I’ve read some blogs and news articles recently with comments from parents who were confused as to why their children mysteriously decided to estrange themselves.  This lack of introspection frustrates me to no end.  Children (of any age) don’t arbitrarily decide to estrange themselves from family.  We are created with an innate desire for connection and acceptance, especially from family.  Estrangements are born from desperation and/or necessity.  (Withdrawal is also a form of estrangement.  It’s more passive, but still done out of self-protection.)

The reasons for estrangement are many; but ultimately it comes down to safety.  It may be for physical, emotional or spiritual safety, but sometimes estrangement becomes the only option.  The more extreme the brokenness, the more extreme the healing is needed.

A Last Resort

Estrangement is usually a last resort after multiple other attempts have been made to change family dynamics.  Unfortunately, these attempts are often rebuked because the perpetrator doesn’t want to change.  The victim is then blamed for disrupting the apple cart and conveniently becomes the black sheep.

Dysfunctional families often deflect responsibility for behavior; it’s human nature.  Honestly, we sometimes do this without even realizing it.  Abusive families, however, are masters at pointing blame anywhere, everywhere except where it belongs.  This not only protects the abusers, it allows the continuation of the cycle.  Taking the step of estrangement may seem extreme to many.  For the victim, however, sometimes it is the only way to protect themselves. 

My Estrangement

My decision to estrange myself from my parents came over time.  I was trying to process awful memories and still have ‘normal’ conversations with them on the phone.  It was crazy making.  I felt like I had one foot in reality and the other in a fantasy world.  There came a point when I had to make a decision to be on one side or the other.  I couldn’t continue that way any longer.

I dropped a letter in the mail telling them I was working through ‘some issues’.  Out of necessity I kept my letter very generic, but told them I needed space to do this and asked them not to contact me.  (I found out much later dad complained “I’ve lost total control” after he read my letter.)  The immediate aftermath of my decision was rough.  I got a call from my sister asking what was going on.  I firmly told her it was between our parents and me.  The next call was from my parent’s neighbor; she wasn’t nearly as nice as my sister.  Her words were scathing and brought me to tears.  A couple of weeks later my brother had a major heart attack and a nephew was in a snowmobile accident.  Then my dad crashed his last plane.  This all happened within about two months.  The guilt was profound because I felt at fault for these calamities because of writing that letter.  The lie of dysfunction and abuse was in full form telling me I was responsible.

Free To Be Me

It’s taken a long time to understand I am not responsible for other people’s emotions or lives.  This doesn’t give me license to say or do anything I want without accountability.  But, it does free me up to be me and to live a conscientious life of truth.  I could not have reached this place without estranging myself from the dysfunctional and abusive family relationships being modeled for me.  

How about you?  Have you experienced or considered estrangement as an option for healing?