Wendy Robinson

Letting go of Toxic Family was the best gift I could give myself

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8 months ago I said goodbye to my family, specifically my parents and my only sibling – my brother.

I don’t have a large family. My mother has a sister (my Aunt). She has a husband and two adult sons (my cousins) including 2 little grand-kids whom I haven’t yet met – We started traveling right before they were born. I don’t have a close relationship with any of them. My brother has a daughter, my niece, who I love very much and am still in contact with.

The only people I currently consider my family are my husband, our 3 kids, my niece and, a handful of amazing friends who we call Framily.

My family aren’t bad people. They are however bad, for me. Actually, they are toxic for me.

FOR ME!

That’s the key.

It took me 45 years to finally decide to stop trying to make relationships work that I had to either be; dishonest with my feelings and having to hide secrets from one another because I was told things about other family I wasn’t supposed to know; anxious when around them because we all have to tip-toe and not say what we really think so we keep things pleasant and; the bad guy. I’m always the jerk in their eyes and I was done allowing myself to be put in that position.

Also, when you are constantly told that you are the problem, it wears on you. I was so done being ‘the problem’.

The history and details of what went wrong don’t matter. You don’t need to know what pushed me over the edge as it’s nothing crazy dramatic but, it was the tipping point.

You don’t need to feel pity for me, Shawn or our kids – I’ve never been happier or more content and trust me – my kids are just fine with my decision.

You don’t have to understand why I did ‘this’ to my family – you don’t have to.

You don’t need to tell me that family is blood and nothing is stronger – that’s why I didn’t walk away a long time ago.

You don’t need to judge me – I don’t care what anyone else thinks of my decision.

It’s about Me. Not them. Not you (whomever is reading this).

What you do need to know is that I have zero regrets.

My husband and kids back me 100%. Their opinions of me are the only ones that matter in this specific situation.

How my decisions affect them are obviously important and are part of the reason why I didn’t walk away sooner.

I think it’s probably hard for my family to understand why I really chose to cut them out of my life.

That’s part of the problem.

I don’t think they ever understood, or even really knew, me (how I think) which is sad don’t you think? I mean…45 year’s of my life spent with them and they have no idea who I really am. Crazy right?

I believe they feel as if I gave up and am a quitter. If so, they are correct. I did quit. I was done. I had nothing else to offer these relationships. I tried and tried and what I had to offer was not good enough. We couldn’t make our relationships work in a way that I could continue to participate in them.

I can’t live my life on rinse and repeat with dirty water.

My daughter said that it’s hard to explain to people exactly what my family ‘did’. It’s not like they were physically or verbally abusive in the typical way you’d think. They didn’t steal from us and weren’t raging alcoholics. It wasn’t like we had constant knock-down-drag-out fights so explaining WHY I chose to leave our family has been challenging for her.

We had some really great memories as well as some pretty crappy ones. There’s a lot of history between all of us obviously. I’m sure that I’m mostly to blame as I’ve evolved and changed a lot over the years. If I hadn’t then I’m sure I’d still be deep in ‘It’ with them.

I’ve been thinking about the ‘how to explain it’ thing.

It’s like this.

If I have to act differently around my family (or anyone); Not being 100% authentically myself; Go along with family secrets and dishonesty so more drama isn’t created (which creates drama in itself); Not being able to speak my truth without being told I’m judgemental or to find some agreed-upon middle ground or path to move forward and past situations and hurts; Having surface relationships in order to maintain civility because we can’t be ‘real’ with one another; Not liking how they make me feel about who I am as a person… then what the hell am I doing in these relationships?

Should I continue on the hamster wheel because they are family? It’s just what I’m ‘supposed’ to do right?

I know so many people who put up with crazy family drama that is WAY worse than mine yet, they just keep struggling and pushing and fighting for the relationships. Year after year I see them dealing with the same crap and all I can think is that they either like the ride for some reason (like they get a payoff of some sort) or, it’s too hard to stop the pattern.

I had to get off the ride.

Over the past several years my relationships with them were making me physically sick. I had high anxiety and would have attacks from just knowing they were on the phone or even seeing them.

I know that they think we left Seattle because of them but they are wrong. We left for us. I had things I wanted to do in life. It was scary and intimidating to leave the safety net of my life long home and family.

