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A Bittersweet Happy Ending: Creating Your Second Chance Family-Of-Choice

A Bittersweet Happy Ending: Creating Your Second Chance Family-Of-Choice | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Let’s face it: Some of us are born into families we wouldn’t simply wouldn’t choose. 

Sometimes we wouldn’t choose these folks because we experienced abuse, neglect, trauma or chaos around them or because of them. 

Sometimes, though, and far more subtly, we wouldn’t choose them simply because we always felt we didn’t fit in with them. 

A Bittersweet Happy Ending: Creating Your Second Chance Family-Of-Choice | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

A Bittersweet Happy Ending: Creating Your Second Chance Family-Of-Choice

We felt like the proverbial Ugly Duckling amongst a group of swans.

The black sheep in a herd of white. 

An other.

Be it childhood abuse or the experience of being other, whatever the reason, many of us wouldn’t necessarily choose the family-of-origins we are born into.

Sadly and frustratingly, we don’t get much choice when we’re little.

This is the painful powerlessness of childhood – the lack of agency around and dependency on the families we’re born into/adopted into. 

But the beauty of growing up is that hopefully, and in time, we do have more agency and choice over who we include in our lives.

And part of this may mean that, as we grow, we develop the opportunity to cultivate and nourish our own second chance family-of-choice.

Today, I want to share more with you about what I consider a second chance family-of-choice to be (hint: it’s not just people), why this is so incredibly important, what can get in the way of creating this even if “technically” we have more choice, share with you a very important reminder about this process, and provide you with a list of prompts and queries to reflect on what cultivating and creating a second chance family-of-choice may look and feel like for you.

What is a second chance family-of-choice?

A second chance family-of choice is, again, the people we get to choose to be in our lives versus who we are forced to be around when we’re young. 

A second chance family-of-choice includes people who love us, accept us, support us, get us, and who want to be in our lives to lift us up and share along in the ride. 

A second chance family-of-choice may include people who share our values, our beliefs, or who, even if they don’t, happily allow for differences between us and find ways to be in healthy connection with us even if their choices look different.

They are not necessarily members of our family-of-origin (though they may include some of them!) but they may feel more like family than anyone we’re blood-related to ever has felt. 

Sometimes these chosen people are flesh and blood real – the partners we date and/or marry, the children we have ourselves, the friends we hold tight around us, the mentors we seek out and keep as touchstones in our lives. 

And sometimes these second chance family-of-choice members may be pen-and-paper in nature or only known from afar. 

I’ve written about this before but I think it’s important to allow ourselves to imagine that major influences and influencers in our life can be people we only know of or witness through their writing, speaking, and modeling. 

We can greatly expand our second chance, family-of-choice if we allow ourselves to count those who resonate with us on a deep soul level (but who we may never know in person) to “count” as important and influential in our lives. 

I myself certainly have authors/writers, fellow psychotherapists, and thought leaders who I count among my second chance family, though I have not and may never meet them. 

Importantly, I think second chance, family-of-choice extends beyond people we allow into our lives. 

I think of a second chance family-of-choice part and parcel of a second chance life.

So this means that we seek out and not only look for people who fit us better, but also places and ways of being that fit us better.

For instance, a city or town where our soul feels at ease and where our politics and gender identity is welcomed, where we are safe to love how and whom we choose, where we have a chance to do work that lights up our soul, where we can live our days and weeks in ways that nourish, excited, and inspire us. And so much more.

A second chance family-of-choice is the people we choose to keep close around us, and it is the way we choose to live our lives, ways that are more congruent with who we truly are and what our soul needs and wants.

Why a second chance family-of-choice is so incredibly important.

A second chance family-of-choice (and life of choice) is deeply important. 

Life is short. We deserve to live it well. 

If we didn’t get a good, healthy, functional, deeply supportive start in life, I truly believe it’s never too late to do whatever work (inside and out) it takes to create a far better rest of life for ourselves. 

A second chance family-of-choice gives us an opportunity to have relational experiences that we may otherwise have missed out on: healthy, functional, nourishing, good relationships (ideally the birthright of every baby and child as they enter the planet but, unfortunately, often not the case). 

We deserve to have good experiences in relationships and to feel loved for who we are, all of who we are. 

Cultivating a second chance family-of-choice gives us more of a chance to have this.

And cultivating a second choice way of life ensures that, while we can’t go back and erase the past, we can move forward and create as beautiful and healthy of a future for ourselves as we possibly can.

It’s so sad that so many of us didn’t get a chance to be a safe, deeply loved child and have positive early childhood experiences.

It would be a tragedy to not then get an adulthood that feels better once the powerlessness of childhood has passed.

The paradoxical simplicity and complexity of cultivating a second chance family-of-choice.

Cultivating a second chance family-of-choice (and way of life) is both simple and complex.

It’s simple because, in cultivating a family-of-choice, you’re looking to invite people into your life who love you, who feel good to be around, who demonstrate healthy, functional relational behavior and who makes you feel good and supported (ideally in the way a family of origin would). 

