Looking back, Marci says she failed to set boundaries with her mother. "I was like, 'That's [just] your mom—she's crazy, she doesn't know what she's doing… let it go and things will be fine.' But then it wasn't." She is more than happy to explain her decision to people, simply telling them that it was a choice she made to live a better life. But unsurprisingly, not everyone agrees it was an okay thing to do. "Several friends say they will pray for me. I just respond, 'Thanks, but if you're going to pray for anyone, pray for her to see the harm she's done.'"Marci's post-split relief from her mother isn't an uncommon reaction, but nor is it the only reaction. "Family estrangement can leave scars of trauma," says Mark Sichel, a clinical social worker and author of Healing from Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace After Being Cut Off from a Family Member. "This can include psychiatric symptoms of anxiety or depression, or both. Despair over losing a child or parent is common. Even more so when a daughter 'divorces' her mother. In this instance, the mother often blames herself, and her self-recrimination can damage her self-esteem in profound ways.
"Our beneficiaries report the need to hide their circumstances for fear of being judged. This is particularly true of a mother-daughter relationship, which is said to be sacred [and] close. Media like films, books, and magazines advocate and promote that our mother should be our best friend."
I realized that this person did not have my best interests at heart.
Manipulation and rejection were constant for Drew growing up. Although the grieving process has been emotionally unpredictable, finally realizing that the mother she had was never going to be the mother she wanted was, she says, "freeing."According to Sichel, women start to think about "divorcing" their mothers at any age, but generally begin to seriously consider the idea in their 20s and 30s. "Family estrangements of any kind are usually due to developmental issues, where mothers try to thwart normal developmental milestones of separation and differentiation with their children. Essentially, the 'crime' that causes the cut-off is an adult child refusing to comply," Sichel says.
Bland notes that often, when a woman meets her partner or becomes financially independent, her willingness to separate from her mother increases because the risk has been significantly reduced. Of course, it's difficult to pinpoint one particular reason a woman might want to cut off contact. Beyond mental and/or physical abuse, sexuality, religion, and money can also play their part. As Sichel explains, "There are so many different plot twists and unpredictable events in family life, that predictions and generalities are impossible to make."But if a person can move beyond the irregularity of their situation, "It can be liberating," Bland says. "Despite what is seen in our media, 80 percent of people in our research said something positive had come from being estranged from family."Take it from Drew, who describes her post-split life as "a scatter plot chart with the overall trend moving upward." It turns out, she says, that "when you don't have to be around someone who treats you as if you're shameful, unworthy, and immoral, you quit feeling like you're shameful, unworthy, and immoral."*Some names have been changed to protect identity.
You quit feeling like you're shameful.