Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

How to Conduct a Family Estrangement (and Why They're Awful)

Estranging yourself from family is, perhaps, among the most counter-intuitive of all human behaviors. And yet as I explain, sometimes it a downright necessity despite the sadness and anxiety estrangements cause for everyone involved. Read More

It was and has been all

It was and has been all positive since I shut out two sisters. My extended family includes me in everything and excludes them even though I've encouraged them to invite any and all without regard to my preferences. There is no pain believe me. I am free!

I shut my my mother out for 6 wonderful years and my sister permanently

When I was in my early 30s I was so depressed I entered into therapy. I discussed cutting off my family with my therapist and he fully supported the idea. Family visits had become my family sitting around the dinner table discussing my every move, every mistake I had made(their interpretation of "mistake", not mine), what is wrong with all my choices, and how I was a complete screw-up and family embarrassment. For good reason I hated my family.

Taking that breather was the best thing I ever did. The only reason I ever went back was because my father begged. Mom didn't change. In fact, she got worse. I did learn to impose boundaries, and I did learn that under no circumstances will I ever speak to my sister ever again, something is really wrong with her.

Hear, Speak, See No Evil No Longer!

My mother was very abusive towards me growing up, both physical, emotional, and psychological. Dad simply followed her lead. She poisoned the minds of my siblings against me. I now have two college degrees, I have a successful career, and I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary yesterday. Despite what my family says, I am worth something.

Sometimes you have to trim the dead limbs off of the family tree so you can grow yourself. You can't save something that's -- and has long been -- dead.

early stages

I am still moving through the first 6 months of no- contact with my family. The main reason is due to a very unhealthy and co-dependent relationship with my mother and the rest of the family act as her agents and so it was inevitable that I would have to cut myself off from them as well. I am very happy with my decision and very proud of how I have handled things considering my family of origin is still very socially and geographically connected to me- my in laws run in the same social circles so I am constantly bombarded with updates and gossip even though its something I would really rather not hear. Its been difficult because, yes there is a shame in telling people that you have cut off your mother or family or whatever. They may be sympathetic but they don't really get it- so it feels foreign and you know this. But I would think that if a person was seriously considering a full no-contact approach then they have exhausted all other forms of setting boundaries with that person or persons and their health is the only that matters now. I would hope the steps in the article would work but if no contact is truly the only way to go, then persons who are being cut out probably wont understand or respect any attempt to rationalize the need for no communication. Maybe I am over generalizing but if you are at that point- I would think all other avenues have been tried before and failed.

Finally Stopped Reaching Out

Sometimes setting boundries includes the permanent boundries of estrangement. For me it was necessary to end a 40+ year vicious cycle of emotional abuse from an older brother and a "religious bully" aunt. Both of them were using my willingness to reach out to them after being mistreated/bullied by them just because we are family. Well, simply being biologically related doesn't justify being mistreated or bullied! Also, don't ever allow someone else to use the best of you (the willingness to be the "bigger person" reaching out to re-establish a relationship after being mistreated/bullied) against you! If you do, then you are actually participating in your own abuse. You can end this vicious cycle by simply ending the relationship.

Grandparent Alienation Is Not Natural

Sadly, Seth, it is no exactly true that "typically only people who have been neglected, abused or exploited in some way who would pursue such a tumultuous split within the family dynamic" of family estrangement. Over the course of history, many different reasons have been identified as the cause of family estrangements, including, poor conflict resolution skills within the family and undifferentiated adult children. As Bowen pointed out, "Too much individuality results in a distant and estranged family." In fact, currently there is actually a growing epidemic of family estrangement / grandparent alienation. All to often, at the drop of a hat and even without any advance warning grandchildren from all walks of life and countries are being cut off from their grandparents and extended families.

"As a society this is a very, very serious cultural problem. The fact that we as a society haven't identified it and have a blind eye to it is appalling...Those parents who have invested the most in their children are most at risk" Josh Coleman, PhD" Josh Coleman, PhD

If, as you point out, "estrangements from family are one of the most psychologically painful experiences anyone could experience", just imagine the scope of the psychological damage being inflicted upon this current generation of grandchildren. Add to the scope of the trauma that these children are experiencing the well established understanding that family estrangement often already is, or is likely to become a cycle which repeats through the generations, and even the thought of choosing to estrange a child from their family members really is absolutely "counter-intuitive".

Family Estrangement has become a serious social epidermic and thus far there is very little, if any, discussion, research or even consideration of the children who are experiencing the traumatic psychological fallout. Even though bullying and other anti social behaviors among youth are on the rise, not many are talking about the effects of family estrangement on the children.

From my own personal experience and research I would caution any therapist about relying on a client's sole description of his/her family dynamics while conducting a family estrangement. It would also be helpful if any therapist who is asked to conduct a family estrangement with only one side of the equation present, for whatever reason is given, would first refer that client to a conflict resolution specialist, especially if they have children who will be affected by the estrangement. Beginning the conversation about the children's experience of their part of the equation in family estrangements can never happen too soon. After all, family estrangement, even if it really is the result of egregious circumstances, is a trauma and using traumatic methods to heal trauma should always require full disclosure and informed consent.

Grandparent Alienation Is Not Natural or Healthy no matter which generation is the perpetrator.

Bowenian Family Therapy

Presentation to AGA by Josh Coleman,PhD on Grandparent Alienation

What a short sited/one sided

What a short sited/one sided view of estrangement! My adult daughter and I had a 'normal' relationship until her second marriage. Her new husband has gradually bit by bit cut her off from her family. If she was happy, healthy and well then I would have no choice to accept it however, he told me, very early in the relationship to 'go away and leave them alone'. I asked her if that's what she wanted and she said definitely not. That was five years ago but here we are in 2014 and he has achieved his goal.

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Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.


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