It is simple because you are seeking out the places and spaces and ways of being that match who you truly are versus just looking good on the outside or being the defaults you were raised to believe are possible and open to you.

(Not rocket science, is it?)

But cultivating both a second chance family of choice and way of life, while seemingly simple, is also profoundly complex and potentially very time consuming because of this fact: 

Children who are abused, neglected, shamed, or otherwise not supported in their emotional development early on often become adults who often lack an “internal sense of home” who don’t know what healthy, functional relationships can and should look like, and who also struggle (sometimes deeply) with knowing who they are, what they need and want, and what and who would make them happy.

And so, in the process of cultivating that second chance family-of-choice (and way of life) that seems so seemingly simple on the surface, there is often much healing work that needs to be done. 

This healing work often includes facing the past, grieving and mourning what transpired, re-learning (or learning) what healthy, functional relationships look like, learning who we are and what we need and want, learning how to move towards the things and people we want, tolerating the vulnerability and risk we feel around this, and then practicing how to allow ourselves to accept good things. 

And so the work to know and seek out and keep healthy, functional relationships and to live a life that is more congruent with who we actually are and what we want can take time and effort

This is the hard news. 

But the good news? 

It is so, so worth it. 

Imagine, if you’re a Millennial woman like I am, our generation is expected to live (knock on wood!) well into our 90’s. 

With an arc of life that long, an investment of time and emotional energy into healing your past and clarifying what you need and want from your future (relationally, work-wise, geographically and more) is so, so worthwhile.

And I will say: Support in doing this can be invaluable and can save you a lot of time and frustrated thwarted attempts. 

I went to Esalen in my mid-twenties and lived there for nearly four years to do my own healing work and to seek out a second chance life.

That’s not an option that’s open to everyone, I know (though if you can, I highly recommend it!). 

But therapy is, often, a more accessible choice. 

Process work at Esalen is part what made my time there so invaluable and accelerating and therapy continues to be an invaluable support to me in my own life as I now happily live out life with my second chance family-of-choice in places and ways that deeply fulfill my soul. 

I really recommend therapy or some other form of licensed, professional support as an adjunct to your own healing work if you identifying with struggling to know what healthy, good relationships look like or if you can’t pinpoint who you are and what you need and want.

And remember: often for those of us who grew up in adverse early childhood environments, seeking out support and asking for help can feel hard

And still, even if it feels hard (maybe especially if it feels hard!), it’s very worthwhile to reach out (and to keep reaching out) for the help you need.

An important reminder.

I think it’s really important to remind you that you get to be sad and disappointed about your original family-of-origin and the painful experiences you had with them even as you create a life and family that feels better for you.

The reason why I titled this post “A Bittersweet Happy Ending” is because there is often sadness mixed with joy and gratitude for those of us who recover from adverse early beginnings. 

Ideally, our families-of-origin would be the supportive, nourishing, safe, deeply loving and unfailingly committed bedrock people in our lives. 

And, when they are not, even when we do ultimately find and develop relationships with those kinds of people later in life, you can still be sad that you didn’t get that from your original family. 

That’s okay. That’s actually, I think, normal and natural. 

You can be sad and also grateful and happy. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. 

You can have your beautiful present life and still have sadness (or anger or any other emotion) about your past. 

We hold all of it together and we move forward feeling this complexity inside of us, living as best we can. 

Wrapping up.

As we close today’s post, I want to leave you with a series of questions and prompts, either for you to reflect on or for you to process in writing. 

These questions and prompts are designed to help you think about what a second chance family-of-choice might mean for you and how you might cultivate one:

  • Growing up, did you feel like an outsider, an other, or unwanted or mistreated by your family-of-origin? Maybe it was with all members or only with one or some, but in what ways did you feel “let down” by your family-of-origin experience?
  • As a child, what kind of family and relationships did you long for? What did you daydream about? Having a twin? Having a fairy godmother? An endlessly empathetic mother/grandmother figure who would bake chocolate chip cookies with you in her sunny cottage? A dad who would coach your softball team and be your best buddy?
  • In what ways are the essence of your childhood dreams and longings playing out in your adult life now? 
  • If they are not, do you want them to be? Do those dreamed-of relationships still fit? 
  • If so, what would it look like for you to seek out and cultivate relationships or the essence of relationships like this? Be creative: think, is it noticing and having an appreciation for the fact that your husband is your daughter’s best friend? Is it seeking out an older male mentor in your work sector? Is it spending more time with an elderly neighbor woman on your block who you love? Is it watching old reruns of a TV show where there was a soothing, supportive nuclear family that made you feel safe and good?
  • In what ways is your soul nourished by the life you’re currently living? In what ways does there feel like an incongruence between what you truly, deeply need and want and what’s playing out? How can you move closer to living a life that’s more of what you want?
  • Do you allow yourself to feel the sorrow/pain/anger you may still feel from not having received what you wanted/needed from your family-of-origin even as you live a life that feels better for you today? Or do you dismiss and diminish those feelings? How can you remind yourself that it’s okay to still feel sad or upset by what you didn’t receive even as you hold gratitude for all that you’ve created today?

