I estranged. How do you do this?

Lee626, Tuesday, 30 January 2024 07:41 (two months ago) link

In my experience, you just have to be honest with the ones you want to stay connected with.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Tuesday, 30 January 2024 18:45 (two months ago) link

What little extended family I have might as well not exist and when my mom dies it's unlikely I'll speak to my brother again (no particular deep-seated animus, just thousands of miles of distance and zero in common) - it's weird contemplating a future having no blood ties.

papal hotwife (milo z), Tuesday, 30 January 2024 18:48 (two months ago) link

I don’t have a personal story, but if you can read this link, a dear friend of mine wrote a fairly wrenching essay for the NYT about losing her mother — multiple times.

I found it really hard to cut off ties with close family were toxic towards me while preserving relationships with other family members who liked those I estranged. How do you do this?

― Lee626

poorly, unfortunately. i love my extended family, and they recognize to some extent that my mother's treatment of us is, uh, problematic, but any time there's a zoom call or anything she's always there. it's that thing where they want everyone to be there, they don't want to have to choose. the truth though is that if she's gonna be there, i'm unlikely to be there. and i mean... there are a lot of reasons i wasn't at my brother's wedding last year. my mom being there was a part of that, and i said so, and that upset some of my other relatives. (the brother in question is the Golden Child and still talks to my mom.)

in some ways my being trans makes it easier because people can tell themselves a story that justifies it, without me having to justify it to them. if i say i don't talk to my mom, people will just assume that she's transphobic and accept that. well, she's not transphobic. based on my experience if i wasn't trans people would put a lot of pressure on me to have to explain or justify going no contact with my mom.

the hardest thing for me is that i still fucking love her. sometimes people act like if you cut someone off it means that you don't love them. i do and there's also... always the possibility for people to get better. people can learn and grow. i can't make that happen, all i can do is just... minimize the extent to which she can hurt me.

Kate (rushomancy), Tuesday, 30 January 2024 20:25 (two months ago) link

idk, Lee -- generally, being fairly straightforward might be a way? depending on the person, of course. but if you're dealing with someone of reasonable reasonableness you can try letting them know "hey, i need to take a break from [person x] for a while (and maybe forever). i hope that's not too weird for you, but it's what i need right now." and if they try to push back on that... well i have no idea, i just hope they can be understanding :/

all i can do is just... minimize the extent to which she can hurt me.

Kate otm ime

what followed the axes was just the beginning (cat), Tuesday, 30 January 2024 21:34 (two months ago) link

I haven't spoken to my mother in several years and I don't intend to - an apology is an invitation to accept and I'm not obliged to, and I don't want to. My grandparents are keen for us to reconcile, and my brother was asking me to reconsider so he can have an easy life. There are two scripts I use when the subject of my mother comes up with them or anyone else who wants me to "make peace*":

a) "my relationship with her isn't up for discussion, but I do want to have a relationship with you, so I'm sure you'll understand that this is a topic we won't be discussing again"

b) "when you ask me to reconcile, what you're saying is that you value your easy life over my discomfort, but I know that you don't mean to give that impression so I'm sure you'll understand that it's not on the cards"

what is important though, is to follow through on the consequences. So when my grandparents would bring up the subject, I would end the phone call - immediately - and tell them we can try again tomorrow. And I would do it every time until they stopped bringing her up. I don't get angry or upset, I just calmly state it isn't a discussion and if it is then it's not one I will be participating in.

*I always laugh when people say this - I've found more peace by cutting off a toxic person than by tolerating them and their behaviour, it would not be an act of sustained peace for me to allow them back into my life

boxedjoy, Tuesday, 30 January 2024 23:15 (two months ago) link

one of the most liberating things about family estrangement for me is that, having done it, I find it so much easier to cut people out of my life who don't add value to it. If I can go no-contact with my parents, if I can happily never speak to people who were relatives for over a decade, and if I can set firm boundaries around this, then I can definitely manage to say No to lots of smaller, inconsequential and insignificant things.

boxedjoy, Tuesday, 30 January 2024 23:21 (two months ago) link

I'm not estranged from my family though at times I'm sure people would have recommended it. My mom, however, was estranged from her entire family which was incredibly strange for me growing up. I also had to deal with things like my cousin (who I have never met but found on FB a decade ago) messaging me when her mom (my mom's sister) was dying saying she wanted to speak to my mom and my mom refusing. I think it might have been different if I'd been given an explanation but I never really was and so grew up never meeting a single person on the maternal side of my family which was and still is very strange.

