Grieving The Family You Never Had

You’ve been working hard to grow, transform, and learn new skills. Your eyes are open to whole new possibilities in relationship. You also are beginning to realize the truth about relationships in your family of origin. You have begun to recognize relationship dynamics and the pain associated with them. You have begun to become aware that your family of origin is not the family you thought they were and may never meet you in the way you long for.

If this is still a somewhat new realization in your life, you may find yourself angry and frustrated in one moment and grief-stricken in the next. You might watch yourself interacting with family in the same old patterns and be conscious that it’s not working, but unable to do something different.

With support from others, realizations about your family will come in succession. Each time, you will be a little more clear about what’s true now or was true in the past. And, if you are able make space for it, each time you will expose and experience another layer of grief.

While grieving may be uncomfortable for you, it is an essential part of the process and can lead to your liberation from the suffering of wanting your family to behave differently than they are. When you truly begin to let go of old longings regarding your family, you will likely feel relief. You will find yourself able to see them more fully: what they struggle with, what their strengths are, and what they enjoy. Eventually, with equanimity, you will stop trying to get something from them they cannot currently give. This isn’t about giving up with hopelessness. It’s about being present with what’s true now.

This freedom from old dynamics will naturally inspire you to look elsewhere to meet those needs you had wished your family would fulfill. You will find others with whom you can be fully heard and known, with whom you can fully belong and be held.

Your wish for your family to do this may never go away. There is likely something hardwired about wanting our family to meet us in certain ways. Your relationship to that wish, however, can transform. You can eventually hold it in an open hand, neither grasping nor pushing it away.

Moving into this relationship with your unfulfilled longing doesn’t mean cutting off from family. You might choose to limit or cut off contact according to your own needs for self-care. More likely though is that you will continue engaging with them and practicing as best you can.

As you practice your new way of relating, your family might not respond positively. They might interpret your new behavior in a variety of unpleasant ways and be unable to name what’s triggering discomfort for them. At this stage, it’s important to remind yourself that your goal is not to change them. Your only goal is to behave with integrity and to practice the way of relating that you value. This likely includes self-care and compassion. Compassion for them might look like strict boundaries or it might look like offering empathy while not expecting them to offer it back. It might look like sharing something about your life even though no one asked.

As the process of grieving and letting go nears completion, you might find yourself connecting with your family in ways you could not have predicted. Eventually, you may come to trust an inner stability in which you can be fully you and they can be fully them.


Take a moment now to bring to mind a family member with whom you feel some tension, anger, or frustration. Name what doesn’t work for you about how they relate to you. Then, allow grief. You might allow grief by repeating to yourself something like, “This is how it is, and I can’t control or change how they behave.” Relax the muscles in your face and around your heart as you hold your attention on this simple truth.