Sedna’s Daughters: Healing from Family Estrangement

Families in patriarchal cultures often mete out similar types of domination and oppression on their daughters that women experience in the larger world. For many daughters (and sons/trans/genderqueer folks), this includes scapegoating and rejection. Sedna’s Daughters provides a safe space for discussion on earth-based, spiritual approaches to healing from the confusing experience of family estrangement and recognizes all people's inherent belonging to Mother Earth, the human family, and the cosmos.

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Defining Family Aggression

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“But to pretend that all was right with the world, I first had to know what was wrong.”
Amy Tan, The Hundred Secret Senses

Defining, naming, and understanding the experience of Family Aggression is a significant piece of the healing process for daughters who have been shunned by or are estranged from their families of origin, or their biologicals, as I call them. I coined the term "biologicals" to refer to one's relatives because having biological relationship with other human beings does not necessarily make them your family. Families love, respect, and are a fundamental source of security and stability--supposed to be, that is. But many families in the world are too broken to provide this experience, hence differentiating between "biological" relationships and nourishing, meaningful "spiritual" bonds with others is important.

Sharing DNA with a group of people does not necessarily make them your family. Being a true Family is an honor that is earned through a pattern of mutual love and trust.

Recognizing patterns of Family Aggression can be very helpful to understanding why adult daughters are shunned by their biologicals. Daughters often tell me "I always knew something was very wrong about how I was treated by my family, but I just couldn't name it or understand why I was upset all the time." This is extremely common for any person who is the target of another person's abuse. You know you feel terrible and you know there are problems, but why exactly others' behavior is disturbing remains unclear. Using the power of language to name your experience changes how you relate to that experience.

To help with the careful awareness-raising of Daughters' healing processes, I have created a chart that defines behaviors present in Aggressive Families that is based on the Duluth Model for Intimate Partner Violence's Power and Control Wheel. Here is a link to their homepage: https://www.theduluthmodel.org/

Abuse is a pattern of aggression meant to control, demean, and

disenfranchise another human being.

Socially, we typically cast that pattern of aggression in terms of domestic violence: a husband/boyfriend who belittles, controls, demeans, and even uses physical violence to keep his wife/girlfriend subjugated and afraid. However, whole families as cohesive units can also engage in patterns of aggression to target a family member, typically daughters because of our subjugated status built directly into our culture. This is Family Aggression. Group Identity plays a key role in why biologicals engage in such behavior: see my previous Blog on Group Identity for more information. Here is a listing of categories that may be useful to you to recognize your biological kin's behavior toward you that may have led to the cut-off, especially if you were speaking up to them to stop the mistreatment (which makes them escalate/worsen):

 

A Brief Inventory of Family Abuse of Adult Daughters

Minimization and Blame

Family members/parents refuse to discuss relationship issues with daughter/deny events

Say daughter's feelings are "drama"/will not take responsibility for their behavior

Blame daughter for any/all family problems/scapegoat her

Threats and Intimidation

Screams at and speaks in threatening tone daughter

Threatens to disinherit her/ destroy her professionally/ publicly out her if she's lesbian or transgender

Says things like "I brought you into this world, I can take you out!" or "I should have had an abortion."

Possessiveness

Parents/family member(s) sabotage daughter's relationship with other family members or her kids/ partner

Accuse daughter of abandoning them if she has her own life, moves away from them

Tells daughter what beliefs/opinions to have, how to dress, whom to date/marry

Humiliation

Biological kin criticize or mock daughter in front of others: her body size, lifestyle, career choice, etc.

