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  • Writer's pictureErika Sardinha

Being Family Does Not Justify Abuse - Reshaping Family Relationships

When I was in primary school, I dreaded father's day.

Every school year, with no exception, the teacher would warm up the class with an ode to the father figure and insist that we should love and support him no matter what. I don't know if she noticed it at the time, but I'm pretty sure I had a blank expression on my face since I had no idea where my father was and my stepfather... he was a hard person to love.

On those days, the teacher would spend the entire morning talking about how good kids love and obey their father, how all fathers love their children and how grateful we should be for having them.

We would always end up with beautiful handmade cards, cute hearts, and the words I love you written all over the place. I didn't want to be ungrateful, and I wanted so bad to be a good girl that I mimicked my classmates to blend in. I was so scared that they'd discover that I was not like them! Now I wonder who else in that classroom was feeling the same way I did.

At home, my stepfather would always make sure to reinforce that as a family, we stick together no matter what. "Forget your friends, forget cousins, everybody! We stick together as a whole. We are all that matter. Also, don't tell anybody what happens inside our home. People are mean."

With that in mind, plus the pressure from school, when father's day came, I would give my stepfather, who used to beat me whenever he felt like, the adorable postcard I crafted. He would always say thanks and be happy for the offer, but soon the postcard would be full of dust, and he would beat me again for some shallow reason.

It's been a long time since I've made a postcard for father's day, and a lot has happened since then. My stepfather passed away when I was 19 years old, and my biological father left this earth in October last year, exactly a year ago. I am officially a fatherless daughter, and I made peace with it.

After everything I've been through, it baffles me to realize that we are still passing on this message that "family is everything" without acknowledging the existence of different family dynamics. And the more I talk to people, the more I investigate, the more I realize that abuse is a widespread issue, and more often than not, happens inside the household. I grew up thinking I was the exception to the rule, the odd one out, but now I see that I wasn't.

This image of the perfect happy family that sticks together no matter what is engraved in our body and soul and helped excuse too many cases of abuse and violence. To this day, many people still tolerate abuse from family members, and too many feel guilty for not allowing it.

Listen, don't get me wrong. I know of - some - families that are healthy and happy. They warm my heart and make me feel hope for the humans to come. For me, those families have all the right to spread this message amongst their members.

I guess the keyword here is 'healthy.' If you have a healthy family, yes, be grateful, yes, stick to them.

But that is not the case for many of us. And some of us need to hear different rhetorics. Some of us need to know that families are not everything, and you should not stick to them no matter what.

Being family does not justify abuse.

The thing is, all families are different, we all know it. And if they are not healthy, we have to come up with a different approach than the ones we are used to having. We must add words like boundaries, consequences, loving from afar, and zero contact to our family conversations. Yes, I did say zero contact. Sometimes, it is all we are left to do.

Coming from a family of abuse, I had to rethink and redirect the ideas and concepts I've had around families. Some family members hurt me while others participated in the abuse I suffered actively or simply by inaction. I had to re-evaluate and decide what type of relationship I wanted to have with each one of them. Up to that moment, I never thought I had a saying. But I did, and so do you.

What helped me the most, first and foremost, was learning how to practice self-love. Once I started to love myself, I realized that some relationships in my life were not serving me, and I found myself ready to fix that.

Sefl-love tells you when you are not honoring yourself and forces you to act on it. That's what happened to me. One day I woke up and asked myself: "what are these people doing in my life?"

My list included long-time friends and family.

I don't believe in simply cutting off people, so I tried to transform my relationships through conversations, different actions, and setting boundaries and consequences to breaking those boundaries. After this cleanse, some people stayed, some people I don't see as often as I used to, others I cut off for the sake of my mental health. I learned how to treat myself the way I wanted people to treat me.

Knowing my values and priorities played an essential part in transforming my relationships, especially when setting boundaries.

Once I knew my values and priorities, it was easier for me to say no. Before making even the most simple decisions, I would consciously scan through my values and priorities to help me decide. I had to be that literal at the beginning.

You know, I used to be the type of person that would dedicate my time to 'help' everyone, disregarding my own feelings or even physical sensations, so saying no was scary. But you know what? I now knew the importance of honoring myself, my values, and my priorities in life.

I know it is hard to break the chains, especially if they feel very tight, but I want you to know that you can loosen them up, even if you do it little by little. You have the power to do so, even if you can't see it right now.

Try this: Sit down and think about your values and priorities in life (not what you think your values should be or what people told you, but what you, at your core, value the most) and write it down.

Ask yourself what type of life you want to live and what type of people you wish to have around you. If you have this clear, I promise you: it will be easier to re-evaluate and reshape the relationships in your life.

And remember: Being family does not justify abuse. You deserve better.

Love and light,


Survivors Coach 💖


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