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How Sibling Relationships Might Be Affected by Cutting Off Parents

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I never set out to cut off my parents. I never imagined that choosing my life would mean leaving the home I grew up in and a home that still holds memories of a lot of trauma that I carry with me in my mind and body. I never intentionally planned on leaving home, but in 2013 everything fell apart when I woke up in an inpatient psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt, self-harm and dissociative identity disorder (DID). During that time, it was deemed not safe for me to go home due to the history of abuse. So, I followed this advice and temporary housing was set up for me. This decision translated into severing relations with my parents. Unfortunately, my relationship with my sister was significantly affected as well.

It can be hard navigating sibling relationships when you cut off abusive parents. Honestly, I have found it is hard navigating sibling and family relationships in general within abuse and trauma. At the time, there was a lot of hurt. Just a few months before it all went down, I was sleeping in my car because I didn’t feel safe going home, I was seeking counseling in secret under an anonymous name at my local domestic violence center, and I was self-injuring in multiple ways on a daily basis. I had promised my sister I would never leave her behind. It was never my intention either. At the same time, I had no idea how much I was actually struggling. But, that night in 2013 changed the course of my life and the relationships with my family.

As I was presented with an opportunity to receive treatment and find some healthiness and stability, my family and I became more estranged. I quickly learned that cutting off my parents meant I would no longer be able to have a relationship with my sister too. Birthdays would be missed as well as graduations, news, first driver’s license, holidays, first apartment, birth and death of family members, emergencies and just being able to check-in. The guilt and pain I carried was an invisible weight upon my shoulders, especially the sibling guilt. It was hard being within a 20-minute drive from each other and yet feeling like we were thousands of miles apart. All I wanted to do was go home and hug my sister, tell her I was sorry I left abruptly, take her with me and move forward together. But, in my case, that’s not how it worked out.

At the beginning of the estrangement, I remember thinking this was forever. I know for some people relationships are never repaired or reconciled. After five years had gone by, I was given the diagnosis of early-onset dementia and told to get my affairs in order. After this startling doctor’s appointment, I decided to work with a therapist on how to safely try and engage with my family again. We came up with a very specific plan and met regularly during this time. The boundaries — such as having a check-in person, meeting in public places, having a set activity and time limit — were all helpful, as well as self-care strategies to handle being triggered. We took it one moment at a time.

I never could have predicted at that time that my sister would be officiating my wedding three years later, in 2020, and she would be an aunt to my daughter, nor did I think we would be sharing stories, talking about movies and laughing. None of this journey has been easy. It’s been full of significant life-changing challenges and blessings. We are still finding our way forward one moment at a time.

Here are some key takeaways my experience has taught me about how sibling relationships may be affected by cutting off parents, along with some support for those who have done so or are thinking about doing so.

1.  You are not alone.
2.  Your feelings and experiences are valid.
3.  Your safety, well-being and life matter.
4.  Sometimes, siblings may agree with your decision, and sometimes they may not. Sometimes, this may change over time.
5.  It’s ultimately your decision.
6.  Boundaries are important and often necessary, wherever you are in the process.
7.  It can potentially be a hard decision to make.
8.  Repair and reconciliation of the sibling relationship may or may not happen in the future.
9.  Support can be immensely helpful (i.e. therapist, support group, support/crisis phone or text line, friends, clergy, etc.).
10. Self-care matters.
11. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to be OK too.

Photo by Qwerqu McBrew on Unsplash

Originally published: July 16, 2021
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