Friday, September 23, 2011

A Question About Distancing.

Between Syd's post, and a question I received:

"Is it okay to distance myself from a family member who continues to treat me with sarcasm and rudeness?"

 - what's on my mind today, are the sufferings we endure, when our fear precludes our setting boundaries around unacceptable behavior. I accepted many years of abuse - physical, emotional, verbal - because my self-image was so damaged that I didn't believe I had the right to say, "No more!"

When I was a kid, whatever happened behind the closed doors of a family home was the inhabitant's business, and no-one would interfere, as long as it didn't become blatant.

Things are somewhat different now, at least with the justice system in this country. If I were to call the police because the neighbour was screaming abuse at his wife and kids, they'd come out and talk to him, give him both a warning as to his behavior, and options for seeking treatment for anger management.

But how many of us convince ourselves, that we have no choice but to accept unacceptable behavior, for one reason or another? I know I struggled for years with feelings of hurt and distress, with "jokes" which were nothing of the sort, they were thinly-veiled insults. If I protested, I'd be asked, "Can't you take a joke?" or be told, "I was only kidding."

It wasn't until I decided that I was going to challenge each and every one of these "not-jokes," that they diminished in frequency. As long as I tolerated them, the alcoholic used them as a way to take digs at me, without having to take responsibility for what he was doing.

I have to decide what I will, and will not, accept from another person. If I allow myself to be treated abusively, it's likely the person abusing me is going to continue with that behavior, because it works for them.

I can lean on the support, experience, strength and hope of my friends in Al-Anon, as I set new boundaries. If I quietly and calmly state that I will be treated with respect, or I will remove myself - from the room, the house, or the relationship - I'm letting this person know that things have changed, and it's not going to be the way it has been. When I act with calm dignity, it's because I've had an internal change, and this is how it's manifesting itself - in a desire to be treated with the respect that I deserve.

We all have to decide for ourselves how we are going to deal with family - I don't give specific advice, but I do suggest that you talk to other people in Al-Anon, and find out how they've dealt with this problem in their lives. We get tunnel vision; another viewpoint can be helpful.


  1. Wonderful post! Being able to build the healthy boundaries is one of the many miracles the Al-Anon program has given me.

  2. I find that the threats of removing oneself have to be manifested in action or the person who is bullying and abusing will realize that I am not serious. It was when I was walking out the door five years ago that my wife knew the gig was up. She went to her first AA meeting the next day. Mouthing words about boundaries and not acting still perpetuates the problem and perhaps makes it worse.

  3. Good post. I have a difficult aunt who I choose to distance myself from, even though I get the guilt trip from people. I do my part by calling her and keeping in touch within reason but not taking any behavior that leads to resentments. I realized from Al Anon that it is OK to say the I am not strong enough to handle this person right now. I can walk away and wait it out until I can do it.