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Mental Health Impact of Estrangement

By Marie Morin October 13, 2022 Family

Estrangement describes the condition where a person experiences physical and/or emotional distance from one or more family members. If you’ve been estranged, someone decided that leaving the relationship was a necessary act of self-preservation.

Perhaps you have cut ties with a family member because being in their presence was harmful for you. The many estrangement stories are as individual as the people who tell them. The common theme is the mental health impact family rifts cause. This article explores the long and short-term psychological effects of cutting family ties.

The Emotional Toll Is Unbearable

Estranged family members, parents of adult children, adult children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles bear the weight of dismantled families.

The emotional toll can include depression, anxiety, hopelessness, ruminating thoughts, chronic stress, and feelings of grief, and loss. Persistent grief or complicated grief describes the state of extended grieving that impairs normal functioning. Many describe these strong feelings and states as unbearable.

As a therapist, I hear the cries of family members who are missing the connection they once enjoyed. They think about what went wrong, they struggle with grief and a lot of anger. We work together to make sense of what has happened to them and pick up the pieces one tear at a time.

The word unbearable describes intolerable, insufferable, and unsupportable pain. Estrangement is all these states that tear at the very fabric of the human need to be in close connection with our family of origin.

For individuals who choose to estrange, the breaking of ties can come with a sense of relief. However, research suggests that although cutting ties was to self-preserve, the loss of family support leaves a gap in one’s emotional need for family belonging.

Short-Term Psychological Effects of Estrangement

At first, estrangement causes feelings of grief and loss. The estrangement condition often begins with signs of grief, including, shock, anger, denial, guilt, bargaining, and acceptance. The stages are not linear but usually one begins to find some relief from the bolt of being cut off around six months.


We feel shocked and want or need to avoid the feelings associated with the person and the cut-off.


Feelings of denial include avoidance, procrastination, forgetfulness, confusion, numbness, distractibility, and excessive busyness. Denial is a coping mechanism used to avoid the pain of the cut-off.


Irritability, resentment, frustration, rage, embarrassment, emotional dysregulation, and negative outlook are versions of feeling angry. When we cope with anger, we are expressing a reaction to the extreme hurt we are struggling to make sense of and understand.


When we process the grief of being estranged, we cope by overthinking and perhaps feeling shame. We may be stuck in a loop of self-incriminating thoughts and land in heaps of guilt. We can take on a posture of blame while comparing ourselves to others.

Insecurity, fear, and anxiety can be overwhelming, so many cope with ruminating thoughts of “If only I did this…” or “I should have done that.”


The short-term effect of estrangement commonly presents with feelings of sadness, despair, helplessness, hopelessness, and overwhelm. The experience of depression can present as isolation, crying, sleeping too much or not enough, lack of motivation, low energy, and increased drug and alcohol use.

Anxiety is a common companion of depression with worry of the future relationship and uncertainty of the outcome. The ambiguous nature of family rifts naturally creates uneasiness and fear. The mental distress involves feeling ill equipped to cope with the magnitude of the threat of the damaged relationship.


Hopefully, the bombardment of flooding negative emotions diminishes, and we find ourselves wanting to live again. As part of a continued attempt to make sense or process the cut-off, and despite the loss of our loved one, we choose instead to succumb. Perhaps one day we wake up and decide it is time to paint again. We begin paining a scene where we move forward without our loved one.

We find self-compassion, practice mindfulness, create new relationships, we seek our dreams. We laugh again. Within us springs up the courage to trust again.  

It is normal to experience the strong emotions of grief when we lose someone to estrangement. Feelings can come in waves and surprise you. You may feel like you have made great strides and then a movie stirs up something. You may cry again or feel angry. But you have learned to notice this familiar companion as a temporary visitor and bid it goodbye and continue to move forward.

Long-Term Psychological Effects of Estrangement

The dissolving of a family can cause chronic stress, feelings of rejection, and ambiguous loss. The uncertainty of what will happen in the future complicates the condition. If unresolved grief lingers and is left untreated, forward movement is stalled. Persistent grief or complex grief is when the loss process is extended, and suffering is prolonged.

Perhaps ruminating thoughts of conditions outside of one’s control hinder our forward movement. Chronic stress is the result of strong emotional upheaval that impacts one’s physical health. Prolonged overwhelm can cause body aches, confusion, social isolation, and insomnia.

Estrangement can be traumatizing. We can be stunned with the emotional rejection and be stuck in overwhelming feelings. Trauma describes the emotional distress we feel when we are unable to cope. We may cope with unhealthy means such as substance use, overworking, avoidance, and retracting from social engagements.

What to Do If You Need Support

If you’ve been struggling with short-term or long-term effects of estrangement, getting support is a healthy move forward. Humans have biases and blindsides. When we seek out professional help, we are giving ourselves a huge gift of self-care.

Therapists are trained to come alongside their clients in a non-judgmental supportive manner. A skilled professional will gently guide you to gain insight, so you process and find joy again.

How To Move Forward

Find support and stay connected to friends and those who love and value you. Treat yourself as a dear friend and be generous with self-compassion.

Recommit to those activities you enjoy. Practice self-care that includes honoring your mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Be active by walking or exercising regularly.

