Raise your hand if any of this sounds familiar:
If you raised your hand for any one of those statements - much less all of them, like me - then it's probable that you've been exposed to strained family relationships that could lead to family estrangement.
A GLIMPSE INTO My Experience With Family Estrangement
When I was a child, it was normal to hear one or both of my parents yell out not to answer the phone if it was any one of my grandparents calling.
It was normal for me to hear my parents talk shit about their own parents. Avoiding them. Chastising them. Blatantly disliking them. All things that I, as a child, didn't understand it.
I'd often wonder how someone could possibly hate their parents so much, especially since those parents - my grandparents - seemed so nice whenever I'd interact with them.
This was because my parents had been submerged in generational trauma and family abuse in their own childhoods that then led to them perpetuating negative relationships within their own family dynamics in adulthood.
The reasons for why my parents have strained relationships with their parents are circumstances that I've heard fragmented stories about, but cannot possibly fully grasp, even to this day.
Only my parents know the depths of their pain.
But I do know this: a healthy parent/child relationship does not see your child growing up to tell their own children not to answer their grandparents' phone call.
At a very young age, I knew too much about my family trauma.
My journey down the path of family estrangement began as young as seven years old when my dad smacked the phone out of my hand because I answered my grandfather's phone call. I would later learn that my grandfather was an abusive parent who abandoned his own children with their step-mother for years on end.
By eleven years old, I was facing parental abuse directly when my father physically took out his rage on me and I witnessed my mother disregard it as an accident.
As life played out, more and more reasons piled up for me wanting to disconnect from my family dynamic, and by the time I was eighteen, that's inevitably what happened.
But family estrangement by itself didn't resolve the issues I'd inherited.
As I meandered through my 20's, reeling from all sorts of fucked up family interactions, I began to understand the deep-rooted demons that I'd be required to address if I ever wanted to heal myself from the wounds of my family's generational cycles.
"Family estrangement may be the unnamed elephant buck-farting across my life, but I'm the conservationist responsible for loving that elephant regardless..."Tiffany Amaro,
Your Favorite Lifestyle Illuminator
People don't like to talk about family estrangement.
Even if it's out in the open, buck-farting obnoxiously all around them, people still prefer to ignore it.
And I get why.
It's an uncomfortable topic to live with, much less discuss if it isn't something you're used to.
But here's the deal: family estrangement is a tale as old as time, and the sooner we normalize the conversation around it, the faster we can all learn to heal from it.
So, here I am, pointing out my own stank-ass family estrangement elephant, in the hopes that it helps clarify this life experience for anyone currently going through it, curious about it, or otherwise interested in better understanding it.
FAMILY ESTRANGEMENT IS A Deep-Rooted Burden
Family estrangement is often looked at like it's cut and dry, simple and linear.
One family member did something that led another family member to cutting off contact with them entirely.
But that kind of simplicity often ignores the deep streams of long-harbored frustrations that either or both parties have been living with for - often - years.
By seeking one-off attributions of blame, people think they can minimize, or better comprehend at the very least, the issue down to a simple conclusion.
But family estrangement isn't simple.
And trying to minimize it out of fear or convenience isn't a solution, or even a viable means for understanding it.
So let's dig into the meat of the issue.
What causes family estrangement anyway?
3 COMMON CAUSES OF Family Estrangement
Because family estrangement is often vast, complicated, and generational, it's hard to narrow down just one thing as the cause for an estranged relationship.
The root of the problem is usually far more convoluted than just one thing.
In fact, it's more like a Gollum that's been struggling, starving, and suffocating for years and when it finally rears its nasty head in the light, it does so with an unyielding temper, vengeance, and sense of necessity.
Meaning, that when the separation finally occurs, it's usually emotional, overwhelming, and defensive.
And for good reason.
Good relationships don't break down dramatically.
Thus, when family estrangement does occur, there is ALWAYS a rationality behind it, regardless of how emotional it may be.
CAUSE #1: The Family Dynamic
Family estrangement begins and ends with the family dynamic.
How one has been treated within their family is highly indicative as to why that same someone would choose estrangement over continued communication.
But family estrangement can also be influenced by dynamics that don't involve the person who choose estrangement.
For example: how the parents within a family treat one another, and their own parents, can influence how a child grows up and manages their relationship with those same parents.
In that example, let's assume no other reason for estrangement exists, the child simply learned estrangement techniques from their parents (who, it sounds like, may have learned a thing or two from their own parents).
The way a family operates, a paradigm created by the parents (which they learned from their own parents, and so on down the ancestral line), directly influences how, why, and when estrangement will play out in reality.
However, at the end of the day, it is my perspective that parental estrangement always begins with the parents.
Not only does a child learn how to interact with family from watching how their parents interact with their own, but, more often than not, children choose to estrange from their parents because their parents failed in some way to provide support, security, and unequivocal love when a child needed it most.
It is also my perspective that children are never born flawed.
Even the most heinous people from history were born pure and innocent. Their flaws developed over time from exposure to trauma and it is highly likely that their trauma began in their relationship with their parents (or lack thereof).
