“Make somebody happy today, and mind your own business”
― Ann Landers
One of the most damaging aspects of family estrangement is that it very seldom stays between two people, but quickly spreads like a red wine stain on a white linen tablecloth. I’ve written about this a little bit before in a post, Loyalty, The Domino Effect but wanted to raise it again in response to a few reader emails I received.
Before I begin I want to make two points: 1 - Being drawn into alliances without taking time to come to an informed decision is problematic 2 - Part of minding your own business is to consider the implications of maintaining relationships with people who are involved with people you are estranged from and considering your responsibility in maintaining relationships with people your family members are estranged from. Sometimes it works out okay and sometimes it doesn't. More on that later.
For today, I want to discuss the first point: Choosing sides based on what someone says about another person, without at least considering that the other person may have different thoughts, feelings and perspectives, is very often short sighted.
You might know exactly what I am speaking of if you've ever been drawn into a problem that one person in your family has with another. Fact of the matter is, people in estranged families often feel forced to choose sides in an estrangement. Many of them will make decisions about other people without once ever asking them what is happening for them, what they think, what they feel.
Toxic estrangements can be perpetuated because of one-sided cold wars, that never involved or included us in the first place, but we somehow end up making our own anyway.
Here's a litmus test. How would you want a third party to weigh in on your alleged "guilt"? How would you feel if a third party judged and condemned you without any effort to reality check their thoughts, feelings and opinions about who you are?
Let's be mindful. If we are going to make decisions, especially decisions that involve disconnecting from or cutting off from people, can we at least consider speaking to the other person first? Can we place emotional reactivity to the side, and engage with the problem in a reasoned manner? Can we reality check our opinions, and judgements?
If the only way you can maintain a relationship with someone is to join them in their war against another person, without question, it’s a pretty suspect proposition.
This is not to say there are not times when it is appropriate to align ourselves with family members who have been harmed or wronged. It is to say that far too often alliances are chosen without question and the range of impact this can have on our own relationships and wider family functioning is devastating.