Benson and the Jets (ENBB), Wednesday, 31 January 2024 10:21 (two months ago) link

I found it really hard to cut off ties with close family were toxic towards me while preserving relationships with other family members who liked those I estranged. How do you do this?

― Lee626, Tuesday, January 30, 2024 7:41 AM (yesterday) bookmarkflaglink

just wanted to say that i think it's really difficult. as far as i can tell, most estrangement is done because of an abusive family member(s), and abuse dynamics in families very much lead to circling the wagons and such. protecting the unit. so even if you want to keep relationships with the others, you're essentially asking them to choose you over the rest of the group in one way or another (n.b. you weren't the one who created this situation to begin with). in my case, no one else acknowledges the abusive family member (my mother), and one or two others participate in some abuse too. i can't deal with a deep 'let's pretend there isn't a problem' response, and that stance ever since i can remember has made it so i'm not close to the others and don't really want or need them in my life either.

ꙮ (map), Wednesday, 31 January 2024 14:50 (two months ago) link

two weeks pass...

Okay - this is a little different

My older sister has just made a series of poor, poor decisions and is in a very precarious situation financially. She had a good job as postal worker in a Colorado ski resort town, but left that under mysterious circumstances and moved to the suburbs of Kansas City a couple years ago (where an old coworker lives). As far as I know, she did nothing but drink since then, ending up with liver failure about a year ago. I think she has stopped drinking since (I hope so).

She's somehow still alive, but has no income whatsoever (other than an EBT card).. she asked me for $300 for a new set of tires last year, but her friend said the tires are still flat on her truck. I've bailed her out with utilities a few times, including over $450 last month to get her power turned back on. Now she just texted that her water was shut off this morning and she's 'having a bad week'.

It's been really stressful - I don't know if she thinks I work at Meta or something instead of a struggling nonprofit that just had a round of layoffs. I dread seeing her name come up on my phone (we never talk, only text). I hate to be cold-hearted but we were honestly never really close to begin with, and now she just sees me as an ATM machine for emergencies. I forwarded her the website for a local "Get Help" type org, I doubt she's reach out to them. She probably has a stack of eviction notices. She can also be really manipulative: "You're my only hope - I have no one else to turn to.." etc.

Our parents are gone, and she seems to have estranged herself from all her old friends and coworkers. As far as I can tell, she just looks at Facebook all day on her phone, occasionally walking the quarter mile to Dollar Tree for 'groceries'.

It's a sad life, I know she's depressed.. but I'm also getting pretty sick of it. Sorry for the rant.

Andy the Grasshopper, Wednesday, 14 February 2024 19:31 (two months ago) link

sounds like an episode of intervention :( sorry you are going through this. i have no actionable advice but remember that you always have the option of saying no to pleas for money. when she tries to be manipulative, you can point that out too ("why are you trying to make me feel bad? I cannot afford to give you money"). the result could be that she stops calling you, but it sounds like that is the status quo. i feel sorry for her and you because that sounds really hard to deal with. boundaries are guardrails.

Piggy Lepton (La Lechera), Wednesday, 14 February 2024 21:30 (two months ago) link

Thank you. A cousin of mine (who's a social worker for the VA) suggested I might even call the social services hotline for abuse & neglect: "It's self-neglect." (her friend said my sister's apartment is filthy.) But it does seem like a social worker might be able to help her navigate all this shit and keep her from ending up homeless.

I don't necessarily want to break off contact, but it's very one-sided right now: she contacts me when she needs money. It's not sustainable. I can afford occasional help (reluctantly) but I can't support her.

