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How to overcome fallout from family estrangement

family estrangement
Photo by Jessica Favaro on Unsplash

First of all, family estrangement is more common than you think. If you’re in the difficult position of having to limit or go no contact with family members, you’re not alone.

Because of cultural taboos, you may not talk about your estrangement issues. You may have felt misunderstood or judged whenever your tried to broach the topic.

But, would you be surprised to learn that one in four people experiences family estrangement? With many of us shamed into silence about our situation, no wonder we often feel isolated.

What causes family estrangement?

The reasons for family estrangement differ for everyone. You may have initiated the boundary or someone may have enforced it on you. For the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on the former.

An Atlantic magazine article talked about a shift in cultural values increasing estrangement. Families used to fight over material things and now we’re more interested in psychological issues.

I believe a cultural move away from cult-like devotion to our families represents a positive shift. We now seek to meet our emotional needs instead of suppressing them for the sake of the tribe.

And those of us who refuse to go along with the dysfunctional family’s rules will find it difficult to stay in our roles. That creates discomfort in the family and earns you the label of troublemaker.

The dysfunctional family system

When you step outside your role in a dysfunctional family, you receive tremendous pushback. You discover that your family may not have your best interests in mind.

This heartbreaking revelation comes with some soul searching. Am I going to keep my membership in this family at the cost of my authentic self?

Despite the difficulty of setting boundaries in such a rigid system, you muster the courage to do so. But when you begin to express your thoughts and emotions honestly, you experience gaslighting.

After much confusion, self-doubt, and frustration, you begin to understand that nothing you do or say is going to make these people change. They won’t see your point of view because they don’t want to.

If they admitted they had wronged you or acknowledged your pain, that would mean facing the need to change. But, dysfunctional family members are terrified of change and will do anything to avoid it.

I’m reminded of my own years as an active alcoholic when I’d avoid facing the truth of my addiction. That’s because acknowledging my problem meant needing to change, and that sounded too hard.

If you only know one way of solving problems, as sick as they are, envisioning a new way can feel terrifying. I believe that’s the tyranny these families live under.

Is it okay to be estranged from your family?

Recently someone challenged my long-held belief in estrangement as a last resort. I often write about the years of effort and heartache that precede such a break.

“But why do we need to wait so long to act in our own self-interest?” the reader asked. So, whether or not estrangement comes as a last resort, it’s a personal decision.

That means no one else can tell you if it’s okay. You have to look within and decide for yourself if it’s right for you. Some questions to ask:

Does this person refuse to take any responsibility and instead lays the blame at your feet?

Do they refuse to listen to your point of view and insist on maintaining the status quo?

Does their presence in your life negatively impact your mental health? Cute self-help quips say no one has the power to make you feel a certain way, but they do.

Do you come away from an encounter with this person feeling depressed, anxious, self-loathing, guilty, etc.?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the benefits of staying in this relationship (if any) may not outweigh the loss if you step away.

How do I get over family estrangement?

family estrangement

I’m not sure if you ever get over family estrangement. It’s something you live with and manage, but here are some ways to enhance your healing journey:

Get support

Find other growth-oriented people experiencing family estrangement. Support groups abound both online and in person.

But, make sure these are solution-oriented rather than filled with chronic complainers. The latter will make you feel like a victim instead of empowering you.

Forgive yourself

Give yourself grace for putting up with the abuse or neglect for so long. You faced tremendous cultural pressure to maintain ties with your family. Stay mindful of the present moment and your glorious future.

On the flipside, don’t feel pressured to forgive your family member. Use that precious energy to rebuild your life and focus on your own healing.

Accept your anger and sadness

Forced forgiveness requires you to suppress anger which causes disease in the body. Besides, you need that anger to remind you of why you left in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with so-called negative emotions; they’re there to give you information. You’re allowed to grieve the loss of your family member or the mother or father you never had.

You’re also allowed to feel rage at how they mistreated you and refused to listen when you told them how you felt.

Learn to parent your inner child

As abused and neglected children, we missed out on the care and attention we deserved. Now, as an adult, you can parent your inner child by reassuring her she is safe now.

When you’re feeling dysregulated and powerless, your inner child is running the show. When she learns you’re taking care of her needs, she will step aside and let your confident adult take over.

