"By insulating ourselves from perceived risk, from people and places that might not like us, appreciate us or guarantee us a smooth ride, we spend our day in a prison we’ve built for yourself."
- Seth Godin
What is it about family estrangement that makes us feel so uncomfortable and embarrassed? Why is it that we carry estrangement as a secret? Why do we hold shame around estrangement as a personal problem and personal wound? Why is it so difficult to be open, to share, to seek support?
When we're a bit further down the road with managing our family issues and some of the emotional intensity has cooled off, there may come a time we feel ready to talk with others about it. This doesn’t mean that we don’t share with discretion, and with due consideration for our well-being and safety. It does mean there are some compelling reasons to risk vulnerability and make a break with silence.
10 Reasons you might want to talk about your estrangement
1. Sharing reduces isolation – you'll learn you are not the only person having this experience; estrangement is not just you, not just your family.
2. Sharing reduces the stigmatisation and shame of estrangement, for yourself and every other estranged person.
3. Sharing allows you to put a name to your experiences and as a consequence, to access the similar experiences of other estranged people. For instance, the word “estrangement” brings us together and creates a sense of community.
4. Sharing allows you access to research, information, supports and resources about estrangement (be they so limited in number and scope). We aren’t going to see people thinking about, researching / writing about, or creating supports and resources for estranged people, until we get the word out that we exist.
5. Speaking of which, sharing your experience of estrangement allows you to contribute to an emerging body of knowledge about estrangement, which encourages the creation of more research, supports, services and resources for estranged people.
6. If you are successfully healing and managing your estrangement, you can give hope to other people who are struggling with their estrangement, who may feel very alone and worry that they will never heal or be happy again.
7. If you are not doing well with your estrangement you can help make explicit the struggles of estranged people and if not directly access support, information and resources that will help you, certainly highlight the need for that support, information and resources.
8. Putting our experience outside of ourselves often has the unexpected bonus of allowing us increased clarity, increased self-awareness and understanding and increased detachment. People who share often say they feel the weight of estrangement is reduced.
9. Your story contributes to a growing body of knowledge about things that work and things that don’t work for mental health and health professionals who work with people who are estranged. Your story helps to raise the professional bar of (clinical) understanding about estrangement thereby reducing the chance that you or other estranged people will speak to professionals who are largely oblivious to the issue of estrangement and imagine reunification as the only acceptable solution.
10. Another reason to share about your estrangement is it’s your life; your experience and your story and it's yours to share because you can.
As you can see there are plenty of other reasons to share! These aren’t the only reasons to share, but they are some compelling reasons to think about it. If we want to reduce the stigma and shame associated with estrangement we need to get the word out that there are an awful lot of us dealing with these issues and we can’t all be suffering from a DSM-V label!
Do we really want people in our lives who can't (or won't) hear our story?
Estrangement remains shrouded in secrecy and many people find it very difficult to talk to other people about their family circumstances. Many of us feel guilty or ashamed that we are not in relationship with every member of our family, regardless how valid our reasons might be, regardless that we may not even have chosen the circumstances!
Our reactions around sharing the fact that we are estranged from a person or people in our family, can tell us a great deal about ourselves. It can also tell us a great deal about other people.
It’s worth asking yourself whether you want people who have no room for imperfections, no tolerance for difference or no ability for compassion to be a part of your life. It could be that sharing about our estrangement is actually a pretty good testing ground for judging our other relationships. No embarrassment required.