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How to Deal with Estranged Family During the Holidays

By Marie Morin December 19, 2021 Family

Family estrangement for women in their 60s is more common than you think. About 70 million people in the United States report experiencing estrangement from one or more family members.

For some, estrangement is a choice due to self-preservation against impossible family circumstances. Perhaps you have been the recipient of someone’s decision to detach.

Estrangement is a topic often held in the shadows with little or no support due to the gravity of its impact. It can be extraordinarily distressing for those that are scorned or ignored. This article discusses five tips to help you navigate this Holiday if you are estranged.

Especially during the holidays, estranged people can struggle with the onslaught of movies, decorations, and music broadcasting family cheer.

All that togetherness around the tree with everyone smiling like in Hallmark Movies.

There is a buzz of family gatherings, busyness on steroids, discussions of dinner plans, and let’s not forget the greetings. Happiness can feel elusive when you are pining for your loved one to call or visit. The holiday season can be brutal.

Holidays abound with tradition, expectations, and possibilities. Unfortunately, when one experiences the gamut of estrangement, one can encounter degrees of sadness, guilt, shame, depression, loneliness, and isolation. As a therapist and wellness coach, some of my clients have wrestled with strong emotions by denying they hurt.

They put on a solid front to protect themselves from their grief and loss. Some plot their journey of estrangement by visiting their emotions, intentionally carving out time for self-care, summoning their power of choices, connecting with others, and committing to having support.

The Power of Choice

There is no doubt that being separated from those you love during the holidays can be more than problematic. More than likely, you didn’t have this in mind for your family. Once again, my son, his wife, and my grandson will not be visiting our family. He has chosen to exclude himself from our traditions. While it has been excruciating, living with joy is more than possible. It is a choice to accept to live despite the loss.

Each day you get to decide what you will do with your time. You can choose to heed the call of Nurturing yourself or not. You can choose to call a friend, join a group, volunteer, and find something to be grateful for.

You can pray, set intentions, do affirmations, watch a funny movie, do a yoga class, meditate, or go for a walk. The choice is yours to do the work necessary for whole living. Keeping a daily routine can be very grounding. There are resources everywhere to help reframe your thoughts to ones that will be life-giving.

Since the holidays bring so many expectations, consider dropping those that keep you stuck. If they don’t want to be in your company, gather with voluntary kin. Be alert to the things that trigger you and do something different. Decide to spend the day doing something you like to do.

It never occurred to me that my son would ignore me and not reach out. While it hurts terribly, what has sustained me has been to partake in daily self-care, stay connected, visit my emotions, and make daily choices.

Each day choose your well-being. Your circumstances may be far from your desires, but you can decide to move forward with joy. Daily stress can bring on strong emotions. If time allows, visit with your feelings. Or you can compartmentalize, stall the exercise, and do something you enjoy. The day is yours; you have options, choose yourself!

Connection

During the holidays, the expectation is for family gatherings. Being disappointed that you cannot have your ultimate Holiday is o.k. Accept what is and make lemonade instead. It is appropriate to ask a friend to join her gathering. You can also host a small meeting. You may have some of your family you can see, be sure to enjoy them wholeheartedly.

There is nothing more critical to well-being than being connected to others. Strong feelings can sometimes cause us to isolate. Strongly resist the temptation to isolate. Push yourself to be around people you like. Arrange to go out to dinner with friends.

Please share your story with a friend and enlist their help. Above all, resist the temptation to recluse and isolate. You will find that there are many people with similar stories.

Studies tell us that human connection aligns with better health and happiness. We are happier when we are genuine and share human moments with others. Decide to make friendships a priority.

Self-Care

Daily self-care is essential to well-being. Even on your busy days, take time to meditate, lather yourself with lotion, go for a walk, eat a nutritious meal, and listen to music. Self-care is so much more than getting a manicure. Self-care is prioritizing you enough to take the time that elevates your mental and physical health.

Your self-care is a personal matter. Your individual needs inform what practices will work for you. Research tells us that there is a positive relationship between people who follow a daily self-care routine and stress reduction. Practicing mindfulness daily by meditating can improve self-compassion and empathy for others.

Visiting Your Emotions

Estrangement occurs when one or more people intentionally create distance with another. Sometimes there is a sudden break of the relationship, yet often it is a process of distancing. The loss of closeness, particularly of an adult child, hurts. Varying coping mechanisms to avoid pain can increase our stress because pain doesn’t go away on its own.

It requires careful compassionate appointments to explore and then return to your courage to move forward. Journaling can be part of these visits with simple writing. There is no right or wrong way. Just let it flow. Handwritten journaling is best, so you slow down, think, and feel.

Using your computer will work too. The idea is to pause so you can express and process. Think of it as an opportunity for intimacy where you accept what you feel and allow it to be.

Estrangement from family, especially during the holidays, is not fun. Mainly if it is our adult children who have chosen to separate, we may blame ourselves, feel guilty about our words and deeds, and have to shame the notion our child no longer seeks our company.

When we journal our thoughts and feelings, we get to develop the contents of our hearts slowly. If tears come, welcome them. If it hurts badly, remind yourself you can, and you will get through. Each time you visit, experiment with more self-compassion.

You may want to get a particular book, light a candle, sip on your favorite tea. Honor yourself with time to survey the quiet places and noisy places. Above all, bring a heavy helping of self-compassion, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, did the best you could, and offer forgiveness.

Visiting your emotions is an exercise in patience and determination – practice patience in letting the contents inside unfold. Determine to come through knowing yourself better.

Support

Holidays are stressful for everyone. Estrangement can catapult stress to epic proportions. Wherever you are on the stress scale, support will be a considerable comfort. Regularly talking to others in a support group or seeing a therapist can help navigate strong emotions.

Likewise, support can help enlarge your insight, teach communication skills, offer options, and provide a safe place to ventilate.

Talk to someone who is there to uplift you and come alongside you. Estrangement can be disturbing, and loss has no magic wand. Sometimes the pain is too much to handle alone. Professional assistance will help you navigate your triggers, assess your emotional state, and provide a safe, enriching experience. There is no shame in getting help if you are stuck. You are not alone, and you do not need to struggle longer than necessary.

Have a Compassionate Holiday!

Self-compassion is your key to better living. Being a member of humanity, the experience of hurting is real. Practice self-talk that is encouraging and positive. Learn to treat yourself as you would a friend.

Be compassionate in all things. Judging and criticizing are as harmful as a hangnail. Extend kindness to yourself and see this upcoming Holiday as an opportunity to find those things you are grateful for.

My son and his family are dear to me, and I will miss them this year. I have learned to focus on those who enjoy my company and celebrate the many opportunities to be grateful. It still hurts, but I choose to reframe how I see the Holiday.

Expectations can create big problems, so I expect less. I accept what it is and make lemonade. Keeping emotional visits, daily self-care, talking to my therapist, and leaning into the power of choice has helped me live better. I still hurt, but I choose to live with joy. I invite you to choose joy as well.

What part of your estrangement story have you found most challenging? What have you learned about yourself that has helped you with other family members? How will you commit to making your Holiday enjoyable?

Let's Have a Conversation!

The Author

Marie Morin is a therapist and wellness coach at Morin Holistic Therapy. She helps women develop a daily self-care routine, so they overcome perfectionism and limiting beliefs and be their most confident selves. Marie is a grateful blogger and YouTuber. Find out more at morinholistictherapy.com and contact her at morinholistictherapy@gmail.com.

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