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Survivor’s Guilt

I am traveling right now, visiting my family of origin out of state, far, far away from where I currently live.

My family is incredibly loving–love is something we have lots of and it can always be counted on. But the women in my family have a pervasive history of unhealthy relationships. My father was abusive to me & my mother until he died. My mother, to whom I’m extraordinarily close, has since remarried to a man who loves her, but is very controlling. The rest of my family is similarly dysfunctional and includes histories of emotional abuse, alcoholism, destructive patterns, risky behavior, women married to & victimized by horrible men.

When I was 17 I had an instinct to move far away from home, and I did so at the first opportunity, getting a scholarship to a college clear across the country. It was a difficult experience, but I now realize it was the first attempt to get away from patterns that I knew could destroy the life I wanted.

Many years later, I’ve made a home for myself, and it’s a place with friendships and relationships that are happy and healthy. My semi-annual family visits are jarring; it takes a great deal of effort not to sink back into patterns I’ve worked hard to undo.

My extended family views me as the “mysterious visiting daughter” and talks about me with a mixture of pride and resentment. In perhaps the last remnant of exposure to abuse, I feel guilty for getting away and making a life for myself, even as I know it was the best thing to do. Surely I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Maybe there’s a whole network of refugees from destructive family patterns.

  1. June 24, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    I can totally relate to that. I come from a very long line of dysfunctional relationships. Like you, I moved and now live in a state where none of my family lives and hundreds of miles away from where 98% of my family still resides. I definitely get the “you think you better than me but you not” vibe from some of my family members, but at the end of the day, I have to shrug it off. I’m very proud of having broken the pattern of teenage pregnancy, poverty, depression and self destruction. If somebody can’t be happy for me for that (whether that person is related or not), then there’s probably something going on in that person’s life that has nothing to do with me. Don’t feel guilty for being on a positive path, just share your laughter and joy as much as possible and be an example for the ones coming after you. As far as family is concerned, my thing is trying to be a good role model for my nieces, nephews and cousins. They need to know that the sky is the limit.

  2. secretsociologist
    June 29, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Thanks! What a perfect comment. It’s good to know others can relate.

    I love your blog, btw, and included it in the links on this page. πŸ™‚

  3. July 3, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Thank you, lady! Much appreciated. πŸ™‚

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