Cutting off abusive parents AFTER they have tried to make amends?
September 30, 2013 3:02 PM   Subscribe

My parents were abusive for over a decade of my life, profoundly and in many ways permanently impacting my physical health and emotional and social well-being. Since that time, they have apologized, but I am still incredibly angry and hurt by the choices they made. Could cutting off contact help me move on? Mefites who have been in similar situations, please share your experiences and suggestions for healing. More details below.

For much of my life my parents were horrifically physically and emotionally abusive towards me. My mother demonstrated behaviors similar to Münchausen syndrome by proxy, exaggerating and outright lying to medical professionals about my emotional states and behaviors from when I was age 10 on, which resulted in me being very heavily drugged and institutionalized in psych wards (many of them violent and traumatic places with abusive staff) for much of my childhood. The times doctors and therapists disagreed with my mother's claims about me, she fired them and found someone new to agree with her. My father was pretty absent during this time and never intervened. I was told frequently and regularly that there was something fundamentally wrong with me and that I was a burden on the family. Additionally, my parents were controlling to the point of not allowing me to leave their home or have face-to-face contact with the outside world for weeks at a time up throughout my late teens and early twenties. Because I was so drugged and the cognitive and physical effects of the drugs were so severe, I was unable to work, go to school, or do much more than sleep 14 hours a day and watch tv during the majority of this time. I was completely disabled and lost over a decade of my life.

About 4 years ago, at 23 I began pushing for independence - I (at first, secretly) quit taking the psychotropic drugs I had been forced to take for the previous 12 years, lost the 120+ pounds I had gained from years of heavy doses of atypical antipsychotics, moved thousands of miles away from my family, started and finished college, and built a completely new life for myself. Although getting off psych drugs turned my life around, they have left me with serious and permanent health problems that negatively impact my life daily and serve as constant reminders of the abuse. Additionally, memories of the life I used to live and the horrible things I was told about myself continue to haunt me. Although I've experienced joy, love, accomplishment, and independence within the last four years, (all things that didn't exist in my world for SO long when my family controlled my life) the way I was treated by those who had a duty to care for and protect me continues to hurt more than I can describe.

In the last few years my parents have apologized for the choices they made, although they are uncomfortable speaking about the past and avoid doing so as much as possible. We don't talk often, but when we do they are respectful, non-derogatory, and sometimes tell me they are proud of the way I've overcome the obstacles they created for me. But I am still so, so angry and hurt and I find it difficult to trust them and take their gestures of support or remorse seriously. I'm still baffled and horrified at how anyone could do the things they did to their own child. Communicating with them is very upsetting for me and I often think about cutting off contact completely. Moving away was a great thing, could more distance continue to help me heal? Is cutting off contact morally permissible, given that my parents have made efforts to make amends? Mefites who have been in similar family situations, do you have regrets or advice to give? throwaway email at if you don't feel comfortable posting here.

(Please do not tell me to go to therapy - that relationship format is not safe or healing for me, because of the nature of the trauma I experienced. I've already been to peer-run support groups, I exercise a lot, have great friends, and spend a lot of time in nature, all of which have helped. More suggestions along these lines would be fine.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Is cutting off contact morally permissible, given that my parents have made efforts to make amends?

Absolutely yes of course no question.

You do not owe your parents contact. They treated you terribly. The fact that they're sort of nominally sorry about it but not enough to you know, talk about it, doesn't fix that. If talking to them makes you worse, then do what you need to do for you. They will be fine, I promise. You can always change your mind later and re-initiate contact with them.
posted by brainmouse at 3:09 PM on September 30, 2013 [31 favorites]

You are entirely allowed to cut them off. That they recognize the wrongness of what they did is a good thing, but it does not magically make up for all those years of abuse; they are not automatically entitled to your forgiveness. If you believe that getting them completely out of your life will improve it, you are 100% morally entitled to do so. You owe them exactly nothing.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:09 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have my permission to leave these people in your past.

You owe them nothing and it doesn't matter that they now acknowledge that they damaged you.

If you don't like talking to them, don't. No law says you have to.

