During the holidays, much of what we see in movies and on TV paints a picture of family togetherness. Scenes of a mom welcoming her son into her house or a family lighting their Menorah together remind us that holidays are spent with family. While close relationships exist in some families, for many of us the winter season is one of emotional strain, where the year-round grief of family estrangement is even sharper.
Family estrangement refers to the loss of relationship between family members, often to the extent that there is little or no communication between those involved. Estrangement can include emotional distance and/or physical distance. It can happen slowly over a number of years, or following a specific event. Sometimes the distance is temporary, sometimes it lasts a lifetime. Estrangement generally impacts all family members.
Though often difficult for all involved, emotional and physical distance can also be healthy. For those who have experienced family abuse, choosing to distance oneself can be a freeing and loving act. As painful as it may be, estrangement can allow for healing and recovery in challenging family relationships and pave the way for improved wellbeing.
If you are estranged from family members this holiday season, there are a number of things to consider, including:
• You aren’t alone. It is a myth that estrangement is unusual. The fact is, the more we talk about estrangement the more we realize how common it is. As we share our experience of estrangement, we understand how widespread it is and begin feeling less alone.
• Serving others helps everyone. Sharing yourself through volunteering can bring new meaning to your holiday season. Food banks, animal shelters, care centers and meal sites are ways to give to your community and be connected to the people around you.
• Friends can be family, too. Good friends can play the role of family -- sometimes even better than blood relatives. It’s valid for the people you’re closest to, the ones who do the behaviors of family, to be family. You can choose your friends and your family.
• Support is available. Many people who experience estrangement find relief in talking with a therapist or counselor, someone unrelated to your or your family who is invested in your wellness. Your primary care provider can be a good starting point for resources in your area.
Given how common we know family estrangement to be, if you happen to enjoy close relationships with family, please be gentle with those around you who may be having a more challenging holiday season. Now is an especially sensitive time of year, let’s all be good to one another as we bring the spirit of the season to life.