I hope today’s post felt helpful and validating to you. I’d love to hear from you what this post may have brought up for you. Please leave me a message in the comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you. 

If you would like additional support with this and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together. You can also book a complimentary consult call to explore therapy with one of my fantastic clinicians at my trauma-informed therapy center, Evergreen Counseling.

Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

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  1. Dawn Pirke says

    This email sounded like you were speaking right to me. My biological family is so dysfunctional from alcoholism and physical/sexual abuse. Now that my Dad has passed away things are a bit calmer but still chaotic. My mom lives to be miserable. Needless to say I have a few close friends that are way more like family than my own family. When I had surgery this summer it was my friends who were there for me. Not my mom or my brothers. So sad but reality. Thank you for this post!

    • Annie says

      Hi Dawn, it sounds like you could really see yourself in the post and while I’m sorry your experience has been so challenging, I’m glad that the post may have brought you some comfort. And thank goodness for good friends! I’m glad yours showed up for you when you needed it. Warmly, Annie

  2. Jasmine Cooksey says

    Thank you so much for this article on second chance families. Growing up I felt mostly scared and dreamed of being rescued. My mother who was mentally unstable, drug addict, and emotionally abusive. My brother lived with his dad, about 9 hours away. I met my father (sociopath/narcissist, physically abusive) when I was ten. I was sexually abused and physically abused by my mother’s boyfriends. I sometimes lived with my grandparents who were wonderful…Sometimes with my Godparents who felt more like my second chance family… Sometimes with my brothers dad who took me in as his and still to this day, cares for me and my children.
    Whenever I was abused, I would dream of someone taking me in, showing me how to be happy and bringing me happiness. I would think about those who showed me real love and how I wouldn’t let it destroy me because someone far away cares for me. I would make all this hurt mean something. This white knight/hero dream was also my path to greater heartbreak.
    After a month into college, I was raped and became pregnant at 17. I didn’t consider it rape at the time. I took on blame and shame because I allowed myself to get too drunk and put myself in the dangerous position. A year later my mothers mental illness became worse and my daughter and I were kicked out of the house. Without shelter or money, I contacted the father and he was so different than I expected. He offered to send us out to live with him. My hero. I fell in love fast and hard. Within a month, we eloped and moved away. Over the next 14yrs, I had two more children, we moved constantly (military) built an unstable life together filled with adventure, hope, and fear. I was abused and trapped. The end of 2017 I sought out therapy. I was always hypersensitive to mental illness (considering my family history )and I was suffering mentally and emotionally from the abuse that I wasn’t even really aware of. I found out I have high anxiety and PTSD. Started taking medication and better care of myself. This was a threat to my narcissistic husband and to my surprise, things became much worse. I sought out friends and family that I was disconnected from and realized horrible things about my situation. I was ready to leave him. Then, I was contacted by a woman he had an affair with ten years ago. She had a son (two weeks older my youngest daughter) he paid her to keep him a secret. Things got worse once the secret came out and I left him.
    Now, it’s been a year, I still feel displaced. I live near my brother and my dad. I don’t speak to my biological parents. I have a PPO against my husband. Even though I live near family, they don’t like to talk about anything negative. My story to them is a threat to comfort. I have friends but none of them live in this state. Honestly, I find it hard to connect with anyone near me. I don’t feel like I belong here. Like a black sheep. I want to build my second/third chance family. I feel like, with everything it may be impossible for me. I am going to school and struggling to understand how to be an adult…since no one taught me how. While being a single mother of three and feeling sorrow constantly. But I am slowly finding my way. The hero I always wanted, I now want to be. I may never be saved but maybe I can help save others. Starting with my self and my daughters.

    • Annie says

      Jasmine, thank you so much for your honest and vulnerable share. I am so struck by what you wrote: “The hero I always wanted, I now want to be.” May we all reach this place in our healing journeys! As you become more and more your own hero, I’m thinking of you and wishing you all the best. Warmly, Annie

  3. Anna Stockinger says

    Thank you Annie,
    I have CPTSD from 14 years of child sexual abuse; I’m now 60. I’ve just finally cut off contact with my mother, who has no sympathy towards my mental health condition, which she partially caused by allowing abusers into my life as a child. I am very lonely and sad, this post resonated with me so much. There is no help for people like me who cannot afford private therapy; I’ve been waiting 7 years for psychological treatment from the U.K. NHS. Your posts are the only help in my life.

    • Annie says

      Anna, I’m touched by the meaning my posts have for you and I truly hope that you can receive the support you need and want from the UK’s NHS soon. You deserve it! I’m sending you so much warmth. Annie

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