Cutting Ties – Family Estrangement and Abandonment
Society tells us that family bonds are unbreakable — that your sister should be your best friend, that you should call your mom several times a day just to chat. Well it’s great when life works out like that. But the truth is, that often isn’t the case. This week Jaime tackles the difficult topic of family estrangement with the help of therapist Melanie Storrusten. They go in-depth on Jaime’s own struggles with her mom and siblings — which she traces back to the death of her dad when she was 17 years old — and answer questions from listeners. Is it possible to cut off your mom without hurting her? What should you do if other people in your family shame you for creating boundaries for yourself? Plus, how to talk about your family in social situations if you are estranged from them.
FYI: Tell Me What To Do contains mature language and themes that may not be suitable for all listeners.
Please note, this show is hosted and produced by a team that does not have any clinical or other mental or physical health training. If you are having a health or mental health crisis or emergency, please contact 911. For non-emergency mental health and addiction needs, try https://www.samhsa.gov for national and local resources.
Do you have a question for Jaime? Call 833-4LEMONADA (833-453-6662) and leave her a voicemail! You can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question might get used in a future episode!
Did you know that this show is supported by listeners like you? It is! You can become a member, get exclusive bonus content, and discounted swag at www.lemonadamedia.com/memberships.
If you aren’t already a devoted Jaime fan, follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JaimePrimak
Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
[03:24] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Hey, guys, it’s Jaime, and you are listening to the Tell Me What To Do podcast. Thank you so much for being here with me. You are probably sick and tired of me telling you on Coffee Talk, begging you to listen to my podcast. But if you’re here, it means it works. I am really very excited about this week’s podcast because family estrangement and abandonment is something that I struggle with in so many different parts of my life. So I am so excited to speak to Dr. Melanie, Therapist Melanie, Melanie extraordinaire, who I’ll bring on in just a little bit, but wanted to talk to you about a couple of things that are going on in my mind.
[04:20] Jaime Primak Sullivan: So, you know, we saw this locally, there was a varsity football team that had to pause, stop practice because like nine of their players or something and like all of their coaching staff had COVID. And I just thought to myself, like, this is it. We’re getting ready to go back to school, or we’re back in school, and it’s going to be one step forward, two steps back until we get this thing figured out. Like people were just like, “I just don’t believe it! We just started playing.” And I’m like, no, yeah. What do you mean you don’t believe it? They’ve literally been warning us about this from day one. Remember, we stopped school in March because we realized how contagious this thing was? Nothing. Nothing has changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse in so many states. And people are like we have to stop football? Now, I live in the South where it literally goes: God, football, family. Some people say it’s God, family, football. I’m starting to wonder. You know, people plan their weddings around football season here. They plan their lives around it. I have had friends say to me, “well, I don’t want to get pregnant this month because then I would deliver in the middle of football season.” I’m like, who gives a shit? Honestly, Auburn is still going to beat Alabama. Just kidding.
[06:32] Jaime Primak Sullivan: What else is going on? I’m going to tell you something. I’m going to tell you something. If I hear “I’m hungry” one more time. If I hear “I’m bored” one more time. If I hear “mom” one more time.The national appropriate time for drinking in this country has moved from happy hour to brunch hour. It used to be like if you drank at eleven o’clock during the day, people were like, whoa, are you OK now? You drink at 11, people are like, oof. Starting late, huh? Yeah, I tried to exercise this morning. I was trying to finish breakfast. It’s a lot.
[07:29] Jaime Primak Sullivan: So as you guys know, I personally have been very eager to talk about family estrangement because I am dealing with so much of it in my personal life. The current climate has taken a toll on my nuclear family. And it has caused severe damage to relationships, some of which were incredibly meaningful to me, and some I think that just needed an excuse to end, if I’m being honest. So for this episode, because I have been so emotionally burdened by my own family estrangements, and over the years, so many of you have come to me to talk about child estrangement, parental estrangement, sibling estrangement. And I have not had the words because I have gone through not child estrangement, but parental and sibling estrangement myself. I know your pain, but I don’t have answers. Sometimes it’s so hard for me, I don’t even have direction. So I wanted to bring someone in who could Tell Me What To Do in hopes then that I could help tell you what to do. And when I put the call out for comments, questions, whatever on family estrangement and abandonment, we heard from so many of you. So I am so grateful that we have Dr. Melanie Storrusten, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist based in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes with patients who are healing from trauma and owns an integrative mental health business, Align Wellness. Melanie, welcome to Tell Me What To Do.
