Estrangement: When you cease a relationship with a parent

What happens and why very few understand

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I want to talk to you about a topic that is largely not discussed. The breakdown of the relationship between parent and child. We know that this relationship is arguably one of the most important ones we can have. We know that the relationship dyad is inevitably skewed with the power differential being held by the parent. Typically we know this doesn’t change until parents age and become reliant, if it at all.

When a relationship breaks down there are many stages and opportunities to work on a repair. By the time estrangement is the only option on the table, the opportunities for repair have not been satisfactorily resolved. If anything, the inability for the repair to occur has fueled the breakdown. Today’s post is not going to detail those opportunities for repair. Instead, I am going to the heart of the breakdown. Estrangement. It’s a hard topic and one that mainstream media don’t deal with in any great depth. I think mainly because the average family doesn’t have a need to go through these processes. Also, because estranging from a parent/family is incredibly, incredibly hard. It’s not a decision you make lightly, you make it because you feel as though it is the only way.

Our ancestors relied on family for safety and shelter, caring and running a house. As we do today, albeit our modern world is different in many respects. There is something about being connected to a family that makes things seem less ‘big’ and less ‘overwhelming’. Like there is a safe space in the world for you. Somewhere to belong and somewhere to go when times get tough.

So when you can’t be with your family of origin, i.e. you need to estrange from them, you lose the place that you belong, and you lose a place to go when times get tough. This is ironic considering the very reason you are estranging is that you cannot continue, and yet. The grief and loss are ever present. The fantasy that you will ever have a relationship that cares for you like you have dreamt of, is officially over. Cue a vicious grief cycle akin to death.

Estrangement goes against the grain of every biological wiring you have. And yet. When that tipping point happens, and you can’t stay, it can feel as though there is no choice. The only way to proceed is to follow your inner voice guiding you away from the relationship and trust it will all make sense, eventually.

You will grieve in ways that are reserved for all that lose their parents/family. You will do it under the cover of darkness, or in the privacy of your own home. The grief is invisible. Which makes it all the harder. This is because your choices are not ones that are likely to be understood in the broader social environment. How do you explain in a few sentences that make it comfortable for another person to understand why. And let’s face it, who else do you know that is making these decisions. If not none, than not many. Difficult terrain for sure.

You will find groups on Facebook that are dealing with this same type of thing. It’s a bit hit and miss, but you’ll find some of your people. Perhaps it’s in a trauma group, perhaps it’s in a psychology group. You’ll trawl for like experiences and the opportunity to puts names to feelings and events. You might find names like ‘sociopath,’ ‘narcissistic,’ ‘complex childhood trauma,’ ‘inter-generational trauma.’ You might find ‘addiction’, ‘family violence’, ‘sexual abuse,’ ’emotional abuse,’ ‘negligence’. Still there are so many other words that might belong to the reason why you are here.

You will find yourself a therapist and be almost shocked to find that they support you and your decisions. Their empathy and insight are the kind that feel like a cool drink in a desert. Here is a person that can articulate what is happening for you, in real time. Translators of a world you are only just learning about. People that understand and help you to come to grips with all the pieces of your puzzle.

Even if you don’t announce it to your broader family of cousins, aunts and uncles, they will eventually realize what has happened. After all, you’re not at Christmas or Mother’s Day celebrations. Some will contact you to see if you are alright. Some will stickybeak and never return. Maybe, if you are lucky, some will show up more often than usual, just to see if you are ok. Possibly though, they won’t show up after that first time. Often because they are implicated in the broader system problems. After all, you haven’t gotten to here without some very painful experiences. It’s likely they will have knowledge something was wrong at the time(s).

Your broader social networks will eventually figure out that you have made the estrangement. This is particularly tricky around public holidays and family celebrations. When your friends are all complaining about traveling to a relatives’ house, and managing the intricacies of that often accompany a family event, you are wondering what you are going to do, and where you are going to do it. What does Christmas mean to you, if you have a blank slate? My advice is to make sure you have some activities planned so that you don’t end up feeling desperately alone. Have your contingency planning done ahead of time, recognizing that the first year of estrangement at least, is full of the same milestones that come with a death of a loved one.

It’s a tricky topic for sure. It’s also one that is useful one to talk about.

Do you know of someone who has experienced estrangement? Or have you? How do you support them or yourself?

You can read more from Megan by visiting her website

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