Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ask Dr. Seth: Estrangement from Family

A reader recently asked the following question:

"I have been thinking about estranging myself from some of my family members, but everyone around me is telling me that I shouldn't do something so drastic. Are estrangements bad?"

The reader never clarified how old she was and or whom she was considering estranging herself from, so we can only guess what's really going on. In general, estrangements should be considered only as an absolute last resort. When you get to the point of estranging yourself from family members, I understand: Things have gotten really, really bad. You've probably felt like you've been stuck on the same twisted, emotional roller coaster for years, tried as hard as you possibly can, and still never manage to have peace for very long. I would never judge a client for wanting to estrange herself from family members, and I also understand that sometimes estrangements are the lesser of two evils - because staying in a relationship with someone who mistreats you or truly doesn't value your feelings is a lose-lose game.

If you have decided that you simply can't continue the relationship as it currently functions, first try an approach of measured contact. Take a break for a month or two and see if the intensity of the feelings die down. Explain to the problematic family members that you need a little space to think about your relationship, and during that period, talk to a few people whose judgment you really trust and admire. If you ultimately decide that having no contact is the only way that you can move forward with your life, don't share the details of estrangement with everyone you know. Why? Because most people won't understand - and worse, they'll judge you.

Bottom line: The only people who will ever truly understand your decision to estange yourself are people who come from extremely dysfunctional families themselves. Everyone else will simply have an opinion on something they truly know nothing about.

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