Being away from all of them when we left Seattle to travel the world in 2016 gave me the space and clarity I needed though. I was able to see how toxic our relationships were for them and for me. I had no idea how much stress and anxiety I had because of them.

I know I made the right decision FOR ME because the moment I said “Goodbye,” I felt an instant sense of relief.

There was no guilt, sense of loss or regret.

The 2000 pound weight on my chest had been lifted.

I COULD BREATHE

And I had peace.

You may think this is harsh but – they are no longer my family. I have no feelings invested in these past relationships any longer. Once I decided I was done, I had no further emotional ties to them. I have no interest in ever trying to engage with my parents or brother again.

The rest of my extended family didn’t do anything wrong but we aren’t close and never really have been. It’s very superficial and I don’t work well with those types of relationships. To me, family shouldn’t be superficial.

I know that they have their truth and their own strong feelings about what transpired with me and between all of us. I am sure that they will find this post and be hurt or mad or whatever. That’s okay. They can have their feelings and I can have mine. I’m at peace with the path I’ve chosen.

I wish them all well. I wish them happiness and good health and strong, honest relationships with one another. Maybe me being out of their lives is just as good for them as it is for me. Perhaps I was the problem and now that I am gone they are all happier. I hope that’s the case.

I also hope I taught my kids some important lessons.

Don’t ever stay in toxic relationships – no matter who they are with. If they make you feel icky, dishonest or unhealthy then they aren’t good for you.

Choose yourself and your happiness. It’s okay. In fact, you can’t be your best for others if you aren’t happy yourself.

Self-care isn’t selfish.

Don’t ever make a decision because it’s what someone else wants. Do it because its what you truly want.

Do everything you can to work on your meaningful relationships. If you can fix one, do it. BUT also know that not all relationships can be repaired or salvaged. Some people are in your life for a reason or a season.

Our older kids can, and should, have any relationship they want, or don’t want, with their family. I support them fully with whatever they choose and want. They grew up with them in their lives. It’s complex. It’s messy. There’s history. Shawn and I did everything we could to keep them completely unaware of any family drama or turmoil most of their childhood. They have their own experiences with them now and can make up their own minds as to who they want in their lives.

What I want for our kids is whatever THEY want. Whatever makes them happy. Whatever keeps them mentally and physically sound.

What about Sebastian?

Well, he’s only 2. He’s met them a handful of times. He won’t know his extended family with the exception of his cousin (hopefully). He has lots of people in his life who love him. He is will be just fine without them. One day he will ask about them and we will tell him age-appropriate answers. If he wants to seek them out when he’s an adult then we will fully support him.

I am choosing to share this publicly because I have heard from people who have felt guilt and shame for even thinking of getting out of toxic family relationships much less actually doing it.

I felt shame the first time I wished I didn’t have to keep dealing with all them because of the drama, negative feelings and, the anxiety that had been building in me.

I thought I was a pretty shitty person to even be thinking these things. Like, what kind of person would have these thoughts much less actually disown their family?

That was my guilt and sense of obligation to my family talking. That was years and years of conditioning from them and myself. I love the idea of having a big family who I look forward to talking to, and seeing, any chance I get. That was not the reality of my life the past 4 years and if I’m really honest, for much longer than that.

Maybe someone reading this will connect with what I’ve shared and feel empowered to do what is best for them. Maybe I can help you choose YOU. Or, maybe you don’t like what I’ve done and will decide to fight to the death to keep your family members in your life no matter the cost to yourself.

You don’t get to choose the family you were born into. That’s true. I CAN however choose who I treat like family and who gets to be in my life.

My only regret is that is that I didn’t let go sooner and that I waited 45 years to choose ME.