[09:45] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here and talk about this difficult topic.
[09:52] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Well, I have, just to give you a little background on me. My dad died when I was 17. Cue the violins. And my mom was left a widow in her early 40s, mid forties. Not too much older than I am now. With four children. And, you know, I think that if I’m being honest now, my parents were a very good balance for each other. My mother loves us so much. But her parenting was so heavy-handed that my father, who had a much more hands-off, relaxed approach, was what kept her within a healthy boundary space. And when he died, she went to the only space she knew. My mother and I have come so far. We are actually in a beautiful space. But over the years I have had to take many breaks from what at times felt like crippling judgment. Just a burden. I was hurt by her as a child, by the name she called me and the things she implied. In some ways, she was incredibly accepting and other ways she was manipulative and judgmental and critical. Some way she made me feel safer than anyone else in the world and other ways she made me feel completely alone. But I am at a place where I don’t want to blame my mother for shit anymore.
[11:45] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Well, first of all, I’m sorry. I’m, like, so eager for you to, like, help set me free that I’m like, please! Thank you for being here, truly. The work that you do for people with family trauma and trauma bonds, let’s be honest. Oh, your mom called you fat? Mine, too. Let’s be besties. Not healthy. Trauma bonds. I’m really grateful for the work that you do. I am guessing I am not the first person you have heard say, “my mom called me fat. My mom wasn’t nice to me. My mom made me feel lonely.” You know, I’m sure you’ve heard this before.
[12:30] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: Yeah, I have. I hear it from, honestly, most of my clients. If not their mother, then their father or both or someone. And what I also hear is the I want to be free from this. You know, this is stuff from my childhood, I’m ready to, like, let that go. And also a lot of guilt about we all kind of have a sense that our parents did the best they could. And so I talk to my clients a lot about, you know, we can be hurt in childhood for the needs that didn’t get met by our parents, and we can acknowledge that, and heal that, without having to vilify our parents.
[13:13] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Now, it’s very interesting. I’m listening to you. I was smiling because I know that there are people who are going to be listening to you. And they are hearing you say, “I am calling you to do the work to heal, and the first step is not vilifying the person that hurt you.” And that is scary because once you let them off the hook, it’s almost like it didn’t happen.
[13:41] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: Yeah, I want to be clear. I’m not saying that we can’t vilify them. It’s not imperative on us to do our healing work to forgive them or not be angry at parents who hurt us, or in some cases were even abusive to us. But I also want to give people permission to not have to vilify their parents.
[14:02] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Well, that was the biggest change for me. I had to decide what was a bigger burden: the pain that I felt for my mom growing up, or the shame and pain I felt for vilifying her as an adult. Because both are two separate burdens. And honestly, I believe, I know that my mother loves me the absolute best way she can. And if I believe that, then what is the benefit to continue to vilify her? Let me tell you something, once I got comfortable cutting my mother off, I did it to her as a weapon all the time. Soon as I didn’t like something, she said I cut her off. Look how good I am at this. Look what I can do. Look at my power now. I’m an adult. I can cut you off. I can cut you off from your grandchildren, I can cut you off from me. See, how does that feel? Sit in your corner. And we think we’re doing it to protect ourselves. And sometimes we are, by the way, sometimes healthy boundaries are necessary. When I realized I was doing it as a weapon, then I realized that I was a problem. So I had to get honest with myself, like, are these healthy boundaries? Or are these punishments?