You may want to send them a letter that basically says:

At this point in my life there is nothing you can say by way of explanation or apology that will atone for the horrific life I lived while under your authority. I am very happy and satisfied with my life today, and most of that is due to my leaving you and not speaking to you.

If you have any love for me at all, you will unselfishly let me live my life without you in it. I struggle every day to overcome the terrible legacy of my childhood. I pray every day for the strength to forgive you. But as it stands now, I do not want to have a relationship with you.

But if it's too hard, or you just don't want to. Simply stop speaking to them.

You're an adult, with agency and you can do whatever you want to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:11 PM on September 30, 2013 [15 favorites]

Cutting off contact is morally permissible. You do not owe them contact. It is nice that they have apologised, but it does not mean that you have any obligations towards them. Live a good life and surround yourself with good people. They had their chance and they fucked it up.
posted by plonkee at 3:12 PM on September 30, 2013

You do not need permission anymore to do the things you feel would be best for you. You can and should feel free to act on your regained sense of agency whenever and however you want.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:13 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Apologizing but not talking about what happened is not "making amends." It's a way of sweeping everything under the rug, because now you're supposed to magically forgive them and forget everything that happened.

Real amends require the perpetrator to acknowledge the full extent of the abuse, accept responsibility for it, apologize for it, and make restitution in whatever ways are possible. (In your case, maybe offering to pay for your medical care, since that's a lasting effect of the abuse.)
posted by jaguar at 3:14 PM on September 30, 2013 [22 favorites]

If things were even a quarter as bad as what you've described here, then good god, you should definitely cut off contact. Or sue them. Maybe both.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

None of us "owe" toxic people access to our lives. Toxic people manipulate us to believe that we owe them access, but that's part of our own buggy code. When you read through relationship askme's it becomes apparent that cutting off people who damage and diminish us is a healthy behavior of self preservation.

If you need a non-confrontational script/email, then here is one.

I'm happy and healthy. My life is moving forward in a positive way that satisfies me. Right now, it's not healthy for me to have contact with either of you. If that changes at some point in the future, I will let you know. Please respect my wishes and do not contact me.
posted by 26.2 at 3:30 PM on September 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

No one outside of a dependent relationship has an obligation to continue a relationship with anyone. The continuance of a relationship is continually earned. My wife and I are continually, easily earning that continuance with other because that's the relationship we consciously developed, one where we are good and loving towards each other.

Your parents not only haven't earned the continuation of your relationship with them, they've incurred a gigantic debt to you that they're not even starting to repay with their tepid recognition that they did wrong by you. You owe them nothing. Any interaction you grant them is grace on your part. Your first priority is to heal yourself; healing them is no priority at all.
posted by fatbird at 3:31 PM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Cutting off parents isn't some way of punishing them for their past deeds. It doesn't even have to be a response to the abusive past at all. It's a form of self-protection. It's not a reflection of the past, it's a guardian for your future. You cut off your parents if that is what you need to do, for your own well-being.

Do what you need to do, for you.
posted by meese at 3:38 PM on September 30, 2013 [15 favorites]

although they are uncomfortable speaking about the past and avoid doing so as much as possible.

Yeah, this isn't really acceptable. Because it's not their decision whether to put their horrific abuse in "the past," and making it your problem that they feel bad about abusing you is another form of mistreatment. I think you should cut them out to the extent that it will make you feel better. Because it's not clear that they're sorry so much as it's clear that they want to stop feeling bad about having abused you. Not allowing you to talk about it (or even subtly pressuring you not to talk about it) are just more forms of control and abuse to keep you from taking care of yourself and to keep them from having to take responsibility for their own actions.

I think additional peer support groups that are specifically focused on dealing with dysfunctional families would be good for you. Al-Anon, for example, can be really helpful to people whose parents were neglectful, abusive, blaming, or emotionally damaging, regardless of whether alcohol was the main cause.

