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Disengaging From Your Family of Origin

By Dr. Margaret Paul
August 10, 2009

Do feelings of fear and obligation stop you from disengaging from your abusive family of origin? You might want to reconsider this decision.

"Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother."

But what if your father and mother didn't honor you? What if instead of loving and honoring you they physically, sexually and emotionally abused you? What if you were scared every day of your growing up years? And what if, when you finally grow up and start to face the fact that your family of origin abused you, and through some therapy finally gain the courage to confront them with the abuse, they completely deny it and tell you that you are crazy? Do you stay in that family system or leave it?

There is little cultural sympathy, support, information, or education for adult children who are starting to face the fact that their family of origin abused them, and often their abusive family is still trying to get them to stay in the family system and play their programmed role.

One of the members of our Inner Bonding website asked me to write an article about this topic. "I see so many adults suffering in family relationships they believe they're supposed to maintain, regardless of the cost to their integrity and health. More than anything, they’re lacking alternative role models and supportive information."

Most people can't even conceive of how or why exiting a family of origin might be a very loving action.

If you come from a highly abusive family who has done no healing and is in denial of the abuse, this is a deeply crazy-making situation. Staying in this situation only perpetuates the abuse that you are trying to heal. As a child, you didn't have a choice, but as an adult, you don't have to stay in an abusive and crazy-making situation, regardless of the pressure being put upon you.

Who Are You Responsible For?

What is most important here is to understand that you are not responsible for how your family feels about and reacts to your decision to disengage from them. While you might have been brought up to play the role of caretaker for your family, or you have played the role of the identified patient, you are not obligated to continue to play that role. In fact, healing involves letting go of responsibility for them and giving yourself the right and privilege of taking responsibility for yourself.

For example, Tara had been physically, sexually and emotionally brutalized by her father and not at all protected by her mother. Her parents continue to expect her to visit them, and she continues to tolerate her father's incredibly mean behavior.

"Why do you visit them?" I asked her in one of our phone sessions.


"Why are you obligated?"

"Because they say I am."

"Tara, please open to your inner Guidance and ask if it is loving to you - to your inner child - to continue to put yourself in the line of abuse."


"Are you willing to make taking loving care of yourself more important than obligation?"

"Yes! I didn't know that it was okay to do that!"

"How do you feel?"

"So relieved!"

Honoring Your Father and Your Mother - From a Distance!

"Tara, you can still pray for your parents' highest good without having to see them. You can still honor the deeply abandoned soul locked away within each of them, without dishonoring yourself by being around abusive behavior. Your responsibility is to take loving care of yourself and share your love with those who love you, rather than allowing yourself to continue to be abused."  

You do not owe your parents for having you, or for feeding and clothing you. You are not obligated to see them. You might choose to take care of them out of your caring for them, or even because it feels right to you to do that, but when being around them is deeply harmful to you, please consider disengaging from them.


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