As a counsellor and psychotherapist, I often used to see clients who felt cut off from, or by, family members. Sometimes, they could come to terms with this but more often there was stress, sometimes depression and even shame. This was particularly the case if there didn’t seem to be any particular reason for the rift.
Here are some of the most likely reasons why one person in a family cuts off from another or why an entire family can seem to ostracise just one member. I’m not suggesting that this is a healthy situation but sometimes understanding dynamics can be helpful:
- In most families there are dominant members and these people exert their power and control to keep other members in line – a bit like playground disputes where bullies use the same methods of control with their peers.
- Because of this some family members get exhausted by a relative, feeling that they have put up with some behaviours for far too long. They may feel hopeless about changing the situation and start to interact less and less with that person or people.
- Some families definitely ‘scapegoat’ one member, using them to blame family issues on when things go wrong. This is along the lines of “you always do this/never do enough/don’t pull your weight” and other less dominant family members jump on this bandwagon too, finding it easier to blame one person than take responsibility for looking at the situation with a clear mind.
- Rewriting history – if your family know a lot about your younger self and you don’t want to be reminded of that, it sometimes feels better to shut out family members, avoid them and rewrite your story when you meet new people.
- If you have chosen a partner whom your family don’t like, sometimes it’s easier to avoid your original family and give your loyalty and interest to your partner. Your family will probably resent this, argue with you about it or point out your partner’s flaws and to avoid this you may well end up avoiding your family rather than your partner.
- Misunderstanding can occur between relatives and if they’re not discussed, the relationships can eventually break down. If someone is concerned that discussions will develop into confrontations, they’ll avoid the situation and the people involved.
- Some families have a history of cutting off relatives when they’re annoyed or upset with them. With no model of resolution, you learn that cutting off family members is an option and you don’t have a model of how to resolve issues within the family.
- Money often leads to difficulties within families – a parent who favoured one child where money was concerned or leaves more money in their will to one of their children rather than treat them all equally. In an ideal world, this doesn’t happen but if parents feel that one child did more for them than their other children did, they may also feel that that child deserves more inheritance. There’s no easy answer to this but if you don’t want to see your family disintegrate, you will need to find a way to overcome such perceived injustices.
- If an elderly parent is ill, some families can handle this well and divide the care between them, but if one child lives a long distance away, it isn’t easy and resentments can set in. This is often when families become disenchanted with one another. It may also be that one sibling doesn’t see the need to take responsibility for the parent and naturally this causes friction.
If you feel cut off from your family, or another family member is no longer in contact, you may feel that you don’t care if that changes or not. However, if it bothers you, it’s almost always worth swallowing your pride, getting in touch, meeting and discussing what’s happened and how it might be better in the future. Avoid extreme words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ – they’re not helpful and won’t achieve a peaceful outcome. If you want to be on better terms (and you may not want to!), take it slowly and try to build up your relationship to be at least friendly, even if you can’t manage loving.
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