As the holidays are upon us, it is difficult not to think about family, how you grew up and the state of your relationship(s) with your family. Estrangement from family is actually fairly common but it seems like it isn’t frequently discussed which often adds to the stigma and shame of not having a close and warm relationship(s) with your family of origin.
If you are among the unlucky group that is estranged from your family (or perhaps you have a very strained relationship), you may be thinking about what you could or should do to change things. There are three factors to consider:
- Your part or responsibility in the current state of the relationship.
- Your ability to accept your family members as they are now (not as we wish/hope they could be).
- Assessing the positive vs. negative impact of a continued relationship.
What is your part?
For the first factor, do your best to consider that though you may not have intended to be hurtful or unkind, your behavior may have negatively impacted a family member is some way. We have all made mistakes. The best way to learn and grow from them is to acknowledge them, apologize for them and attempt to make amends when possible. Plus, when we are able to recognize our faults and hurtful behavior, others are far more likely to take ownership of theirs.
Another important factor in evaluating your behavior is considering how you engage you family member(s). Do you call or show up and brace yourself for a confrontation or fight? If so, you are likely looking for a negative interaction and will likely therefore find one. But if you engage them looking for what they are doing right, you may find better with the results.
What is their part?
Just as we have shortcomings, so do our family members. If you want them to be kind and patient about your faults and shortcomings, it only seems fair to show them the same curtsey. Perhaps you had a parent that you feel/felt was critical when you were growing up. Consider that while it was not fun to be on the receiving end of that kind of criticism, perhaps your parent did not know a better way to approach the situation. It may be useful to think about the challenges they were experiencing at the time of your conflict and attempt to see the situation from their perspective.
What feels like it can't fe fixed? ...At least not right now.
The sad truth is that for some, the strained relationship is largely do to with an unhealthy family member who is unwilling or unable to take an honest look at themselves and their impact on the people around them. Often things like mental illness, drug/alcohol addiction, fear of changing, etc. can sharply impact a family’s ability to communicate and cope with stress. There are times when it can be useful to take a step back and reevaluate if a person is or can be a positive addition to your life. For example, you may decide that a family member who has refused treatment for the substance dependence is welcome back into your life unless or until he/she begins efforts towards sobriety.
Even if you are able to mend fences with your family, it may not look and feel like an episode of Leave It To Beaver. Especially, if it has been a long time since the relationship has been good, it can be helpful to take things slowly and not to put too many expectations on yourself or on your family.