Sometimes it starts small: your mother-in-law criticizes your parenting skills, or your sister is not pulling her weight with your ageing parents …. a day turns into a month, then a year, then many years.

The idea that a family always stick together regardless of the situation is hardly true in practice. A shared family tree doesn’t necessarily mean parents or siblings will act in a loving manner. Thing is, we’re all individuals and sometimes personalities don’t line up. Families have disagreements and become estranged – more often than you think.

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The grief of family estrangement can be more painful – or at least more complicated - than the grief over a loved one who has died. When a family member voluntarily walks away, you may miss them and feel confused, ashamed or angry. And as unresolved conflict turns love and respect into pain and suffering, all areas your life will be affected.

So, if you’re feeling as if you’re standing in front of a brick wall, emotionally battered and bruised by your relationship, where do you even start? Is it still worth it to reach out? Each situation is of course unique, and sometimes all it takes is an apology to make things right. Other times, it takes more effort to repair a relationship.

Sometimes space and time is needed, so reach out when you feel you’re ready. Be the bigger person and initiate reconciliation. Do you value being right more than you value your relationship? Reaching out can be the most difficult part of repairing your relationship. However, ease into interaction. Try writing a letter. Letters are personal and heartfelt. Also this will give your relative time to consider your request to make amends and to plan their response.  

To be able to move on, forgiveness is imperative. Let go of resentment. This does not mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize the wrong. Try to focus more on the present by acknowledging the past, but not allowing it to dominate the future. Remember too, that it can be hard to change ingrained behaviours. Forgive people when they slip up.

Accept the person just as they are and focus on his/her good points. Think about it, what do you want more: for this person to conform to your standards, or for this person to be in your life?

Be sure to set boundaries and protect them fiercely. Remember, you deserve respect. So, be dignified, be brilliant and be kind, but never allow anyone to make you feel small.

If you have trouble reconnecting with your family after several attempts - and both parties are willing - it may be time for therapy. Studies have shown that family therapy can be helpful in resolving family challenges.

However, protect your heart by preparing yourself for all outcomes. You can’t control how your attempt to reach out will be received, but you can control your reaction. If sadly you need to walk away from family, don’t let the final words be angry ones. You don’t want to leave room for regret. Leave the relationship with dignity and love because that’s who you are.

Good luck!

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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.