Toxic Family Relationships
The first time I heard the phrase “toxic relationships” I was listening to the radio. The hosts were talking about eliminating toxic relationships from your life—these types of relationships are unhealthy, damaging, not okay. And while I agreed wholeheartedly, I couldn’t help but think to myself, But what if they’re your sibling or your mother or your aunt? Changes things just a bit, doesn’t it?
After a lot of family drama, and a lot of heartache, my relationship with my brother dissolved. It’s been 12 years. Twelve years since I’ve seen him, talked to him, laughed with him, sent him a Christmas card, yelled at him. Twelve years. He’s never known me in my 30s or in my 40s. And I haven’t known him either. He hasn’t seen my children grow and I don’t even know some of his. I know his children’s names, but don’t know faces—some of whom I couldn’t pick out of a crowd.
In the beginning of this estrangement, it was very difficult. Not a day would go by that I wouldn’t think of him or his family. I couldn’t even speak his name without a waterfall flowing. Those days have become fewer and further between as the years have passed. But there are still times when I think of him, and it hurts.
One of the things that bother me the most about this separation is the reaction I receive from those who learn my brother and I no longer speak—speak is such an understatement. Let me rephrase—who no longer have any interaction in any fashion what-so-ever in each other’s lives. First, there is the pity in the eyes—the puppy-dog look with their head tilted to the right. Their lips even purse up just a bit as the familiar, “Ohhh,” sighs in dismay. I’ve yet to meet anyone that doesn’t have this knee-jerk reaction. Seriously, no pity is needed.
Does the bond between siblings have to exist? I think I’ve proven it to be “no”—yet, if this is true then why do I still have those moments of longing, of missing my big brother? Will these feelings ever go away? It’s been 12 years, and they haven’t.
A toxic relationship can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s with a friend, a partner, and sometimes it’s with a family member. For me, I could put up with the drama, the verbal abuse, and the aggravation for only so long. When I saw the fear in my children’s eyes at the mention of going to their Uncle’s house, I knew they would not, could not be exposed to such dysfunction. I’ve learned that I can’t “save” anyone. People, even your family, make their own decisions in life and they have to live with those decisions—but I don’t have to. I don’t want to, and so I don’t.
The choice I made does come with a lot of consequence—a lot of unresolved feelings, and a lot of hurt. I see my friends, who have brothers, and it’s hard. They talk about them and I crave to have those kinds of stories in my repertoire. My kids don’t even remember their only uncle on my side of the family, and I detest that. I wish for days when my brother and I were young, and life was just simpler. When we got along, when he stuck up for me, when I was proud of who he was. But it’s not, and I’ve accepted that. There’s the saying, “Time heals all wounds,” and I think it’s a load of crap. Nothing is healed; nothing is resolved—at least not for me. I believe time just makes it easier to deal with—numbs the pain that was once shooting through my heart. Unlike unloading toxic friends, letting go of toxic family relationships is so much harder. Perhaps it’s because friends are replaceable, and no one can ever replace my big brother that once was.
Meredith is a mom, sister, wife, friend, teacher, critic, Starbucks junkie, writer, coach, and a million other things. She enjoys writing about the good, scary, funny, sad, exciting and all those other truths that too many people are afraid to write about. You can find her blog at http://merelovesthepack.blogspot.com or on Twitter: @FmTheSidelines.