Loss of communication, cessation of contact, cold war, emotional distancing- family estrangement can be defined in several ways. Prevalent widely today, it is a difficult topic to speak about. In fact, it is a silent epidemic. A family estrangement need not be permanent and can be fixed. It affects the younger generation, who lose contact with their grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Family estrangement can be stressful, traumatic and also lead to mental health problems for those involved. There are ways to fix family estrangements, and most often, it leads to a happy family with positive outcomes for everyone.
What Is Family Estrangement?
Family estrangement is defined as distancing oneself and losing affection that builds and occurs over the years or even decades within a family. A recent study revealed that 40% of people mentioned estranged family members within their close circle. Finance, education, race, and a difference of opinion are common causes why families cut ties with each other.
What Causes Family Estrangement?
Families stop contacting each other for a variety of reasons. Rifts in families are very common, and there are several reasons for it. Each person has a reason for drifting apart and severing ties. Some of the common causes are:
1. Lifestyle choice
Some family members choose to distance themselves from family because of their lifestyle choices, sexual orientation, gender choice, disagreement over money, religious difference, marrying someone from a different background. If a member chooses a partner from a different ethnic background, the family does not warm up to them, and that causes isolation. Differing expectations about family roles is also a common reason for rift within families.
2. Religious beliefs
Family estrangement is common in families that follow strong and rigid religious practices. It is common for younger generations to cut ties as they face conflict about their cultural heritage and make decisions that the extended family does not accept.
Occasions like weddings, bereavement, or festivals like Christmas and New Years’ could be reasons for estrangement. Many family members cannot work through intense feelings of hurt and pain whilst dealing with the death of a close relative. Weddings can be a happy occasion for the couple, but certain family members could be hurt because of the way they are treated and tend to sever ties. Although the festive season is when families come together, a discussion or argument over a trivial issue or a major one could turn sour and result in conflict.
4. Legacy of divorce
Marriage or divorce are common reasons for estrangements. Many times a non-custodial parent becomes distant, which results in trauma for couples and kids. The stress of divorce that forces children to take sides leaves a deep impact and later grows into resentment, which eventually causes them to become estranged. Parents marrying again or finding love again could change their feelings and lead to distancing between kids and parents.
5. Difficult childhood
Adult children can never forget harsh parenting or parental favoritism. Some children tend to estrange themselves from their families because of a traumatic childhood. Children who have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused find it difficult to build a relationship with family members involved in the traumatic incident. This could also affect the relationship with other family members who were involved in the incident and were aware of the abuse and did not step up to deal with the problem.
6. Unmet expectations
Sometimes or most often, the family has expectations from members within. For example, a daughter who cared for her old parents could choose to distance herself from them with no help from siblings. This results because there was an expectation that someone would help, and when it does not happen, it causes hurt.
There may be times when someone feels a relationship is untenable. The above list is not exhaustive. Whatever the reason, people feel the emptiness and sadness of not being in touch with a family member or deeply feel the loss of a family.
What Are the Chances of Reconciliation Post Estrangement?
Accepting family estrangement could be damaging to one’s mental health. There are times when someone feels that there is no chance of reconciliation, but it is not impossible. It takes effort, time, patience, and a certain level of maturity to reconcile once one is estranged from the family. It completely depends on the individual. The individual needs to accept what they cannot control and be ready for a second chance. It is important to accept painful behavior in the past, trauma willingly, and, most importantly, apologize for their own roles. An individual must also be ready to work on changing behavior that is toxic for the family. The most important is to find the right time to reconcile. Change must come from all sides, and no one involved must be forced or pressured to reconciling. The most important thing to do is identify the cause for reconciling and work out a way to make it acceptable for all.
How Do You Fix Family Estrangement?
It always pays to move on from family estrangement and look at fixing things. It not only brings harmony but also improves the mental health of the individuals involved. Family estrangement support groups offer guidance and tips on how to resolve family conflicts and merge with family. It is easier said than done- reconciliation!. Surely there is a lot that one can do to acknowledge one’s responsibility and finding compassion in the lost relationship.
1. If given an opportunity, be willing to acknowledge, accept and change
To heal or build broken bridges, one must get rid of past hurt, accept things as they are, and try to lose some control. If it requires some change on their part, one must be willing to do that too. Denial of someone else’s wrongdoing could also be very painful. It is important to accept their fault, forgive and move on. Acknowledgement of the experience can be cathartic without being defensive.
2. Accept past hurts, traumas, and negativity
It is vital to accept hurt, trauma, and any negativity. It is important not to hold on to it if there is a chance to reconcile. Holding on to the past does not let one live in the present and move on in the future.
3. Accepting the person as they are
Nobody is perfect- that is the mantra to adopt. It works wonders to accept someone as they are. There is a fine difference between reasonable disagreements and major ones. What is right for one could not be for another! Amidst all this ambiguity and human frailty- one needs to ask themselves, “What is that I want from life and from this person? Do I want this person to conform to my standards? Is it practical? It is important to demonstrate that one is willing to listen, learn, and then decide what is acceptable or not.
4. Change the behavior that is toxic for others
Usually, no one does things to hurt others on purpose. Even if done knowingly, it could because it was out of one’s control. First, identify your behavior that seems to cause hurt and distress to others. Acknowledge it and change to heal the past and build relationships. Be open and willing to accept your flaws when it is pointed to you. You can maintain your sense of dignity but do not get defensive. By acknowledging your behavior, you can look at building mutual respect in the long run. The most important thing is to show that you are open to change.
5. Seek support
Finally, allow yourself to lean on friends and other loved ones as you grieve and mourn your family members’ loss in your life. It is important to remember that not being close to one’s family does not reflect on one’s capacity to love. By relying on support from friends and loved ones, you could muster the courage to reconcile with the family. It gives the needed comfort, support and help that one needs to bridge the gap.
Painful and isolating, family estrangements are difficult to cope with. Most people do not want to talk about it and wish to put it past them and move on with their lives. With people realizing the deep impact that family estrangement has, social workers and healthcare providers offer services to help families get back together. Estrangements can last for decades. Unless the situation is dangerous or abusive, it is worth a try to reconcile. Opportunities for reconciliation do not last forever. But once families reconcile, they feel liberated from the past.