Andy the Grasshopper, Wednesday, 14 February 2024 21:47 (two months ago) link

that's a good idea. you're right that it's not sustainable and that she needs local resources and help. if she chooses not to accept it, that is her decision; you tried.

Piggy Lepton (La Lechera), Wednesday, 14 February 2024 21:49 (two months ago) link

I had a similar situation, and at some point I said "I can help you with money this time, but not after this. My financial situation has gotten tight and I just can't. If you need to talk, I'm here for you. If there's something else I can do, I'm there for you."

I didn't hear from her for a while after that, her life spiraled down the tubes. Lost her kids, went to rehab a few times, slept on people's couches. Eventually she more or less got her shit together and we keep in touch. It's really hard to not help someone when you have the ability, but sometimes that's not really helping.

Cow_Art, Wednesday, 14 February 2024 21:56 (two months ago) link

My stepmom has a colder attitude: she says that whenever I help my sister, I'm just prolonging the situation. That she needs some kind of rock bottom before she'll make changes. But she's already pretty damn close to rock bottom.

Andy the Grasshopper, Wednesday, 14 February 2024 22:03 (two months ago) link

I think it's worth reading up on enabling behavior, just to keep yourself informed. I know there is some argument/debate about whether it's cruel to force someone to hit rock bottom when rock bottom is likely death or psychosis, like it is in the era of fentanyl, supercharged meth, etc. I am not an expert but I have done some reading about this for personal reasons.

Piggy Lepton (La Lechera), Wednesday, 14 February 2024 22:10 (two months ago) link

okay.. since she's been in and out of the county hospital for months, I asked her if she had a contact there that could help her connect with Social Services.. that a Social Worker might be a big help right now. We'll see what she says

xp - thanks for that link; this probably isn't the right thread for my situation, since I don't want to estrange her.. but in a way, we've been estranged for years. I haven't seen her in a decade at least. She was also really physical abusive to me when we were kids, and that's hard to forget. I have a black eye in my freshman yearbook photo

Andy the Grasshopper, Wednesday, 14 February 2024 22:16 (two months ago) link

Speaking as someone who enabled family for years (and in some ways continues to despite best efforts), LL on the money.

People who serially ask for money in the way you describe, even family, tend to go from person to person until they find the one who does. Then it's back to that person until they stop. The more you do it, the more emboldened they feel, and the more often they come.

And they count on you having a hard time living with guilt if you say "No". They know that saying "no" is easy once, but harder saying it five or six times.

The best advice I never took is not feeling obligated to say "no" each time. If you feel the need to say it at all, say it once. After that - you've given your answer already, no need to relitigate it.

That relitigation is you trying to sell the "no" to yourself and people will count on you getting twisted up and lay on the guilt.

The other advice I never took is being comfortable with discomfort. You might feel like shit after saying "no" and going radio silent. It doesn't mean it was the wrong thing to do, but that you're a good person still worried about your friend or family member.

So if you get stressed enough to break down comfortable breaking down crying. Be comfortable being upset. But don't do what I kept doing and seek a reprieve from the bad feelings and do the thing you know you can't afford to do.

It removes temporary bad feelings and creates deep-seated terrible feelings

CEO Greedwagon (Neanderthal), Thursday, 15 February 2024 00:01 (two months ago) link

one month passes...

So an update: My sister now wants to move to California (though not the rural county we grew up in). Yesterday she wrote an incredibly manipulative email entitled "I want to come home." She's being evicted, she wants me to fly out to Missouri and rent a truck and move her out west (to where, I don't know). Lots of "I'm literally on my knees, begging you.. I need you now more than ever" "I'm tire of being lonely", stuff like that

The Bay Area is of course one of the most expensive places in the country, with homeless literally everywhere... she has qualified for SSI assistance in Missouri, but I don't think that automatically transfers. I spoke with my stepmom this morning and she says I'd be a sucker to send her any more money or help (I paid $379 to have her water turned back on in Feb) and she's probably right

This is really stressful and my stomach is killing me

Andy the Grasshopper, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 19:54 (two weeks ago) link

Sorry if I've hijacked this thread but it helps to write it out

Andy the Grasshopper, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 19:56 (two weeks ago) link

I've no doubt. Offhand: I hate to be blunt but I can't see any other conclusion than your stepmom is right.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 19:57 (two weeks ago) link

My stepbrother (who has no relationship with my sister) added this: 'He also said that she is thinking that geography would change her situation. He said that problem is in her,not where she lives.'

