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Estranged From A Family Member? Let That Guilt Go.

Sometimes, it's your relatives who you need to protect yourself from.

Wellness

A year before my dad died (which was seven years ago), he and I had a series of conversations about my relatives on his side—and his marriage to my mother. Some things I already knew. Some things I was waiting to connect some dots on. Some things flat-out surprised me—and totally disgusted me.


I would give some details; however, while I am certainly an open book, I still want to be careful with how much I share about all three points because 1) a lot of people in my family aren't even close to being as candid (or shoot even honest); 2) I'm not writing this in order to "put people on blast"; and 3) interestingly enough, choosing to separate myself from certain family members is what's helped me to be less pissed and more gracious. Gracious about what? How I'm going to address why I don't involve myself with certain family members anymore. On both sides of my DNA.

I know that family estrangement is still a really radical concept to some people. Still, I totally mean it when I say that you oftentimes don't realize just how much you are only further traumatizing yourself and hindering your growth as an individual by still intimately involving yourself with your relatives…only for the simple fact that they are your relatives. After all, you know what they say—all skinfolk ain't kinfolk and chile, when it comes to healing and thriving as an individual, I sometimes believe that no truer words have been spoken.

On the open tip, what I will say is I'm a survivor of almost every type of abuse you can imagine, including neglect. Neglect from many members of my family too. At the same time, I think it's important to state that it wasn't the kind of abuse that happened every day. In fact, the running statement I make in interviews is what my family did well, it was "A level." Problem is, there really wasn't anything between an "A" and an "F". Either what they did was really great or it sucked and was the lowest of the low. BIG TIME. And because I really believe that I am a generational curse breaker, in order to truly break so many of the patterns and cycles, I had to get away from the classic definition of insanity—doing the same thing while expecting a different result. And yes, that included leaving certain relatives behind. Definitely for now. Possibly forever.

That's what we're going to tackle today. Whether you are currently estranged from a relative—or like a close friend of mine, an entire side of your family—or you're contemplating if that's something you should do for your overall ultimate health and well-being, I'm going to share with you, from very personal experience, why that is absolutely nothing to feel shame, guilt or embarrassment about. Now take a deep breath. You ready?

If ANYONE Should Be Your Safe Place, It’s Your Family

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It might sound crazy to say that there are benefits from estrangement yet, there are. Trust me. When it comes to mine, one of the things that a lot of my tribe says is, although I'm "Shellie" and gonna always be "Shellie" (LOL), removing myself from toxic family members has caused me to be a lot calmer overall. I agree. Back when I was still involving myself in the cyclic BS, I used to feel so out of control and somewhat intimidated by certain relatives. Leaving them alone caused me to feel more in control which caused me to not want to control everyone and everything else. And I definitely wouldn't have discovered that without fully separating myself.

This brings me to my first point. There is a particular toxic relative who I realize caused me to pick female friends who were very similar to them—beautiful, talented, manipulative, selfish and emotionally unstable. I would pick these kinds of women over and over and over again because that relative had a strong influence in my life. Once I unraveled myself from that person, though, I realized I kept choosing unhealthy friends because I didn't know what healthy looked like. And one thing that healthy is? It's safe.

Safe is a big deal to me (check out "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members"). It means that I'm protected. It means that I'm not subject to being hurt or harmed. It means that I'm in an environment or dynamic that is at little risk for pain or drama. Y'all, for some of us, the most unsafe individuals are our family members. That's why I'm the kind of person who actually gets pretty pissed off when people say that you shouldn't distance yourself from family members just because they're related to you.

What the hell are y'all talking about? If you've got relatives who are constantly putting you in harm's way—do you get that the last people who should be doing that are them? So, if they are the ones who are unsafe for you, at the very least, take a season to take care of yourself, because all they will keep doing is taking advantage of your vulnerability and, if you've got any (which isn't uncommon), even your feelings of fear.

Only Boundary-Violators Have a Problem with Boundaries

When I first decided to remove myself from all of the familiar crap, there was one person in particular who confirmed, LOUD AND CLEAR, exactly why I needed to do it in the first place. They showed up at my house unannounced (and uninvited; after I made it clear to them that they weren't welcome). They tried to dictate how I should conduct myself within my own space (remember y'all, I'm in my 40s). They sent other boundary-violators my way; people who had hurt me tremendously while growing up. WTF? Oh, I was pissed. I'm still a little triggered just thinking about it.

After getting still and reflecting, I realized that they were doing what they had always done—not respected my space. Or feelings. Or needs. They weren't going to change. I had to. This is actually one of the reasons why I am so "pro-estrangement"—again, at least for a season—if you've got toxic relatives in your life. It's so you can get quiet and still enough to ponder and process what the hell is actually going on, because sometimes stuff is so chaotic that you can't get a grasp of what is truly causing or triggering it.

Oh, but when you step out from this ish, I promise you that a part of what you'll realize is that the people who really and truly love you, they are going to honor your boundaries. They won't demand that you break them for their benefit. They won't dismiss them as if they are irrelevant. They won't try and talk you out of them. Even if they don't fully understand what is going on, they are going to respect your limits because what healthy people know is love and respect work hand in hand. Sis, no one truly loves you—family or not—if they don't respect you. And respect means accepting your boundaries. Simply because you set them.

Sometimes Forgiveness Means Removing Yourself from Being Tempted to Not Forgive

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I strive to be a Bible follower. And so, I am well aware of the fact that the Bible says that in order for God to forgive us, we must forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). This is why I don't cosign with people who think that you shouldn't forgive others. NO ONE is worth me being in an unstable place with my Creator. At the same time, again, the Bible says that in order to be right with the Lord, we must forgive. It does not say that when people abuse/mistreat/constantly offend us that we need to act like those things never happened or that we should remain in their hamster wheel of drama.

