A few years ago, my first cousins revealed to me that the rest of the family always thought there was something wrong with me, or that I thought I was better than everyone else. That was why I was never invited to birthday parties or weekend family fishing trips when I was growing up.
At the time, I was befuddled by this revelation, until I took the time to ruminate and figure out how they came to this assessment. The specter of family estrangement is nothing new to me. But, unbeknownst to me, it has become a recurring theme over my lifetime.
I had to ask myself, what are the root causes for family estrangement? According to Psychology Today, research indicates that some family members disengage as a result of a change in lifestyle choices, like sexual identity, or differences in religious beliefs. For others it can result from a disagreement over money. Family estrangement can also be predicated by the loss of a close family member, or family members’ dissatisfaction with the way the other behaves.
My estrangement from my paternal extended family began when I was very young. But I didn’t learn the reason for that estrangement until later in life. I assume my recent estrangement from my daughter encompasses some of the same dissatisfaction with my behaviors, along with a disagreement over how the estate was handled when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and passed on soon after.
I now understand why it occurred, which gives me what I need. I can get past the grief process and move on with my life. But it still leaves many unresolved issues, because the communication portals have been diminished to an occasional text from my daughter, or a Like on one of my Facebook posts.
Unfortunately, the feeling of emptiness may never go away for many victims of family estrangement. According to the article in Psychology Today, the effects on the adult dealing with estrangement can be harsh for four reasons:
1) It’s unexpected.
2) It’s ambiguous by nature.
3) A sense of powerlessness is created.
4) Estrangement results in a feeling of social disapproval.
Standalone.org offers support to adults who find themselves alone in the world, without family support. Research indicates that this type of separation from long established social ties can be far more devastating than the death of a close family member. There is no finality, or closure in estrangement, like there is with death.
Standalone.org offers suggestions and links to therapeutic options. But, if you, or someone you know has had similar experiences with estrangement, the first mandate is taking care of self first. Get counseling to deal with the myriad of emotions that come with estrangement, so you can learn to trust again. That is when the barriers can come down that have been built over time. You will be able to heal and establish new healthy relationships with others. After all, your new family can become what you make of it.