Family estrangement

Family estrangement is not an uncommon situation, which develops from a number of complex causes, resulting in disagreement, disrespect and loss of affection.

Physical estrangement is when all contact – including visits, mail and phone calls – is ceased by one or more family members. Emotional estrangement is when family members maintain some perfunctory contact that is characterised by infrequency, discomfort and dissatisfaction.

Family estrangement often results in significant loss responses. Its ambiguous nature means that the loss may never be fully acknowledged and accepted (because the relationship may still have the potential to resolve).

It is often a loss that is not recognised by society or talked about openly, which can contribute shame and embarrassment to the estranged person.

Tips for living with estrangement

  • Recognise when your actions to reconcile are not working and take time to stop, review and/or change
  • Accept that you may not be able to change the situation (immediately, eventually or at all)
  • Take ownership of your own contribution to the estrangement (even the ‘right’ actions or good intentions can cause another pain)
  • Acknowledge the benefits of ‘relief’ from the relationship and take time to review the estranged relationship (and others)
  • Viewing this time as a chance to grow as an individual (couple or smaller family unit)
  • Remove triggers for pain
  • Make a commitment to self – to live a good life, to grow and to appreciate the friends and family you do have.

Recommended Reading

  • Agllias, K. 2011. “No longer on speaking terms: The losses associated with family estrangement at the end of life.” Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services no. 92 (1):107-113.
  • The Federal Government also has in information website: Family Relationships Online