Basically, my point of view is that when someone causes you pain, you are entitled to stop the pain, even if they're not causing the pain intentionally or they say they're sorry about the pain. Because you are entitled to take care of yourself first. And here, where you've been actively abused and taking care of yourself is the only thing that has allowed you to heal, I think you absolutely need to prioritize your own needs over them.
posted by decathecting at 3:40 PM on September 30, 2013 [13 favorites]

Yep, it's fine. It's about what you personally need in order to be happy and functional.
posted by heyjude at 3:47 PM on September 30, 2013

Distancing yourself further from your parents is both practical and ethically A-OK. Take as much time as you need to process everything -- including their expressions of remorse. If, at some point, you feel ready to circle back to them, on your timeline, not theirs, you can do so. If not, that is fine, too.

I cut all contact with my parents for a number of years. I circled back when I was good and ready, and only when I felt it was, on the balance of pros vs. cons, a beneficial choice for me.

Our relationship now is solid, respectful, and mutually beneficial. It would not have been so, I don't think, if I hadn't stepped off the family grid for those years.

One reality I had to weigh in my decision to cut contact was how I would feel if they died while I was under the Cone of Silence -- would I be OK with that? I decided I would.

Remember too that the choice you make today can be modified later on -- it's not an all-or-nothing always-and-forever decision. You may choose to gradually add them back into your life -- maybe just monthly email contact, e.g. You have options all along the way.
posted by nacho fries at 3:52 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just one more voice piping up to say that, yes, it is perfectly acceptable to cut people who have hurt you out of your life. If they are truly remorseful for what they did that's great and hopefully that is a learning and growth opportunity for them. You do not, however, owe them continued contact or connection.

Your life is your own, and you have already been robbed of too much of it. You have every right to do what you need to do to live your life in the ways that you see fit and work for you.

What you have overcome is considerable and what you have since accomplished is fantastic. Keep going!
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:55 PM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your parents beat you to the punch. They apologized before you had a chance to rage at them, give voice to your suffering, begin to tell your story. They may be completely sincere but the result is another theft. I advise writing a throwaway letter or two to their pre-apology selves. You deserve to u load some of that burden!

You absolutely don't need to keep them in your life. If that's too final for you, you might go with what my son told his father: I need you to not call or contact me anymore. I'm not saying I never want to talk to you again, but it needs to be on my terms when I'm ready. I have no idea when that might be.

Yay you for accomplishing so much in only a few years! Sounds like you are doing an excellent job of taking care of yourself.
posted by headnsouth at 4:08 PM on September 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I cut off my abusive father (although he was nowhere near as abusive to me as your parents were to you) when I was 17. I'm in my 30s now. I do not regret it one bit. He died a couple of years ago and we had not reconciled, nor were we anywhere close to reconciling. He would have never admitted to being less than a stellar parent, though that is complete and total bullshit. I regret that he abused drugs and alcohol until the day he died. I regret that he never admitted to himself that he needed help and tried to get it. I regret that he couldn't see past his own issues aside and parent his children.

I don't regret my teenaged self's realization that she was in too much pain and deciding to cut off the relationship. In fact, I'm proud of her. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I was afraid for years that he would die and we wouldn't have made up. That actually happened. Of all the things that were painful about his death, our lack of reconciliation didn't really even ping me.

I'm so sorry for what you went through and overjoyed for you at what you've accomplished! Do what you need to do for your own happiness.
posted by Aquifer at 4:09 PM on September 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

You don't have to talk to anyone. Ultimately, it's your choice. It's your life. Cut off contact for a few years. Cut off contact forever. Up to you. What is important is to let the past die.

This is what Elizabeth Smart's mother said to her when she returned home after her kidnapping:

“My mom said, ‘Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible, and there aren’t words to describe how wicked and evil he is…but the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. Move forward and follow your dreams and do exactly what you want to do. You may never feel like justice has been served, but you don’t need to worry about that because in the end, God is our ultimate judge, and he will make up every pain and every suffering that you’ve gone through. Those who don’t receive their just reward here will certainly receive it in the next life, so you don’t have a reason to hold on to that.’”

