Toxic Relationships: Dealing with Family Estrangement
How to Cope With the Estrangement of Someone You Really Care About
When you find you are no longer on friendly terms with someone you really care about, it can be incredibly difficult to cope. The end of a friendship or relationship can be almost as stressful to deal with as the death of a loved one. There is no hope of being reunited with a deceased loved one, whereas, with estrangement, you may yearn to be reunited, possibly with no real chance of this occurring. Although you will probably always have a missing place in your life where this person once was, you can learn to manage these feelings and enjoy your life.
Taking Care of Yourself
Nourish your body and mind.When we are going through emotional turmoil it is often difficult to maintain good health. However, neglecting your health at this time will only worsen your situation, and can result in sickness or injury. To cope with the estrangement of your child, sibling, parent, or other loved one, strive to take care of yourself. Good health can be accomplished by:
- Eating between 3 and 5 balanced meals of whole, real foods, including vegetables, fruit, lean meats and protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Avoid processed or refined foods.
- Getting regular exercise. Speak to your physician about a workout plan that suits you age, gender, and physical abilities. Perform this routine regularly for better health and an improved mood.
- Sleeping 7 to 9 hours each night. Develop a sleep routine that includes time to unwind with a novel, magazine, or journaling. Shut off all electronics an hour prior to bedtime. Abstain from alcohol or caffeine as they effect the quality and quantity of sleep you get.
- Avoiding unnecessary stressors like work piling up or being late by preparing for each day the night before. Make to-do lists and check off tasks as they are complete. Practice deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to minimize stress.
Lean on close friends and family.When your relationship is fizzling out with one person, turn to others you trust for support and a listening ear. You may want to vent about the other person, or explain your point-of-view that was never heard. Calling on a friend or family member who has your best interests in mind can help you get through this difficult time in your life.
Set boundaries.During an estrangement, you may feel as though you don't have a voice about your needs. That's not true. You can express to the person you are estranged from - or another person who is in contact with them - what your boundaries are. Maybe you want it to be known that this person cannot alienate you from their life, and then call on your for financial assistance. If this is what you expect, say it.
- Use "I" statements for boundary setting.For example, "I will not be able to pay for your housing any longer" or "I will not tolerate you making unauthorized charges on my credit card".
Respect the other person's boundaries.Just as you want your own boundaries to be respected, you must demonstrate respect for what the other person needs at this time. Abide by the boundaries this person sets forth, without breaking them. If your daughter says she needs time to think, avoid reaching out to her - wait until she contacts you. This ensures that you don't worsen the situation by not valuing the other person's needs.
Coping With Your Feelings
Write about how you feel.Journaling can be a great way to unload the painful thoughts and feelings you are having regarding the estrangement. In some cases, you may feel numb, and the only way to truly know what you feel is by writing it out on paper.
Accept that sometimes estrangement is the only option.If you have been in a relationship with another person that is unhealthy, destructive, or abusive, you have every right to distance yourself from that person. People often become estranged from those they love due to criminal behaviors or lifestyles, betrayal, addiction, mental illness or differing religious beliefs.
- If you have tried on countless occasions to get help for an addicted, mentally ill, or abusive loved one with no success, distancing yourself may keep you safe both physically and emotionally. No matter how much it hurts, it can be the only way you can limit the pain.
Give yourself some grace.When relationships fall apart it isn't usually all one person's fault. Forgive yourself, and try to forgive the other person, too. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It only means choosing to accept the situation as it has happened, and not giving it power of your future well-being. You can learn to forgive yourself by:
Perform a letting go ritual.If you have made the decision to cut ties with another, and there is no hope for resolving what's between you, then you must let go. Let go of past hurts, let go of failed promises, let go of your future hopes. Do a small ritual to symbolize the end of the relationship or your pain about the relationship failing.
- One idea for a letting go ritual is to write a letter to the person who offended you or whom you offended explaining your side of things and asking for forgiveness. You can choose to actually mail this letter or you can throw it into a fire or rip it into shreds. Either way you have gotten it off your chest and you are choosing to move past it.
- Other ideas include boxing up mementos of that person to represent the end of the relationship. You might also say a long, heartfelt prayer about the individual, wishing them love and light in the future. Finally, you can either collect some flowers and let them float away down a stream or light a lantern and let it float away in the sky.
Leave the door open.If you are the estranged, and have been excluded from the life of someone you love, give them time. Depending on the hurt, it can take months or even years to move beyond the pain - if ever. Just extend your love and hopes that you might resolve the issue in the future. Maybe send a card or letter to the person you love and miss, letting him or her know that you will be happy to see or talk to them if they ever want that. Don't pressure the person. If your loved one wants to mend the relationship, she will, in time.
- It may be nice to send a note or card once, but, if the other person specifically demanded that you not contact him or her, it may be best to respect their wishes and not make contact at all.
See a mental health professional.If the pain regarding your estrangement, distracts you from your everyday life, or you find yourself unable to participate in normal responsibilities, consult with a psychologist or therapist. This professional may help you resolve feelings of guilt, shame, or confusion associated with an estrangement.
Join a support group.Going through an estrangement is difficult enough without you having to endure the pain with no support system. Friends may be helpful in offering consolation, but you may choose to get advice and companionship from others who are going through similar circumstances.
- Search for Family Estrangement Meetups in your area in order to connect with locals who are dealing with estrangements.If you can't find a local group, join an online support group.
Enjoying Life Again
Engage in self-reflection.In some instances, focusing too much on yourself can be a bad idea. However, reflection performed after a significant life change such as estrangement can help you become aware of your personal strengthsandfaults. The estrangement may not have been your choice, but you still played some role in it. Bringing awareness to the role you played may help you to recognize the good and the bad in your behaviors, and help you to make positive changes for the benefit of future relationships.
- Think about accusations that the other person made. Move aside your anger and resentment and take a clear, accurate look at yourself and your behaviors.
- Is there any chance that this person was speaking the truth? Were you over-protective or constantly guilt-tripping the other person? Take a moment to reflect on your actions and decide if these are traits you want to improve about yourself.
Work on bettering yourself.After an estrangement, focus on making good changes in your life. Is there anything that you have wanted to do, but put off? For example, maybe you always wanted to teach an art class, learn a new language, or start a business. Seek out the resources to guide you in accomplishing personal goals. This will help you to feel better about yourself, and keep your life moving in a positive direction.
Invest in other relationships with people who do enjoy your company.A quality social life is one of the key factors of reaching optimal health.You may feel like a horrible parent, sibling, spouse, or friend, but you cannot give up on the other people who love you because one person chose to terminate their relationship with you. Take extra time to improve your other relationships.
Stay busy.Fill your social calendar and your schedule so that you do not have so much free time to think about the estrangement. Research shows that people actually prefer to be busy, and are happier for it.
Explore a new hobby or passion.Challenge yourself to try something new. Doing so can give you greater confidence in your abilities and, depending on the chosen activity, help you foster new relationships. Painting, traveling, gardening, writing, playing bingo, or learning to salsa can all be rewarding hobbies that make your life feel more fulfilling and purposeful. Find something you enjoy doing, and engage in this activity often.
Video: Navigating Estranged Relationships with Family
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