October 9, 2019

Why Being Estranged from someone is Nothing to be Ashamed About.

Most everyone has a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor, or some person who is a strain to get along with.

Getting on a mutual wavelength just doesn’t happen. Communication is clunky, awkward, and uncomfortable. You find yourself making excuses to stay away or cut contacts short. You can never seem to enjoy being in the presence of one another. Your connection with that person becomes weaker and weaker until sometimes, you avoid or fade it out completely.

Yet something lingers. Perhaps you could have done better; maybe there is some key to connecting that you couldn’t figure out.

“Jane” is in tears after a lunch with her mother. She describes the comments her mother flings around: “Why are you still wearing your hair with those bangs?” and then on to the mention of her slight weight gain (and on other occasions it has been her weight loss). I have known Jane for 20 years and have heard about many of her family outings. Only every once in a blue moon do things go nicely.

I ask, “Why did you have lunch with your mother?” To which, Jane replies, “I thought it would be fun.”

She knows and I know as her devoted friend, that fun with Jane’s mother is bordering on absurd. She has tried every strategy she can muster. Trying to effect major personality changes in another person who has no interest in that change is like holding off a raging bull with a feather.

Family, by definition, is a group of people related by birth, marriage, and legal parameters. The expectation existing all around us is that these relations are a good thing or meant to be a good thing. Blood is thicker than water and all that. The simple reality I encounter is that no matter the birth lineage or inheritance of relations, it does not necessarily mean these individuals relate or fit with one another. Some families are like jigsaw puzzles whose pieces got placed in the wrong box.

Figuring out how to navigate differences, misunderstandings, and balancing individual needs in a group environment is a lot. It takes so many skills to get good at it while also requiring the temperament and constitution to tolerate the ruptures. When problems multiply, affections become deeply alienated; we can become estranged. It is painful when people you expect to support you don’t. Unexpressed, unresolved feelings can wreak havoc.

Estrangement, by definition, is a relationship that has soured and turned distant, even somewhat hostile. An estranged relationship causes discomfort. No one likes to run their fingers along splintered wood, and unless you find an emotional lathe, there is almost always some hurt.

I have known people who have family dynamics that are best served by mostly staying away from each other or cutting ties completely. That may seem harsh, however if the alternative is destructive, what is a person to do?

Know this: no one, absolutely no one knows the interior workings of a particular relationship except the participants. Having said this, if there is any place in the dynamic to have a healthy strand, I recommend it. If you can do well gardening once a year, then garden once a year. If you can see a movie together, see a movie, and if simply sending a card to acknowledge an occasion is the only emotionally safe thing to do, send a card.

The world has witnessed the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle’s half-sister maligning her in highly irrational ways. Before Christmas, her half-sister tweeted something along these lines, “We all need to be a family again and connect, it’s important, I’ve always loved my ‘little Meg.'” When she didn’t receive a response by Thursday, she tweeted again, “You are horrible, you don’t deserve to set foot in a church. You selfish, ungrateful, lying…” and it escalated to destroy.

In this kind of dynamic, is there anything to be done? Before you try to communicate with someone, ask yourself, is that person mentally mature enough to grasp the concept of different perspectives? Because if not, there is absolutely no point.

Intimacy is the experience of being yourself and feeling safe. Emotional safety is an essential element in well-being. Staying connected or working to find or restore a connection to a relationship is a highly individual and personal choice.

It is wise to honor your instincts and weigh the price you pay to connect versus the price you pay to step away.


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Martine J Byer, LCSW  |  Contribution: 780

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