I'm not Christian myself. But personally, I have found that it is beneficial for me, for my spiritual growth, to forgive. So there may come a time, after enough "cut off" time has passed that you will feel ready to have them in your life, in some capacity. Now this does not in any way mean that you have to have a close relationship with them. It could be an acquaintance. It could be a card at Christmas. It could be nothing at all. You will adjust the frequency and depth of the relationship according to its own merits, in the present. I just wanted to say don't hate them. In my life's path, I found when I was able to forgive, my heart opened up to love. We all naturally love our parents, deep inside, even the abusive ones. That's how the human animal is. And if we were to hate, who would we hate? Our parents? Our parent's parents? Their parents? It's a long line of karmic fucking-each-other-up that we do, so let the past die and focus on moving forward. You will find that forgiveness is good for your mind. Then past will no longer be a monster waiting to pounce on you. I wish you the best of luck and fortune.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:12 PM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Absolutely nothing in my life has been more healing and restorative than cutting ties with my family of origin.

If forgiveness works for other people, good for them. But for me? What has worked is really realizing and owning the power that I get to create and maintain healthy boundaries for myself. I get to choose to walk away from people that are toxic to me and I don't have to feel guilty about it.

There's something incredibly powerful about being able to say you don't get to hurt me anymore and then backing it up. Their sorrow and regret is theirs to work out, it's a burden I don't have to carry anymore.

Am I sorry it worked out this way? Yes, of course. I wish I had come from a functional family. But that didn't happen and I'm taking care of myself the best way I know how. I wish you the same.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:33 PM on September 30, 2013 [16 favorites]

I cut my father off completely when I was in my late thirties after two decades of being forgiving. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner. Forgiving someone who cannot even admit that they did anything wrong does not help the person who has been hurt. I don't hate him but I disdain him for his lack of insight and for his ability to project a fake and charming persona to the rest of the world.

Tell them that right now and for the forseeable future you do not want to have any contact with them. If necessary put a block on their email and on your phone.
posted by mareli at 4:38 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, you owe them nothing, NOTHING. Enjoy your life free of them forever. I am very glad you were able to get away.
posted by elizardbits at 4:40 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you found the Dysfunctional Families threads at Making Light? I recommend them.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am still so, so angry and hurt and I find it difficult to trust them and take their gestures of support or remorse seriously.

You shouldn't trust them -- you have reason not to. They have done nothing to earn your trust and a lot to betray it. You are not obligated to trust untrustworthy people, even if you're related to them.

If you're considering cutting your parents off, maybe try it out for a while. My situation was very different from yours, but for what it's worth, I found that being in occasional contact (packages/cards in the mail, a phone call every month or so) was a lot less painful than foregoing all contact, because it kept my imagination from running wild about what they were doing/thinking/going through. To each her own, though -- whatever makes *you* feel most safe and comfortable is what you should do. They're not going to look out for your safety or comfort (and will actively sabotage it), so you have to make yourself your number one priority when dealing with them.

Again, for what it's worth, I would be very wary of them and have *very* firm boundaries and keep a *very* close watch on my own feelings and comfort level. These people do not have you best interests at heart and they know you as well as you know yourself -- they are dangerous. They can trick you and they will try -- and who knows if they even understand what they're doing as they do it. So please be careful. You've done a fantastic job making a life for yourself, and please don't let them manipulate you into damaging or abandoning it to take care of their needs.
posted by rue72 at 4:45 PM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

It will take time to heal the terrible damage they inflicted on you. If contact with them is upsetting and in any way derails your happiness and the safe space you need for healing, then, by all means, cut them off. You don't owe them an easy relationship at the expense of your well being.

Under no circumstances should you consider cutting your parents off to be immoral. It's totally acceptable to move forward without them in your life. You don't need to minimize your own needs in order to make them feel better. You needn't regret any measures you take to protect and nourish a happy and healthy future.

Also, from what you've written, you sound like you've started on a remarkable recovery and I wish you the very best going forward.
posted by quince at 4:57 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Exploiting the culture's expectation that you "honor thy father and mother" seems to me like a way of continuing the abuse in these situations. And that's kind of all I am hearing in their non-apology apology.
posted by thelonius at 5:03 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I cut off my father when I was in my late 20s and I have never regretted it. You'd disdain spending time or attention on a non-relative who did you as much harm as your parents did: the title "parents" is not a reason to keep in touch with them, especially if they are still hurting you.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 5:25 PM on September 30, 2013

My experience doesn’t coincide with yours, but there are similarities.

