The cliché of the holiday season is moving portraits of families celebrating in harmony among one another. Well, even the unharmonious images are common, if not the stuff of comedy, but the general trend is showing families all together this time of year. That’s not a reality for a lot of people, where estrangement from their family is the reality of their daily lives.
New research, as highlighted recently in a New York Times report, reveals a much more persistent and common thread of parents, children, and siblings who willingly distance themselves from each other, disproving the old adage that blood is thicker than water.
In “Debunking Myths About Estrangement,“ the Times report anchors on an extensive review of over 50 studies and articles about family estrangement in the Journal of Family Theory & Review. In highlighting three particular common myths about estrangement, a clearer understanding seems to be emerging that when adult relatives willingly sever contact with each other because of a longstanding negative relationship, it is neither unique nor easily reparable, as our common myths about family might have us believe.
Among the more common misconceptions are the ideas that family estrangements often happen suddenly, are usually for clear reasons, and are rare. Instead, there aren’t necessarily clear reasons behind children deciding never to speak to their parents — issues like abuse, betrayal, bad parenting. Ruptures that seem abrupt for ridiculous reasons often have long-standing threads of misunderstandings or behavior behind them.
Statistically speaking, a recent British study had 8 percent of respondents state that a family member of theirs was “cut off” in some form or another. Another study, from 2015, found that people, whether those who were rejected or those who did the rejecting, often found that support was difficult to find.
As important as family is believed — and proved — to be to humans psychologically and emotionally, it’s clear that breaking ties with a family member is hardly a trivial matter, or a rare one. The more studies and conversations that happen around the topic, perhaps the less of a stigma there can be. Eventually, there may be more tools to figure out ways to more easily heal wounds, dispel feelings of shame and humiliation around estrangement, and find ways to live healthy lives.
Given the abundance of comments on the Times report as well as other related articles around the web, it’s clear this isn’t a rare thing at all, and, with some focus and attention, people can definitely help each other through the pain of family estrangement.
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