Estrangement has rarely been researched, or even discussed, but is very prevalent within families and among friends. Although it probably has existed since the beginning of time, it appears to be completely ignored, kept secret, and rarely mentioned.
A good example of the secrets families keep, and the time wasted on separation, was featured on the Nov. 6, 2022 episode of the Sunday Morning Show with Jane Pauley. When Steven Spielberg was 15 years old, his parents divorced, and his father took the blame and said it was his idea. Actually, the split occurred because his mother had fallen in love with his father’s best friend. As a result, Steven did not talk to his father for 19 years. What if Steven Spielberg’s parents had communicated the real reason for the divorce? Would he have stopped talking to his father?
Even within the animal kingdom, estrangement is evident. In the Netflix movie “Water Wolves,” one of the females who is impregnated by the top hierarchical male wolf is alienated from the pack, while the other impregnated female is accepted. The rejected female must fend for herself and her offspring.
Being the target of alienation, in the majority of cases, produces guilt and a feeling of rejection from the family or group of friends. Those who are excluded from the group often ask, “What is wrong with me? Why did such an extreme exclusion happen to me?”
Barbara LeBey, an attorney, found herself becoming estranged from a cherished member of her family. She was disappointed and surprised to find that there was no help for her pain on the shelves of bookstores. Because of this, she wrote a book, “Family Estrangement” (2001), in which she addresses some of the following reasons why families and friends stop interacting:
1) An acrimonious divorce that turns children away from a parent, and causes those children to be used as pawns by one parent.
2) Disputes over inheritance or who will be in control of the family business.
3) Rejection due to sexual orientation or choice of a marriage partner or friend.
4) A parent who does not want their children to marry.
5) A son-in-law or daughter-in-law who rejects their spouse’s family and radically breaks from them.
6) Self-absorbed, narcissistic, and intolerable people who want things their way and do not see another person’s perspective.
Suggestions for Addressing Estrangement:
1) Repair the relationship by planning a meeting, perhaps with a family member or friend who wants to seek reconciliation.
2) Allow some time to “air out” differences so the relationship can “breathe” again.
3) Stay connected, if that is possible.
4) Communicate by telling them you miss them and/or writing a letter with the hope of clearing up misunderstandings.
5) Apologize for any wrongdoing you might have unknowingly caused (For example, a gentleman on his deathbed, surrounded by his family, asked each member to look into one another’s eyes and say, “Forgive me for any hurt I might have caused you.” After he heard them say this to each other, he died.)
6) Get help from clergy or professional therapists and support groups in this area of expertise.
7) Rid yourself of undeserved guilt.
8) Do not hate them, but try instead to find a way to love them.
9) Keep healthy, both physically and mentally.
10) If all else fails, adopt a new family and make new friends.