I grew up in what can only be described as a fundamentalist cult. We lived in a commune-type environment in the Seventies, where everyone gave their work earnings to the group, and received in return a small living allowance. The End Time was imminent, blah, blah.

I liked my second cousin well enough, but that did it: my mother and her mother arranged our marriage. I was 17, she was 16.

I was incredibly sheltered and naïve. At that point in my life, I had no idea that I was gay. I believed that my crushes on a few guys in the group were simply high-plane manifestations of God’s Love. Ten agonizing years later, when I finally figured it out, I left her, and the group, going no contact for several years, because homosexuality was, to them, an unacceptable sin. But I finally knew who I was, so that part wasn’t hard.

Many years later, my parents apologized, if half-heartedly. And I forgave them, because at the time my brother had had a swimming accident that left him paralyzed, and I thought, if I cannot lay aside my anger toward my family in favor of compassion, then I am not the man I want to be.

But here’s the thing: forgiveness does not undo the damage. Actions have consequences, and my mother’s actions, with my father’s tacit agreement, affected me in ways that could not be undone. I was able to put away my anger, but I never again felt close to either of them.

That’s 25 years ago.

Five years ago, when my mother was dying, I was there, along with my siblings, at her bedside. I was sorry that she was ill, but I felt zero grief. It wasn't that my heart was hard. It wasn't. I just didn't feel much.

There were times when she would look at me from her bed with what I took to be an accusing stare, which may or may not have been the case. She was really out of it. I said, only to myself, “I’m sorry if you’re angry with me, Mother, but I laid aside my anger, and you should, too. Justification now is beside the point."

> the way I was treated by those who had a duty to care for and protect me continues to hurt more than I can describe.

Oh, yes, I’ve been there. But here’s the deal. You can’t undo what they did. You can only recognize the injustice and then move on. Otherwise, you become mired in circumstances that cannot be fixed. There’s no way out of that mind set. Choose another path.

> Moving away was a great thing, could more distance continue to help me heal?

In my experience, yes. There is nothing like half a continent between you to make you feel like you are not chained to your past.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:50 PM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Consult a lawyer.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:01 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think cutting off contact at least for a time might be in your best interest.

As has been stated more eloquently by others, forgiveness is a good thing. But it isn't the same as allowing them to do more damage to you. You can forgive them and yet realize that at this point it may still not be safe for them to be in your lives.

(Honestly, I wonder if what they did to you was legally actionable. )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:03 PM on September 30, 2013

A simple, slightly-warm (not hot with anger) "Oh, go to hell," is the absolutely *nicest* thing you owe them. Legal action is a bit more appropriate.
posted by notsnot at 7:47 PM on September 30, 2013

On a practical level, I bet a long break, maybe even a permanent break, would make you feel better.

As for the ethics of it, even if your parents were abjectly sorry, had totally changed AND were wracked with guilt and sorrow that could only be eased by contact with you, I would still think you should go no-contact, if that works best for you. You deserve whatever will make you thrive.
posted by feets at 8:14 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My parents did wrong by me in a number of ways that made trying to thrive as an adult really difficult. After an initial foray into independence in the same city as my mom, I realised the damage was still too fresh and I wouldn't be able to move on the way I needed if I kept getting wrapped into her world.

I moved about 2k miles away, called her when I arrived to let her know I was safe, and then stayed out of touch for two years. It helped so much. We were briefly in contact again off and on for a couple of years after that, then radio silence again for a while, and then I finally was able to be myself and be around her about 12 years after I'd moved away.

If my experience had been more like yours, I'm pretty sure that two years would have been at least twice that, and I'm really not sure I would have been able to allow her back into my life.

I've done the same thing with my dad, and am currently in a no-contact situation with him that has continued for a couple of years, with a small break to check on him in the hospital after a recent stroke. So much less stress to allow myself to decide what's a reasonable scenario to see him rather than allowing him unfettered access to my reality.

So, yes, morally, you have all the standing in the world to shut the door on a relationship with your parents. If you tell yourself it's for a year, then up for re-evaluation after that, it's loads easier to be realistic and compassionate with yourself. I was a few weeks into the second year before I realised I hadn't brooded over all that crap for a while. It was such a nice realisation. I highly recommend giving that process a go.

