Living Well in Spite of Estrangement in Families

December 15, 2020

Estrangement in families is confusing, emotional, and makes the holidays even more difficult.

Our western culture tends to not value family as much as eastern? Or is that a myth? After all, blood is blood, right? We’d all like to think so. This is why so many people love learning about their ancestry online.

What about estrangement? How does that factor into our family paradigm? How is it changing how we gather? Our society? For good or for the bad?

How Do We Define Family?

Sure, there is the biological definition of family. There is the nuclear family. Then we have the behavior of family. And the feeling of family.

However you define family, you may experience estrangement. It hurts. It hurts when you’re estranged and it hurts when you’ve drawn boundaries that require you to estrange. Even these sentences are complicated. Throw in blended families and it gets even more convoluted.

What Happens When You’re Estranged?

Estrangement is the distancing emotionally and/or physically of one family member to another. It could be from a parent to a child or vice versa. Oftentimes, other members of the family are put in a position where they are expected to choose sides. This may be implicit or explicit.

“If you invite Betty, I’m not coming to the wedding.” This isn’t uncommon. In fact, it happened to me with my late husband’s family after he passed away.

“Not surprisingly, his study also found that estrangement from one parent leads to estrangement from other family members; my own research, all anecdotal and drawn from interviews for my book Daughter Detox, confirms that.” Psychology Today

Can You Reconcile if One Party Opts Out?

In our cancel culture, we’re ready to stop using a brand that does something we don’t like. Even if we had years of loyalty previously. More and more you read about people opting out of their families. It used to be that a disinheritance was akin to being an outcast. Now, with the dispersal of family across the nation and even internationally, it can be of little consequence. Or can it?

“Those who wished their estranged relationships could be different wanted a relationship that was more positive, unconditionally loving, warm and emotionally close.”

And yet many say they want a reconciliation. Is it possible? How do you reconcile if you don't have contact information? Would your letter do more harm than good?

Of course, that depends upon the actionable steps both parties are willing to take. Communication breakdown generally proceeds the estrangement. So, reconciliation isn’t always possible.

Where does Estrangement in Families Lead Us?

Often we seek the family we want in our adult friendships, with our partner or spouse, and work colleagues. As we age, these bonds become important to us. It may change our intentions for our last wishes and may affect beneficiaries of our estates. 

In our western culture of innovation, we’ve innovated the family. Connection over chromosomes. And yet, it’s a difficult decision to completely cut them out.

Do we care for an aging parent who cut us out of their life? What about those who now have dementia and don't remember their abuse? Is blood thicker than water? Or do they become wards of the state? Only time will tell how it will truly affect the nuclear family -- if that is even still a thing.

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