Have you ever wondered when it is appropriate to cut your parents out of your life?
Do you feel like you missed out on life because you spent more time focusing on others than yourself?
Have you experienced multiple losses and feel overwhelmed with grief?
Or have you experienced unacknowledged sibling abuse?
In this Q&A episode, I answer four questions from the community on these topics. Let’s dive in.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Question #1: How to Grieve Multiple Heartbreaking Losses?
Someone wrote in, “I’m struggling a lot in my grief process. I lost my brother nine months ago to complications due to a double lung transplant. We were very close and he was my only sibling. Two months later, at eight months pregnant, my son was stillborn. I’m having a hard time. What are some steps I can take to feel better, to do better?”
I am witnessing you with so much compassion.
What you are talking about is complex grief.
Just one of those losses would be devastating. Two back-to-back losses are incredibly challenging.
The steps to take are not necessarily about ‘doing better,’ but about processing what you need to process.
You can begin processing these losses by letting yourself feel whatever you feel.
Cry, do nothing, scream – whatever the feelings are. Let them out, and do not apologize to anyone for having these feelings.
Do not let other people tell you how you should grieve. These losses are personal to you, and how you grieve will be personal as well.
Everything can seem out of control when you experience profound loss. Getting into a daily routine (if you can) may help you feel a bit more in control of your day and bind anxiety.
I also love the idea of working with a grief therapist because multiple losses can be overwhelming and feel incredibly isolating.
I recommend processing each loss in separate sessions because it is difficult to process multiple losses at the same time.
Try not to move into numbing behaviors, as tempting as they might be. It is better to deal with grief now because it will not go away until you face it.
It can be easy to dissociate because processing is painful, but I encourage you to check in with your body every day. Try to stay present with how you feel. Ask yourself what you need. Try to walk, hydrate, and take good enough care of yourself.
Journal about how you are feeling and doing each day, too. I find writing in an actual journal to be helpful because it is a visceral, physiological experience. It is almost like you are getting your feelings up and out.
You have experienced devastating losses, and returning to “normal” likely will not happen for a long time or more accurately your new normal will be different because these life experiences impact who we become. Give yourself grace and stay in touch with supportive people who you do not have to take care of.
I hope some of these suggestions are helpful and I am holding you in my heart and mind. 💕
Question #2: How to Let Go of Resentment After Recovering From High-Functioning Codependency?
“I’m a newly recovering high-functioning codependent. After spending decades ‘helping’ family members with everything under the sun, how can I let go of resentment for wasting so much of my own precious life, time, and energy on everyone else? I feel like I would be more accomplished in a different, more authentic career and be happier had I not spent years living everyone else’s lives.”
I can tell you from being a psychotherapist for 25 years and treating a lot of high-functioning codependents: you are not alone, and you have to mourn the time or opportunities you feel you lost due to the dysfunctional nature of codependency.
Mourn how you thought it would be and how you wanted it to be.
Part of the mourning process is also taking responsibility for your choices, even if you do not understand why you made them.
As a high-functioning codependent in my twenties, my behavior was compulsive. I was driven to fix what I thought was wrong because I did not want people to feel a certain way.
While a lot of this behavior can fall into the category of unhelpful “helping,” it is really about self-abandonment, and it sounds like there was self-abandonment in the process of “helping” your family.
You have to learn to forgive yourself for this self-abandonment, take responsibility for it, and then let yourself off the hook. You did the best you could with the consciousness you had at the time.
Through mourning, you will gain a deeper understanding of why you did what you did, and you also learn to let the chips fall where they may, especially when they are someone else’s chips.
After mourning, you get to make different choices aligned with how you want to live now.
Enjoying this episode? Download the guide for a transcript of my answers to these Qs in case you need a reminder later.
Question #3: Am I Allowed to Change My Boundaries and Cut Contact With Toxic Parents?
“My mom suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. Any interaction with my parents stresses me out. I can’t take their criticisms or manipulations.
I let them know what they’d done in the past hurt me, and I suggested communicating via calls only to keep them at a distance. While they’ve respected this, the amount of anxiety leading up to the calls is ridiculous and I no longer want to call them.
What do you do when the boundary you set isn’t enough? Is it okay to cut parental figures out of your life and give up on repairing the relationship?”
We are sovereign human beings. If talking to your parents is too stressful, you are not required to do it.
Could you talk to them less? Maybe once a month, or once every six months?
Or do you not want to have a relationship with them at all?
I see two options:
1) If you are getting anxiety leading up to the calls because your parents are still manipulating you, you can say, “Stop trying to manipulate me and stop being critical of me, or I will end the relationship.”
2) You simply end the relationship if you think your parents, especially your mother (if her Borderline Personality Disorder is untreated), lack the capacity to change.
Remember, one of your Boundary Boss Bill of Rights is you have the right to make mistakes, to course correct, or to change your mind.
Many of us feel like saying “yes” to something once means having to do it until the end of time. We feel pressured to keep our word.
But part of growth is giving ourselves permission to change our minds.
This is a big deal, but you are doing amazing by setting boundaries with your parents already, and it sounds like they are respecting them.
I cannot tell you what to do because I do not know exactly how this is impacting your internal life, but I encourage you to either have the conversation where you tell them to stop their unhealthy behavior, call them much less often, or tell them you no longer want a relationship with them.
My two cents: you have the right to determine who has the privilege of being in your life. Not even family has the right to be in your VIP section. The relationships you have as an adult are voluntary.
Question #4: Sibling Abuse?
Upon reading the blog post on silent agreements, someone wrote in to share their epiphany about their family of origin as they suffered abuse at the hands of their older brother.
This abuse was particularly painful because, from the outside, they looked like the Leave It To Beaver perfect type of family.
Even their therapist brushed off the abuse, likening it to sibling rivalry and telling them they were “too sensitive.” (I call bullshit on this therapist, by the way. NOT okay!)
The family had silently agreed to never discuss the abuse. They chose to stay in the dark over dealing with it. And as long as the person asking this question self-abandoned, the family maintained the Leave It To Beaver image.
Sibling abuse is every bit as prevalent as other abuse, and it is every bit as important.
There are different kinds of abuse, like sexual, physical, or emotional.
To identify sibling violence, we need to ask these questions:
- How does each person view and understand the interaction?
- What is the intent of the sibling behavior? Is it to hurt?
- What is the severity (the duration and intensity) of the behavior?
If you are struggling with your own childhood sibling abuse, these questions are important to answer.
I know the world barely has a name for sibling abuse, but I am telling you it matters and you matter.
Remember to download the guide for a transcript of these Q&As to keep my answers in your back pocket.
Did you enjoy this Q&A format? Let me know! I plan to do one every month or so.
If you want even more Q&A opportunities with me, join my VIP community where I host once–a–month Q&A calls for members. You can get all the details here.
Thank you so much for spending time with me and as always, take care of you.