I am so delighted that one of my client’s offered to write the following piece for you about healing from being cut off from her adult children. I wrote What to do when a family member shuts you out last week. I also answered a reader’s question about what to do when you’ve been cut off by a family member in this post. If you’ve been affected by family cut-offs, you will really relate to the following story:
I’ve never been able to find the right word to describe what it feels like to have your children reject you. It is so visceral and deep; it cuts you to the core. Perhaps there is no word; just a sensation. And it’s cold, sharp, and empty. When my husband and I told our adult children that we were separating, he threw his hands in the air and said, “I don’t want this. This is your mothers’ idea”. In that second, I was emotionally thrown under the bus. All the blame, anger, confusion, grief, fear, and sadness were put on me. The weight of it was unbearable.
I lived under a dark, heavy cloud for four years. I had no interest in a life without my children. How could I get excited about someone or happy about something without them? Looking back now, I can see I was struggling with depression. After my divorce was finalized, I moved to Vancouver Island and basically hid in my home for a year. I kept in contact with friends and family via text and phone calls but only a select few knew the depths of my despair.
My life wasn’t the easiest growing up. There was a lot of emotional trauma for me as a little girl, and I had to learn how to cope with it all. So, I became a people pleaser, a perfectionist, a control freak, and developed a life-threatening eating disorder.
Unfortunately, none of these coping strategies could help me now. I broke into a million pieces and had to learn how to put myself back together again bit by bit. I had worked so hard in my lifetime to create this image of myself. I wanted so badly to be seen as the perfect wife and mother. It was all gone. I had metaphorically ‘burned my house down’. I was left completely exposed, feeling so much shame and anxiety. I felt worthless, and absolutely hopeless.
My ex-husband was very angry and hurt with my decision to end the marriage. He had full support from our children, and I was the scapegoat for all the pain. I lost all of my power. I gave it to him and my girls. Carrying my own guilt and shame, as well as all that they put on me, silenced me. I didn’t think I deserved a voice in the conversations and I just faded into the background; I became invisible. I divorced my husband and my children divorced me.
Writing this now and looking back at that time, I’m in awe that I have been able to rebuild my life, find peace, and experience joy. There were other stressors going on as well (deaths of my father and stepfather, mother’s illness, job loss, moving away from friends and family) so I’m amazed that I was able to survive at all.
Counselling is a big part of why I am living such a fulfilling life today. Having the space to tell my story without judgment allowed me to begin to accept myself without judgment. Esther, with so much compassion and warmth, held space for me to grieve all that was lost. In our time together, we uncovered many old beliefs I was hanging onto. Things like, “I’m unlovable, I’m worthless, I’m invisible, I’m a bad Mom”.
With a caring and direct approach, Esther helped me challenge those beliefs and change my narrative. I was asked to be more compassionate and loving toward myself. That was really the cornerstone of our time together; teaching me self-love and self-compassion. I needed to kick the old beliefs I had to the curb because they weren’t serving me anymore.
In fact, they were keeping me in a victim role. It was crucial in my healing to understand that. In order to get my power back, I needed to stop beating myself up. I needed to see that I wasn’t a bad Mom because I was unhappy in my marriage or because my children chose to stay away. I had no control over their actions. And I had every right to be happy.
In our journey together, Esther helped me see that I needed to be my imperfect self. I needed to stop seeking others’ approval and acceptance, but rather offer that to myself, just as I am.
It hasn’t been easy; in fact, it’s been unbelievably hard. But it was absolutely worth it. With Esther’s support, I sat in the depths of my despair, met my demons, and lovingly found my way out to the other side.
I still have my moments of sadness and anger, but I don’t spiral too far down the rabbit hole anymore. I acknowledge what I’m feeling and give it space without any story attached to it. I just say, “hello sadness”. I listen to what I need, and I offer it to myself. Most times it’s a hug and soothing words of support telling myself I am not alone, and I am loved.