[15:29] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: Yeah. And I think it’s really common. You know, as in any particular relationship or even just in general, if we are moving from a place of not really having a lot of boundaries, in order to learn how to find this balance point of setting healthy boundaries, sometimes the pendulum just has to swing a little too far in the other direction. And then we’re using boundaries as a weapon and we’re cutting people off all over the place in order to protect ourselves. And then eventually we kind of swing back and forth until we can find what feels like a healthy balance for us.
[16:04] Jaime Primak Sullivan: And I swear, you just described me. I went from taking it and taking it and taking it because I felt obligated, because she was my mother, because God said, because this one said, the Bible tells you, it’s your mother. To now, you have no access to me. Now you don’t even get to see me. I’m blocking you on Facebook. I’m cutting you off. You can’t even call my cell phone. Don’t look at me. You don’t know me. I don’t know you. To realizing that feels terrible, because it’s not healthy.
[16:46] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: But it can be part of the healthy journey. Because when you describe this beautiful place that you and your mother have found now, you might not have been able to get there if you had not swung so far in the other direction first.
[17:01] Jaime Primak Sullivan: We would not have gotten there. I had to realize that punishing her didn’t feel good either. I had to realize that yes, I have control over who has access to me. And, yes, I have control over what I’m willing to accept. But I also have control over how I express what my needs are and what my boundaries are. I would never have figured that out had I not punished her and sort of shit on her the way I felt she had punished and shit on me. But now I say to her — I’ll give you a perfect example, Melanie. Yesterday, my son had a high fever. Now living in times of COVID, that is terrifying because you start to think the worst. And I let my mom know Max woke up with a fever. It was low-grade at first. Now it’s just under 102, we’re headed to the doctor, we have to get strep tests, COVID tests. Full panel blood. But, you know, I’m scared. Just please think good thoughts and I’ll keep you posted. My mother doesn’t hear, “I’ll keep you posted” and think, OK, I’ll wait until you follow up. My mother hears, “I’ll keep you posted.” And I’ll just text you every 20 minutes to see if there is an update which is triggering for me because you’re not respecting my fucking boundary. And I’ve worked very hard to get to a place where I can have that with you. But then I go to a space and I go, what do you want from this scenario right now? Do you want your mother to be there for you? Truly? Is that why you told her Max was sick? Because you know who she is, why did you go to her, and tell her Max was sick in the first place? You did that, Jaime, because she’s your mother and she loves you and she loves your son. You knew her way was going to be overbearing. You knew that. So you can’t punish her for the behavior you knew was coming. So take a deep breath. Thank her for her concern, and promise her that as soon as you have an update, she will be the first to hear it. Take a deep breath. So I’m very proud of pulling myself to the center of that. Because, Melanie, if I don’t, Melanie, then I risk that very aggressive Jaime, who feels triggered and impulsive and reactionary. So what do you say to people who are not quite where I am, where I can take a deep breath and say, what do you really want from this relationship? What do you say to the people who are very easily triggered?
[20:25] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: You know, I talk to my clients a lot about kind of separating out this archetypal mother, the mother that we all need when our kid is sick and we want someone to care and be supportive. This is like a natural, biological, archetypal need that we have for mothers to be nurturing. And for people who may be their actual earthly mothers, aren’t that nurturing. We have to kind of separate out, OK, there’s this archetypal mother, and then there’s my actual mother who, yes, she may love me as best she can, but it’s overbearing and irritating. And so I hear that you’ve kind of identified here’s my need from an archetypal mother, and you have acceptance of here’s what my earthly mother is like, and how that is going to be communicated to me, and it might feel overbearing. And so I talk to clients, you know, about beginning to separate this out. And we talk about other places we can get this archetypal mother need met that maybe isn’t from our earthly mother. And sometimes people have to let the pendulum swing very far in the other direction, and cut off their mom for a while, or set boundaries that feel very harsh and difficult for a while.
