by Christina Enevoldsen
“You weren’t there for me.”
My mom sat across the table from me last year after seven years of no contact. I’d suggested we meet to discuss the way she’d been treating my daughter. But my mother shifted the conversation toward herself and told me how hard things were for her, especially after my dad died.
That’s when she accused me of abandoning her.
Several years after my “divorce” from my parents, I was setting some new boundaries with other family members and they threw it in my face, “Are you going to walk away from us like you walked away from your parents?”
The accusation stung me. I started to shrink inside as though I were guilty.
“I leave relationships when it gets tough.”
“I’m unforgiving and hold a grudge.”
“I expect too much.”
“I can never be trusted again because I rejected my own parents.”
All my life, I’d served and obeyed them. Who was I to change our arrangement?
Then it hit me: I didn’t walk away from my parents; they walked away from me. I just stopped chasing after their love, trying to perform, twisting myself to please them. I’d been focused on running after their love and approval for so long that I hadn’t considered which direction they were going: Away!
I thought the guilt was evidence that I was doing the wrong thing. If I felt bad, didn’t that mean I was doing something bad?
I didn’t know it then, but it was false guilt that I experienced. False guilt kept me running after my parents’ priorities and responsibilities. It pulled me apart. It dictated all the “shoulds” and “should nots”. I never did enough and was never good enough.
Healthy guilt points me back to a right, loving and healthy connection with my true self and leads to my highest good. False guilt sends me running after the unattainable.
With false guilt, there was no peace after I did whatever I was “supposed to do”. There was a moment of relief but then always more and more and more to do.
False guilt is powered by the expectations and standards that I’d accepted out of fear of disapproval. I took on responsibilities that didn’t belong to me. I overcommitted my time, energy, and resources to serve my parents while I neglected myself.
My Mom Was Right
My mom was right: I wasn’t there for her. It had likely been the toughest time in her life and I wasn’t there.
But what does her difficulty have to do with me?
After all she’d done in the years of our estrangement to make it clear that I wasn’t a part of the family, she still believed I had some sort of duty toward her. But that’s the way she’d always thought our relationship should be. I protected her; she didn’t protect me. I was loyal to her; she wasn’t loyal to me.
Just because my mother believes I owe her something doesn’t mean I do. My mom’s expectations don’t dictate my decisions anymore. Let her use her manipulative guilt on someone else.
Doing the Right Thing
There were things that told me I was doing the right thing in spite of how guilty I felt.
When I stopped placating my parents and just after things blew up, my dad called me. He told me that I’d better apologize or my mom wouldn’t be making the visit to see me that we’d planned. Both of us were shocked by my response: “You know, I don’t think I want to see her.”
And it felt so good! I was dancing inside. This standing up for myself was liberating. If I were truly guilty of doing something wrong, why did I feel so good?
A huge boulder was off my back. How heavy their control had been! Supposedly, “they knew best” and I believed my life would fall apart if I didn’t listen to their superior wisdom, but my life got better without my parents.
I just kept reminding myself that even though it didn’t feel like the right thing, it actually was the right thing not to have a relationship with my parents.
Going no contact with my parents eight years ago was a turning point for me. Over that time, the feelings of guilt have come and gone lots of times. But what has stayed consistent is my experience of freedom, joy and peace without a relationship with them.
Have you separated from an abusive family member? Or are you considering it? Please comment below and contribute to the conversation. Remember to subscribe to the comments so you don’t miss any of the discussion. You can post anonymously and email addresses are always kept private.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.