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Dealing with the Pain of Family Estrangement

Dealing with the Pain of Family Estrangement

Sorrowful man

Family estrangement is among the most heartbreaking of all human experiences.  Feelings of grief, anger and disbelief cloud your mind as you desperately search for answers.  Welcome to Dealing with the Pain of Family Estrangement.  Understanding and accepting the truth is critical to moving forward into the life that God intended for you.  John 10:10

God loves families and all relationships that are built on truth, mutual respect and understanding, the devil hates them and will do everything in his power to destroy them.  Satan and his demons are hell bent on your destruction and will seek out and use anyone who is willing to go against the will of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit to take you out.  The devil is actively trying to destroy Christian families.

The first thing I would like to offer in helping you deal with the pain of family estrangement is this;  YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  I do understand that at times it can feel like it, but even as I write this there are countless tens of thousands suffering the same fate.  Estrangement is no respecter of country or culture, age or gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or social standing.  It can happen suddenly or be years in the making, more often than not it’s the latter.  Family estrangement is wide spread and is often referred to as a silent epidemic, being almost as common as divorce in some segments of society.  A study done by The University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research and the UK non-profit, Stand Alone, cited the number one cause of estrangement as experienced by adult children with their parents is emotional abuse.  The wounds from physical abuse tend to heal much faster than the psychological scaring left behind by emotional abuse.  The reasons for cutting contact are as varied and individual as a persons own story.  Each case is unique, and, as with any matter of the heart…complicated.  Estrangement from a parent almost always involves estrangement from other family members which may only be temporary, but can also be permanent.   

I don’t know what stage of this process you’re in, but I imagine you’re where I was when I began searching for help.  If you’ve read our “About Author” page, graphic as it is, that gives you some idea of the pain I was in.  I read the Bible from cover to cover eagerly searching for instructions on being reconciled.  They are there, clear and straightforward.  I talk about these steps in “Making Peace.”

I would like to share a lesson with you, one that I had to learn the hard way.  My refusal to believe that this brokenness was irreparable in a family where every member was a professing Christian prolonged my suffering.  I learned this lesson in the business world long before I realized that it applies to relationships as well.  In business it’s often referred to as “not continuing to beating a dead horse.”  In other words, if something isn’t working, move on to something else.  Deciding when to move on is a deeply personal decision, one that you will have to make for yourself.  I mention this only because from the first red flags and warning signs to the time of my father’s passing, there was over thirty years of heartache.  I don’t believe for a second that the Lord intended me to suffer that long.  I now know that those who do not love you, can’t stop you from loving them.  They don’t have that kind of power.  Continuing to pray for them is a very powerful act of love, one that brings a smile to the face of God.  Reconciliation always takes two.  If they continually block and resist any attempt to heal and finally cut off all communication, then, my friend, that’s on them.

If you are really struggling emotionally I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting help.  Talking to someone who genuinely cares and is willing to listen to you and empathize with your situation is always a good thing.  If you don’t have anyone you trust enough to open up to, then seek out a qualified therapist or counsellor.  Personally, I have always sought out Christian counselling, but it’s up to you.

If you are in a dark place with no light at the end of the tunnel, if you are losing all hope, PLEASE LISTEN.  You are enormously valuable and deeply loved by God.  One glance at the cross should remind us all of the sacrifice Jesus made for each one of us.  I have always believed that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  Most countries have a crisis line staffed with professionals who are ready to help.  Don’t hesitate to call. There is no shame in this, my friend.

Dealing with the pain of family estrangement is a long and emotionally draining process.  I know in a world of instant this and instant that it would be nice to find a quick fix, but that’s not possible with heartbreak.  You’re just going to have to go through it.

I have never been a fan of the word closure.  There’s no magic door that you walk through and once it closes behind you, it doesn’t hurt any more.  It’s been my experience that grief never ends, it just changes over time.  I know you can get there too.  However, If you are in the early stages of estrangement then moving on is probably not an acceptable option.  I understand how powerful love is and how difficult it can be to let go.

Try journaling, there are no rules here, just start writing down your thoughts and feelings.  It’s a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.  I am a person who needs to write important, life altering events down soon after they happen as a defence mechanism against “gaslighting.”  I began doing this in my twenties, long before I had ever heard the term.  Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that can cause you to question your own memory, perception and even your own sanity.  It is a tactic commonly used by narcissists and other abusers in order to gain and maintain power and control over the victim.  Your journal is your own private safe place to get your feelings out, to vent.  Look back on it from time to time to see if you’re making progress and if you have learned anything new about yourself or the situation.

Our family of origin is meant to be our safe harbour, a place where we truly belong.  As a child we need attention, nurturing and love, we need to be cared for and included.  When we reach adulthood and start a family of our own we no longer need our parents to care for us in the same way as when we were a child, but we still need them to care.  Adult children still need affirmation and emotional support.  They still need to be included in family matters, celebrations and events.  We need advice and guidance from people we trust…we need our parents.

Being hurt and rejected by the very ones who are supposed to love and protect us is extremely hard to handle or accept.  The stigma that surrounds estrangement is thinning, but it does still exist.  The fact that people are willing to talk about the issue more openly is incredibly helpful to those who are suffering.  It is perfectly understandable to be reluctant about bringing it up with friends for fear of judgment.  “Wow, not even their own family wants anything to do with them.  There’s gotta be something wrong, after all, family is everything…right?”  My friend, listen to me carefully; Family isn’t so much about blood, it’s who’s willing to be there for you when you really need it.

Dealing with the pain of family estrangement can lead some to withdraw from all relationships, leaving them vulnerable and lonely.  Don’t go down this road.  Not everyone will treat you as poorly as your family of origin.  It’s important to rebuild the capacity to trust people.  This is more difficult for some than others so don’t rush it, move forward at your own pace.  Be honest with your own family, your spouse and children.  Tell them what’s going on and how you’re feeling about recent developments.  They have a need and a right to know, secrets are extremely harmful to any household.

Focus on your own well being, your mental and physical health.  Stay active and get involved in things you enjoy.  If you’re unable to enjoy anything right now, then force the issue.  I have found a great deal of relief and satisfaction in helping others who need it.  I understand how difficult it can be to think of anything else, I do, I was there.  Believe me when I say, it does get easier as time goes by.  Focus on your healthy relationships and spend as much time as you can with people who truly love you, they are your real family.

I spent many years trying to numb the pain by self medicating with various substances, this prolonged my suffering as well.  My wife and children suffered with me through that terrible time.  What seems to be helpful can quickly become a crippling addiction.  A temporary reprieve from the pain which is only amplified as you sober up.  There’s no shame in reaching out to those who care about you for help, it’s actually a sign of strength.  Having friends check on you from time to time and keep you accountable is comforting and reassuring.  God works through organizations like AA & NA just as He does through doctors and nurses to bring healing to the afflicted.  Chances are pretty good that there is a meeting near you.  I have been blessed with a strong and devoted wife who never gave up on me.  She continued to pray everyday for years and years for my deliverance, she was not disappointed.  Our family is healthy and growing.  Our children are married with children of their own.  We are not perfect, no families is, but we are close and supportive of each other.  We care about feelings, opinions and concerns and we listen to each other about such things.  It saddens me when I remember how at risk my own family was due to my fixation on and my obsessing over trying to fix the unfixable.

It’s always sad when a once close relationship ends.  If both parties are in agreement that things just aren’t working out, it’s a bit easier to stomach, but when the break up is one sided, it can be gut wrenching.  If you have found this post helpful please be sure to bookmark us or add us to your home screen.  God willing, I have many more to come.


Image – Pixabay – Support for people who are estranged