Do You Need Help Living With Family Estrangement?
I am a professional counselor in Castle Rock and Centennial working with those struggling with family estrangements and ostracism, including parents of estranged adult children, sibling estrangement and alienated adult children (PAS).
Family estrangement or ostracism occurs when all or the majority of a family behave in a way that prohibits you from contributing to or being included in the life events of the family.
This might look like:
- Exclusion from or belatedly invited to family events, such as birthday parties, holiday celebrations or reunions, where most of the family is present.
- Rejecting or limiting your contribution to family events in the present or future, or your view of events in the past.
- Character assassination, denigration or ridicule of some or all areas of your life.
- Limiting time with the immediate or your extended family ( in-laws or grandchildren).
- Scapegoating you for all the family problems.
Its affect on you is often shame or anger as you try to sort out why you are excluded or demeaned by people who are your relatives and supposed to be first in line to love and support you.
The word “family” often prompts us to picture relationships that should be positive, loving, supportive and safe. However, how a family forms is very complicated. A family is an active place, evolving, growing and changing from birth of each member to death of the members. It is a place where all the individuals grow older, which changes how they can contribute to the family. Your family might include one child with a personality or health care needs that help your parents view that child in a favorable light. Whereas another child may have particular talents or appear to have a difficult personality, casting them in a negative light. It may include divorce, remarriage and a growing extended family. Or it may not!
Many times, these difference do not cause a family to reject or ostracize a member, but unfortunately, in some families, they may. If you are suffering the grief of being rejected by your family, it may be because you are fulfilling the role of the outsider or the family scapegoat. In most families, someone fills one of these roles.
Family estrangement is never factored into anyone’s childhood model of possible outcomes for their family. But it happens and more often than we think. It happens more often than it should. There are many ways that families estrange or ostracize a member, and few of them are easy to cope with. Often, the consequences of estrangement do real damage to your success and productivity with work, relationships and health. If it is happening to you, finding someone who understands can be difficult.
What happens to those who have been estranged?
- Difficulty maintaining a healthy work-play balance.
- A sense of being disconnected from and misunderstood by all other people in your life.
- A sense that no one understands the depth of your loss.
- Ongoing depression and deep, deep grief.
- Anxiety as the grief comes in waves when you don’t expect it.
- A feeling of lost time, especially if you are a parent who has been alienated from a child.
- Difficulty finding work that meets your potential.
- Chronic physical health issues, including autoimmune diseases.
- Challenges and conflicts in your marriage and parental relationships.
- Difficulty setting boundaries in relationships, or with maintaining them.
- Abuse in other non-family relationships.
The Reality of How Family Estrangements Happen
Families come in many different sizes, built up of unique individuals with different personalities, mental and physical health issues, strengths and levels of ability to connect with in the family.
All families face challenges and conflict at one point or another. But, when conflicts result in estrangement and alienation, there are often some particular underlying family issues at play:
- Grandparents who had unhealthy parenting or communications styles
- The presence of addictions in the home
- Mental illness
- Abuse in childhood, which causes parents to operate out of shame
- Abuse in the marriage, which can make family cohesion difficult
- Personality disorders in a parent or another child, which can cause undue attention
- Physical health struggles, which can make healthy communication difficult
- Financial difficulties
There are as many reasons for estrangement as there are families or individuals who estrange. If you are the individual who has been estranged, it’s especially important to get the help and support you need for coping with family estrangement and making the most of your life.
This term is used specifically for a situation in which one parent deliberately denigrates the other parent. This causes the children to choose between their parents. Typically, the child will choose the denigrating parent, as that parent exercises a lot of emotional control over the children. The emotional control causes them to fear loss of that parent’s love—or even fear for their own safety.
Parental alienation can happen in intact families or in families where divorce has occurred. There are also many grandparents alienated from their grandchildren. This alienation can be very damaging to the grandchildren’s social and emotional growth and development.
If you are the alienated parent or grandparent, you may feel that there was something you did to deserve your child’s rejection. Or you may feel angry or resentful of all that you did for your child. The child may come around when they need you or your money, but the alienating behavior returns when you are excluded from their life events, or from input into your grandchildren’s lives. You may feel overwhelmed with grief, as if your child had died. You may feel that your worth and identity as a dad, mom or grandparent was lost with your child’s rejection. Maybe you can’t remember the good you did as a parent as you search and find many things you did wrong. You sense that your friends and family members suspect you must have deserved this alienation, so you might feel you have no one to turn to for comfort.
What I Can Do to Help?
- First, know that healthy families talk! I will support that with you!
- I provide an empathetic sounding board as you voice difficult and conflicting thoughts and feelings about your worth. This will put your pain in the open where it can be healed.
- I can normalize your grief process and help you understand that cycle.
- You can come to understand how estrangement or ostracism may not be about you. Then, you can begin healing from family estrangement and learning ways to make the best of this distressing situation.
- Together, we will practice meditation and mindfulness to keep you engage in the present moment rather than reliving the pain of the estrangement.
- We can talk about the benefit of creating a ceremony to grieve and then let go of your unrealized expectations of family. For example, you might light a candle to symbolize your hopes and then blow it out to demonstrate your decision to move on from that hope.
- I can guide you to expand your community and develop new communication skills so you can diminish your sense of abandonment and start to thrive.
- I will help you understand how to create safe boundaries and family communication skills so that you can feel equipped to reach out to family members and attempt to restore connection. These boundaries will also help when they want to draw you back in for a time.
- We can also talk over different possible reactions to your attempts to reconcile so you can face challenging reactions without losing your sense of self.
- By seeing family in a larger context, including those who share your values, you can build a new family, in which you are accepted, appreciated, and loved for what you bring.
I Offer Understanding and Support
Contact me at (720) 982-7057 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment. Coping with family estrangement is possible. I can help.
Here is another good resource to help you understand the devastating effects of family estrangement, from a Psychology Today post.
For parents of estranged adults, holiday events can be particularly hard. Read more about difficult family holidays.