Share sensitive/confidential information with others about daughter from her childhood

Makes daughter feel guilty or ashamed (for various/any reasons)

Domination

Family of origin treats daughter like she is incompetent/worthless, property, or a servant (expecting her to plan, pay for, host and clean-up for all family events and be responsible for the care of able-bodied adults)

Sets all the rules in the relationship (daughter not allowed to have preferences or needs)

Allows siblings' preferences to control all events: scheduling/re-scheduling, menu, location, etc

Emotional Abuse

Biologicals give daughter the silent treatment/shun her/slander her to other family members

Labels daughter with psychological diagnoses, says she's "crazy"

Does not visit, include, or telephone daughter/blatantly favors siblings with affection/time/gifts and is cold to daughter/ mocks her when she raises the issue and says she's "petty" or "just jealous"

Sex-Related Abuse

Denigrates daughter's sexual orientation, gender identity, being unwed, not wanting children, or being infertile, etc

Denying/minimizing/mocking daughter's experiences of sexual assault/violence (at any age)

Allowing/denying that other family members/family friends/step-parents flirt with, proposition, sexually harass or make sexual "jokes", assault/ rape daughter (of any age)

Physical Abuse and Neglect

Family members poke, slap, push, pinch, pull hair, kick, throw objects at adult daughter

Economically help daughter's siblings while refusing to assist daughter

Withhold readily-available food, shelter, and safety from daughter in time of hardship

 

All families/parents make mistakes and have problems, but abuse is not normal! The difference between a healthy family and a family that functions from Aggression is that the aggressive family denies their behavior, refuses to take responsibility for past events, continues the aggression, and mocks the daughter's experience of the aggression. Human beings learn as children to take responsibility for their mistakes, to say "Yes, I did that/I'm sorry/I won't do it again"...and then they are expected (and typically do) stop. Aggressive/abusive families refuse to do this.

A family may not have the relationship skills or emotional maturity to have a direct conversation about issues; however, they have the ability to STOP the behavior that harms their daughter if they wish to stop it. That's what love is! Aggressive families do not believe they need to stop because they are functioning from their most regressed, de-humanized group identity and have scapegoated their daughter, making her their internal enemy/whipping post in order to be more strongly bonded to one another. It's a desperate act that harms everyone, especially the perpetrators.

All possible theorizing and psychologizing aside, abuse is wrong and

families are responsible for their behavior regardless of the reasons for it.

If you have read the categories and see your experiences come to life before your eyes, know that you are among thousands of women who recognize their families' heartbreaking pattern of abuse. Know that you are not alone, just as wives/girlfriends (and men) are not alone when they realize the man or woman they love has been abusing them. It is devastating...we want to believe the best about the people in our lives, but instead we are confronted with their worst. You will survive coming to this knowledge; life is much harder and destructive if we deny it. Truth is ultimately liberating.

To live with the world being "all right", as Amy Tan says above, we must know the TRUTH of our lives without pretending. Recognizing that truth inside the safety of the Sedna's Daughters community and the beloveds in your life will allow you to come to the mirror and see your own history as it is, while the faces of all of us are there, in the background, telling you unequivocally "You are not alone. We are all here with you." You may wish to share this blog with a trusted friend or counselor as you come to terms with the depth of your experience with your biological kin.

Wherever you are in your journey of coming to terms with Family Aggression, estrangement, and cut-off, know that you have already been strong enough to get this far. That strength is a diamond within you; keep polishing it with self-care and loving people/Mother Earth/Great Mother Goddess/animal companions in your life. The shine belongs to you as a gift from divinity!

Until next time, the Sedna's Daughters community will hold you in our hearts while your heart heals.

Love, Always, Sedna XO

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I have a Ph.D., am a victim's advocate, college-level educator, and was shunned by my maternal biological kin and their family friends over a decade ago. I have built an international community of daughters (and sons) committed to supporting one another and thriving despite the aggression of our relatives. “Sedna” is the EuroAmerican name of a revered Inuit Creatrix who was violently rejected by her parents and cast into the sea to die, but instead survived to create otters, seals, and whales.  Sedna is also the name of a star just appearing in the farthest reaches of our solar system and discovered by astronomers on November 14, 2003. Nick Anthony Fiorenza writes that "Sedna's message here is that humanity must recognize the truth about the suppression, persecution, abduction and exploitation of the feminine force in the world; and this mentality perpetuating such must be addressed and changed." Healing women is my life's work. See my Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/SednasD/

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