Is forgiveness necessary for healing and how to know

is forgiveness necessary
Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

Is forgiveness necessary for healing? Especially if you come from a faith background, you’ve probably learned a lot about the power of forgiveness.

You may have felt like you had no other choice than to forgive an abuser. We’re bombarded with images and videos of people forgiving criminals of heinous crimes.

I wonder, however, when forgiveness becomes a form of people pleasing.

According to medical experts like Gabor Maté, unexpressed anger manifests as disease. The suppression of rage that often accompanies forgiveness can make us sick.

With this in mind, is it possible forgiveness may do more harm than good?

Can you heal without forgiving?

Sure, we’re told refusing to forgive is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die. But this perspective supports the societal view that anger and resentment should go unacknowledged.

Forgiveness given before processing anger forces the victim to suppress their own needs. And it’s another form of self abandonment designed to make others feel better.

Forcing yourself to forgive means denying your true feelings. Isn’t that what we’re trying to stop doing?

Is it possible you think you can’t move on without forgiving because society has conditioned you to believe that?

What if you focused instead on the wonderful information you receive from your anger. Instead of once again feeling responsible for repairing what someone else broke.

Why forgiveness is not necessary

The idea that forgiveness is necessary for healing has become commonplace. It’s like saying the sky is blue.

But it seems yet another way society lets abusers off the hook and puts it on the victim. Once again, the victim does all the hard work while the abuser receives protection.

On top of the abuse or neglect, survivors feel guilty for a lack of forgiveness. And expected to forgive even if no one’s asked for it or apologized.

is forgiveness necessary

Now, all this would be fine if forgiveness always promoted healing and helped a survivor move on. But, often it creates harmful cognitive dissonance.

It keeps the survivor in a pattern of denying her true feelings and telling herself something she doesn’t believe. This has been our self-defeating pattern all along and needs to change.

I’ve come to believe forgiving yourself is more important than forgiving others. Often, we blame ourselves for what happened, as though we should have done something to stop it.

Authentic forgiveness comes when you stop pressuring yourself into it and focus on your own healing instead.

After you process your rightful anger and resentment, you may find yourself thinking less and less about your abuser.

As your life improves and the person has lost control over you, your resentment decreases. But anger might remain and that’s okay.

Perhaps anger has its place as a guardian of your heart. It reminds you of what you endured and why you should never go back.

Forced forgiveness comes from the same mindset that views anger in a negative light. Let’s normalize seeing anger as your friend.

How to use meditation to shift your hard work mindset

meditation
Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

I know from experience that the best things in my life never came from hard work. And when I started a morning meditation practice (literally sitting there doing nothing), money began to appear.

My biggest windfalls arrived, not from extra effort, but from releasing and making space to receive.

That’s the opposite of what we’re taught, which is that success comes from pushing harder.

I used to believe that old adage until I took note of the fact that my hard work rarely resulted in success.

Now, of course, I took action. But meditation put me in the frame of mind to receive more.

Meditation relaxes your mind and lowers stress hormones like cortisol and noradrenaline (which causes the fight or flight response).

Since I meditate first thing in the morning, I approach my work with a spirit of calm and relaxation rather than fear and desperation.

Meditation vs. hard work

meditation

Shifting your mindset this way to one of receiving rather than pushing will invite in more abundance.

That’s because driving toward a goal often comes from a fear-based mindset. And fear repels rather than attracts.

You may even wind up attracting what you fear. That’s what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, you have to make $5K this month so you push a new product launch. With fear in the driver’s seat, the launch will likely fail.

And even if you do achieve the monetary goal, how do you feel? Nervous system shot and frazzled? Exhausted and burnt out?

You might feel better and make more money if you worked on your mindset instead.

For me, meditating an hour in the morning invited in amounts I never considered possible. And it’s not something I could have set goals around because the sources were unexpected.

Who would think to set a $10K goal around a single affiliate link? This is the kind of surprise income that came in after I started meditating.

I used to think focusing on a goal was the way to achieve it. Now, though I still set goals, I hold them loosely.

Set the goal and surrender it to God or the universe to take care of its fulfillment, or something better.

Like I said, you take the action of creating the product or service. But rather than frantically promoting, you align with the spirit of receiving.

Then trust what’s best for you will arrive, without fear and with your nervous system intact.

