fbpx

How to deal with family estrangement struggles

estrangement
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Loneliness, heartache, isolation, and feeling misunderstood add layers of pain to family estrangement.

As one who’s traveling that road, I can attest to these feelings. The social insistence on “family first” and dating advice that calls it a red flag if someone has cut ties with family, adds to the shame.

As a result of the social stigma, those of us estranged from family have an intuitive sense that it’s not safe to share this information. That self-protection may be wise, but it leaves us feeling as though there’s something wrong with us, and we’re hiding something fundamental.

As a result of the social stigma, those of us estranged from family have an intuitive sense that it's not safe to share this information. Click To Tweet

You may carry a lingering fear that friends or lovers would abandon you if they knew the truth about your estrangement. You bear the burden of a constant fear of judgment over your family status.

It’s important to note that the decision to withdraw from family members is almost always a last resort. It comes after years or decades of trying to make a relationship function. Or to fit into a family system that won’t make room for your wants and needs.

Mixed emotions

Your logical mind might know you made the only decision you could. But another part of you will second guess or take on a woe is me attitude instead of celebrating your freedom.

This could be due to a past of never receiving comfort and support. As a result we have trouble meeting our own needs for comfort and support. It feels much more natural to be mean and harsh with ourselves.

You may feel resentful of the support other people receive from their families. You wonder how, in spite of this support, they complain about their family members.

In fact, it’s natural to have disagreements and express displeasure with your family. But you were probably never allowed to do that. Your opinions or desire for change, no matter how tactfully put, may have resulted in abandonment or gaslighting.

You learned that there was no way to disagree with your family or express honest opinions and emotions. The only way you could be yourself was to leave.

How to deal with estrangement

1. Resist the urge to isolate.

Family estrangement is more common than you think. Rather than keeping it to yourself, share with someone with whom you feel safe doing so.

If there’s no one in your life right now who understands, find a support group or counsellor skilled in dealing with estrangement, either online or in person.

2. Leave the door open.

If it helps, you can view the estrangement as impermanent. Instead of seeing the situation in black and white, tell yourself we’re estranged for now but who knows what the future holds?

Not only is this true, it can make the estrangement easier. Often, when we grow up with childhood trauma, we tend toward black and white thinking to keep ourselves safe. Allow yourself to hold onto things more loosely and have less control over them.

3. Set boundaries with family members.

You may be lucky enough to have supportive family members who understand your decision. That’s wonderful, but be sure to set boundaries around what you’re willing to listen to or talk about.

Often, however, especially when dealing with a narcissist, other family members may covertly support the person you’re seeking to avoid. This is evident in the case of so-called flying monkeys, who are part of my story, too.

4. Don’t blame yourself.

If you’ve been put in the difficult position of living with estrangement, chances are you might blame yourself. You may have grown up in a family role that blamed you when things went wrong.

If you've been put in the difficult position of living with estrangement, chances are you blame yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, treat yourself with loving kindness. Click To Tweet

Therefore, it feels like second nature to take responsibility for family breakdowns, or any rift in a relationship. You were probably always the one to try and make things better before the estrangement.

Instead of beating yourself up, treat yourself with loving kindness. When you are feeling the pain of your situation, listen to your needs and comfort yourself as you would a little child.

Share this