WATCH: How does a person break up with her own parents?

Author Jessica Berger Gross opens up on how she became "Estranged" from her family

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 20, 2017 5:00PM (EDT)

Breakups — whether they're of friendships or marriages — are a common part of adult life and a frequent topic of memoir. But when the breakup is with family, the subject is still often shrouded in silence. In her gripping yet hopeful new book "Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home," author Jessica Berger Gross reveals what led her to cut off ties to her abusive family — and how that choice changed her life. She appeared on "Salon Talks" this week to talk about it.

How did you wind up estranged for the past 17 years?

I don't know if I'd heard the word "estrangement." I'd never thought about this as an option.

We'd had a huge blowup. Of course, we'd had many fights before. . . . A week became two weeks, became three weeks, became a month. And I started feeling better.

It wasn't like I said, "I'm never talking to you for the rest of my life." When I said goodbye to them, I hugged them and said, "I love you, but please don't call me."

How do you handle the stigma around estrangement?

There was a lot of shame. . . . I thought of it as my secret for the first couple of years. 

If you have an abusive partner, you would hope that everyone you know would rally around you to leave that person. But when that person is a family member, somehow that's flipped. There's this huge taboo against walking away, even if these things happened.

What do you advise to other people in similar family dynamics?

You don't have to torture yourself by continuing this relationship.

You don't have to stay in contact with them if they are hurting you. If your life would be better if you moved on . . . you can walk away. It's OK. It doesn't make you a bad person.

Watch our conversation for more on "Estranged."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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