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#516: Accepting a family member’s African Violet with grace

Hi Cap and Co.

To get right into it: when I was 15, my aunt, who had until that point been a very large figure in my life, cut herself and her nuclear family off from my nuclear family for the foreseeable future. To put into broad terms, my family did something that, while intended to help, had unexpected consequences and was very hurtful to my aunt and her family.

That was eight years ago.

I understand that my aunt had both reasons and the right to make this choice for the sake of her own wellbeing and that of her family members, and we have respected her choice as far as we could. However, on an emotional level, this is something that has been very difficult for me to come to terms with. It follows me around and haunts me; I think about it at least once a week. I’m not sure I will ever fully accept that we are never ever getting back together (ever). The ensuing years were very difficult for my family, and the thought of her still makes me feel angry, rejected, abandoned, and filled with nonspecific regret. I am shaking as I write this.

This is complicated by the fact that my aunt will, on occasion, email us. These emails are not an invitation to renew contact, but rather one time contact points to inform us of things (hope you’re doing well post-hospitalization, I read about this scam that might be dangerous to the girls in the family, I found these pictures in the attic). Every time she does this, I react like a kicked puppy. I feel hurt and angry with her for no articulable reason, but also pathetically, desperately hopeful. It can throw my entire day (or sometimes entire week) for a loop.

I don’t intend to contact my aunt about this, but something needs to change. I can’t spend the rest of my life waiting for her to call, but I can’t bring myself to accept that she is never going to. I’m also scared that at some point she will want to get back into contact and I won’t be able to handle it, and will respond with anger. Seven years of hoping for a reunion have soured in my mouth.

Do you have advice for finding peace and managing hope with this sort of situation? I have begun seeing a counselor, but would love your perspective anyway.

Thanks,

Waiting

Dear Waiting:

Wow, how painful. Rejection, loss, abandonment are hard to deal with from anyone, not least a close family member. It was her right to go, and it’s your right to feel abandoned, and there isn’t really an answer besides letting time do its work in helping you let go and move on. Which you would do much more easily if she didn’t keep emailing y’all.

You get to leave people forever. You get to have the last word, if you want.

But you don’t get to continually have the last word. You don’t get to cut someone off FOREVER, drop back into their lives whenever you feel like it, and then disappear again whenever you feel like it. It’s cruel. It reopens old wounds. It makes it impossible for the person you left to ever get over things, because you are repeatedly giving them false hope and then rejecting them all over again. I doubt your aunt is being a deliberate shithead about this; she probably thinks that she is doing a caring thing and giving what she can. But that doesn’t help you if you’re powerless until the next time she decides to forward Helpful Hints From The Concerned Mom Internet. Your anger here is a completely reasonable response.

For those of you out there in Readerland who have irrevocably broken things off with someone in your life, think twice before sending that “I was just thinking about you/x thing reminded me of you.” If you don’t intend to open the door to some kind of ongoing communication, it’s a needless reminder.

I suggest talking this over with a trusted counselor. You’re thinking about an eight-year-old hurt once a week to the point that it is paralyzing and physically traumatic, and I don’t like that math. A counselor’s office could be a safe, private place to get all of the feelings out and to learn some strategies for redirecting intrusive thoughts of your aunt when she comes up. A counselor can also help support you if you do decide to reach out to your aunt or cut off all contact in return.

You might feel powerless, but you have some power.

1) Cut it off at the source.  Is your aunt emailing you, personally, or is she emailing your mom or dad and then that person is passing the stuff onto you?  If the latter, you can request to be left off the communication list. If the former, you can block the emails yourself, or filter them into a folder or separate mailbox that you check only periodically or have a trusted friend check for you. You don’t owe her keeping that line of communication open, and it’s too painful for you to deal with, it’s okay for you to close the connection. She knows how to find you if she ever wants to have a real conversation.

2) Address it head on. Especially if she’s emailing you personally, and especially if you think this is her way of reaching out in a caring way, you can write back. “Hey, Aunt, I’ve been trying to respect your wishes for no contact, but it’s hard to do when you send me things like this. Can we talk sometime? I really miss you and would love to catch up.” Keep whatever you send short, without apology, and without trying to manage everything about her feelings or the future.

You don’t have to develop a collective response with your family, or necessarily consult them. You were a child when everything went down, you are an adult now, and you are entitled to seek your own, adult relationship (or lack of one) with your aunt.

This is where having a trusty counselor on Team You can be helpful, to help you rehearse conversations and manage the fallout. If she says no, she still doesn’t want contact, prepare to feel rejected all over again. It’s gonna suck, no lie. If she says yes, you’ll want to work out the awkwardness of “Eight years, huh? So what have you been up to?

If she turns down a direct offer of a conversation with you, you will know that you should stop waiting. You will know that it’s unfixable. You will know that you did everything you could, and it’s out of your hands. And with that information, you can grieve, let go, and maybe start to heal. Closure is something you create, not something that someone else gives you. You can unilaterally decide to be done with this chapter, or you can ask directly to re-open the door, come what may.

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79 comments
  1. And, if you go for contacting her to ask to get back in touch and she says no, you can also ask her not to send updates rather than blocking or filtering them. As the Captain says she’s almost certainly not doing it to deliberately upset you and you’re entitled to let her know that it is.

    • Agreed, I could never just block or filter, I don’t have the willpower. I would read every email, despite knowing it would hurt. I would feel a lot more in control if I actually spoke up for myself and said “OK it’s fine that you don’t want a relationship but then please stop sending me these emails. It’s not fair that you can contact me but I can’t contact you.”

  2. The LW was 15 when the aunt broke off contact due to something LW’s “family” did that had “unexpected consequences”. How does an entire family do something? And what does it mean that the consequences were unexpected? Without such details, it is difficult to know what the LW’s options are. For all we know, if the LW reached out to the aunt, the aunt would eagerly establish ongoing contact with the LW, as opposed to the family.

    • JenniferP said:

      Indeed. That’s why I say “remove the middleman” of the parents and reach out yourself. If these emails are the aunt’s way of keeping the door open, walk through it and see if she is a person you want in your life NOW.

    • M Dubz said:

      Yes this. My family has minimal contact with one of my aunts, because of her absolutely wretched behavior, but her kids are always 100% welcome in our home, and my parents will always go and help them if they need us. I hold out the potential of hope, but also I want to acknowledge that reaching out can be really hard and scary, and want to send the LW my support.

  3. Jen said:

    There seems to be a lot left out detail-wise. Was it the LW’s parents who did whatever to make the aunt cut off contact? It could be the aunt giving an olive branch to her niece/nephew. That is, it could be her way of admitting that he/she is his/her own person and not to blame. But if a person has spent his/her entire life only hearing one side of the story, it’s hard to see that olive branch for what it is.

