I approached my defoo with the opposite intention than separating from my family. After numerous fights and instances when I left slamming the door just to be pulled back a few weeks later and find myself in the same fights once again, I decided that a more effective approach might be an attempt to develop an intimate and honest relationship with them.
I made my intentions very clear. I stated my goal and asked for their collaboration. I asked them to join me in building a more intimate and a more open relationship. I told them I really wanted to get to know them and that I wanted them to know me.
I asked for their commitment to truth and for their permission to explore more intimate subjects than What’s new in your life? or What did you do last night? or How’s the weather where you are? I told them I was dissatisfied with where our relationship was and that I was trying to make it better.
If you decide to take this approach, at this stage, you will usually get a big “Yes”. I think most parents will make that commitment. They will be a bit skeptical, they might ask some clarifying questions but you will hardly ever find a parent or a family member who will tell you they are not interested in intimacy, in truth and in getting closer to you.
However, while many will commit, few will understand what they are committing to and even fewer will stick to their commitment. If you take this approach from the moment of commitment on, you must follow through with your stated goal. Leave the anger and the resentment out if you can and approach your family with fearless curiosity.
No subject is off the table, no conversation is taboo and all barriers are down. No superficial interactions are allowed, no trivial or safe conversations are to take place anymore – not while there is a mountain of topics which before were off limits and while you still have questions about your past.
You will not talk about the weather. You will not talk about the dog. You will not talk about your cousin who just got married, about the news or about abstract subjects that are unrelated to the pain and frustration that you feel about your childhood.
You will talk about your parents’ choices and why they made them. You will talk about family history and your parents’ childhoods. You will talk about your school experience and your parents’ role in it. You will talk about your parents’ relationship with each other. You will talk about your parents’ relationship with their parents. You will talk about spanking, about yelling and about punishment. And you will do this – if you can – without resentment but with curiosity and genuine interest with the sole purpose of finding the truth.
Do not try to hurt them, do not try to throw blame – not at this point at least – do not try to trap them, they will see it coming a mile away. Instead just explore.
Ask questions instead of passing judgment and, most importantly, do not self erase and do not retreat from the goal to which you all committed to: exploring each other and developing a closer relationship.
From what I was able to observe, in 99% of the cases, they will resist you, they will fight you, they will get angry at you, they will condemn you or they will do their best to avoid these conversations.
After your parents end or reject a conversation do not reach out to them and, if they reach out to you, be open and honest about your feelings and pick up the conversation exactly where you left off. Do not back down one inch.
At the end of all this – if you are lucky – you will have developed a much closer relationship with your family, you will have gained a better understanding of your family history and you will have diffused every mine in the minefield that previously surrounded all your interactions.
Unfortunately, for too many of us, this outcome is way out of reach. In most cases, your parents will fight you every step of the way. They will beg and plead to bring the relationship back into the narrow and safe space of mindless interactions. They will get angry at you, bully you, accuse you of being heartless, tell you there’s something wrong with you or accuse you of deliberately trying to hurt them.
In the end, however, they will seek you out less and less. They will avoid you and they will either slowly remove themselves from your life completely or openly reject you but it will be them defooing from you not the other way around.
By taking this approach, even if it will eventually lead you to a separation, you will get some family history, you will get a much better understanding of the moral make-up of your parents and, most importantly, you will get closure. Their rejection will be excruciating and you will feel a pain that will never completely go away but you will get the truth.
Rejecting your parents, telling them how bad they’ve been, how much they’ve hurt you and leaving while slamming the door is, in my opinion, not to defoo. It is a much easier approach and one that will shield you from the pain of their rejection but it will also shield you from the truth.
You might have to deal with your family trying to get in touch with you and trying to force themselves back into your life and, in the end, you might have to drag this painful process for a lot longer than you thought you would.
The possibility of re-fooing will be high and, since you haven’t gotten closure, your family will usually find their way back into your life. Maybe not this year but the next or the next one after that. The pain and the frustration will continue and your self-growth will be stalled while toxic people will keep going in and out of your life, knocking on your doors, calling you on the phone or – even worse – showing up where you work.
Be mindful, be honest and, most importantly, allow yourself to get hurt. Not by your parents but by the truth!
This is the best approach to defooing that I know of and I have tried several before I found this one. None of them worked, none of them gave me any closure and none of them kept my family from finding their way back into my life.
A Few Observations
If the face to face conversations become too toxic and if you feel that your parents are deliberately pushing some of your emotional triggers trying to derail you, your train of thought and the conversation itself, then switch to writing.
Take some time off from seeing them and start a correspondence when you feel strong enough. In writing you have time to cool off after reading their replies and you can go over their statements with a clear mind after you had a good night sleep. This will allow you to formulate much better arguments instead of just reacting.
You can ask advice from friends, your therapist or your coach and get an outside point of view on the conversation. You can go back to what was said before and hold your family accountable for previous statements that they’ve made and for which now you have proof.
Last but not least, you will have a record of your defooing process that you can revisit anytime in the future should you have doubts about your separation.
Do not start this process if you still live with your parents. You don’t want to find yourself homeless and it is not ok to start this process without having a safe space where you can retreat should the abuse escalate – because most probably it will.
Make sure that you are at a place in your life where you can afford to spend a few months in emotional turmoil. Your work will be affected, your relationship with your partner will be affected, pretty much every aspect of your life will be impacted by this. If there’s an important project coming up at work and your focus and productivity is needed there, postpone your defooing until you are in a less stressful place.
It is always preferable to take some time off from your family before starting the defooing process. Tell your parents that you need some time to think things through and that you will get back to them when you’ll be ready. Prepare everyone in your life that you love and respect for what’s coming and ask for their support and advice and, most importantly, prepare yourself and learn to control your anger.
If you are looking for help with regards to your defoo, RTLC offers support sessions that are tailored specifically for this process.
Sign up for a free introductory session to find out more.
Check out the other parts of this series:
Defoo Part I – Introduction and Appeal to Caution
Defoo Part II – Benefits and a Personal Confession