Counsellor Sarah Bergman says those who are estranged from their family aren't alone.
Counsellor Sarah Bergman says those who are estranged from their family aren't alone. AntonioGuillem

What to do when you become estranged from your family

FAMILY estrangement is when family members turn away from, alienate or keep at a distance from each other as they have found the relationship unsatisfactory or too painful to continue.

Whether you are on the receiving end of estrangement or the one who instigates the distancing, estrangement often leaves a feeling of unfinished business, like a wound that never heals.

Family bonds begin when we are born and continue through our most impressionable years.

Our early dependence on our caregivers and other family members grows into strong emotional attachments.

When there is persistent unresolved conflict or disappointment leading to estrangement, this feeling or sense of emotional attachment often will exist long after the relationship has broken down.

But ending a relationship with a family member is not always the end.

Difficult emotions will often persist for many years after family estrangement for a variety of reasons.

For example, being around another family member may often highlight one's own exclusion from the family, or family celebrations like birthdays and the holiday season provide a constant reminder of the continuing emotional loss, sense of failure, humiliation, shame from rejection, guilt or unresolved feelings.


This does not need to be the way.

Often as a gestalt psychotherapist I have found that family estrangement occurs for various reasons, ranging from difficulty maintaining relationships due to interpersonal challenges, differing values and beliefs, intolerance, disappointment, major life events, change, or poor communication.

I have found that when clients begin to make meaning around what happened, how it happened and what they may have done or not done to contribute to the estrangement, understanding emerges and a greater sense of how to move forward into reconciliation or acceptance of what is becomes evident.

If you are estranged from your family and you are experiencing difficulty from the loss, don't suffer in silence.

Reach out and speak to people you trust. Family estrangement is more common than you think. You are not alone.


Sarah Bergman provides counselling through the practice of gestalt psychotherapy and is situated in Tweed Heads. Visit