  4. Oh, Waiting, this is awful for you. Whatever happened, you were a kid. You weren’t responsible, and you’re feeling all this fallout. I definitely second talking to a counselor, and maybe looking at whether you blame yourself for this happening in the first place? Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t all about you, because you were a kid and this went down between families. Adults were responsible for the choices here, but kids often take on the guilt feelings for conflict in the family.

    You can also, if you are up for it, talk with your parents to find out more about the conflict. Please see a counselor first before you go stirring that up, though, because whatever dysfunction and defenses your family has (all families do!) may react and hurt you more if you’re unprepared. But I suggest it because, if your family is one that shuts down and doesn’t talk about the Terrible Thing, there may be a lot of lingering pain that you’re picking up and carrying around with you all the time.

    Something you can do, before you reach out to your aunt, is to figure out what you want to have happen, what else might happen, and what you will do no matter what happens. You and a counselor can game out possible outcomes, figure out the ones you want, the ones you don’t, the ones you can live with, and make choices based on those. Then you can plan and be prepared.

    Finally, what the Captain said: someone does not get to walk away forever and then randomly drop in, and expect you just to accept that. You don’t have to. It’s *not* okay behavior, no matter what happened years ago.

    • Yes, and even if everything goes well, here would be a good place to talk about feeling rejected and abandoned. Counseling FTW.

  5. I really don’t think it matters what the family did, and the LW left it vague for a reason. If she and the aunt make contact, they may have to address it, but it’s not relevant now. I can’t really think of a situation where the Captain’s advice here wouldn’t apply.

    • Excellent point, I was trying to figure out how to say this.

    • Just realized I assumed the LW is female, and I don’t think the letter indicates that. My bad; sorry LW.

  6. theocraticjello said:

    This hits close to home. My family was very physically and emotionally abusive. I eventually, in my 30s, asked to go to counseling with my mother after she pulled some more horrific drama. My mother was angry about my priorities because I was spending all my time with my dying grandmother.

    When I asked to go to family counseling, my mother told me she never wanted to speak to me ever ever EVER again. Except she kept sending me hate email every 3-6 months for the next five years. Sometimes it was “thinking of you, too bad you don’t really love me”. Sometimes it was toxic “How dare you be so sick that you were hospitalized!” (Seriously!)

    In the end, there was no way to reconcile the relationship. She didn’t want me in her life because I insulted her by asking her to go to family counseling. Instead, I was exactly what she wanted. The “bad child” she could tell everyone about. Who had wronged her.

    When we moved towns, all she had was that email address, and after being upset by this every time she ended up contacting me, I just deleted that account. No contact wasn’t what I wanted originally, but that was five years ago, and I am much better off. She and my father don’t want to actually talk to me, and that’s cool. My life is calm, with loving people, and family I chose. I have no regrets.

    • tawg said:

      *jedi hugs* I’m glad that you were able to break off contact, and that you seem to have your head on straight about it all. I’m glad that she’s out of your life, and that you have good people around you now.

  7. Angel said:

    I was in the LW position but I was 9 when the entire maternal side of my family ceased all contact, a couple of months after my mothers death.

    When I was an adult, I did contact them. The one thing I’d like to say to the LW is please if you are going to re-establish contact and build a relationship do it under the guidance of a counsellor. Even if your Aunt is happy for this you will need strong boundaries so that you don’t end up in the middle. It can be very difficult.

    Good Luck

    • Definitely. Being the only person in the immediate family on good terms with a Family Enemy is a very difficult position to be in – even if everyone’s behaving, there’s going to be awkwardness for you because of the awareness that there’s part of your life that’s difficult or painful for people you’re close to.

  8. apricity said:

    LW, I would also suggest that you might find greater peace in your life right now by redirecting some of your energy to relationships that are going well e.g. Call a sibling and catch up, arrange coffee with your dad, go to the movies with your mum, send a nice card to your grandma, etc etc etc. (hopefully your other family relationships are going well for you right now.) Also do this with friends, and with your hobbies. It’s a balance for you. It’s good to do things you enjoy to balance out that stress.

    Judi hugs!

    • staranise said:

      I think this is an excellent suggestion.

  9. I respect you not giving details. Your feelings come off loud and clear and I don’t need details to sympathize with you. I’m so sorry that you’re hurting.

    It’s freeing to do what you can and leave it at that. Say that you contact her. Then you let her respond. Silence is a response. Either way you’ll know and can let go of all the ”what ifs”.

    It’s probably The Family that she’s rejecting and not you personally. Now you’re your own, adult person and have your own view on things. What about sending her something like this?

    ”Dear aunt

    When you send the family updates it makes me think of you. I miss you and would love to catchup over coffe. There’s this great place X who serves awesome cupcakes. Here’s how to reach me (phone/email, stress that those aren’t watched over by the Fam). If you prefer no contact, that’s no problem and please stop sending the updates.

    Sincerely,

    Waiting”

    • Clare said:

      The only thing I would add to this message is a statement clarifying and emphasizing how it feels to get the emails: “Getting these emails without being able to have you in my life is deeply painful to me, so if you prefer no contact, please leave me off the address list.”

      Just because I’ve found in my own life that it’s always better, in these situations, to explicitly state how you feel/what hurts, even if it seems like it goes without saying.

  10. clobbered said:

    Sorry to be so dumb but I don’t understand what the LW means by ‘These emails are not an invitation to renew contact’. How so? As in they finish “AND DONT REPLY BACK!”? Or as in not containing an *explicit* “let’s have cupcakes”?

    • Does it matter? Do you need to know the details to give advice? Maybe wait for the next letter, then. The LW had their reasons.

      • clobbered said:

        Uh, how can it not matter? I’d do something completely different depending on which one of those it is. If it’s the former I’d make a mail filter not to get those pointless upsetting messages, and if the latter I *would* consider it an invitation for contact, with the caveats already expressed about managing expectations.

        • I’m sorry I came off as condescending. The written language is a fickle thing. I’ll try to be clearer:

          The LW is wondering about their aunt and having a hard time dealing with the seemingly on/off behaviour. We can help with that: advice on what to do, if anything. Jedi hugs. Reassurances from the other side of things. I’m happy that a lot of people can relate to something in the letter. As for choices on different advice, I think it’s great to give the LW a lot to choose from. That way they can pick what fits best.

          IMO the point here is ”Hey, someone in pain, maybe I can help” and less ”But what happened exactly, tell us before we can help you”. I support a LW’s right to be a little vague.

          • Molly Moon said:

            So why isn’t every post’s question

            “Hey Captain Awkward,
            I have this problem. It’s pretty crappy. Can you help?
            -Unfortunate Person”

            I mean, the sheer VARIETY of advice that could potentially work for this problem! It’s almost infinite! So many good options for the LW to choose from!

            Yeah, I’m in agreement with clobbered, this is relevant information, the inclusion of which would likely increase the quality of the advice given. It is the LW’s choice not to include it, but it’s not unreasonable to ask for clarification.

