How long have families been struggling with estrangement? Since Biblical times! There’s Cain and Abel, Noah’s sons, Abraham and Lot, Isaac and Jacob, Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Laban, and Joseph and his brothers, to name a few.
According to The Journal of Psychological and Behavioral Science, 27 percent of Americans are estranged from a member of their own family, and 40 percent have experienced estrangement at some point in their lives. How does one heal from being cut off from their family or having to cut off communication with an unsafe family? Here are some tips on how to heal.
- Understand the common causes of why families become estranged.
Family estrangements occur when at least one family member cuts off communication with another. Some causes may include:
- Take responsibility for the role you may have played in past hurts.
One must ask God to reveal anything they said or did that could have been hurtful. If an estranged family member does agree to talk, just be there to listen. Now is not the time to try to win an argument. Don’t try to blame or defend—instead, show empathy and love.
- Consider writing a letter.
A handwritten letter is becoming increasingly rare, so sending one signifies care and concern. This letter should describe the impact the estrangement has had on the relationship and express a desire to repair it. Resist the urge to defend your past actions or to list grievances against the family member in this letter. It will be difficult, but it is worth trying to appeal to a clean start for the relationship.
- Acknowledge and work through difficult feelings.
Sometimes one can do everything right and still be cut off from their family. While they are not to blame, they are still responsible for their own healing. Emotions—like anger, resentment, bitterness, sadness, loneliness, and shame—need to be acknowledged. However, no one should ever form their identity around their feelings.
“Today, you can be a model parent and do all the right things, but your adult child can still become estranged from you,” says Steve Arterburn.
“Do what you can to reconnect with them, but don’t carry around shame.”
- Know your boundaries and stick with them.
Before a relationship is rekindled, communicate boundaries, and respect a family member’s boundaries. Perhaps commit to an hour at a coffee shop. For example, tell them, “I look forward to having coffee. If we talk calmly, I can stay for an hour.” Then if the conversation gets too heated, let them know, “I feel like this is getting a little out of hand, so I’m going to leave.”
- Grieve the loss of the relationship as you continue to pray for your family.
Estrangement grief can become complicated grief or complex trauma. Being cut off from family can cause isolation, depression, low self-worth, anxiety, and more. See a New Life Counselor and attend a Life Recovery Group for support. Remember to continue to pray and trust God for your family; God loves your family even more than you do!
- Form a new family.
The psalmist writes “God sets the lonely into families” (Psalm 68:6, NLT). Despite being estranged from family, don’t give up hope! God can give you a spiritual family.
“Families are created in unusual ways. It can be our church community and support groups—not just our blood relatives—who form our family. But we must have a family identity; it is a powerful thing.”—Becky Brown
Are you estranged from family and need help? If so, call 800-NEW-LIFE to find a licensed counselor or certified coach to help you.
by Kimberlee Bousman