How to take care of yourself right after an estrangement

How to take care of yourself right after an estrangement

‘I have degrees in several subjects,’ David Waite tells Metro.co.uk, ‘but not for the most important thing I ever did – bringing up children.’

The Counselling Directory member says estrangement is a topic he deals with ‘constantly’ in his work.

‘I did get enough [parenting] right for it to work OK,’ he adds. ‘Not everyone does – it’s hard work.’

And if things in your family environment don’t work out, it can be hugely painful, especially in the immediate aftermath of a new estrangement.

Life Coach Sian Winslade explains that this is true whether you were the one who initiated the separation or not.

‘When someone chooses to become estranged from a family member they may experience feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and uncertainty about whether they made the right decision or not,’ she explains. ‘They may have lost a support system that they once relied upon.

‘They may also feel a sense of isolation, especially if they are the only one that feels strong enough to move away from the family member or friend.’

Meanwhile, somebody who’s become estranged from a relative against their will is likely to feel things like confusion and rejection as they struggle to grapple with the other person’s decision to cut things off.

‘They may also feel a sense of powerlessness and frustration,’ Sian goes on, ‘as they may not have had their say in the decision to become estranged.’

In addition to all that, there’s also the shame that society perpetuates around so-called ‘broken’ families.

Counsellor Billie Dunlevy says: ‘Although estrangement is more common than society would like to address, it’s still seen as taboo and this can cause those involved to feel shame.

‘This is especially hard when looking at social media and seeing depictions of families that look nothing like yours. It can also be really painful around holidays and celebrations too.’

So what are the best ways that we can take care of ourselves in the wake of such a seismic change in our lives?

David says the first thing we need to do is try and understand not just what’s really going on in our own minds, but in the mind of the person or people we’re estranged from.

‘Hatred will not help,’ he adds, ‘it will just corrode.

‘A good relational counsellor is needed – not for reconciling, as the separation has already happened, but to help grasp the emotional bond which is being torn apart.’

Sian recommends giving yourself time to process what’s happened, opening up to trusted friends, and standing firm by your boundaries.

‘Even if you made the decision to become estranged,’ she explains ‘it’s normal to feel a sense of loss or grief over the relationship. Allow yourself to feel these emotions and process them in a healthy way.

‘If the person you’ve become estranged from attempts to contact you or reach out it’s important to set clear boundaries. It may mean blocking the number or email or letting them know that you need some space. This may be the only way they can fully process what you are saying. This is especially important if you have gone back and forth with contact in the past.

‘Talk to trusted friends and family members about what you’re going through and seek emotional support from them. Having someone to listen to you at this difficult time is crucial, so as not to feel a sense of further isolation or guilt.’

Other tried and tested things she suggests are journalling or writing your estranged family member a letter – ‘If you feel that it may be seen or get into the wrong hands, you can shred it’ – and practising self-care – ‘This may involve sleeping and eating well, exercising, avoiding alcohol or drugs, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.’

David also recommends meditation on a daily basis, explaining: ‘When the head gets to grips with the new reality, it may take some time to get to the heart.’

Degrees of Separation

This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.

Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.

If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected] and/or [email protected]

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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