How to deal with family estrangement

Person Standing Near Lake

Family is supposed to love you unconditionally. They’re supposed to treat you like you matter to them and they aren’t afraid to show you just how much you matter to them. So what happens when your family doesn’t do that? How do you walk away from the people who are supposedly always on your side but never end up doing so?

  1. As hard as it may be, try and figure out your role in this because relationships take two or more people and since you’re an active participant, try and understand what you did to cause the problem. This isn’t taking responsibility for their bad actions but it is trying to understand your reaction to their behavior or you inaction to their behavior if you didn’t do anything to set proper boundaries. Did you say or do things either consciously or not to set them off or to act the way they did? Spend time seeing it from a outsider perspective of what you did or didn’t do that led things to reach this point. Again, this isn’t putting the blame on you but rather broadening how you approach your role in how things have gone if you had any role.
  2. Then try to understand their behavior. Again, this isn’t justifying what they did or what you did in response, it’s to understand why they did what they did and why you responded the way you did. Try to see the whole picture here- was that person going through a personal crisis like a health condition or a divorce that could have effected their behavior? Do they treat everyone this way or is it just you? Why do you think they act this way? Is this new behavior or has it always been like this and you’ve reached the point that you can’t take it anymore? What has changed for you to make you want to stop putting up with their behavior? Try to understand their part of this as well so you can at the very least have empathy or can attach some logic to their actions when it feels like they’re acting irrationally.
  3. Approach them about their behavior. I say this with a warning- when you approach a person about their bad behavior expect the worse because it can go very, very badly in some situations so know that going into it. It can go well by all means but when it’s reached the point that you have decided to end the relationship, don’t expect the other person to take it kindly and with compassion. Expect them to attack you similarly to the way they’ve treated you before you approached them. This meeting isn’t going to be a miracle where you’re going to finally open their eyes to their bad deeds and boom it’s fixed. It’s going to most likely be a heated exchange of finger pointing and blame shifting. You need to tell them their behavior has hurt you so there isn’t any confusion on their part of why you’re ending the relationship or at least taking a break from them. You have the right to tell them their behavior has been unacceptable so don’t let your fear of a bad reaction from them stop you. They weren’t afraid to hurt you so don’t be afraid to stand up to them. A lot of people are unfortunately completely unaware that their actions hurt others. I know this seems like a basic thing to know but bullies don’t or won’t care about your feelings when they want to hurt you. By telling this person you have been hurt you’re telling them you are fully aware of what they’re doing and you won’t be silent any longer. They can do what they want with this information but you have every right to tell them to stop hurting you just as much as they think they have the right to hurt you.
  4. If you don’t want to approach them decide what you want the relationship to look like from now on. Do you need to stop seeing them for a while or less often? Do you need to have someone else step in and help you deal with them? Try to find a solution to this relationship if you know that the other person won’t change because ultimately that’s probably what’s going to happen. Bullies get good at being bullies because people won’t approach them- they then get cocky about what they can do to others and it just snowballs from there. You don’t have to approach them but you do have to figure out what you can do to limit your contact or how to protect your feelings when it comes to them. You have no power over their actions but you do have power over how you react to them and how you approach the relationship. Don’t let them have all of the power.
  5. Remember that just because they’re your family doesn’t mean you have some sort of obligation to keep them in your life. If all they’ve done is hurt you and you don’t want this toxic person or persons in your life then your familial bonds don’t matter anymore- your emotional health tops all else. They can’t be bothered to treat you like family so why do you have the obligation to do so? Why is this on you to do the right thing when they can’t do it themselves? Don’t take the blame here- their actions caused this so if you need to walk away then walk away. Family doesn’t hurt family. Period. If they hurt you then they don’t see you as family.
  6. Be prepared to be the bad guy in their stories from here on out. They won’t take responsibility for their actions and so they’re going to play the victim card. It’s the easiest and laziest card to play but plenty of people use it to justify why their relationships fail. They’re going to tell anyone who will listen a swiss-hole style story filled with huge holes that if you really listen to it you’re left questioning more than understanding- if the listener to their story can’t understand why the you did what you did then this is a swiss hole story because they’re leaving out the chunk where they look bad so they can be the victim. You can’t do anything about how they portray you but just know they may go on a smear campaign with your friends and family to get ahead of the story and to make sure they’re the victim in it. The truth always comes out in the end so just give it time and people will see that same “victim” do it to someone else and then question the swiss cheese story the “victim” kept telling about you. Bullies don’t stop hurting others once someone walks away from them- they just find new victims.
  7. Don’t take this personally. If this is just one person hurting you or 20, just know that there’s something wrong with them not you. Good people don’t go around hurting others for sport. They saw you were vulnerable or an easy target or they simply decided to be a jerk to you- who knows the logic of bullies and why they pick their victims but you aren’t personally to blame for how they have treated you. Do not take the blame and try to justify why they did it. They may not even know why they did it other than well, they could. Use this is a learning opportunity because you’re going to always have bullies in your life in many different forms- your boss, the person you thought was your friend. This experience will help you in the future with dealing with bullies even if right now it really hurts to accept that you’re having to push your own family away.
  8. Don’t think of this as permanent if you’re not ready for forever. You can just say it’s putting the relationship on pause. No one knows what the future holds so don’t end things thinking it’s always going to stay broken. It can be better eventually with time and hopefully some change on their part so be hopeful that by your walking away this can be fixed later but for now, you need to heal and you need to heal without them in your life. Put yourself first since that’s what the bullies have been doing the whole time they terrorized you.
  9. Get professional help if you’re really struggling. Don’t see it as airing your family’s dirty laundry or that you’re weak if you can’t handle this on your own. You can even bring in the family member(s) if you feel that would help you but at the very least if you’re having trouble with moving forward or with how to set healthy boundaries then consider getting professional counseling. They can help you understand your feelings and find solutions to your family’s behavior in a way that would be beneficial to your mental health.

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