How nice it would be if everyone could have a storybook family. Unfortunately, few do. Many families suffer from the pain of having one member who wants nothing to do with the rest. Often it is one of the grown children. The parents and siblings feel the loss, almost like a death. There are feelings of guilt. Family gatherings are always a sad reminder of the fractured relationships. Sometimes efforts to heal the rift only make things worse.
What is the best way to handle this situation? First off, we must release the notion of obligation. If we think that any adult is responsible for the happiness of the rest of the family we are locked in a codependent stance. If the family were as perfect as we might like the world to think it is, then it would not have an estranged member.
An individual may distance from the family for a variety of reasons. It may be that past hurts are too painful, and being around the family brings them all to the surface. In order to keep stability and balance in his or her life, the individual may need to back away for a time. It might be that the family is currently dysfunctional. If the individual feels judged or criticized by the rest of the family, or if one or more members has an addiction or anger problem, it may simply be more than the individual is willing to cope with.
Sometimes the difficulty is with the partner of the estranged person. If the partner has not been accepted by the family, it becomes awkward for everyone. It becomes easier just to stay away.
The hardest possibility to deal with may be that the individual does not like the family. As people get out into the world, they meet others, and their values, preferences and even their personalities may change. We cannot command others to like us, or to want to spend time with us. If we become angry and demand explanations, they will be driven farther away. If we keep pursuing them, after they have made their wishes for space quite clear, they will take even more space.
In situations like this, sometimes the best thing we can do is to respect the needs of the other. If we let them know they are important to us and will always be welcome in our lives, chances are time may heal things.
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