Something that comes up a lot in therapy, is clients trying their best to make relationships with family members work. The issue with this is, sometimes these are family members who have deeply hurt them, don’t respect their boundaries and continue to cause harm and turmoil. Historical trauma caused by family members can be worked through, however, where this becomes an issue is where abuse is still present. Healing is extremely difficult when people are still actively living in the abuse that caused the trauma.
The answer for why they want to keep said family members in their life often goes something like, but “they are my mom” “They are my family.” There is a pervasive narrative in our society that poses that just because someone is “blood,” means that they deserve love, loyalty and appreciation. However, what happens when these individuals do not really act like family? What happens when these people cause the most harm?
When my clients are trying to figure out whether or not to keep a harmful family member in their life I often start by exploring a few things:
1. Is this person actively abusing you verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually? ( if the answer to this is yes, in order to protect yourself and potentially others, I would suggest ending this relationship or at the very least setting very strong boundaries.
2. Can you have open and safe communication about your feelings with this individual? If this is possible, having conversations about your feelings and or possibly attending family therapy may be a useful way to mend things.
3. Can you set boundaries with this person and have them respected? Boundaries are pivotal when it comes to any important relationship in your life. This is especially true for those who are sometimes triggering. Meeting in a neutral place, limiting time spent and being cautious about the types of conversations had with family members can be really helpful and necessary to maintaining safe relationships. It is a very good sign that healing is possible in a relationship if family members are willing to respect your boundaries.
Does this person act in the way you would expect a family member to act? ie. do they show up in the way you need them to? Are they worth continuing to invest time and effort? Sometimes people will hurt themselves over and over again by expecting someone to be the mom, dad, sister, brother that they wish for. The truth is, sometimes these people cannot and will not show up in this way. Is this okay with you? Or is it time to accept and let go of the relationship? Making space and time for other relationships.
As a therapist I would never perpetuate the harmful narrative that just because someone is family that you need to keep them in your life. Sometimes even blood relationships need to end.
Do not forget that friends and fur babies can also be family. If you have friends who act like family, why create an artificial barrier? They can be , your chosen family. Remember your chosen family is just as valid as the family that you were born into.
Toi Toujours Counselling acknowledges that within Guelph we are currently occupying the ancestral lands of the Attawandaron/Chonnonton, the Anishinaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples and the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. We recognize the significance of the Dish with One Spoon Covenant to this land and offer our respect and gratitude to all of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island who have stewarded, loved & defended this land for centuries.