Andy the Grasshopper, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 20:00 (two weeks ago) link

without a doubt. keep your head up, A

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 20:45 (two weeks ago) link

gotta say that stepmom is right -- not that anyone is a "sucker" but that it's not productive to continue to "help" someone in this fashion. also consider xposting on boundaries thread -- that seems to be the discussion you're having.

another reminder that one cannot run away from oneself. ever!

Piggy Lepton (La Lechera), Tuesday, 2 April 2024 20:46 (two weeks ago) link


Piggy Lepton (La Lechera), Tuesday, 2 April 2024 20:47 (two weeks ago) link

Thank you all - I just replied to the email saying that I can't be of help anymore, and that she should look into getting a social worker to help her navigate this stuff

Rather than expanding her network (or doing a GoFundMe on Facebook or something), she just keeps circling back to me as I'm seemingly the only one that's been helping... I suspect she thinks I'm a wealthy tech bro or something, we haven't met face to face in close to a decade

This has been a long, slow train wreck and she's just been full steam ahead the entire time

Andy the Grasshopper, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 20:57 (two weeks ago) link

hope things work out for you, Andy

brimstead, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 21:20 (two weeks ago) link

agree with LL and Ned, but it's harder to execute than know in theory. the concept of setting boundaries can be exhausting because it can be tiring when you're first starting to do it, like lifting weights when you've never done it before, and when people are constantly intentionally or subconsciously attempting to cross the boundary, it can feel exhausting and the temptation to just give in and sacrifice yourself solves the short-term problem of reducing your distress, but just adds more long-term distress.

likewise, if you're a people-pleaser or someone who really cares deeply about people, it can feel like you've done something wrong to say 'no'. but a friend of mine once said, and it stuck - "you do not get to consume ME in order to make YOU feel whole".

I'm glad you made that hard decision and I know it can't have been easy for you, wishing for the best for you. you did the right thing.

CEO Greedwagon (Neanderthal), Tuesday, 2 April 2024 21:28 (two weeks ago) link

thanks... she said in her email "Please don't let me end up homeless" and I'm like, this has nothing to do with me letting anything happen, this has to do you with YOU not paying your rent for a year (I didn't actually say that)

she's really isolated herself, it's a fucking bummer

Andy the Grasshopper, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 21:34 (two weeks ago) link

Wishing all the best for you Andy. I once ended up in a no contact situation with a close family member, although it was more of a relief in that case (and they're now deceased which put the kibosh on any faint chance of a reconciliation). One thing about dysfunctional people I find is that a lot of them have a great will towards self-destruction, and the self-destructive often seem to want to drag others down with them. Maybe it gives them some level of plausible deniability about their own level of responsibility for what they've got themselves into, who knows.

continue without dissembling (Matt #2), Tuesday, 2 April 2024 21:46 (two weeks ago) link

I haven't spoken to my mother in nearly a decade. My grandmother cannot accept the idea that her family do not get along, and has really broken the boundary a few times. Most notably, a few years ago on a major birthday she passed my address on to my mother so she could send me a card. I was furious at the time, as my grandmother is aware that I don't intend to repair the relationship with my mother. "I thought it would be OK to give your address to your mother." It wasn't, it so clearly and obviously was not something I would want to happen, and I've had to really work at policing the boundary since - proper, "I'm ending this conversation now, let's try again another time" phone hang-ups until she seemed to get it. I was still getting hints and suggestions that I should just talk to my mother, but my life has been so much better without her in it and I do not want to resolve it. My mother has let me down continuously throughout my life, and the occasion that crossed the line is something I have no interest in forgiving her for.

