Life Advice



Ask Amy: Family survivor doesn’t want to talk about it

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: I was raised in a very dysfunctional family. My mother had psychological issues, my brother sexually molested me as a child (and remains a textbook sociopath), and my father had frequent outbursts of extreme rage.

My mother has been dead for 15 years. I ceased all interaction with my brother then. I continued trying to maintain a relationship with my father for 10 years, but his abuse escalated until five years ago when he physically assaulted me.

I finally decided to end that relationship, too. I've had counseling for this, my therapist agrees that I've dealt with it well. I'm happy with my decisions.

The problem is, I never know how to respond when people ask about my family. People who know me well, don't bring up the subject. A couple of people keep prying for details or tell me (without knowing the details) that I need to forgive and make up, because "family is everything."

Then there are people I've just met who ask about my family because they are being sociable.

I don’t want to discuss this, but I also don't want to lie and declare that my is family dead.


Saying that we are estranged nearly always results in some sort of lecture, judgment, or inquisition.

I can't seem to find a polite way of ending the subject. Any suggestions?

Happily Orphaned in Austin

Dear Orphaned: Estrangement is one thing, but I would call your family dynamic “escape and survival.” Given your childhood, survival is a triumph. You have gotten professional help, and you are doing very well.


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