How to improve your life through the act of self-awareness

self-awareness
Photo by Hannah Xu on Unsplash

Did you know self-awareness is the key to changing your life? But many of us who grew up in abusive or neglectful homes lack this basic component of a satisfying life.

That’s because our parents never taught us how to look at ourselves. They forced us to keep our focus on them and others instead.

In order to survive, we needed to suppress our own needs and cater to others’. This led us to disconnect from what we wanted or needed.

In order to survive, we needed to suppress our own needs and cater to others'. This led us to disconnect from what we wanted or needed. Click To Tweet

And, due to a lack of guidance, we have a poor understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. We may also have no idea what we value or what’s important to us.

That’s because our parents never encouraged us to explore our desires. They may not have praised us when we did well which leaves us scratching our heads as to what we’re good at.

We may have been exposed to more negative attention. That meant we only heard from our parents when we did something wrong.

And they expected us to understand things they’d never taught us. My father constantly berated me for not knowing how to do things no one taught me how to do.

Children need praise and guidance

Children need praise, guidance, and encouragement in order to thrive. To develop a healthy sense of self-awareness, we need to know our needs are handled by the adults around us.

Children need praise, guidance, and encouragement in order to thrive. Click To Tweet

If we sense that we have to take care of those needs ourselves, we become hypervigilant. In survival mode, we are not free to explore our heart’s desires.

We desperately try to read other people in an effort to keep ourselves alive. That is what the survival brain thinks, anyway.

As children, we intuited correctly that we depended on our parents for survival. We could not put a roof over our own heads or food in the fridge.

This led us to minimize our needs and make sure to keep them happy so they wouldn’t reject us. As adults, we have been conditioned to abandon our own needs and focus on pleasing others.

This external focus means we lack the self-awareness necessary for a fulfilling life. If you lack boundaries because you fear saying no to people, you probably feel empty inside.

How self-awareness cures emptiness

self-awareness

The cure for such emptiness is beginning the journey back to yourself. That means taking the time to discover your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses, and your values.

1. Discover likes and dislikes

Make a list of things you like or enjoy doing. You could begin with the five senses: what smells, sights, sounds, and tastes do you like and what feels good to you?

Then look at your life and ask yourself how much of these are in it. Chances are, you may do more of what you don’t like in an effort to please others.

You will never have the life you want unless you increase your self-awareness. You need to know what you like so you can incorporate more of it in your life.

2. Discover your strengths

Then, find out what you’re good at, your strengths. You may want to ask trusted friends or associates for their input.

Is your work focused on these strengths and interests? If not, you may want to start making decisions that move you in the direction of your strengths and preferences.

3. Make a values list

Finally, what are your values? Do you know what you stand for and what’s important to you? Or do you tend to go with the flow and let other people decide for you?

A first step in getting to know your core values can come in the form of a simple assessment. Knowing your values is key to increasing self-awareness.

Take this or any other free online values assessment to help determine yours.

The surprising truth about setting boundaries and how to overcome

When I first started setting boundaries, I had no idea the primal fear I was up against. It’s true boundaries are mainly a matter of saying ‘no’. But, we can’t underestimate how difficult that is for some of us.

If you grew up in a home where your needs were not met, saying ‘no’ can feel like life or death. That’s because as a child you depended on the adults around you to keep you alive.

You intuited correctly that you had to keep these people happy in order to survive. They provided your food, shelter and clothing, and you were too young to provide these for yourself.

So, if saying no, having needs and wants, and expressing them, got you punished abandoned or rejected? Well, you did your best to suppress those needs and wants. You learned to focus on what other people wanted instead.

We take this conditioning into adulthood. And we treat our equals as if they had the power to end us like our parents did. We fear their rejection and abandonment in a way that feels life-threatening.

So, please know there are good reasons why you’ve been afraid of setting boundaries. There’s the fact that you never learned and were discouraged from doing so. Compounded by the fact that your life depended on you catering to others’ needs instead of your own.

Setting boundaries is also tied to our self-awareness. If you grew up without praise or guidance, you may have no idea of your strengths and weaknesses. What you like and dislike, and your values, may remain a mystery to you.

Self-awareness and setting boundaries

setting boundaries

It’s essential to understand yourself this way before you can start setting boundaries. Knowing your likes and dislikes will help you make decisions. For example, you’ll accept or decline invitations depending on these truths about yourself, NOT whether people will like you.