      • Season said:

        Kellis, did you mean for that to sound condescending and uber-defensive? Because lots of advice can depend on the details, and this specific detail would certainly affect my actions or advice. If you weren’t being purposely awful, then it sounds like you can’t see what you’re typing, since that means you are seriously asking if someone would need details about a situation in order to offer advice about it. I mean, just, for the love of…

        Clobbered was asking about one particular detail in regards to the emails, not EVERY LAST DETAIL ABOUT THE FAMILY DRAMA. I, too, am curious how these emails are phrased or whatever that tells LW that they are one-way missives. (If LW is even the recipient of the emails directly.) If someone who claimed not to want any contact with me was sending me emails, I would be gobsmacked. That is clearly contact of a kind, and is a rather hypocritical thing to do if I am not supposed to respond. And if the LW were to add details to the story regarding how the emails are sent, it need not include details about What Went Down, so I don’t understand your upset.

        • Hi Season,

          I answered clobbered extensively. Please check that. I don’t want to double post the same thing.

    • I think the LW literally means ‘These emails are not an invitation to renew contact’ (ie, they are not the aunt saying “I was thinking of you and wanted to get in touch”, they are a different type of e-mail).

      Whether they’re a metaphorical invitation (the aunt is hoping the e-mails will be seen as an olive branch) isn’t clear, and possibly isn’t clear to the LW either.

      • JenniferP said:

        What this boils down to: Sounds like there’s no explicit invitation to reply in the email. The aunt could mean them as an olive branch, or not. The LW can’t tell. We can’t tell. So it pays to clarify. “When you send us these updates, are you hoping we’ll respond to you? Because I miss you and would love to be back in touch. Is there a way to do that without opening old wounds? Here’s my contact info if you’d like to talk.”

        Aunt responds somehow. Maybe with silence (silence is an answer). Maybe with an invite to talk. Maybe with a reaffirmation of the boundary, in which case the LW is more than justified in saying “Cool, then stop emailing me please.”

  11. manyironsinthefire said:

    I am the crazy auntie in another story who got sent repeatedly to a mental hospital for stupid vindictive reasons. I have a really flexible boundary with every one of my siblings, but their kids I miss them a lot and I don’t get to see them. So, this is from an auntie who knows that story.

    I’m not her, but I’ll say to the Question asker: I love you. I miss you too. I’m sorry.

    • Saz said:

      How great to see “the other side of the story”.
      We’ve considered LWs side, but there is also another side to this. The aunts. What are her motives?
      To me, the emails would indicate that she’s not totally opposed to the idea of contact with family. She is still clearly thinking about the family and wants to remain in touch, but on her terms. Which is fine, within reason. But the LW is also totally within their rights to say that “if you are not actually interested in reconciling right now, I would prefer not to receive your emails, as I find them upsetting. However, if at some point in the future you would like to make steps towards developing an adult relationship with me, I would be happy to engage with you then.”

      I have found in life, that sometimes we have to be a bit brutal when it comes to saying what we need. Particularly when it’s not in a face to face style. But you also have to be ready to pick up signals from others about what they want/don’t want.
      For instance, I have a friend with a lactose intolerance, and as we’ve always had a very jokey, teasing, poking fun at each other friendship, I always referred to her lacto-free milk as her “freak milk”.
      In a supermarket with her one time, she said, “I don’t like it when Mum makes fun of my milk.” Right away my brain went “LISTEN TO THIS!” And I knew that “Mum” was actually code for “I don’t like it when YOU make fun of my milk”. And from that day on I’ve never joked about “freak milk” again.

      People deserve to be listened to, whatever roundabout way they use to explain their needs to you. The aunt needs to be respected if she lets LW know (in whatever way) that she doesn’t want contact. But also LW needs to be respected by the aunt if he/she says “please don’t email me any more”.

  12. tawg said:

    LW, you ask specifically about finding peace and managing hope for the situation. A trick I learned from “That 70’s Show” of all places is the power of the dismissive “whatever”.

    My brother used to really get under my skin by sending me passive-aggressive messages (usually texts or over FB) about how I needed to look after our mother (our mother does not, in fact, need looking after). Eventually I figured out that he was sending me those messages because he wanted me to manage his feelings of concern about mum and maybe also his guilt for having moved away. So now when I get a message from him I stare at it, and I try to have a moment of just not feeling anything. I calm down all of those emotions, and I sort out which ones are my feelings and which ones are me reacting to his shitty feelings, and I repeat to myself that he is trying to make me deal with his feelings, trying to make me feel obligated to do his emotional work. And then I say out loud “Ugh, whatever” and delete the message. Whenever the incident tries to creep back into my mind and mess me up, I remind myself that my brother is being a jerk and that I can be as dismissive as I like of his jerkitude.

    Your Aunt is basically sending you feelings. I don’t know what her motivations are, but she is sending along feelings to you in a way that is harming you, rather than doing the work of dealing with her own feelings. She might not think that her feelings need dealing with – probably just bundling the feelings up when they start to get overwhelming works really great for her, and that’s why she’s still doing it. But you don’t have to receive those feelings, you don’t have to manage them, and you don’t have to let them in when you know they will send your own feelings into a storm. So maybe the mantra of “ugh, whatever,” might help you distance yourself from the storm of feelings next time an e-mail comes in.

    • JenniferP said:

      Tawg is wise. Heed the Tawg.

    • Saz said:

      My version of the “Ugh, whatever” is “Why are you saying this to me?”

      A guy I’m friends with very recently said, completely out of the blue, “Have I been nice enough to you lately?” In the middle of a conversation about iPads. It was weird because:
      a: It’s a strange question to ask anyone at any time.
      b: I’ve never given him any indication that he isn’t nice enough, or indeed too nice.
      c: We were talking about iPads.

      I can only put it down to some strange desire for validation, “Oh, yes! You’re soooo nice to me, I can’t thank you enough for everything you do! Blah blah.”
      I pulled out, “Why are you saying this to me?”
      He stumbled and backpedalled, as expected, and the conversation quickly moved on.

      It’s a phrase that makes people evaluate and justify their actions, and might be a good one to use in response to an aunts email. If only to open up the avenue for further communication.

      • My (poly-relationship) partners and I had SUCH an interesting conversation in response to that comment! We’re all neuroatypical and none of us are very good at reading body language or conversational cues, and one of my partners said they would totally do something similar to what Friend Guy in your story did. I think I would be weirded out by it if there was no introduction (like “Hey, I was noticing xyz behaviors and I was wondering if I’d done something that was unpleasant for you”) and my other partner pointed out that meta-communication is generally frowned upon in mainstream society. Now we all wonder what was actually going on in Friend Guy’s mind that led to that question. Have you had someone interpret “Why are you saying this to me?” as a sincere question yet?