CAUSE #2: Mental Health Struggles
Mental health is another big reason for familial estrangement.
From my personal experience and decades of research, it's become clear to me that if you've dealt with family estrangement in any capacity, for any length of time, you'll likely struggle with managing your mental health.
And how you choose to respond to that estrangement will also impact your mental wellbeing.
For example: those who choose to deny the purpose of estrangement and go back to their family dynamic - knowing that it's a toxic environment for their wellbeing and going against their better judgement - will often deal with longterm ramifications like anxiety, depression, low self-worth, and personality disorders.
This is likely because the individual has denied their instincts by choosing to return to an unhealthy situation. Their brain then develops certain disorders as an attempt to warn or protect the individual who has chosen to cope with rather than heal the relationship.
Family estrangement can also be caused when family members don't know how to live with another family member's mental health struggles.
If a parent, for example, struggles with depression, and a child was not taught how to create healthy boundaries for expressing love while also maintaining their own safety, estrangement is likely to occur down the line as the child becomes exhausted from coping with the situation.
Likewise, if a child is experiencing substance abuse brought on by unresolved trauma and a parent does not have the skills for addressing the situation, a parent may choose to abandon the child for the sake of their own wellbeing.
It is my perspective that open communication, empathy training, and seeking familial support through therapy can help resolve or manage mental struggles within a family so that estrangement can be avoided entirely.
However, that step involves both parties - the parent and the child - acknowledging a breakdown in the relationship and taking accountability for their individual shortcomings within their dynamic.
CAUSE #3: Generational Trauma
Depending on how well or poorly your parents and ancestors managed their unique traumas will greatly influence your own instinctual reactions to managing trauma within your own life.
Very similar to a family's medical history, the trauma cycles that play out in our family lines tend to pass down through the generations.
Unless, of course, those trauma cycles are dissolved.
Recognizing generational trauma and working to transmute those triggered reactions before they're carried out within your own life is crucial to ending your own suffering and breaking the cycle within your family line.
However, when those cycles get ignored - which often happens for the sake of "maintaining appearances" or justifying the ego - entire families can be torn asunder by estrangement.
Thus, recognizing generational traumas and taking the time to thoroughly dissolve the reactionary triggers that stem from them is imperative to not only avoid family estrangement, but to also eliminate the cycle entirely for future generations.
The Cause Of My Family Estrangement
The reasons for why I'm estranged from my own family have roots stretching deep into all three common causes of family estrangement.
In a nutshell, the family dynamic that I was raised in was not healthy and it was not healthy because my parents weren't raised in healthy environments either.
My family deals with a variety of mental health struggles, parent on child abuse, abandonment, neglect, shame, guilt, and substance abuse to mitigate the pain.
Our generational trauma includes things like: unworthiness, self-harm, and emotional suppression, amongst so many others.
Despite knowing the roots of my family estrangement and toxic family cycles, and despite dedicating my life to forever openly addressing these issues, it is unlikely that my relationship with my family will ever fully recover.
That's because healing from family estrangement and generational trauma does not require reconnecting or reestablishing the original relationships.
On the contrary, it requires me to honestly and humbly accept my role in the dynamic and do my part to heal my own wounds, while accepting and respecting the fact that my family may choose not to follow suit (or to heal in their own ways).
Healing from family estrangement does not mean returning to toxic or unhealthy relationships; it means embracing the trauma with love and compassion and doing your part to break the patterns that caused it.
For myself and for now, that means maintaining my distance from my family so that we can each heal in whatever ways fit us best.
WAYS TO HEAL FROM Family Estrangement
The focus for everyone involved in an estranged family relationship should be to heal from the damage inflicted.
That being said, you may find that some family members choose not to take responsibility for their behavior, emotions, or involvement, and choose, instead, to continue to perpetuate unhealthy generational trauma cycles.
That sucks, but it's ok! Because YOUR healing has nothing to do with their healing.
If you're reading this post, then it's clear that you have an invested interest in healing your own wounds, but that won't happen if you continue holding expectations for your family members to heal theirs as well.
They are allowed to live their life however they so choose, and it is not your prerogative or responsibility to adjust their path in life.
Below are my tips to healing your family estrangement wounds with techniques that I recycle regularly to maintain my own healing journey.
HEALING TIP #1 Self or Guided Therapy
I'm a huge supporter of self-therapy where the option feels safe, reliable, and successful.
However, if you are unable to research, dabble, and hone a self-therapy practice for yourself, seeking out professional therapy can certainly help you reconcile the estranged relationship and how it's affecting your lifestyle and wellbeing.
NOTE TO THE READER: Pay close attention to any intuitive warning signs that pop up when you begin to work with a new therapist, especially if that therapist has never personally experienced family estrangement.
Therapists are a lot like police officers these days: most of them mean well, most of them work well, but that doesn't mean there aren't bad eggs.
Recently, I engaged a therapist who sought to push me for reconciliation with a family member who had previously physically, mentally, and emotionally abused me for years.
