Dear Darcy: Dealing with Family Relationships
I’d love to hear your wisdom about when/how and if it is a good idea to break away from toxic family. I’ll give you a few details. Basically I grew up in a very dysfunctional home, mom left when I was seven, she left us with my brother’s dad who physically/emotionally and sexually abused my sister and me for many years. I’ve done EMDR and feel like I’ve mostly dealt with the big stuff, but my sister and I both attempt to have a relationship with each other despite that it is very apparent it can be unhealthy at times. Even the smallest of disagreement can take us back 25 years and it is like a thin layer of glass over the gates of hell breaking open. We both love each other and want what is best for one another but it seems as though we cannot fully move forward if we continue to be in each others lives. I don’t think that we are toxic but our history is.
Healed, but not forgotten.
I would like to commend you for doing the hard work required to overcome the traumas of a dysfunctional childhood. It’s obvious in the way you express yourself, you have come a long way and have a deep understanding of what you’ve survived and how to move forward. Sometimes when individuals take the time and commitment to heal from past hurt, grief, abuse, and abandonment, they become surprised when years later they find themselves triggered, upset and catapulted right back to the deep pain that they had spent years overcoming! It can be a very frustrating experience and can cause individuals to wonder, “Will I ever be able to move on?”.
One coping skill I recommend clients use is called distress tolerance. Distress tolerance is one’s ability, perceived or actual, to stand up against emotional distress and/or an emotional incident. At times, it makes sense to avoid situations, places and people that don’t make you feel good or cause unhealthy behaviors as a result of unpleasant feelings. In your situation, I think it would be a shame for your sister and yourself to not be able to maintain a relationship. You both were victims and now you are both survivors. You two have survived the loss of a normal and safe childhood in a loving, and caring environment. I would hate for you two to lose each as well!
Perhaps, make some changes to how often and for how long your interaction last and limit contact to times when you are feeling exceptionally strong emotionally. Also, here some techniques to begin using your distress tolerance skills!
Practice Radical Acceptance: It’s a healthier way to view the situation. Instead of focusing on how you would like the situation to be different, accept the fact that you and your sister will likely have trouble not triggering old trauma for each other, but that you’re fortunate to have someone in your life that understand what you’ve been through and all you’ve overcome!
Thoughts: When you emotions take over, try focusing on your thought or simply count to 10.
Emotions:Do something that will creating a competing emotion. Tell a joke or simply smile even if you feel like punching someone!
Most importantly, breathe! Make sure you are not holding on physically to any negative feelings you might be having. Inhale the healing and exhale the pain of the past. Remember, negative feelings pass, like everything they are temporary. My deepest hope is that you are able to find a way to maintain a connection with your sister, but in time, you will come to know if it’s possible or not. Life is short, live and be happy!