1 in 4 adults are estranged from a family member but despite this, estrangement seems like a taboo subject in our society. Due to this, so many of us are suffering in silence while grieving the loss of a living loved one. When someone we loves dies it can be exceptionally painful. There is typical a funeral held to help you morn and to honor your loved one. Usually when someone dies you are surrounded by friends and loves ones, who provide support while you're grieving. Now, imagine that you are grieving the loss of a family member without a support system, and quietly grieving while moving through the motions of everyday life. From personal experience I can attest that this is an extremely painful experience.
With estrangement being such a common occurrence, you might think that their would be ample support services available. Sadly though this isn't the case. When searching the internet for community resources and support groups, I came up nearly empty handed. Despite the number of people who are struggling with estrangement, there is still a lot that is misunderstood about how or why it happens.
Family is a topic that is tightly weaved into our society and everyday lives. It's a topic that is often casually discussed amongst our peers and in most work environments. But for those of us who's ties have been severed this topic can be exceptionally painful.
Family is a word that a lot of people associate with unconditional love and unity. Family is said to be a safe haven, but for many of us it's the opposite. Sadly, it can be the place where we find the deepest heartaches.
What does it mean to be estranged?
Estrangement means experiencing distance or separation from others, such as family members, with notable diminished or complete loss of contact with previously close relationships.¹
What causes family estrangement?
The cause can vary a lot from person to person, however some of the more common reasons are family disagreements, abuse, estate, religion, sexuality, enmeshment, substance abuse, mental illness, divorce, incarceration and etc.
10 coping strategies to heal from family estrangement:
- Be kind to yourself (this is absolutely essential)
- Practice a wellness routine (sleep, hydration, meals, work/study/social balance, and self-care activities).
- Talk to someone (whether it be a friend, loved one or therapist).
- Write in a journal or start a blog (use your own discretion when deciding on the level of privacy you require).
- Join an online support group (if there is a local one that would be ideal but these are rare to find).
- Find a healthy outlet that brings you joy (painting, woodworking, theatre, baking, jogging, singing, dancing, creative writing, reading..)
- Be mindful of holiday triggers and plan ahead to make challenging days less painful. Plan something special just for YOU!
- Stay in control of your mental health and seek help if you need it.
- Release what you can't control and focus on what you can.
- Practical radical acceptance (Make a conscious effort to acknowledge and honor the difficult situation and your emotion.)
Grieving the loss of a living loved one is hard and it's a messy process that looks different from person to person.
If you know someone who is dealing with this the best thing that you can do is be compassionate, listen, remember them on holidays and show them that they are loved.
If you are currently going through this, please remember that you are not alone! If you feel a void from the loss of a living family member, I recommend that you get involved in your community and connect with like-minded people. You can build your "chosen family," with people who share your values, to make memories and share experiences.
Chosen family - "Nonbiological kinship bonds, whether legally recognized or not, deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love.”²
1. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Estrangement. APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/estrangement