Forgiving and Letting Go: How to Heal from Familial Past Wounds in ACDH

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Growing up as an adult child of a dysfunctional home (ACDH) can leave lasting emotional scars. One of the most challenging aspects of our journey to healing is confronting painful relationships with controlling, manipulative, and abusive family members. That is why I’m sharing here my personal story of dealing with a controlling sister and an abusive brother and how the process of forgiving and letting go has helped to heal these familial past wounds.

As an adult child of a dysfunctional family, I carried the heavy burden of unresolved childhood wounds. I eventually took a “searching and fearless inventory” of my childhood as part of the work for Step Four during my recovery. It helped me acknowledge two key relationships that were the source of much of my anxiety as an adult—my controlling and manipulative sister and my abusive brother. For years, I tried to navigate these relationships while looking for a safe and healthy emotional connection. However, the actions and behavior of my siblings continually left me feeling drained and emotionally unstable.

Growing up, my sister struggled with insecurity. Because of this, she seemed to exert control over everything and everyone around her. She used her temper and sly manipulation to meet her own dysfunctional needs. My dad was not around and my mother did not have the emotional fortitude to stop my sister’s outbursts and manipulation. Her tactics often left me feeling like my own voice was drowned out. Sometimes her behavior was subtle, making it difficult for others to recognize her true intentions. This dynamic had a huge impact on my emotional health and stability and made me feel insecure in relationships, especially with my female friends.

My relationship with my brother was even more complicated. He struggled with his own demons, and his abusive behavior towards me and other family members was a painful manifestation of his unresolved issues. The emotional and physical abuse left deep scars, and the trauma lingered well into adulthood, impacting my ability to form healthy connections with men.

The turning point in my life came as I began working the steps and I realized that holding onto anger, resentment, and pain only perpetuated my own suffering. I now know that I need to take the courageous path of healing, forgiveness, and letting go. Below are some valuable truths that the Twelve Steps have helped me take to heart, bringing me the peace and serenity I have never truly had.

  • Acknowledging My Pain: The first step was to acknowledge the pain and trauma that these relationships caused. Instead of burying my emotions, I faced them head-on, allowing myself to grieve the loss of the loving family I had always yearned for.
  • Setting Boundaries: As an adult, I am beginning to understand the importance of setting healthy boundaries. I am establishing clear limits with my sister and brother to find and maintain peace and serenity.
  • Seeking Support: Healing from the wounds of the past is not a solitary journey. I am seeking the support of friends, therapy, and ACDH recovery meetings, which each help connect me with others who have had similar experiences.
  • Finding Compassion: Through my journey of healing, I have begun to see my sister and brother not just as perpetrators of pain but also as wounded individuals struggling to survive amidst the pain of their own childhood trauma. This perspective has allowed me to find compassion for them and separate their actions from their inherent dignity as human beings created in the image of God.
  • Embracing Forgiveness: Forgiveness is not about condoning others’ behavior but about freeing myself from the chains of resentment. It is a process of releasing the grip that their actions have had on my heart and soul.
  • Letting Go: Letting go does not mean forgetting or denying the past. Instead, it means “accepting what I cannot change” and, at the same time, “having the courage to change” how it continues to impact me. By releasing the grip of the past, I am making space for God to move in my life in ways that I could never have imagined.
  • Seeking the Sacraments: By making frequent use of the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, I am enabling the Holy Spirit to heal those hidden areas of my heart that only God can see.

Healing from the wounds caused by growing up in a dysfunctional family is a transformative journey. My experience with a controlling sister and an abusive brother has taught me that forgiveness and letting go are powerful tools that can free me from the weight of the past.

As adult children of dysfunctional homes, we attend meetings in order to heal, find peace, grow in our relationship with God, and forge a path toward healthier human relationships and ordered self-love. It is never too late to embark on this empowering journey and we welcome any and all adult children to join us on this grace-filled journey.

Born and raised Catholic, Chloe is an adult child of alcoholics who recently rediscovered the beauty of 12-step recovery through attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Catholic in Recovery meetings. For many years, Chloe was an Evangelical Christian before the Blessed Mother, the saints, and the witness of a dear friend eventually drew her back to the Catholic faith.