  13. wyndes said:

    Um, I’m the aunt in this story. Not literally — I’m sure I’m not the questioner’s aunt — but I’ve cut off my relationship with my sister because I *had* to. But if my niece (or nephew, although that seems more unlikely) wanted to get in touch with me, I’d be totally cool with that. I’d welcome the opportunity to develop a relationship with her (or him, or both of them.) Except *not* via my sister, which so far is the only way contact has been made. I admit, I’d probably be a little wary initially — and frankly, I’m going to ignore any message that goes “please call Mom’s number to talk to me,” because no, no, and no again, I’m done with my sister’s drama, and I’m not getting sucked back in. But an email that said, “I miss you, I wish we could talk, can we get together, and I promise to respect your boundaries about the rest of the family?” would go over very well. Really, I’d love to be able to have a relationship with my niece. Unfortunately, I don’t see how that’s possible at this time without opening the door to a relationship with her mother that is toxic, draining, unhealthy, and destructive, and I can’t afford that.

    Of course, I’m also not sending emails to any of them. But still, I think the advice was spot-on — send the email, make the approach. Your aunt has cut off contact with your nuclear family because of something that you (I assume) were not responsible for. She might be happy to be able to connect with you, if that didn’t mean that she also had to connect with the people that she blames for whatever went down.

    I personally feel like someday my niece is going to accuse me, saying ‘you were the only sane person in my life and you abandoned me to them’ and I’ll have to say, ‘yep, you’re right, I’m sorry I couldn’t rescue you, I’m sorry I couldn’t be there’ — but I suspect that if and when she’s ever emotionally mature enough to understand that I failed her, she’ll also understand that her nuclear family is a toxic whirlpool. Assuming, that is, that the whirlpool hasn’t drowned her long before then. But I can’t fix that and I know it. Either way, though, if my niece reached out to me — and the reach didn’t come laden with family complications — I would respond. I love her and I miss her.

    • JetGirl said:

      Pretty much the same here, except that it’s my brother, and the kid I miss and wish I could connect with again is my nephew (my niece and I never really bonded), and I too worry that someday he will accuse me of abandonment.
      The thing is, I am not going back into the House of Evil Bees for anyone. I fought too hard to get out and heal. And while my brother was horrible to me, he hasn’t been quite so horrible (as far as I know) to his kids. Therefore, I don’t want to trash my brother to my nephew, since that’s the only dad my nephew’s got.
      Ugh. It’s such a messed up situation.

    • I’m the niece in a situation like this.

      My aunt ditched my parents in a well-deserved way; I didn’t see my aunt for five years, because she wouldn’t go to family weddings etc if they might be there; she and I are now back in touch.

      It was weird and awkward to start with, but it’s cool. She knows I’m not my parents, and if I make contact without them she’s happy to see me.

    • datdamwuf said:

      I too could be the Aunt in this story except I have never reached out to the sister I cut off. I did reach out to my niece and nephews a few times but I don’t think any mail got to them. My sister had major issues and reached out for help, I spent much time and resources being there for her and her kids but she was incredibly toxic and eventually I had to sever ties. She did a thing that was so bad our Mother and I both cut ties over it. My Mother did continue to send cards and gifts to the kids until she died. I sent a gift and a note to the kids telling them I loved them but I couldn’t come see them anymore. I offered they could call or write any time. I don’t think they saw the letter. I tried to contact the kids a couple of ways a year later but sister would not allow it (intercepted mail and screaming phone calls telling me not to contact her kids).

      I know I abandoned those kids to a terrible situation, but I had done all I was able to do and I could not save them, I gave up, I still feel horrible about that. If the LWs aunt is in a similar situation she may very well welcome contact from LW, I know I would.

    • jenfullmoon said:

      I hear ya–I can’t get through to any of my cousins on this coast without having to go through their queen bee mothers first.

  14. I’ve sort of been on both sides of this equation.

    My mother’s sister was a huge part of my life, which was really important because my mother was wildly inconsistent – sometimes loving and sweet, sometimes terrifying rages, sometimes indifference. Despite my aunt not being “maternal”, I sorta wished *she* could be my mother. Then, when I was a teenager, my aunt’s son raped me & tried to kill me. And not only my aunt and uncle and their other kids, but my mother, and all of my siblings … took his side. (A third aunt, uncle, and cousin don’t seem to know anything about it.) I put up with it, because I didn’t think I had any other options. I went to counseling, I healed (over ~ 20 years); I cut off ties with my parents 8 years ago.

    Almost the only times I’ve heard from relatives, they’ve been passing along messages (or unwanted “gifts” – ugh!) from my mother, and adding their own dose of “you really need to forgive your mother because she really misses you!” Um, no, I really don’t.

    I’ve reached out with olive branches to various people, not by email, but with letters. Thanks to Captain Awkward, I learned that “no answer *is* an answer”, so I’ve stopped.

    I have nieces, and for most of their lives, I’ve been out of the picture. I’d love to hear from them *if* they expressed interest in *me* as an individual, but … I don’t think anyone in my family of origin actually likes me. So I’ve had to give up on that fantasy.

    But I hope, for the LW’s sake, that her aunt wants to renew a relationship with her. Or that LW can find peace with letting go. This stuff is really hard.

    • atma said:

      I’m so sorry that happened to you and even more sorry that no one had your back. Please be kind to yourself. ()I’m sure you are, you sound like you take good care of yourself)

  15. Knights Who Say Knit said:

    Another script could be to basically do something halfway between the two suggestions the Captain made, if you don’t want to block her entirely and also don’t want to take the emails as an opportunity to actually proactively reach out for a renewed relationship: LW could email the aunt and say something like “Hey, Aunt, I’m really trying to respect your wishes from all those years ago not to contact you, even though I really miss you and you were an important part of my life. But it makes it really hard to move past everything when you keep emailing me and reopening old wounds. Could you please stop emailing me unless you actually would like to reestablish a relationship?”

    There are really three different ways I can think of that she can respond to this kind of request:
    1. Stop emailing you, and thereby give you what you asked for and allow you to move on a bit more than you can now.
    2. Email you back with an angry tirade–upsetting, something to be prepared for and maybe to talk over with your therapist beforehand, but also something that can let you know that she doesn’t want you in her life and also you probably don’t want her in yours, and thus can allow you to block her with less guilt/sense that you’re cutting off all chance of a future reunion.
    or 3. Email back saying that no, she just meant that she never wanted your parents/sibling(s)/whoever was central to the wrong committed never to contact her, but she’d love to reestablish a relationship with you. That’ll be hard, because there’s clearly hurt and anger on both sides, but again, something you can work through if you both want it.

    • Totally OT but I love your nym. Python + knitting FTW. 🙂

  16. I’m in the process right now of cutting someone out of my life. Basically, my only remaining close friend really screwed me over and hurt me deeply. I did let him know how shitty his actions were, but I’m frustrated that he doesn’t seem to really ‘get it.’

    So now I’m spending time daily crafting a FEELINGSOHTHEFEELINGS e-mail in my head. I’m not sure if it would be better to spend it, or just to fade contact. He’s certainly not rushing to contact me, so I have a feeling (ha!) my FEELINGS mail would go unappreciated. On the other hand, maybe sending it would help me move past my hurt and anger.

