Relationships are the dynamic between two people. Relationships take care, upkeep, and resources. However, they are not always easy, and rifts may develop between two people. When this rift grows, and two people grow apart, the relationship becomes estranged.
Estrangement can lead to many relationship consequences, such as separation, divorce, and alienation. Estrangement describes a rift or division that is the result of unmet expectations or other disruptions in a relationship.
Estrangements come in all forms, particularly in families: partner from partner, parent from child, sibling from sibling, grandparent from child, aunt/uncle from niece/nephew, and so forth. Even the best of friends can become estranged from one another because of unmet expectations or other disruptions in the friendship.
There are a number of contributors that may act as a catalyst for an estranged relationship. Unresolved issues with trust, money, safety, emotional abuse, neglect, domestic abuse, anger, child abuse, sexual abuse or incest - all can contribute to two people becoming estranged.
In addition, if one or both of the individuals involved have any of the following personality disorders, there is a greater risk of estrangement occurring:
- Asperger's Syndrome: Those who struggle with Asperger's may have more difficulty with social skills and interpersonal relationships.
Read more about Asperger's Syndrome
- Bipolar Disorder: Impulsive behaviors and decisions may lead to troubled relationships. Further, irritability and paranoia may strain relationships.
Read more about Bipolar Disorder
- Depression: Depression may cause social isolation, irritability, sadness, and other symptoms that may lead to an estranged relationship.
Read more about Depression
- Borderline Personality Disorder: Extreme difficulty with interpersonal relationships can lead to estrangement in both home and work relationships
Read more about Borderline Personality Disorder
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Self-centered approaches to relationships can lead to confused or one-sided relationships. There is also a tendency to project insecurities or attribute characteristics upon others.
Read more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Along with individual characteristics, environment can play a factor. Extreme social isolation can lead to estrangement. In particular, social isolation is often key to the control exerted by strict religious sects and cults over their members.
Read more about Social Isolation
Similarly, divorce is another area where estrangement occurs. During a bitter divorce that is full of contention and fighting, it is not uncommon for one parent to become estranged from the children involved. This is known as Parental Alienation Syndrome, and occurs often after a divorce, although it can also be caused by any of the other factors outlined above.
Read more about Parental Alienation Syndrome
You may be estranged from your loved ones because of a fight or disagreement you’ve had. Attachment is often a part of estrangement. Issues with attachment can be expressed in many ways, which may result in an individual feeling the need or desire to fix or resolve conflicts or in individuals feeling that they are misunderstood or looked upon with disapproval.
Estrangement causes a unique form of grief, in that hope is often held out for a reparation in the relationship, keeping the pain and grief current and raw. Further, repeated interactions that follow the same pattern of expectations and ultimate disappointment when those expectations are unmet, keep the grief close at hand.
The first step to healing an estranged relationship is forgiveness. This is a very difficult first step, but holding on to resentment, anger, and hatred does not foster healthy and positive relationships.
After deciding that a relationship is beyond repair, it can be overwhelming and scary to consider reconciling an estranged relationship. The following tips are important when beginning the reconciliation process:
- Has emotional growth occurred since the last contact?
- Can I set and maintain appropriate boundaries?
- Do I need to “change” the other person or his or her beliefs about a situation?
- Do I have my own identity, or am I overwhelmed by another’s opinion?
- Am I still angry?
Validating your feelings about the situation is important during the reconciliation process, as a lot of feelings are likely to occur. Recognize that is may be a slow process of building trust and re-learning the other person, and establishing a new relationship.
Focus on the positive and find new ways to establish common ground. Meet in a neutral location, and do not discuss difficult issues.
Repairing an estranged relationship is often very similar to building a new relationship. Do not expect that everything will be perfect right away. There are often setbacks, hiccups, and issues that may need to be navigated throughout the process.
And finally, keep in mind that you are not responsible for the entire relationship, nor can you control the entire relationship.
Reconciliation After Estrangement - Article in Psychology Today about estrangement
Emotional Cutoff - Description and case study about estrangement