A second-cousin of mine got married in 2019. I went to the reception, I ignored my mother, my grandparents got upset and cried, and they spent the reception in their hotel room instead of in the party. At the risk of sounding heartless, I didn't care - I was there to celebrate my second-cousin's wedding and other people's feelings about my interpersonal relationships are not mine to manage.

When my grandmother begins to talk about wanting familial reconcilliation, what I'm hearing is that she puts a premium on reducing her own discomfort over my own very real thoughts and feelings. I've told her this, and I've been guilty of downplaying it for an easy life, but it has been said before.

This is all background to what happened six months ago. About a year before this, my actual cousin came to Scotland to stay with my grandparents for ten nights. I knew that having an 18 yr old in their house for ten nights in a row might be exhausting so I suggested he come stay with us for a night. This cousin is difficult - before he came to visit I would have struggled to say good things about him, but I thought it was because I didn't know how him well enough to see behind the bad impressions I always got from him. I thought maybe, rather naively, that a night or two with us might help sort him out a bit. He was even worse than I predicted - his private school education has created an unbearable snob, with a disgusting sense of laziness and entitlement. Crucially, I let him stay in our spare room which is also home to a lot of equipment that my partner and I own, not the most expensive stuff ever made but a significant cost to us and some of it irreplaceable because it is rare and discontinued. I explicity told the cousin to be careful to not spill anything in this room. He spilled something, didnt tell us or attempt to clean it up, and the next morning ran away before we could notice and challenge him on it. Accidents happen, but taking responsibility is the measure of the man, and this added to the way he'd acted earlier in the evening made it clear to me I was going to have to avoid him in the future, because I don't have the energy for obnoxiousness.

I figured the best way to deal with this was to immediately tell my grandmother that the visit had not gone well and he wasn't welcome in our house again. He's my cousin, I still love him, I want the best for him - but I want him to find that as far away from me as possible. I told my grandmother explicitly because I knew if I didn't then she would constantly be suggesting that he come visit us, even though I'm twice his age and we have nothing in common in terms of lifestyles, politics, values or interests. She said she understood.

The cousin has moved to this country, and has been wanting me to hang out with him. I have been ignoring the Facebook messages. Perhaps not the most mature and direct way of dealing with it, but I figured he would move on and meet people his own age to hang out with, and there's no kind way to say "no, because I do not like you."

Someone passed him my phone number. He texted me. My grandmother claims it wasn't her, but given her previous pattern of behaviour, I remain unconvinced. I texted her, to tell her off for passing out my phone number (which I personally believe nobody should ever do without confirmed consent anway!) and to make it clear that I was now going to have to text the cousin an explicit refusal on his invitations. My uncle - the cousin's dad - found out and sent me a horrific message attempting to shame me, with some added inferences about my partner's poor mental health and physical disabilities that told enough about who he is as a person that made it easy to decide I'm not even going to respond to either the uncle or the cousin.

So for three months, I only spoke to my grandparents through non-committal text messages. And for the last three months, I haven't responded at all, after an attempt to admonish me for not replying to a Happy Birthday text on the same day because I was busy. I do love my grandparents and I do wish to resolve this drama, but every time I got close to picking up the phone this winter I would then receive some horribly manipulative message from them that made me put my phone down before I wrote something horrendeous in a moment of frustration.

So the current situation is: estranged from my mother, my uncle and his wife and son, and I guess my grandparents. The only person in my immediate family I'm getting on with just now is my brother, and that's more like two pals who text every few months because they don't have social media.

My grandmother's brother died today. I'm really sad about it. He was a wonderful man, and his wife and daughter are two of my favourite people in the world. I don't know when the funeral will be but I know that I want to attend. But I don't want to go and cause a scene, which I can easily see my mother trying to do if I attend, and I'm not willing to let my grandmother off the hook for not respecting my feelings and boundaries, even though I know this will be a devastating time for her. Maybe I am being small and petty but I am not willing to brush aside my feelings even in the circumstances of bereavement. If I let what has happened slide, the message I am sending is "there are things more important than me being heard and being treated with respect" and that will open the door to more pressure and stress trying to navigate my estrangements.

boxedjoy, Wednesday, 10 April 2024 21:05 (one week ago) link

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