    I do know that if I do send it, I want to do it all at once and not drag out pieces of the issues like I’ve been doing in the past contact we’ve had (this is all very recent…it’s only been a few days and a few e-mails back and forth). Though that will make for a LONG e-mail.

    For the LW…it sounds like the emails are impersonal and you seem pretty sure the aunt wants no contact. Personally, I would block her account. It doesn’t sound like she’s looking for a reply, so consider it self-protection.. If, on the other hand, you think there’s some small chance she might be open to more, I don’t think a single email broaching the topic is crossing a boundary. Maybe that would help you settle the matter in your own mind.

    • staranise said:

      The point of that feelingsmail would not be to help you purge your own hurt and anger, or help you find closure. Only time and personal work can do that. From now on, you have to plan as though you will never see or hear from this person again–the scenario of him realizing the error of his ways and the two of you reconciling isn’t something you can put out as a likely response to your actions.

      So if you never heard from him again–you just assumed that, for whatever reason, he was never going to respond–what would you wish you’d done looking back on it?

      For myself, I generally do send a last email just so I can stop worrying at the “if only”s in my mind. If only I’d really explained. If only I’d apologized again. If only they knew… So I tie off the loose ends before I can walk away. Usually by then I’m well and truly crazy with hurt, so I lean hard on friends to help me write something that’s concise and that I won’t regret sending later. (I tend to really beat myself up later for getting angry or being mean, so I work not to give myself too many chances.)

      I do it so that as I’m processing my grief and anger, the idea of things left undone doesn’t keep coming back to haunt me. So it won’t be the scab I keep picking off. If I spend all my time on regret, I have no time to just accept that it happened and learn to move on.

      • I think, as I said to remi, that I’m coming from the wrong place. I’m thinking less ‘what would I regret not saying’ and much more ‘what can I say to make him regret things?’ And the answer to that is very likely that there’s nothing I can say to get the response I truly want.

        I’ve already told him that his actions were hurtful…it just feels like he’s not acknowledging it to the degree I want. So it’s probably best if I just let the fade happen. But I very much appreciate your response! If it were a different circumstance where I felt we were both at fault, I’d probably want to at least send a last email acknowledging that. But right now I just feel like I got thoroughly screwed over and his excuses make no sense.

        • staranise said:

          Not being acknowledged or validated (=having someone say you are feeling something real and true and understandable) is on a short list of the things that drive human beings supremely bugshit. It triggers the same deep-seated terror that being abandoned does. So it is going to take a lot of time for you to find enough safety, love, gentleness, and compassion in the world to make up for that.

          Something you need to tell yourself is that he dropped the ball, hurt you deeply, and then failed to help you when he knew you were upset, and you can’t figure out why… but you can take care of yourself without him. You don’t need him to make amends either by being the friend he claimed he was, or by acknowledging that this is an event that caused you legitimate unhappiness. You can handle your sadness and move on on your own.

          Which does mean actually taking steps to take care of yourself. If the event he screwed you out of was your only respite from caretaking all year (jeepers!) then what’s going to take its place? What are you going to do instead fo give you an out? Is there anyone else who can be there to say, “Things suck and you deserve a good time”? That’s something you need to do for yourself that you are 100% in control of, while you have absolutely no control of whether this dude ever realizes what he’s done.

    • remi said:

      I think I know how you feel (though if I don’t my apologies, I didn’t mean to presume!). You’ve got so much to say and the fact that you feel like you can’t say it is almost as bad as needing to say it in the first place. But I found that feelingsmail never really made me feel better afterwards, because there was never that reaction I needed of “I finally understand your sadness and anger, your words make sense to me, I won’t argue or laugh or try to manipulate you.” You won’t get satisfaction from someone replying with equal anger, or from someone brushing you off or ignoring you or making light of the situation. What I found that DID help was keeping a journal; I’d write down whatever I needed to, whenever I needed to. It was helpful in a number of ways, actually, because I was so upset over this thing that happened I couldn’t stop ranting about it and my friends were getting sick of the whole thing haha. For a while my journal was full of the same thing over and over, where I rehashed what had happened and how I felt and how I wanted the other person to react and each different interpretation of what they had done. But eventually, I got everything out. And I realized I was bored of going over it again and again. I didn’t need to rant about it any more, and all my angrysad feelings had been drained into my journal. I think if I hadn’t done it the way I had, I never would have moved on — there’s stuff from years ago in my life that I still think of now and then and feel the old anger and hurt over it, because I never got it all out, but that specific experience I had just two or three years ago has lost all its bite. I personally found that to be way more constructive overall than explosive feelingsmail that never turned out the way I’d planned.

      • Hmm. I think this is very wise advice. I’ve been thinking to myself that I wouldn’t be writing my feelings mail for him, only AT him, and that it would be about letting go and not about expecting a response. But the reality is that my feelings mail thoughts always do end with “so I say THIS, and then he says THAT…’ But in truth, if he can’t already grasp why his actions were so hurtful, all of my carefully worded descriptions aren’t likely to enlighten him. It’s just so frustrating because it feels like he’s so blase about all of this. His explanation for his actions makes no logical sense to me, so I want so badly to point out the holes in his logic and force him to acknowledge them. But what would I really gain? Even if he DID admit it makes no sense (where really he’ll probably just offer another excuse), what’s done is done…I can’t outlogic the actual action.

        I think I will try writing something for myself and see if that helps. Thanks so much!

        • One of the hardest and best things about breaking up is that now, you don’t have a joint narrative of your lives. For a while, you had a Story that was the Story Of You, and you were pretty confident that you both were telling approximately the same story.

          Then things happen and now… you have your Story, and he has some completely different Story. All the stuff that goes into your Story and his, the narrative rules that make the Story coherent, the laws of nature and magic and morality — nobody is making those line up anymore. You’re writing yours, he’s writing his, separately.

          Another thing that peoples’ stories do is go back in time and rewrite themselves, to account for new information. Like how when someone hurts you badly, they must have been terrible people all along.

          When we go to an ex and say “But this is what happened and this is how you wronged me”, what we are doing is saying “We should still have a joint Story, but it should be *my* Story. Not yours.” That ex often says “oh HELL no”, as they should, because we are wrong: we want them to replace their experience of their lives with ours, and that’s not an okay thing to do.

          It’s understandable that we do this. We’re not bad people, we want the world to make sense, and we had deep attachments to our exes. It hurtshurtsHURTS to break that attachment. It hurts to discover your Story has been wrong! It’s awful!

          But we still don’t get to demand that someone adopt our version of reality as their own. Your ex did what he did for his own reasons. He may have tried to explain them to you, but you can’t hear them because they do not fit into your Story. You can’t accept them; you can’t accept his Story as true.

          Sometimes I think we break up because we just can’t get our Stories straight. We just can’t get our rules of reality to line up with our partners’. They become incomprehensible to us.

