Estrangement – what an ugly harsh sounding word – jarring to the ears, in fact.
The dictionary definition of estrangement is to turn away in feeling or affection, make unfriendly or hostile, alienate the affections of.
Some synonyms – break-up, rupture, schism.
Estrangements are shrouded in secrecy and shame. Estrangement is a stigma.
It’s no wonder. For Jews, family closeness is idealized. Given our history of persecution, it’s no wonder. Jewish families are idealized as being unwaveringly loyal, endlessly supportive and demonstrating unbreakable bonds. But even though the Bible provides examples of family fragmentation - such as Cain and Abel and Joseph and his brothers - when a key family member is missing through estrangement, the absence can be piercing.
Those who have experienced estrangement as the one who cut off the relationship or as the one who had the relationship cut off by someone else – all share one thing in common: a sense of being alone.
Statistics, however, do not bear out this assumption.
According to Karl Pillemer, PhD, in his newly released book “Fault Lines – Fractured Families and How to Mend Them,” over one quarter of Americans surveyed reported currently being estranged from a relative – translating into 67 million people.
Many scenarios can lead to the decision to break away as the only survival tactic:
• Cousin Amy stops talking to her mother-in-law over a series of unremitting criticisms of her cooking, mothering and housekeeping
• Uncle Harold severs ties with his eldest son due to his offspring’s vocational choices and differing attitudes about career advancement
• Aunt Dottie disowns her only daughter for marrying out of the faith
What leads a person to break-off a key connection?
• Done trying
• Done working to make the relationship better
• Done accommodating demands
• Done overlooking intolerable behavior
• Done apologizing for a lifestyle to someone who does not approve
• Done with disrespect for a spouse or partner
Often one key event usually triggers the estrangement.
Pillemer notes that there has been a dramatic increase in the human life span. Therefore, the amount of time children spend as adult offspring can likely be 30 to 50 years. Thus, our family relationships affect us for many decades – whether positive, negative or both. Past conflicts, violated and/or unmet expectations, the lasting effects of divorce, in-law issues, money and inheritance, unmet expectations and value and lifestyle differences are all fertile areas of estrangement cultivation.
What is the effect on the estranged parties?
• Deep sadness
• A rudderless feeling of loss
• Chronic stress
• Separation anxiety
• Pain from rejection
• Uncertainty due to the physical absence, but psychological presence
• Disruption of social capital resources – sources of financial and practical support that family members can tap into
Unfortunately, estrangement does not just stop with the family members intimately involved. The entire family/kinship network often feels the ripple effect. The collateral damage is real and deep.
• Starts a tradition of exclusion and isolation
• Stresses those who often have to choose one family member over the other
• Damages generations to come
Many estrangements spring from the explosive power of a single event, but in fact may have been building up for years or decades as a long history of pain and disappointments. Whether it’s a pivotal incident or an accumulation of hurts, people in estranged situations often echo many of the same thoughts:
• It never stops hurting
• It’s taken 10-20 years off my life
• The estrangement is an open wound
• There is a sadness in me that just won’t go away
• I lost faith and trust in myself
• It’s like a death, but with no funeral or closure
Next month, I’ll be exploring the path forward out of the abyss of estrangement.
In the meantime,
Keep Preserving Your Bloom,
Iris Ruth Pastor