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Repairing Family Estrangement – Time for an Olive Branch?

by Andrea M. Darcy

Considering repairing family estrangement, and not sure where to start?

Repairing or accepting estrangement?

An increasingly common issue now estimated to affect 1 in 5 families in the UK, family estrangement can cause depression and loneliness.

Sometimes accepting estrangement is the only option, or the one that is right for you. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Read our connected article, “Family Estrangement: Is it Always a Bad Thing?” to understand more about how you’ve ended up in an estranged family, and what possible positives are.

Repairing family estrangement from the inside out.

So where to start with repairing estrangement? With yourself.

We cannot control how a family member responds to us, or what they think of us. The only thing we can control is our own thoughts, feelings, and reactions.

And sometimes healing our own hurt, and focusing on finding our own inner resolution around the estrangement? Can be more useful than talking to the other person and trying to find external resolution.

Am I in a healthy relationship quiz

Doing the inside job first means we will navigate any future contact with an estranged family member from a much stronger, calmer, and wiser place.

Be sure it’s what YOU want. 

New partner want you to heal the rift? Or sibling pressing you to talk to parents?

Trying to heal estrangement before you are ready can backfire, leading to a bigger rift than the original. The time to repair a family estrangement is when you feel ready, not when others want you to.

Be wary of also pushing yourself to do what you don’t really want to. This can look like, “I’m pregnant, I better heal the rift before my child is born,”, or “I have to heal the rift now because I’m getting married, what will people think”. What matters is what you think. And what you are ready for and capable of.

It’s all about the timing. 

If you want to heal the rift but are in a very stressful period of life — a new job, moving house, navigating your children leaving home — think twice. You might even be unconsciously sabotaging healing the estrangement by choosing to do it now, on a certain level knowing you’ll make a mess of it.

Repairing estrangement can be a very emotional experience that can be very involved. Consider the following:

  • do I currently have the emotional and mental headspace for this?
  • do I have the physical time available for all the conversations and mood swings that it might entail?
  • are my loved ones and friends I rely on available to help me navigate this?

And also note that it needs to be reasonable timing for the person you are healing a rift with. You are estranged, so obviously you won’t know their schedule or where they are at emotionally. But reaching out to them when you have heard from others they are in the middle of a big and time consuming life change might again be a way of sabotaging any real resolution.

One word – support system. 

You can’t predict how the other party will respond to your request for contact. You can’t control what they will say or do, and what old wounds they will reopen. And you can’t predict how you will respond.

 If we are so used to being lonely or depressed about an estrangement, even a positive response can be overwhelming. Sometimes happiness can feel very uncomfortable, even scary, and leave us grieving for the years we have lost.

So no matter how prepared you think you are for a reconciliation, have support! Don’t be afraid to work with a counsellor or therapist, where you can say anything without being judged.

This is especially a good idea if family or friends are connected to the situation and are unable to be impartial. Or if you only have one person to talk to, like a partner, and you are at risk of overloading them and damaging that relationship.

Lower those expectations.

If there is one thing that can most raise your chances of a successful reconciliation? This might be it.

Sit down and write out what you expected from them as a child. Does your adult self secretly still expect all that love and acceptance the child self never got?

  • What would it feel like to accept that those things wouldn’t be showing up?
  • What expectations could you lower, if not get rid of entirely?
  • How could you outsource those expectations elsewhere, and fill them in other ways?

You might also have to lower your negative expectations, too. Time has passed. And just like you have changed, that other person has. You can’t expect them to be what they were. They might be nicer than you expect, or more accommodating, and you’ll have to allow that and not keep them boxed in by the way they were. 

Keep it between you and them.

If you do decide to close the gap of an estrangement, don’t pull the entire family into it. The other person will feel ganged up on and it can turn into a war.

And definitely don’t attempt a reconciliation in a roundabout way, such as by contacting their partner, children, or friends. This is not only backhanded, it’s highly likely to leave the other person feeling betrayed or even manipulated and will breach trust before it’s even had a chance to be built.

If the issue is between and them, keep it between you and them.

Be ready for failure.

The other person may be happy to reconcile, they may not. The more you are able to accept any outcome, the easier the process of attempting reconciliation will be.

Leave the door open. 

If the other person doesn’t want to immediately repair the relationship between you, it can be all too easy to react from a place of ego and hurt. “Fine, don’t think I’ll be here if you change your mind…”. “Well why did I bother, never again!”

Yes, we need to be ready for failure. But a no is not always a no. People can need space to consider and respond. Think of it like planting a seed. A bean plant pushes through the soil almost immediately. Other plants take their time to ‘see the light’. But the seed is in there. It’s germinating.

If, despite a first rejection,  you leave the door open with as much grace as possible, they might come around on their own timing. That might mean now, it might mean sometime when you least expect it in the future.

Need support with repairing family estrangement? Harley Therapy connects you with highly experienced, kind talk therapists in central London. Or book a UK-wide registered therapist on our booking site, along with online counselling you can do from anywhere in the world. 

Still have a question about repairing family estrangement? Post below. Note comments are monitored, and we do not allow harassment, or advertising.

Andrea BlundellAndrea M. Darcy is the editor and lead writer of this site, who loves to write about trauma, relationships, and ADHD. She has lived the murky waters of family estrangement since a teen. Find her @am_darcy

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Blog Topics: Relationships

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