          The good news is, you get to keep your Story that he is the bad guy who did terrible incomprehensible things! You just don’t get to force it on him.

          • Bittybird said:

            Oh, 100% yes about relationships being a story, and after the breakup each person starts rewriting the story. The hard part, for me, is that although they’re allowed their story version of me, even if it’s filled with lies (even if it’s lies that they believe), often one person, the dominant one in the friendship circle, is the one who gets to put their story into the world and have it accepted as “truth”. According to my ex, I didn’t break up with him “correctly” (I did, in fact, not do it as cleanly as I could have or as soon as I should have, but I kept having panic attacks when I tried so it was really quite messy and awful), and suddenly, everything I ever did was bad and wrong and a sign of what a terrible person I was. The relationship was retroactively altered, casting me as the Demon Bitch who Hurt and Wronged Sir Noblepants the Nice, and my list of crimes is extensive, and largely consists of things that *he* did, not me. O_o

            And at this point, I really give no fucks what he chooses to think about me, any more. It makes him feel better to make me the bad guy? Fine. I am confident he genuinely believes that the bad things *he* did are somehow really bad things *I* did, and nothing i say will change his mind on that. The *hurtful* part is he transferred his version of reality onto everyone else and the friend circle summarily ejected me, without even a chance to defend myself. I still sometimes want to find a way to explain that his story is not true, but I think that ultimately, what hurts is that they chose his story over mine willingly, and so, so easily…and so I have had to rewrite *my* story, the story of them being my friends, to account for the realization that they were never really good friends all along.

          • This was a friend, not a significant other. I do, however, take it’s your point…I think it’s more difficult in some ways for me because I’m very logic driven. So when I feel the story I’m being given doesn’t make sense, I tend to forget that often our stories DON’T…that humans do things at times based strictly on emotion and that a story not making sense doesn’t invalidate it. It’s not so much that I’m wanting to replace his story with my own, because in this matter I don’t have a story…it wasn’t a fight or anything, it was something he took responsibility for doing and then failed to do. It’s that I want his story to make logical and narrative sense, but I suppose to him it actually does.

          • I guess that’s why I want to write that feelings mail so badly…it wasn’t about telling MY story, but trying to understand his, because again his story just flat doesn’t make sense to me. And I feel like I’ll feel better if his story makes sense, even though I know the reality is that I won’t, because it both changes nothing and his motives are his motives.

            In this case, he was supposed to contact me when tickets for a big event went on sale so we could coordinate buying them and booking a hotel. He failed to do so, and also failed to contact me until two weeks later (I was the one who contacted him.) End result…the tickets sold out the first day, so I’m going to miss my only break from caretaking all year and an event that means an awful lot to me.

            His excuse was that he was having a difficult time in life, was depressed, and the event didn’t feel like a big priority. Now, see, that’s a story that makes sense to me, and even though it would suck that I couldn’t go, I would at least understand the logic of it. Except he DID coordinate with his girlfriend to buy tickets for him and her, booked a hotel, and presumably discussed transport. The story of “it didn’t feel like a big deal to me at the time’ isn’t meshing up for me with ‘so I got tickets for me and her, but not you, and didn’t even bother to tell you until two weeks later that you won’t be going this year.’ And then I started thinking back, and the last few events I’ve tried to arrange he’s stonewalled me on until tickets were again sold out, and the last two events he’s invited me to, he’s then called back to say oops, they already bought tickets and didn’t include me.

            So I feel like I’m being one story (which basically reads ‘we can’t be bothered, go away’) but I’m being told another (‘we’re great friends and I enjoy your company.’) And it’s confusing and frustrating, because even when I directly say “that was really shitty and makes no sense”, I’m still getting the second, nonsensical story, and I just want to force him to agree that my version of the story is at least real from my POV. But you’re all right in that I can’t force him to agree to that.

          • atma said:

            This makes so much sense to me. Very helpful perspective, some things I’ve not been able to understand make a new kind of sense now. Thank you!

          • Mary said:

            Oh Tired Caregiver, that sounds so frustrating and upsetting. But to an outsider, that reads like a classic case of “when someone’s actions say one thing and their words say another, believe their actions.” Whether he’s conscious of it or not, he’s downgraded the importance of doing something with you, but it sounds like he’s very motivated not to admit that. I’m really sorry.

      • There’s a LOT to be said for writing everything down, but not sending it. Whether you do that with a journal, or a letter that you then keep, or something that gets burned, or an email you delete afterwards.

        • unlurking said:

          Writing things out can be good not only at the time, but also to see much later, when you may have different perspective. A year or two after a bunch of counseling about a friend situation, I re-found some of my notes & reminders. On a bad day, I’d have /definitely/ cried all day (or longer) seeing those notes again. Today, I saw them & thought, “Wow, I can’t believe a friend would say that to me. Or that anyone would say that to anyone they hoped to continue a friendship with.” And all of a sudden I have a better understanding of lots of things my counselor was perhaps trying to get me to realize.

  17. Heather said:

    One of my friends at school had a very difficult family situation with similarities to the LW’s. After her parents died, she lived with an aunt and uncle, with no contact with the rest of the family, and little memory of what went down when the rift occurred.

    In her 30s, she decided to trace her family tree, and contacted one of the estranged aunts, to discover that while that aunt was keen not to ever deal with the aunt and uncle she had lived with, the rest of the family had in fact gone to court to try and maintain contact with my friend, and been thwarted.

    LW, this may not be the case with your aunt. But I agree with others that you should consider contacting her. At the least, you can stop getting the upsetting emails.

    If the reason the emails are not an invite to respond is that they come from a no-reply address or something, and you have no other means of contacting her, then I would keep a journal or write letters to her that you do not send. I used to do that a lot to drain bile out of a situation.

    I wish you well

    H

  18. DameB said:

    This would have been a great letter for me to read many years ago. I had dumped a boyfriend (not a Darth, just not for me). About six months later, I then discovered (through channels he wouldn’t have had access to) that his favorite artist was going to be doing a small performance nearby. I shot him an email saying “Here, this might be interesting to you.” with the information.

    Of course he made into a Giant Thing and thought it was a subterfuge-ish attempt to reconcile or something. Because he was a Drama King, it went badly. But now (15 years later) I totally see why he thought that. I learned after that to just not contact him.

    It could just be, LW, that your Aunt is as clueless as I was. Letting her know that you’re hurt (like the Cap’n said) could be key. It doesn’t sound like she’s malicious or wants to hurt you specifically and she may not understand the upset she’s causing.

    • Emmers said:

      I have to wonder, would it have been appropriate to send him that information quasi-anonymously, via a mutual friend? “Hey, things are awkward between me and Not!Darth, so I don’t want to get all up in his business, but he might want to know that X is playing on Saturday.”