And good on you for taking your life in your hands and jumping out of a figurative airplane with no parachute! You are an astonishing person. Best of fortune to you.
posted by batmonkey at 8:36 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you should make it clear that you will not speak with them until your concerns have been addressed. Set boundaries to limit all communications to asynchronous emails or letters for example.

These people were fucking sadistic monsters and apparently refuse to indicate or admit otherwise even well into your adulthood. You might have been institutionalized even to this day if not for your fortuitous independence and resilience.

It's sensible to remember this in the context of your emotional well being.

Remember who made you a survivor, and remember that it is yet still an ongoing progression.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:39 PM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wow. My family (parents + others) were very similar, yet stopped short of institutionalization. I was taken to therapists my mother agreed with, though, and a few minutes after starting, was promptly told I was likely psychotic or schizophrenic, had to believe that my parents were at the ends of their ropes doing everything they could to try and manage uncontrollable little me... top of my class and always called "mature" and "level-headed" by every. single. one. of my teachers.

I too think you should contact a lawyer. But that's not a priority, and it's not in your question; just, it seems really obvious to me that your "treatment" was a travesty. If you feel up to it, and that taking legal action could help.

Meanwhile yeah, holy cow, you absolutely can cut them off. One other reason it's easy for them to "apologize" now is that you're no longer a minor. Short of violence towards yourself or others, you can no longer be institutionalized without your consent.

Also, rest assured that responsible health professionals are mobilized against what happened to you: Juveniles and Psychiatric Institutionalization: Toward Better Due Process and Treatment Review in the United States. The abstract is telling:
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) can be used as a framework to examine issues regarding psychiatric institutionalization of juveniles in the United States. The current U.S. system allows children diagnosed with relatively mild, non-psychotic disorders or exhibiting delinquent behaviors to be placed in institutions. Failure to regulate treatment in these faciltities also results in abuses by the treatment providers. Parents can institutionalize a child under the guise of mental health "treatment" because they disapprove of the child's lifestyle choices. In some states, parents can waive the child's right to an impartial hearing before institutionalization. The serious social, mental, and physical health consequences of erroneous deprivation of liberty are discussed. Recommendations include that the U.S. ratify the CRC, guarantee due process for juveniles faced with institutionalization, conduct systematic treatment reviews, and correct institutional abuses.
Your parents are the ones in the horrifically moral wrong here. This: "they are respectful, non-derogatory, and sometimes tell me they are proud of the way I've overcome the obstacles they created for me" is also something my parents said during a stage when I was on the fence about staying in contact with them. In time they clarified: they had "tested me" to make me a "stronger person" and as such, I owed my entire life to them! Oh, what a coincidence, I had just gotten a well-paid job and they were having financial difficulties! I owed them everything because I was so strong thanks entirely to them!! So yeah, if your gut is going, "um, I'm not entirely comfortable with this whole nice treatment thing," it's because it too can always be twisted.

A whole bunch of other stuff went down that finally convinced me to push the eject button on them, and like another poster, I only wish I had done it sooner. It's been 10 years now and I could not be happier.

The horrible voices telling you that you don't deserve your life, that there's a secretly unforgivable, nasty, twisted part of yourself that's so well-hidden that even you can't see it... those dissipate in time, and especially with distance from the people who planted those rotten seeds. Keep on listening to the healthy part of you who wants distance and healing, obviously it has some excellent ideas! Friends, nature, safety, happiness – you've got an amazing reserve of strength. Which is obviously your own since you are the one who made those decisions and stuck with them.
posted by fraula at 10:32 PM on September 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

I also thought you should contact a lawyer and go no contact.

As for me... What parents?

Once I did it, like others here, I wondered why I waited so long.

Go forward, be well. Welcome to the Other Side!!!
posted by jbenben at 10:40 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cutting off your parents is morally permissible and it sounds like it might be the right thing for you to do given how painful it has been to communicate with them.
posted by Area Man at 5:08 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The way your parents react to your decision to stop contact will tell you whether they have truly changed.

Anything less than their acceptance, any guilt tripping, protests or "whyyyyyyyy"s will show you that this is the right thing to do.