Wendy

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14 thoughts on “Letting go of Toxic Family was the best gift I could give myself”

  1. Thank you so much Wendy for your bravery. I was Alex’s dance teacher for years. I read your post and burst into tears. My family life has been superficial my whole life. Although I don’t feel the need to cut them out of my life completely, I absolutely respect your courageous decision. I’m recently divorced and part of the reason was that I felt like a stranger in my own home with no real connection to my family. It was very lonely. My relationship with my sister is strong and with my mom it’s slightly better because she is making a better effort as am I. But with my Dad, he will die one day without ever truly knowing the real me simply because he is too afraid to ask and is superficial. I too hate superficial relationships and no family should be that way. I currently have no relationship with my step kids and not one with my ex husband either. So…I’m starting all over again. I hope and crave for a partner and family that isn’t afraid to be deep, loving, roll up their sleeves so to speak and get into it, never being afraid to get messy. Thank you and Id love to actually hang out one day if you are ever back. Alex is a remarkable young woman. She is always kind, helpful, honest, hard working. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She isn’t afraid to connect with people. She was the only person to offer to help me move when I had to move from Greenlake to further north. She will be just fine as I’m sure you know. You give me hope, strength, and courage in sharing your story. So, thank you. Pamela Turpen.

    1. Thanks Pam. Alex always spoke very highly of you. I remember she helped you move too. She’s a fantastic persona and I couldn’t be more proud to be her mom. The k you for your kind words. I’m so sorry that you are for f through so much but this much I do know. You will be in a good placs soon enough because things can’t stay crappy forever! You will find your happiness if you find happiness within yourself.

  2. This really hits home for me. I am absolutely done with my Mom. I felt like a nuisance to her my entire childhood. I was willing to set a lot of things aside when I had kids. Until she tried to shame my then 10 year old for age appropriate behavior. She made a dramatic show of her exit from my home that night and I haven’t seen her for 6 years. I will choose my child every time and I will show her that repeated shitty behavior is not acceptable solely because it’s family.

    I’m sure I’m being bad mouthed all over the place. I do not care anymore. It’s always in the back of my mind, but it’s not hanging over me like it used to. I used to always wonder what I ever did to be treated so poorly and have no support. I now see that I did not deserve it, it wasn’t normal, my feelings are justified, and it will not continue.

    Good luck to you! I really enjoy following along with you and your family’s adventures.

    1. You have to do what’s right for you. Every situation is different. If you feel like this is the healthiest option for you and you are a happier person then Yay!

  3. Hello,

    Thank you for your post. I am deeply happy for you and I wish that some day, I am also able to find the courage to leave all toxic relationships in my life even if it has to be family members.

    I sincerely wish you all the best.

    1. Thank you. It was the best thing I ever did for myself and my family. It was hard but now I know it was the right thing to do. I hope you find peace

  4. Hi,
    Thanks for writing your story and your truth. I have been in years tonight from the hell my life has been and finally seeing it for what it is. I’m 41 years old. I walked away from what I had left of family on December 1st 2019. At that point all I had left was a mother, younger sister and a niece. I absolutely adore and admired my niece and kept up lines if communication as best I could and always reminding her In there. The last straw was both my mother and sisters control of when and when I couldn’t see my niece. It was used as control, the poor lovely, beautiful innocent girl was used as a pawn in their sick and twisted games. I wanted more than anything to protect and take her away and I could not. I have had to try deal with failing her. What I realised in that is my inner little girl was failed to. I genuinely wanted to do what I mentioned. I realised my little girl in me needed that too. Losing my niece has been soul shaking and I can’t describe the pain.

    I was an abused child by both parents. It took me till 40 years of age to realise I had been horrifically abused by both parents. When I finally realised, I thought how could I have not know my parents were abusing me. It was physical, emotional, psychological, financial and so on. Like you my mother wanted me to keep the abuse a secret. I didn’t understand when she told me, don’t tell anyone about me. I was 30 years old. She would laugh and tell stories in front of people about the times she abused me. People would get upset and then I’d be punished like she was the victim. Still I never got the message that it was abuse. People watched me being abused as a child and did nothing. My sister turned out to be abusive but is also the abused. Sadly she doesn’t understand that and I can’t rescue her. She will have to just go on her own and fend for herself as best she can.

    I was sexually abused as a child by an outsider and both parents failed me to care and get me through that horror and they knew. They simply just could not have cared less. My aunt supports my mother so I cut contact with her too.

    The rest I gave two hoots about are dead.

    My father made it clear he never loved me. They both made it clear it was my fault I couldn’t be loved. I believed them and it kept me in the abuse for a long time. My mother put me in charge of her funeral and estate when she died. Last year I told her via email to change all that and if she didn’t, upon her death I would apply to court for someone else to do it.

