Mar 21

Should You Detach From Your Family? “Leaving Home”

Should you detach from your family?

In Leaving Home: The Art of Separating From Your Difficult Family (2005), David P. Celani, an experienced clinical psychologist, writes about a topic rarely addressed in self-help books—a topic that some therapists don’t even like to address—how to detach from your family if you so choose.

From the book description:

Giving up family attachments that failed to meet our needs as children…is the hardest psychological task an adult can undertake. Yet the reality is that many adults re-create the most painful aspects of their early relationships with their parents in new relationships with peers and romantic partners, frustrating themselves and discouraging them from leaving their family of origin. Leaving Home emphasizes the life-saving benefits of separating from destructive parents and offers a viable program for personal emancipation.

In an interview for Columbia University Press, Celani states: “Adults who find themselves living with their parents and who have difficulty in leaving their family of origin represent one of the largest groups of mental health patients in the country.”

Celani explains early in the book that he bases his beliefs on a psychoanalytic theory known as object relations, more specifically “the concept of ‘attachment to bad objects,’ which describes the abandoned, abused, or neglected child’s intense loyalty to the very parent or parents who failed him or her.”

I for one have always found “object relations” to be an odd choice of terminology. As has Carolyn Murphy, presumably, who “explains” this concept further in her satiric piece found in The Primal Whimper: More Readings From the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity:

Psychoanalytic theory postulates that psychological problems begin at a very young age. Indeed, many patients’ deficits are rooted in an early lack of healthy ‘object relations.’ Object relations theories are derived from the supposition that ‘objects who need objects are the luckiest objects in the world’ (Streisand, 1967, line 1).

Whatever you label the theory, though, one thing that’s not in dispute is that receiving love and attention is essential to healthy child development and “people relations.” A metaphor from Celani (from the same interview mentioned above) quantifies such nurturance in an understandable and helpful way:

…(H)ealthy development, which results from a supportive family atmosphere allowing the child’s personality to mature, is akin to getting 20 gallons of high test gasoline in your fuel tank, and once the tank is filled it never runs out. Parents who inadvertently stunt their child’s development through indifference, excessive criticism, humiliation, mockery, or episodes of physical abuse, stall their child’s developmental progress. The child raised in this type of family ends up with an empty emotional fuel tank, remaining close to his parents because the outside world appears to be too daunting to enter, and because he lives in the endless hope of someday receiving the emotional support that will allow him to mature.

An Amazon reader review notes that Celani’s book also helps answer the big question of Why? Why didn’t my parents love me? care for me properly? Celani states:

The question as to why we were abused is a continuation of our defenses, in that it assumes there is an inherent logic in life, and that we could have done something differently to please our parents. The ultimate ‘answer’ to the question of why we were rejected, undernurtured, or punished unfairly is simply bad luck — the same bad luck that allows innocent people to be maimed or killed by drunk drivers every year.

I bought this book from Celani at a conference he presented on personality disorders several years ago. I decided to write this post because of the impressive reviews he’s received from his readers—real people (not objects) like you, perhaps, who’ve struggled mightily with how to detach from your family or dysfunctional caregivers.