[21:51] Jaime Primak Sullivan: And it goes so against what feels natural. And deciding to do something that is right for us is already something that women struggle with. Let me talk to you babies for a second. We are taught by society to put everybody’s needs above ours. It is the basis in which motherhood stands on. The very act of becoming a mother or a spouse is a caretaker. So we are not well-versed in setting boundaries that protect us, because we’re so conditioned to protect everybody else. Then to ask us to do what already feels unnatural against the person who gave us life feels super unnatural. And it comes with so much shame.
[26:37] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Let’s get to our first question. This was an email. She would like to remain anonymous. So she says, “I know you know what it’s like having an Italian mother. Family is so important. The loyalty, the bond, the Sopranos-esque vibe of it all, where no matter how anxiety-riddled and crazy anyone seems, we ride or die, literally. My husband and I have been going through a lot lately and things are finally in a great place for both of us. And a big reason for that is therapy and prayer. The downside to all this therapy is that I’m realizing how much my mother has attributed to my anxiety. Both genetically and environmentally in the way I was raised. Every conversation is getting to the point where I dread answering the phone. Everything she says is negative. She’s unhappy and unwilling to make much-needed changes in her life. I feel like I’m just watching her drown and I need to save her, but I know the closer I get to her, the more likely she will pull me back under to a negative space. How do I cut her off in a way that is an obvious or permanent? I don’t want to hurt her, but I also cannot continue to be hurt by her any longer.” Melanie, before I weigh in on the email I clearly wrote myself, what do you have to say?
[27:56] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: Yeah, you know, when you were talking about just the way we’re societally programmed to, like, not feel comfortable setting boundaries with our mothers, there’s also this biological piece. Because our mothers, you know, we need them for survival. So to set a boundary with them feels, you know, on a very deep psychological level, feels threatening to our survival. So I often talk to my clients about, you know, when we’re learning to set boundaries, if it were a video game, the final big boss would be setting boundaries with your mother. So, you know, this question is interesting because it’s like, how do I set a boundary with my mother without hurting her? I’m not sure that’s possible. Your mom is probably going to have her feelings hurt if you set boundaries with her. But there are ways that we can set boundaries that are a little more gentle and a little more subtle. A lot of times when we think about step-setting boundaries, we think about verbally communicating with someone, like this isn’t acceptable, I don’t want you to do this or I’m not going to talk to you about this. We can also set boundaries without saying anything at all. Like, if I don’t like it that my mother is overly critical, if it doesn’t feel safe within my relationship with my mom to say, hey, you’re being critical, and to, you know, have a conversation about that boundary, then whenever she’s critical, I can say, oh, I have another call. I’ll talk to you later. So I can set boundaries for myself because boundaries aren’t actually about telling another person how to behave. They’re about what we’re going to accept. And so I can decide to have a boundary with my mother around something, and I don’t actually ever even have to verbally communicate that with her.
[29:47] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Another thing that I have found that is really helpful, if you’re in a space with your mom where it’s negative and sort of going back to that email, because I’ve been in that space, is setting aside a specific time during the week that you can talk, which creates a boundary around the other days and times. So if you say, for example, if I said, mom, Michael and I are working on less phone time in the house. We’re working on being more present with the kids and more present with each other. So we are not going to take calls during family time. We are going to really be present. So on Sundays from three to four, I can be available to you to Facetime. You can see the grandkids. We can catch up. But outside of that, right now, we’re going to really focus on the family. And if she says, well, I am family, then you say, well, I understand that. But we’re making some changes within our own home. I have felt that, or I have experienced that, like you said, when the boundary feels like it’s about you and not about them, it’s easier for them to respect it.
[31:08] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: A lot of the reason, you know, that the clients in my practice are needing to set boundaries with parents, and mothers especially, is that there does tend to be a generational tendency that I notice of our generation’s mothers. You know, we’re a generation that’s much more comfortable with therapy. We have a lot more skills to deal with our emotions. And I think because of that, our mothers can tend to attempt to try to make us responsible for their emotions. And then that’s where a lot of our guilt comes in. So this question of how can I set boundaries without hurting my mother? It’s not up to us. You know, we can set a boundary as nicely as we want. Our mothers might still get their feelings hurt about it. And so I think the guilt and the learning to let go of the responsibility for our mother’s feelings is something that therapy can be very helpful with.