Also, you can change your mind any time, if you feel you actually want contact. Do what feels right to you right now.
posted by Omnomnom at 6:28 AM on October 1, 2013

You don't show your non-derogatory respect by creating "obstacles" for people. You don't get to be proud for doing that.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:08 AM on October 1, 2013

This is basic self-preservation. If you are happier without them, be without them.
posted by Hogshead at 9:44 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thank you to everyone who wrote on the site and by email. All this kindness and advice from you internet strangers has meant a lot to me.

To be honest, I was terrified to open the thread at first - a part of me that's still a little messed up was convinced there would be a lot of responses telling me I sound crazy, I'm overreacting, what happened wasn't that bad, etc. When I started scrolling through dozens of messages of validation, compassion, and even anger on my behalf, it was overwhelming (in a great way.) I feel a lot stronger and more confident in my plans to further distance myself from my parents. Again, thank you.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:29 AM on October 1, 2013 [11 favorites]

I fully agree that forgiving does NOT equate to what your parents did being ok. It wasn't and never will be. Forgiving also does NOT mean they are safe, trustworthy, or sane, ever. Nor does it mean you have to forget. (I doubt that is possible) But to me, it does mean minimizing the pain, to where you are not spending any mental energy on it. I doubt your parents will ever apologize. If they do, I doubt it will ever be enough. I doubt they can ever express anything that will really show you they get it, how awful it and they all were. So, protect yourself, and take care of yourself. Love yourself. If that means no contact with the people who birthed you, well, so be it. They made terrible choices; you do not need to.
posted by Jacen at 2:15 PM on October 1, 2013

There are people who don't speak to their parents anymore for reasons that are a fraction as reasonable as the ones you outline here.

I just read your update and I wanted to say that I'm proud of you for having the strength to do what you know is right for yourself. Best of luck!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:11 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are allowed (maybe even justified) to cut off your parents.

But ask yourself what good it will do. You will still know they exist, you will still have to live with all the consequences of their past behaviors, and you will probably live with some anxiety about the next time you have to interact with them. Cutting them off may punish them, but it won't solve anything. Neither of you can go into the past and change anything, and in all liklihood, they won't have another child with whom they will not make the same mistakes because of some lesson you are teaching them.

You probably have some kind of PTSD sort of thing going on. Ignoring the causes of the trauma does not allow for healing.

When you forgive someone, you do it for YOU, not for them. Forgiveness is giving up the anger/hurt you have for someone else in order to bring peace into your life. The recipient of your forgiveness doesn't need to deserve it. Only YOU need to deserve it.
posted by gjc at 3:50 AM on October 2, 2013

It is totally OK to go non-contact for as long as you need, on your own terms.

Don't feel you have to forgive them, ever, or on a specific timetable, or that you'll never get better. Many people push the idea of forgiveness onto family members and friends. Often, I think, in dysfunctional families and friend circles, people who have been victimized are pressured to forgive crimes like sexual and physical abuse, so that the tormentor can continue to be a viable member of the family or group. This is sick.

Too, many people never give themselves a chance to really feel the anger and hurt, where they can acknowledge, "This DID happen, this WAS bad, they DID hurt me". Sometimes only you can give yourself the affirmation that you need, and it will never come from the abuser or or other family or friends. I believe people who continue to be outer-directed and need that affirmation of their hurt from someone else to make it "real", can never heal completely.

If you get to a point where you never feel any more anger or grief or hurt, great. Some people don't make it all the way there - frankly, I don't think I've ever met someone who was completely at peace, but I know many who are not carrying the burden into everyday life. As long as they are able to live happy, viable lives, focusing on living every day better and better is what counts. Do what you need to do make yourself happier.

I have forgiven my mother for many rotten things she did to me, to my siblings, to my father, and how it destroyed our family's unity, but that's me. I can look at her and see someone who has a psychological disorder she never received help with. I know that she's a desperately sad person, and I feel compassion for her. That said, she abused my grandmother, and I can't forgive nor forget those acts - even though my heart is not full of hate for her anymore. As someone said above, these acts happened, they change you.

My siblings will probably never forgive her for abusing them, but it's not my place to tell them how they should feel.
posted by mitschlag at 10:31 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

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