Five years ago, Marci went to the zoo with her mother, brother, and her brother's wife. It was an enjoyable afternoon, but it soon devolved into chaos.
"Afterwards, my mother asked me what was going on between my brother and his wife, as she knew they had been having issues," Marci says. "I told her, 'I don't know'—and then she asked again." The interaction ping-ponged until, in a crowded elevator, "she got so frustrated with me that she just slapped me across the face. At 35-years old."
Marci cut her mother off a few years after that incident. Their relationship had been strained for a long time, she says, but it wasn't until Marci was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis that she began to take the stress of her relationship with her mother more seriously. At her doctor's insistence that she reduce every possible source of stress in her life, Marci informed her family that she would no longer be in contact with her mother. It was the right decision, she says. "I felt great, like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders."
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.
"Divorcing a parent, though, may have [the opposite] effect," Sichel explains. "In the words of one patient: 'My mother and I were at odds my entire life. Somehow I mustered the courage to tell her I was done with her: done with the fights, done with the provocations, done with the criticism. I felt freed, like a slave being freed from an evil tyrant. Overall, life without my mother is a joy.'"
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