[32:08] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Gosh, I don’t want to, like, talk your ear off, but there’s a lot of other things I need you to Tell Me What To Do. Before I get to siblings, I’d like to move to dads. We have a voicemail that I’d like you to take a listen to.
[32:28] Caller: Good morning, Jaime. My name is LaShawna. I cut my dad’s side of the family off. Very toxic, just degrading. And I’ve received a lot of backlash from that side for not speaking to my father and my sister, and not having any contact, just no contact. It’s hurtful. You’re not supported. And it did leave me second-guessing my decision. However, the longer I’ve gone with no contact, the freer I feel. The more peace I have. And this was huge for me in reconnecting spiritually and emotionally with myself, learning how to resolve those issues through therapy without the traditional closure. So many of us feel like we have to stay in contact with those toxic family members, and we really don’t. We just don’t. I crave my sanity and my peace over family connection with toxic individuals. Thank you so much for doing this.
[34:00] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Well, Shawna. Thank you so much for that voicemail. First of all, congratulations on being brave enough to say these people are not good for me. They’re not good for my mental health. And until I figure out how to bring that pendulum back to center, my swing all the way to the right is going to be to cut people off because I need time to figure out what the next steps are. Melanie, what would you say to people making her feel guilty about that?
[34:32] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: You know, it’s so difficult. But I think of this, like, family unit, right? Her dad, mom, siblings and her as this family system. And I visualize it as gears in a clock. And so the family system is used to everybody’s gears, dysfunctional as they may be. They all fit together and work really well. And then when one person, whether from therapy or something else, starts to get healthier and make healthier decisions for them, now the gear does not fit. So, of course, mom and siblings, they want the clock to operate as it always has. So, of course, they are pressuring her to make her gear back into that dysfunctional shape. Forgive your dad and let’s all just, you know, go on operating as we should. So it’s such a painful situation to be in, so I don’t know that I necessarily have a message for mom and siblings. But to this caller, you just have to get support from people outside of that system that are going to encourage you to maintain the healthy shape of your new gear. And if you do maintain the healthy shape of your new gear, if your mom and siblings want to have healthier relationships with you, hopefully they might decide to make some positive changes so that their gear shape can become more healthy and fit more smoothly with yours. But it is extremely difficult, you know, to be the “troublemaker” in a family that sets boundaries when nobody else is ready to look at how dysfunctional the family system is.
[36:16] Jaime Primak Sullivan: It’s kind of also like — ain’t that the truth that people don’t want you to disrupt their dysfunction? Boy, you better put that on a T-shirt. It’s like when you go on a diet, but every like Wednesday night, you’ve been meeting your friends, you know, for French fries. And like, suddenly you order like carrot sticks and they’re like, whoa! What do you mean you’re not eating French fries? Like, you know, you just have those friends that are always gonna be more comfortable with you eating unhealthy food and kind of being overweight because they want to eat unhealthy food and they want to be overweight or they don’t want to do the work to get healthy. So when you start getting fit, they make comments like, oh, you’re eating air again, you’re eating, you know, fruit? Not everybody is brave enough to do the work. Like you said, they don’t want to disrupt the dysfunction. And some people would rather just continue to be in a place of dysfunction, and it is OK that you choose better for yourself. And if people try to shame you for that, then you set a boundary there. Whenever they bring up your father, you go, this has been so nice. I gotta go. And they will learn quickly. Huh! Huh. Every time I bring up Dad, Melanie gets off the phone. I’m thinking Melanie doesn’t want to talk about Dad.
[37:51] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: And it’s just it can be so isolating to be that person in the family who is willing to make the healthy shift. Because now maybe you do have to set some more boundaries with mom and siblings. And so, again, that’s why it’s just so important to surround yourself with supportive people who aren’t going to pressure you to eat French fries.