That's why, it is truly my belief that, in order for reconciliation to transpire (something else that the Bible also speaks of—2 Corinthians 5:17-19), not only does the victim need to forgive, the victimizer needs to repent as well. For the record, repentance isn't just about saying "I'm sorry." It's about making an amends too. It's about being proactive and intentional about righting the wrongs. Yeah, that sermon isn't preached nearly enough.

That's why this point is phrased in the way that it is. There are some people in my family who, whether it's intentional or unintentional, they just constantly cause harm and pain. Will they apologize? Sometimes. Well, they do that justification-not-taking-full-responsibility kind of apologizing (which isn't much of one). Yet my issue is they will do that, only to commit the same offense, on some level, not soon after.

Again, I know that the Bible says that I must forgive which is another reason why there is distance. It's because, since you're gonna keep "slapping me" (so to speak) and it's getting harder and harder to forgive you for it, how about I acknowledge just how broken you really are in that area and 1) give you nothing to slap and 2) pull myself out of the position where it's getting harder and harder to forgive you when you do it? It's not a common way of thinking yet it's been a very freeing one for me. Straight up.

When People Didn’t Love You Well, Please Make Sure That You Do

The last guy that I loved? It's funny that the moment that I removed myself from certain family members, the less appealing he became. In hindsight, I realized that he was just as smart, funny, creative, charming and interesting as they were. He was also just as unstable, manipulative, gaslighting, narcissistic and selfish as they were too. On some levels, I loved him because "thanks" to those relatives' example of love, I thought that is what love looked like. Ugh. I'm not saying all of this to demonize ole' boy. I know a lot about his own family dynamic and he honestly could stand to take some time off them from them too. Yet that's not my issue or problem.

What estrangement has done for me is driven home the point that, rather than spending (or is it wasting?) time trying to get toxic family members (or toxic men) to love me in the way that I deserve to be loved, it's better to distance myself and discover how to redefine love and then love myself better. That way, I can cultivate a new standard and therefore prevent myself from getting into relationships/friendships with individuals who do nothing more than mirror the family drama and dysfunction that I had gotten so accustomed to for so many years.

Another benefit of estrangement is you're not imprisoned by what you thought love looked like. You can get the time and space to free yourself up enough to understand just how warm, comforting, beneficial, encouraging and consistent real love actually is.

Guilt Is Typically Placed on Us. By Toxic People.

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OK, so let me hit on the guilt that you might be feeling regarding being estranged right now. Honestly, this could be a book all unto itself because a lot of people who struggle with guilt? It's oftentimes because they were surrounded by manipulative people some/most/all of their lives. Manipulative folks 1) don't like to take accountability for their actions; 2) get off on using puppet strings to try and control people's thoughts, actions and emotions, and 3) they are the kings and queens of deflection; if they can make you feel bad for what they've done, they will do it. Every time.

As a direct result, when you make the decision to distance yourself from them, you already know what they're gonna do, right? Guilt trip you (or send someone your way to do their dirty work for them). Before you know it, you find yourself having a hard time sleeping; you're feeling anxious; you're not trusting your own judgment; you're being indecisive; you're feeling like you have to defend/explain/apologize for everything—I could go on and on about what guilt looks like. My main point in bringing this up is, as you're reading this, I hope you can see how a lot of the guilt you may feel now is because, when it comes to the people you are distancing yourself from, you've probably always felt it. Take it up a notch and it's also why you've always stayed in the toxic pattern with them. Guilt has been overpowering you. It's time to let it go.

Listen, while I'm all about feeling remorseful when necessary, guilt is not the same thing. Not only that but very rarely does guilt do any of us any good. All it does is give us distressful feelings. Ones that, more times than not, cause us to either make poor decisions or ones that don't really make us a priority in the long run.

If you're tempted to feel guilty about the decision you've made to let some family members go (check out "Why I Don't 'Cut People Off' Anymore, I Release Them Instead"), do some self-love journaling so that you can remind yourself why you made the decision in the first place. Then jot down some areas where you've improved since making the shift. Some of us constantly feel guilty for choosing us because we've never done it before. Loving on you, healing you, figuring out who and what are truly best for you? That is NOTHING to feel guilty about. Remove yourself from anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. Straight up.

Let (Internal) Peace Be Your Guide

Listen, the older—and hopefully wiser and more mature—that you get, the more you want peace in your life. LAWD. Yeah, something that my mother used to say is I was violent about my own peace and development. Looking back, that's one of the best things she's ever said to me because when you are at peace—I mean the Hebrew word for peace is shalom which means things like whole and complete—there is nothing like it. Once you achieve it, you get to a point and place that any person, place, thing or idea that hinders it (especially on a constant basis) is something that you need to keep your distance from.

Life comes with so many challenges, simply because that is how life is. Yet if yours seems to be in constant upheavals, step back and think about if your family has anything to do with it. If you can name at least five reasons why the answer is "yes"—at the very least, establish firm and unapologetic boundaries. Or, if like in my case, either things are so unhealthy and/or they keep violating your limits, removing them from your life, as a consequence of their destructive behavior, is nothing to feel bad about.

Miss them? I get it. Wish things were different? I totally understand. Sacrifice your peace just to stay in chaos and drama? It's really not worth it. No one said that estrangement had to be forever. It really kind of depends on how well you heal and how much the people who hurt/harmed you have changed during the time apart. Yet if you know your family is infecting your life, please take care of you.

That way, you can spend less time in their drama and more time living the life you never thought was possible…until you removed yourself from their mess. Again, I am a living testimony of this. Peace personified. Finally.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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