Preventing & healing family estrangement

- The majority of people know of at least one or two people who are estranged from their family. It’s painful for all parties involved and difficult to resolve. Many things lead to estrangement -- disagreements about values, divorce, violence, substance abuse, mental illness, personality disorders that were unknown and betrayal. 

For the most part, affected families suffer in silence, feeling embarrassed about their loved one’s estrangement or rejection from their family. The rejected child or parent may talk badly about the issue to others as a way of gaining validation, write nasty emails, or keep the contention going almost as a way of hanging on to the family member they feel abandoned by. The feelings of estrangement are especially difficult because there is no closure, and holidays promote family, giving thanks and being together. It’s difficult to feel like you’re together as a big happy family if you feel rejected or estranged from your family.

The best-case scenario of healing estrangement is to prevent miscommunication, practice forgiveness, and don’t deny existing problems or sweep them under the rug.  Many times families admit to seeing a problem with one of their siblings or children for a long while, but denied it as being a “real problem”.

Here are suggestions that can help you help yourself and your family deal with estrangement:

- If your loved one is willing to talk about it, calmly try talking it over.
- If they don’t want to talk, send them a brief e-mail explaining your feelings and intentions.
- If the estranged one requests a ridiculous list of things you must do before they’ll consider forgiving you, understand it is better to take a break and tell them you need a time out. Irrational requests or digging up the past is a sign of anger and hostility, and you shouldn’t engage in that. Frequently, the list given is a warning sign that your loved one has been separating from the family for some time and may be suffering from physical, emotional or mental illness that has been kept hidden.
- Don’t chase them or demand meetings. The situation will worsen if you stalk them on Facebook or continually check their whereabouts.
- Long letters rarely work, and often agitate as well as fuel the conflict.

For many families the estrangement may have gone on for more than a year and life has moved on. There is still hope for these families reconciling. However, it is important you get the support you need from a professional counselor so you won’t allow the estrangement of your loved one from becoming your whole life. Friends and family members move on and will grow resentful if you continually talk about the situation instead of healing through it.

- Where there is a crack there is a light, so keep a bit of light always on for your loved one in the event they come back.
- If they join a family event again keep it light, and the minute contention or fighting begins, stop the conversation and distract them or excuse yourself from the conversation. Getting defensive, bringing up the past or raising your voice will not end well.
- If, at any time, you’re concerned with your loved one not being well and threatening someone else call the authorities. Domestic violence is real and estranged family members are a number one cause.
- Lastly, if the estrangement cannot be healed, you must accept it and move forward. Being honest about your loved one, and admitting you are estranged will help others understand how to comfort you. Admitting the truth also helps you stay in the present. Seeking professional guidance can save you years of worry, isolation and depression.

Life is complicated. Learning to be humble, to forgive and communicate effectively must be prioritized for healthy family communication. Estrangement hurts everyone. 

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