[38:12] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Can we talk about siblings for a second? I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m one of four. And of course, we’ve always fought over the years like siblings do, but we are and have been the last three years at an impasse. We have said disgusting, hurtful things to each other. We have crossed lines physically, mentally and emotionally, we have caused my mother unfathomable heartache. Nobody’s setting boundaries. Everybody’s coming for the jugular. Nobody’s healthy. Everybody’s coming from a place of pain. I need to be right. Politics has destroyed us. The people that were my best friends in this life are strangers to me now, enemies, to be honest. Enemies. Things have been done and said that I don’t know how we come back from my family unit, specifically, because we lost a parent, we understand that we can survive without parents. Siblings was kind of like the thing we always had, you know? We have become a toxic unit. There is a virus among us that has eaten us alive. I am not without guilt in this scenario. I have contributed to the toxicity of the situation at times. I have been antagonistic at times. I got punched in the face. I deserved it. I have also been on the receiving end of unnecessary roughness. It’s so toxic that everybody thinks they’re the healthy one, and everybody else is the toxic, dysfunctional one. My question to you is, when there has been so much damage done, when so many ugly, hurtful things have been said, when things have gotten physical, when you have crossed lines you don’t know how to come back from. Are the relationships really just doomed? Are they just over?
[40:46] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: I don’t know that there’s a finality to any kind of relationship, necessarily, if you don’t want there to be. I will say if there’s, you know, currently physical violence happening in any relationship, typically, as a therapist, that’s an indicator that each individual person needs to have some individual therapy before we could even, like, consider family therapy and working on family issues. You know, I think that if there is a desire on the part of both parties to repair a relationship, I like to think that that’s always possible.
[41:28] Jaime Primak Sullivan: I don’t feel hopeful right now because I think that, as hard for me to admit this, I think once you learn to live without someone, creating space for them again feels ugh. It would be a lot of work. My fear is that the four of us will not be together again until my mother passes. And that makes me sad for my mother, because I’m a mother and I have three kids, and I think of what it must feel like for her, you know, to know that there will not be holidays or times that we can try to come together. I mean, the good news is the other sibling — there are other small groups of us that can be together. So she will have some normalcy, but not normal. To anybody dealing with sibling estrangement, I just want you to know that I know how unnatural it feels. I think more so sometimes even than parent estrangement. I know that there are people listening that want forgiveness for things that they have done or said, and they are not being forgiven. They are not being let off the hook. Everybody is on their own journey with making space and forgiveness and healing. And if nothing else, are you getting the help you need to deal with the vacancy that is there?
[44:54] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: For someone who is the estranged family member, for the person who has been cut off, it can feel very confusing. It can feel very unfair. And I have clients on that side of things also, whose family members aren’t speaking to them for maybe a reason that they understand, or maybe reasons they don’t understand. And it’s very difficult. And, you know, our work in therapy is to accept the situation as it is and try to move forward and respect the boundaries that have been set. You know, I think if there’s any hope of relationships repairing, violating boundaries — because you can’t accept that this person doesn’t want you in their life right now — is probably not the best way to make that relationship better.
[45:47] Jaime Primak Sullivan: And also, I know that there is a certain different kind of embarrassment or shame when your child doesn’t want to speak to you. And I want anybody who is dealing with that to understand that while I haven’t experienced it personally, I’ve seen it for other people I care about. It’s brutal when you are the mom whose child doesn’t speak to you. And while we’re on this subject, I’d like to speak specifically to an email that we got from Lexi, who says, “I haven’t had a relationship with my mother for the past six years. She’s mentally unstable and her behavior was becoming dangerous to me physically, mentally and professionally. I am pretty good at compartmentalizing, so I don’t honestly think of her often. My main issue arises when other people casually bring up mothers in conversation. I work in a corporate environment and it’s fairly awkward to say I don’t speak to my mother. Do you have any advice for handling these types of situations? Part of me wants to say, fuck it, it’s no one’s business and I don’t have to give anyone an explanation. But the other part of me feels as though her lunacy reflects poorly on me, and people will judge me based on the fact that I have an unstable mother. I could lie and say we’re not close, but I hate being fake and lying in general. I routinely get the ‘bless your heart’ approach when I try to provide people with a candid explanation, which I find rude. On the other hand, I’m a mother myself, so I understand the judgment in that way. If my son didn’t talk to me, I would judge myself.” What do you have to say to Lexi?