  19. boutet said:

    In the case that the aunt accepts contact: I think it’s maybe worth mentioning that you, LW, might want to consider how to manage things with the family if the aunt does want to make contact. If she re-establishes contact with you, and you let the family know, she may get swamped with other family members demanding to have contact too. She might be overwhelmed and just cut everyone out again. If she does start having contact with you it might be good to keep it under your hat for now. (not that it would ever be your fault if other people cause her to break contact with you)
    It also helps you avoid being pumped for information about her by the rest of the family. I have family members who don’t talk to each other who know that I do talk to them, and they try to use me to snoop.
    In the same way you may want to consider how you would want to react to having the aunt pump you for information on the rest of the family.

    • This is really important and helpful.

      I just want to say, people who are doing this are not doing it because they’re terrible people. Sometimes it’s manipulative, but sometimes it’s because cutting off someone you love leaves you with mixed feelings, and the temptation to find out about them in what appears to be a harmless way is just too big. It’s like googling your ex. It’s not really harmless but it seems that way at the time.

      You can say no. You can keep your relationships separate and stay out of the middle, if you want to. You can also choose to mediate between them, if you want to, although I strongly suggest doing so intentionally and with a specific goal in mind.

      There’s just a lot of hurt in situations like this.

      …that said, sometimes people are manipulative jerks who try to use you to apply leverage to others, and you totally get to say no without guilt.

      • Mary said:

        I think you get to say no without guilt even if they aren’t being manipulative jerks! If they’re being manipulative jerks, you also get to be angry about the fact that they are being manipulative jerks. But whether they are unconsciously putting you in an awkward position or doing it deliberately, you get to say no and be unguilty. 🙂

  20. riveira said:

    Hi LW,

    I think all of the advice laid out in the Captain’s response and the comments is great. What I want to address is the end of your letter where you express fear of being too angry in the future to accept a renewed relationship with your aunt, should she seek it. I want you to know that however you feel, it is okay. You are allowed to restart a relationship and you are allowed to reject it. You have to do what is best for you and what makes you feel safe.

    I say this because I am in a somewhat similar position. I do not know my biological father – we’ve only met a few time when I was a teenager. He expressed interest in having a relationship with me, but never followed up with real contact – he would always leave me voicemails when I was at school, never answered when I called him back, and eventually stopped calling. He told my mom that it was “just too hard” to establish a real relationship with me at that point and also alluded to some things about my personality that suggested that I didn’t really want a relationship. The difficulty, no doubt, was true – but the rest is just bullshit.

    Anyway, I took it very hard for a number of years. I blamed myself and I felt sad and all I wanted was for him to want a relationship with me. He was incapable of that. Eventually, my sadness turned into a mix of indifference and anger. My family loves me and they want me to be happy, so they often try to caution me about this anger. They don’t want me to be too angry with him because they think that someday he’ll want to establish a relationship and then I will be too angry to do it. They are probably right. I accepted long ago that I will not have a relationship with him, even if he initiate contact. I’ve felt too much pain and rejection and I’ve worked hard to overcome those feelings and recognize that I am a worthwhile person deserving of love. I value the people in my life who are there for me and who love me and who I love in return. I do not owe him a relationship in the future just because he wants one and I am not going to be bullied out of my feelings just to make other people feel better about how this all turns out. I am happy and I am not going to go back into that hurricane of emotion just to make an old man who was never there for me feel better.

    If your aunt contacts you in the future, you may be happy and eagerly embrace a new relationship. If that happens, great. Or, you might be angry about the years of sadness you felt and just say, “No. I can’t anymore.” If that happen, it is okay too. Whichever it is, you are allowed to feel that way and should not feel guilty for holding valid feelings based on your lived experience.

    I am sorry for the pain you are feeling right now and I the great advice given by others will help you.

    • boutet said:

      That’s terrible that you had to go through that. I’m really impressed with how you’ve come to make your own decision about it all though, especially with the pushback from your family. You are absolutely right.

      • riveira said:

        Thanks. It was painful at the time, but looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve actually come to see it as something of a blessing. I have an extremely close relationship with my mother and the other women in my family. I wouldn’t trade that at all for a relationship with a father who would abandon his child and toy with her feelings. Once I got over feeling sad about it, I looked around and realized that my family situation is really awesome and that I’ve been incredibly lucky in that department. And, I learned to trust men and get over my abandonment issues. I have an awesome husband and we have a great life. I missed out on the experience of having a loving father in my life, but there’s no reason to assume that a life with him would have been any better than the life I lived, which was full of love. (I was just too caught up in the rejection to see it.)

        That being said, I still feel anger toward him and never want a relationship because I think he’s a terrible person and I don’t want that in my life. I think it is healthy to feel anger sometimes and I think we are too often discouraged from feeling it, particularly women. We’re so conditioned to be nice and forgiving all the time, even when we have justifiable reasons for being angry.

    • FlyBy said:

      I’m in a similar situation with my dad, who despite physically living in the same house was hella neglectful, when he wasn’t being controlling. I decided a while back that the price of admission for him to reestablish a relationship with me is for him to actually understand what he did and actually apologize for it. The chances of that happening are… remote.

      I anticipate that at some point in the future he’s going to find himself old and grey and alone in a retirement home somewhere, and then want me to come around to fill his emotional needs. NOPE. I don’t care how much he needs or wants me or could have an apparently normal relationship. He did a hell of a lot of damage and deliberately drove me away when I was a small child. He’s going to get to deal with the consequences.

      So, solidarity and jedi hugs. You’re making the right decision for you, and I’m sorry you’re getting flack from your family about it. It’s entirely valid to say that there is a wall of anger and pain between you and someone else, and that you won’t lay it aside for them. They have to deal with what they did, either by working through it or staying away. There tends to be a lot of pressure to “let bygones be bygones” or “forgiveness is a virtue” and whatnot, which all amount to “I can’t pretend the aggressor’s wrongdoing never happened if the victim won’t pretend it never happened too”, even when it’s well intentioned. (This is different than the “you have to let go of the anger so it doesn’t eat you alive” definition of forgiveness, though I can’t entirely articulate how.) Fuck that noise.

      • riveira said:

        Jedi hugs and solidarity back! I understand what you’re saying. As I mentioned above, there is so much pressure to forgive. I don’t seethe with anger every second of the day – or frankly, even very often – but I feel like I am entitled to my anger. Why should I forgive him and why should I want a relationship with him? My life does not need to be some happy family movie where all is forgiven and we discover each other and pretend that there is some real connection. So yeah, fuck that noise. Fortunately, a lot of the pressure from my family has lessened because they recognize that I’m in a good place and that I don’t really care that much.

        I hope you are in a good place too and that you have the support you want and need. We can build our own communities and families based around love and understanding, not guilt and pressure.

        • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

          Agreed that societal pressure to forgive seems to be at an all-time high. But as the saying goes, ‘you can’t forgive a crime in progress’, which is to say you can’t forgive someone who is not expressing remorse in any meaningful way, or at all. And the party who’s done the wronging, should they become remorseful later and wish to make amends, needs to accept that the wronged party has the right to refuse them. It’s not your job to shield someone from the natural consequences of their actions, whether it’s social ostracism, or cutting-off. Forgiveness, if it needs to be extended at all, needs mostly to be given to oneself in these situations. *THAT* you do have control of.

      • Your dad sounds even worse than mine, FlyBy. My male parental unit took off after multiple adulteries when I was about eight, and divorced my mother shortly afterward for his latest. Come what would have been their fortieth anniversary – they’d been divorced longer than they’d been married – he sent a sickening card, going on about how he wished they were together (he’s still married to the woman he left her for), how he wanted to get to know me, and could she facilitate it? Like Mum was going to conspire with him behind my back!

        I wrote him the most acid letter I’ve ever done, reminding him it was HIS choice to leave, that if his WIFE didn’t know he was doing this, then he was deceiving her, oh and btw he had his chance to get to know me when I was a child, and my memories of him were of him being planted in front of World of Sport on the weekends, and having no interest in me at all, so he could go take a long walk on a short pier. Bed, made, lie in it.

        Twenty years after that he still moans about it to my older sister, who, though she doesn’t think much of him (she cleared out at seventeen) still allows him to email.

        Man’s an oxygen thief. ::spits::

    • staranise said:

      I agree when it comes to anger. You’re allowed to be angry and say that you won’t put up with being treated really shoddily. I think that’s especially if you’re happy and satisfied otherwise. Sure, if anger means you’re unfulfilled and alone, maybe it’s a bad thing. But if you have a life and people you love, and the anger is serving you a defensive purpose by keeping someone who will hurt you out of your life? Maybe it’s honestly worth holding on to.

      I had a friendship break up really badly, and afterwards it made me so angry that I’d been screwed over and never even given an explanation. The friend was really amazing when we got along, and I really valued the relationship, and it hurt a lot to lose that. So for ages I tried and tried to find it in myself to forgive–if I ever got a chance, I wanted to be able to welcome them back without hesitation and get back what I’d lost. But I couldn’t do it. The anger stayed with me and said that being treated that badly actually wasn’t worth putting up with, no matter how awesome things used to be. I decided that I’d just have to accept that I was going to hold a grudge, and if that person ever talked to me again, I was still going to be angry and require them to apologize and make amends before we ever got onto a more peaceful footing. It made it easier to live with, which surprised me.

      It especially helped for me to realize that yes, this friendship had felt really special and extraordinary, but if I spent the rest of my life without it I could still be satisfied. It wasn’t actually so special as to be totally unique. The world is still full of countless numbers of awesome, loving people, and more of them than I thought will actually pay attention to and like me. So I didn’t have to cling to that one single friendship as my hope of ever feeling that connected and special.

      • riveira said:

        You’ve expressed beautifully many of my own feelings. I consider holding on to some anger as a method of self protection. I’ve also lost some very dear friends after being hurt by them repeatedly and I tried many times to forgive them. I internalized a lot of the cultural ideas about forgiving and forgetting as I grew up and I think this caused me a lot of pain when I was younger. I can forgive many things, but trying to forgive some things was very painful for me. It meant that I kept allowing people who repeatedly hurt me back into my life. By allowing myself to stay angry and keep a safe distance from those people, I am much happier. I can focus on the people and things in my life that make me happy and who treat me the way I deserve to be treated. It allows me to recognize my own self worth and maintain boundaries. For me, it is not about the bitterness that often seems to be associated with anger. I felt far more bitter when I was trying to forgive and explain away hurtful behavior.

        • FlyBy said:

          That’s an excellent way of putting it! I don’t think I’m ever going to stop being angry about having a parent who neglected me, and that’s a good thing because it keeps me (mostly) out of the cycle of trying to rebuild a relationship and hope and getting hurt over and over again. There’s no point in putting myself through that.

          Bitterness is a very good word for the part that needs to be released eventually. I hadn’t put this together before, but I think I’ve had the same thing you describe where it was much more of a problem when I couldn’t allow myself to be openly angry. It’s not as overwhelming when I can clearly define what happened and see that while that experience and my anger about it is a real thing, it’s also a finite thing and I am a person apart from that experience. That perspective isn’t possible when I’m trying to deny its existence.

        • Solestria said:

          I love this differentiation of anger and bitterness, and it is something I am going to try working with as I continue trying to release the toxicity for me around a traumatic experience I had. So thank you.

  21. Hi LW,

    Whatever you decide to do, one thing that will complicate the matter is that the narratives of What Happened almost certainly won’t match.

    Humans make stories of things. That’s how we convert information about the world into a usable form. But these narratives are invariably incomplete, or they would be too complex to use and remember.

    So for eight years, you’ll have been hearing one or more narratives of What Happened that come from your nuclear family, and those narratives will have grown and changed without people even realizing it.

    In the meantime, your aunt’s family’s narratives of What Happened will have been growing and changing in isolation from those of your family.

    So if you and your aunt come together, the narratives won’t match. (Galapagos anyone?) And trying to communicate across a chasm of mismatched narrative can be tricky and hurtful.

    Part of your narrative is abandonment by a parental figure while you were still a child (the way you describe your aunt makes her sound like a near-parent). No matter how profoundly necessary the reasons for it, that really, really messes with the child it happens to. It gives you a monster Jerkbrain about your own worthlessness, and then you’re stuck with the burden of this damn Jerkbrain and trying to sort out Jerkbrain-utterings from reality and the Jerkbrain constantly picking at you and on and on.

    It’s okay to be angry about being saddled with this extra chunk of Jerkbrain. That is real harm that is continuing to happen to you and didn’t just stop eight years ago.

    So when you say you’re afraid you would respond with anger if your aunt tried to have a relationship with you again, it is okay if that is where you’re at with this right now. It’s okay to say, “I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with you because I’m still trying to get a leash on this damn Jerkbrain.”

    • NL said:

      I feel like I’d like to add to this – this comes close to it, but I want to say that it’s ok for LW to be both angry AND to want to establish a relationship, but with that anger as a valid part of the thing. Whether or not the LW was the one or a part of whatever “wrong” was committed, that’s going to be something they have to acknowledge and maybe work on if they try to have a relationship, but simultaneously so is the anger of abandonment. I don’t know that it has to be in that initial email script, but at some point something like “hey, I do want to reestablish a relationship with you, but I have a lot of feelings of abandonment that come from having a close family member/parental figure cut me out (possibly even for something I didn’t personally do) and I think that’s something I would like to acknowledge and talk about too.”

      It is VALID to be angry and hurt about that, even if you also understand why she cut your family out (it’s ok to recognise the logic or sense of someone’s actions and still be hurt by them) and to have to deal with both feelings. But it doesn’t necessarily stop you from having a relationship, just hopefully a more honest one in which you can deal with this too? (Of course providing that you guys do establish one.)

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