She then also suggested I have children to help mitigate the pain I feel from that family member's absence from my life, even after I expressed that my husband and I don't want children.
She may have meant well, but her therapeutic approach was toxic and dangerous.
No one will know better than you how to heal from your family estrangement, and discussing your trauma with a therapist - even if they fail to grasp your perspective, and especially if you disagree with their approach - can be an enlightening experience for your personal growth.
Therapy has been crucial to my healing process and self-therapy specifically continues to be my favorite modality for working through my family trauma.
HEALING TIP #2 Meditation
Meditation is one of the easiest and most effective ways to come to terms with any circumstance in life, much less family estrangement.
Clearing your mind of all thoughts and pursuing internal silence is one way to practice meditation, and this method can certainly lead to you harnessing mental control over negative synaptic relays, but other styles of meditation can also be beneficial.
In fact, self-therapy often works best when incorporating situational talk therapy, where you speak through your trauma as if the person you want to say your thoughts to is sitting just across the room.
By thinking or speaking through your trauma, you're helping your brain come to terms with the situation in a way that comforts, reassures, and reminds you to love your current reality.
HEALING TIP #3 Journaling
Journaling specifically about your estranged relationships within your family dynamic can help you keep track of your subconscious belief system, as well as your evolving feelings about the situation.
It's also an interesting way to look back at how you've grown throughout the years and how your feelings have evolved in regards to the situation.
HEALING TIP #4 Self-Love Practice
Being estranged from family - especially by choice - can often lead to feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.
If our family doesn't like us, what does that say about us?
But developing a daily self-love practice can help remind us that we are worth loving, despite what we're experiencing.
Keep in mind that self-love does not just mean pampering yourself, although that is one facet of the practice.
Self-love is actually the most mature form of personal affection and means demonstrating the discipline to do the things that show you that you care about yourself.
Self-love includes things like: cleaning the house, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and eating healthy, just as much as it includes things like treating yourself to a new pair of shoes.
How we express love for ourselves, and how we take care of our personal space and hygiene, is often directly correlated to how we were raised to feel about ourself and our wellbeing.
As you develop a self-love practice, choose to be lovingly honest with yourself as to how you treat yourself, regard yourself, and express yourself.
If you struggle to maintain a hygienic routine, take the time to unpack why that is.
If you struggle to eat healthy foods, now's the time to assess why.
A FINAL NOTE ON LIVING WITH Family Estrangement
One of my challenges in this lifetime is to learn how to be organically, unashamedly, authentically happy without having my family in my life.
At times, it can feel like I'm surrounded by a constant, noxious cloud. Everything in my wake is consumed or affected by this one thing that permeates every facet of my life.
No, she didn't LOSE her loved ones, she LEFT them.
Family estrangement is a complicated and confusing experience, for the ones going through it, but also for everyone else who hears about it but doesn't live with it.
The fact that it's an uncomfortable topic to discuss for everyone involved makes it even harder to openly, lovingly address.
But open communication will save the fucking world, so I urge you:
UNVEIL YOUR FUCKING ELEPHANT.
Because it's through honest connectivity with others that we heal the wounds of our experiences.
I've dedicated the last decade and a half of my life to studying the depths of family dynamics, generational cycles and estrangement trauma.
I live it, therefore, I am dedicated to it.
For years most of the advice I've read has suggested that to heal an estranged family relationship, both parties must accept circumstantial accountability for their part in the deterioration of the relationship, rather than blaming the other party for personality-driven decision.
And to an extent, this is true.
But longterm family estrangement is another animal entirely, and this is because typically one or both parties refuses to: a) accept accountability for their actions AND, b) work on healing their own trauma responses.
This is especially true if you're from a generation that struggles with accepting change (old dogs can, in fact, learn a variety of new tricks; a lack of willingness to work on change is simply an ego response to being told you need to change).
This individual tandem ideology to healing family estrangement (embracing accountability plus doing the work to heal) is often an overlooked perspective for resolving family estrangement.
After witnessing failed relationships within my own family dynamic, it's my perspective that if you choose to go back to an unhealthy relationship before both parties have taken accountability and worked on becoming better people, you run a very high risk of continuing the family trauma that caused the estrangement in the first place.
Thus, to break the cycle for yourself and future generations, and to heal the wound so that it no longer triggers your trauma responses, one must be willing to take accountability and work on adjusting habits and beliefs in order to become a healthier individual.
Repeat After Me: FAMILY ESTRANGEMENT DOES NOT DEFINE MY SENSE OF SELF & TO HEAL FROM IT I MUST ONLY BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ME
Healing from family estrangement is a lifelong process that may or may not ever fully resolve itself.
It's my perspective that one can fully heal from family estrangement and generational trauma, but to do so, one must be willing to let die all previous storylines, beliefs, and triggered trauma responses that have otherwise served to keep us alive up until the point when we realize those ideologies have been unfit for our wellbeing.
"Just remember: family estrangement does not define your character as being unworthy or incapable of love. If anything it makes you more aware of what "love" truly is and is not."Tiffany Amaro,
Your Friendly Lifestyle Revolution Alchemist