    I will not attend either parents funeral. I have no respects to impart, no goodbyes to say, nothing good to say about either of them and they are already dead to me. I Will never see nor speak to them again.

    I’m 41, tired and ill from the years of abuse. I don’t really want to live anymore. The wounds are very deep and can never be healed. I wanted a family of my own once. That’s completely dead in me. Everytime me I had a chance at that it got taken away. The last time it happened I finally just let it die and I have no interest.

    I don’t have much to do with people. I’m not into people much. I’m 41 years old, beaten, broken and too damn tired. I’m not interested in a relationship, marriage, kids. I didn’t get to have a childhood and a lot of that life I was meant to have when I was older I had as a child.

    I cry myself to sleep every night these days. I get ill alot. My body aches and I’ve learnt nobody gives a damn and nobody understands or could ever understand. It wouldn’t make any difference to me even on the off chance anyone ever did. Too little too late.

    Thanks for sharing though and I wish you all the best for the rest of your life.

    1. Lee. Stop. You are important and matter. You just have to decide that you agree with me. I remember my family always calling me the black sheep or weird or other names they thought were funny. You know what? I’m so glad I’m not like them no now embrace being the black sheep and weird and all those other names. I was molested by several family acquaintances and my parents didn’t protect me like they should’ve. They didn’t teach me how to always do the right thing. Instead, they showed me example after example of how to work the system…like how to bounce checks by messing with the numbers at the bottom. I was 16 when my mom shows me they trick with my first bank account. I could go on and on. They set me up for failure in so many ways but instead… I’ve chosen to live the life that “I” wanted. I chose me. I chose to embrace all my weirdness and go with my gut and live my life. I have a beautiful family I’ve created that includes only my husband, our kids and friends who are now surrogate family.

      YOU CAN DO THE SAME! I Had our littles kiddo at 44. You are only 41. Your life is far from over. I left my past in the past just a little over 2 years ago. I turn 48 next month. Don’t you dare give up.

      Go and talk to a counselor. Choose happiness. Start making little tweaks to your life and take baby steps to pull yourself out of the dark place you are in

      You deserve happiness and if you choose to, you can find it. I know. I did

  5. I do not know if you’ll have time for this but I am on this ride right now. I think I’ve hit the point where my energy can’t coincide with theirs anymore. It’s exhausting. My father loves me however I don’t think we ever formed an authentic bond and that stretches painfully to his wife and my half brothers. I always feel dread, stress, nausea when I have to see them or talk to him on the phone. I don’t know what to talk about and worried he’ll make plans or say something sarcastically hurtful. I am an emotional abuse survivor and I’ve seen my fathers rage and temper all my life. His treatment of others and how he can respond to criticism. There are times he is kind and loving and he does work hard for his family. I don’t think it’s his fault why he’s this way but the guilt placed on my as a kid that I don’t call or I don’t do what I can do spend time witb him is too much. I’m realizing now I have nothing to be sorry for, I was the child. I am now an adult. My brothers attacked me on fb and shared in on the guilt trip of how I don’t see them nor spend time for them or make time for “family”. I don’t think any of them even know me. My heart hurts. I haven’t slept much in days. I feel I should tell him and explain but I also feel scared to do that. So I’m stuck in this middle place of avoiding it til tomw. But I know I have to figure it out soon and it scares me but I can’t keep doing things the way we were… I can’t feel this way anymore. Thanks for your post from the other side of this. I hope I can be brave too. I’ve always sacrificed my feelings for others and it feels unnatural to remove myself and I’m scared to lose my sister and niece.. I’m just lost but I’m saving your post. Bc I needed it.

    1. When your wellbeing is affected by your relationships, you must confront them. See if there is a way to let them know that you feel a certain way but that you love them and want to fix your relationships in a way that you all feel good. If they can’t handle these conversations, or you can’t, then its okay to give yourself permission. to take a break from any and all of them. You don’t have to do what I did but you can take steps to see if a break feels better for your soul as it did for mine. I wish you peace and happiness and hope that you know its okay to actually do what’s best for you and not for others.

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