[47:38] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: As a therapist, I am immediately very curious about Lexi’s own sense of internalized judgment and shame about cutting off her mother. Because a lot of times when people are concerned about what other people will think, that can be a projection of our own judgment of ourselves. And so, you know, obviously I’m not her therapist, but if I was, that’s what I would want to explore. And also, you know, there are very real situations where there might be consequences for how you explain something or what information you do or don’t share with people. And, you know, my answer to Lexie will be as annoying as it is to all of my clients when I tell them that I don’t think there’s a right answer. You know, we just have to kind of talk through all the options and find what you’re comfortable with. And ultimately, what you’re comfortable with is the right answer.
[48:39] Jaime Primak Sullivan: I find humor works best. “Oh, no, I love my mom, but, you know, mostly from a distance.” And people laugh because it’s universal. You don’t owe them an in-depth explanation that your mother’s relationship is toxic for you so you’re taking space. Just like you wouldn’t owe that explanation in a marriage, just like you don’t owe it with your child. You know, it is OK to say, we’re in a period of healing and we’re doing that healing apart right now. Or like I said, ooh, small doses, love her, small doses. People get it. You know, and professionally, in my opinion, it’s really not appropriate for them to ask. If someone brings up their mother. Just go, oh me, too, because whatever they’re saying about their mother, I’m sure me too applies. My mother’s crazy. Mine, too. My mother’s loud. Mine, too. I love my mother. Me too. All true. You don’t have to get into specifics, but I do understand the conundrum of I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t like my truth, and that’s just it. You’re just not comfortable with your truth. And that’s a you thing. I wish I could see my mother more. That’s true. You haven’t explained why you’re not seeing her more, maybe it’s distance. Maybe it’s time. I wish I could see my mother more. I wish I saw my mother more. I also wish she was fucking normal. I don’t have to tell you that.
[50:23] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Melanie, I really very much appreciate you talking us through this. This is a very painful and shameful conversation to have, because even though we know all of the cliche, like no one’s family is perfect and everybody’s family has problems, the pain and shame that come with estrangement and abandonment feels unique. It just does. It doesn’t matter if you stand in a room with 100 other people who have to set boundaries with their mother, you’re feeling the shame that you have to do it. And there are support groups online. I know some people who are in child estrangement groups, but I worry about trauma bonding. I’ve experienced it dating a narcissist. I linked up with other people in relationships with narcissists and it almost drowned me. So I would encourage people to find a therapist that they can speak to honestly and openly about their role in it, how to heal that part. Their anger, their shame, all of it. I am working on that. I want people to understand that they’re not alone. But I know it feels lonely in this space. And I hope that Melanie and I have provided some validation, some aha moments, some hopefully nuggets that can contribute to your healing or journey or boundaries set, you know, in whatever direction your pendulum has to swing right now. Any thoughts you want to leave, Mel?
[52:23] Dr. Melanie Storrusten: No, I just want to say that I think this podcast is such a wonderful format for you to share so openly and give people such an accessible space to get support and feel that they’re not alone. It’s really, really nice.
[52:41] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Thank you. I appreciate your candid conversation. You get paid to have these conversations. And I really appreciate you pouring into us out of the goodness of your heart. Thank you for being with us.
[53:03] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Tell Me What To Do is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease, and associate produced by Claire Jones. It’s edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Dan Molad. Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jaime Primak Sullivan are executive producers. Rate and review us, and follow us @LemonadaMedia on all your favorite social platforms. Of course, you can follow me at Jaime Primak Sullivan on Facebook or at Jaime P. Sullivan on Instagram. If you have any questions for me that you want me to answer on the show, give me a call at 833-453-6662.