Family Estrangement: Common and Stigmatizing

I’ve written several times about estrangement in families. It is a relatively common issue I see in my psychotherapy and family counseling practice, and one that causes enormous stress for those involved. Sometimes clients are looking for a way out, and sometimes, a way back in. Either way, they often feel stigmatized, ashamed, and misunderstood by others; therefore suffering alone. Still, they remain locked in particular narratives that involve long term resentments — issues pre-dating the particular cutoff. According to researchers it is a relatively common phenomenon in North American families. The books outlined in this article might be helpful if you are struggling.

Why is family estrangement, which can run on a spectrum, more common in North America? One reason that comes to mind, for better or for worse, and as someone who does a fair bit of cross cultural counselling, is the North American emphasis on the individual over the collective or the family unit. While I don’t condone subjecting oneself to ongoing toxicity or abuse, there are options for those who want to avoid complete estrangement according to these authors and myself: one partial answer is setting strong boundaries and sticking to them — setting rules for engagement. However, we know that it is easier said than done; setting boundaries can prove to be extremely difficult when emotions take over and they are not always respected.

If you are looking for a therapist near you or an online therapist who works with family estrangement, I would be glad to talk. You are not alone. I offer online therapy and walking therapy only during COVID.