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Carolyn Hax: Handling profound feelings

While I’m away, readers are giving the advice:

On being cut off by immediate family – After the death of my parents, my siblings cut me off – not just not talking to me, but telling many other people that they didn’t have any other siblings, such as the courts probating wills, causing me to have to prove that I did exist. The lawyer for one of the estates involved told me that big life events such as death of a parent often are the occasion for childhood stuff to be raised anew and fought again through the wills. In my case, my 50ish siblings told the judge about things that happened when I was 8 or 10.

In the moment, despite being stunned by all this, I had to do life things so I didn’t have a lot of time to think “why.” I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t worry about why; I had to deal with the what of it and just represent myself.

I later spent a little time updating a family tree that one of my grandfathers wrote down. I realized that there were a number of family secrets on that side – the one that was seemingly very open.

On the other side, there was nothing but secrets and whispers. I began to remember that my mother and aunt stopped speaking as soon as their father was dead. And once when I found a photo of a person I didn’t recognize, my mother said that it was her uncle Jimmy. Though my grandfather was from a family of six, I had only heard of three of them before. Light dawned – this shunning was generational behavior. My mother led by example – a bad one, clearly – but how bad wasn’t clear until she died.

A family taught to address problems will do it; a family taught to just go on will hold grudges. They will be resolved sooner or later, likely at the most important, and therefore most stressful, times.

Allowing those behaviors to continue into the next generation will be a real tragedy.

I hope people who have been cut off from family will find ways to review, learn from family of origin – and end that behavior so it never recurs in the families they build with others.

– R.


I have a niece who has not spoken to me in four years.

I don’t know what I did. It hurt at first, but in time the hurt passed.

I’m 82, and I don’t have time for people who don’t like me.

– Happy Without My Niece

On being a minor with a controlling or difficult parent – Ask mom or dad if you can see a therapist. Tell them that you have teenage things you want to work out. I see teenagers in my counseling practice all the time who ask to come in just to talk with someone. Sometimes, parents know why; other times, they don’t.

That space is yours to share, vent, whatever you need. It would be a good place to start to sort out your feelings and find ways to manage inevitable confrontations. At times, I’m able to help my clients talk with their parents about difficult issues. It works.

– Anonymous

On the definition of unconditional love – To me, it is a lot like justice: an important goal, but actually unattainable in real life.

This does not let us off the hook, but each has to determine what level of effort to expend toward the goal. I have to look to the spiritual to see what unconditional love might look like.

I am uncomfortable with how short I fall from the goal after 65 years of life.

– D.