Mental health is how we cope with adversity and challenges. We can find the courage to move forward one small step each day. It is normal to be upset and overwhelmed over the loss of a close family relationship. The great gift we give ourselves is to honor where we are and remind ourselves to do the best we can every day.

Estrangement is possibly one of the most challenging conditions. The short-term and long-term effects can be devastating and widespread.

Twenty-seven percent of the United States population report being cut off from a family member. Researchers believe the actual number is much higher since individuals are reluctant to share that their family is not intact.

Processing emotions is hard work. You have been courageous before, resurrect that same courage. Healing can hurt, the results may not be what you wanted, but you will survive it.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What have you done to move forward in your estrangement? What has helped you get unstuck from your estrangement? Please share how therapy has helped you to move forward.

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Sara White

My family is dysfunctional in many ways . I’m the only one who has stayed in therapy for over 30 years. My daughter left me a year ago with her narcissistic boyfriend. I think my daughter the felt anxiety from my reoccurring depression from the estrangement of a close cousin, sister and niece. It’s complicated with real life circumstances from the past that have affected the future. I think I know I’m a good person but the toil this has taken on me is indescribable. Without having my son with autism living with me, I would most likely have taken my life. Most days I feel I cannot tolerate it any longer. I have a wonderful therapist and just completed TMS. I have some hope my daughter will return. We had a wonderful relationship. I was a good mom. My heart is broken in a way that is indescribable.

Angela Weber

It is indescribable, that’s for sure. A lot of people are going through the same thing. You’re not alone.

jean carson bos

My sister and I have been estranged for 3 years, and I have been attempting to contact her. Text, phone call to work, phone call to home. No response from her.

I have a question that has been running through my brain. Do I forgive her? HOW do I forgive her? I don’t know if I need to hear her say the words, or if I can
spread out a blanket of forgiveness that covers everything I am so hurt about.

I have reached out to her, and I have heard nothing from her. Should I just take the hint?

Angela Weber

I know how you feel. I too hold out hope, but as the years pass I realize that my hope is wishful thinking.


Forgive her in your heart to set yourself free


best thing I ever did was cut off from my toxic mother & sister. My life was so much better. My mother is a dependent manipulative personality that only complains and is a victim which pulls anyone in to rescue her. She is a powerless victim that takes no action on her own to improve her situation. I stepped down from playing God, I’m not that powerful. The younger sister is much like the mother, she always acts like I’m so powerful to fix other people. They are a trip and live on fantasy island


They are a trip and live on fantasy island?


Sue, thank you! This was so helpful to read. My mother sounds like a carbon copy of what you’ve described yours to be. I’ve been estranged from her for about 2 years. I have a brother who is the only one I have left in my immediate family and his connection to my mother has become increasingly toxic and manipulative and now it is affecting the relationship between he and I. I now realise the best times in my life I’ve had without them both controlling me. It hurts so much to walk away from my “family unit” but I know their dynamic is not healthy nor is it beneficial to my mental health in any way! I’m in the process of stepping away – but it is so challenging, and I hope worth it!


There is a middle way. Perhaps meeting once in a while at a restaurant, or public place, to celebrate an occasion?


The term “toxic” as relates to a person is a middlebrow media cliche. I am guessing that your mother and sister are the ones who are in a mutually dependent relationship with a high degree of drama and catastrophizing. You don’t need that on a 24/7 basis, but there is a middle ground if you know how to set boundaries.

Sarah Hendricks

I don’t like people who turn everything into a drama or who gossip or who try to cause problems between family members…you know, toxic people. I chose long ago to eliminate the toxins in my life and that includes toxic people. I know some people suffer greatly when there is an estrangement, but sometimes that’s the only answer because their toxicity brings you down and causes you pain and spreads to other people in your life or other aspects of your life. If it’s not something that can be solved by a discussion with the person, and if that person doesn’t change after you’ve pointed out your problem with their behavior and their continuing that behavior causes you anguish, the only two choices are to continue to be miserable or to estrange yourself from them. I chose the simpler road…I can’t change anybody else, but I can change myself and my life…and if that means removing toxic people from my life, then so be it.


good for you! unfortunately, in my case it’s my only daughter, grand kids and great grand kids. so i do feel very alone. i think it is both our choice to stay away from each other. God Bless You tho


Hi. I am in the same boat, and don’t know what happened. Been 5 yrs now, not one word!! 😖

Debra Rut

Unfair! Horrible. It’s an epidemic I have heard. 😢😢


Grown children estrange sometimes because they see things in black and white. However, long term most family dynamics are in the grey area, and can be managed if boundaries are set. Meeting in restaurants or public events, once in a while, is one option.

Jo Ann

I have the same thing as well. Find a loving friend and move on. That’s what I did.

Angela Weber

There is an “in between” path. Things don’t have to be black and white. Making it that way seems very vindictive .


There is no simple road, but there is a middle way in which you can agree to meet (once in a while) in a restaurant, or public place, to celebrate a special occasion.

Linda Marten

Dr Joshua Coleman, clinical psychologist, wrote 2 very helpful books that helped me a lot: “When Parents Hurt” & “The Rules of Estrangement”. He also gives weekly talks via zoom & has a free Q&A on Mondays.

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 and contact her at

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