We’ve been discussing the importance of bridging cut-offs in early life relationships by defining who we are in the context of those relationships. This process is especially complicated if you experienced childhood abuse, trauma or neglect. Defining oneself in such a context is as improbable as thinking about how you want to re-arrange your bedroom furniture when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. You have to have your basic needs met before you can move beyond surviving into thriving.
So today’s post is dedicated to those who need to establish basic security before they can even consider bridging cut-offs in deprivational relationships.
The good news is that both establishing a sense of personal security and re-engaging cut-off relationships is possible…in that order. In some cases, cut-off was a natural, though generally unconscious, survival strategy to gain safety from and clarity about a chaotic environment. Learning what healthy relationships look and feel like is a first step for those whose early life featured neither.
This process inevitably stirs grief about what wasn’t, even as it stirs hope about what could be. In the most deprivational of cases, that grieving process may require an individual to write off an entire childhood as a loss, as it provided nothing of what a human being needs to survive, let alone naturally develop into a solid, secure human being.
Such a grieving process tends to be brutally painful, but the ideal end result is forgiveness. Yes, it’s possible to let go of an entire childhood, almost as if it never happened. That doesn’t meant that the harm didn’t happen, that wounds didn’t occur, that what happened doesn’t matter or that there isn’t significant impact. They did happen, it absolutely matters, and the impact is devastating. But the whole package can be released so that the individual can live free of its constant pain and continual impact.
Forgiveness, however, is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness takes one; reconciliation takes two. Bridging cut-offs solidly can only happen when the process of forgiveness has reached its conclusion. Reconciliation can only happen when the conditions of trust have been restored: those who have caused harm must own their contribution, express genuine remorse, seek to repair the wounds and learn how to relate in a trustworthy manner.
Between forgiveness and reconciliation is this matter of bridging cut-offs, and it more often requires the offended party (the adult child, for example) to initiate that bridge in early life relationships than the other way around. Once in a while in my psychotherapy practice, I see a parent who seeks personal healing for their own wounded history before their (adult) children do. In such cases, the adult children have fewer obstacles in their own growth process.
If you’re a parent who has begun to awaken to your contribution to the wounds of your child(ren), my special word to you is it’s never too late to make your relationships right, and you’ll never regret your efforts to do so. Your children may not be ready for the reconciliation process as soon as you are, especially if they initiated the cut-off. They may not even recognize the cut-off, or they may be unwilling/unable to identify the impact of childhood loss, but in time, as their own relationships reflect the impact, they may open up to grief, healing and restoration.
For those of you whose parents aren’t (and may never be) interested in self-exploration, you can still forgive and bridge cut-offs, although the relationship may never be healthy enough for trust to be restored to any significant degree. You may have to accept that trusting your own strength to establish and maintain your own self in those early life relationships is as good as it’s going to get (which is much better than not doing so), since you can only control yourself and not the other.
Tomorrow I’ll provide an example from my own life about how a concerted effort to bridge a cut-off resulted in a defining moment for me.