Peace Talks Radio - September 2023
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: Most of the time when people in mainstream society talk about estrangement, they’re talking about familial estrangement. That’s the type of estrangement that is also most researched. Within familial estrangement there are subtypes. There are parents estranging from their children, children estranging from parents and sibling estrangement. It’s also important to talk about estrangement more broadly. There is estrangement in the context of friendships and then there is also more broadly voluntary versus involuntary estrangement.
Julia Joubert: I’d like to explore what you’ve just described, involuntary versus voluntary estrangement.
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: Yes, the pathways to estrangement are obviously different when it’s voluntary versus involuntary, but also the impact of estrangement can be very different. When it’s voluntary, when the person is in charge of or has some say about the status of the relationship, there is some power there and more perhaps control if you will and that can feel less jarring and less acutely hurtful versus when it’s involuntary.
When there is involuntary estrangement, sometimes the person isn’t even away that there was estrangement until some significant event happens, a holiday, a birthday comes around and the person is used to being wished happy birthday and that doesn’t happen.
That’s the first clue. It can be more jarring and more disorienting. It can also lead to more volatile emotions around the estrangement process.
Julia Joubert: What are some of the most common ways that people navigate these estranged relationships? How do these particular behaviors serve the individuals involved?
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: First, I think it’s important to clarify that estrangement happens along a continuum. I know in the United States where I am at, a lot of people tend to think that either you’re estranged or you’re not, but in reality, there is a continuum of distancing.
Estrangement could look like a decrease in communication quality or quantity. It could look like a physical distance where a child decides to move to another state when they were living next door to their parents. It could look like a change in the emotional quality of the interactions where before there were more positive emotions and now there are more negative emotions.
Julia Joubert: Tina Marie is an American voice of an artist, comedian, musician and performer currently based in Berlin. Growing up, Tina and her father had always had a very strained relationship and then in 2017, when she was 29 years old, Tina ceased all contact with her father after her parents separated. They remain estranged today.
Tina Marie: My father is deeply mentally ill. He suffered from very extreme anxiety and depression my entire life. He would not handle it, could not handle it, he wouldn’t seek help and so this meant that he was very emotionally abusive to everyone in our family basically starting from the second that I came out of the womb. I have very vivid memories even from being so tiny, five and six years old of him screaming at me and me thinking I wish this man wasn’t my dad. I wish I had another dad. I don’t want this dad. I’d rather have no dad than this dad. As I got older, things got progressively worse. I think that there are a lot of cultural elements in that because I was the oldest.
Julie Joubert: Cultural how?
Tina Marie: My family is Portuguese, so there is a lot tied up in the father and the first born. There is some cultural pressure, especially on the eldest child or at least that’s how I felt. Also, seeing the difference in how I was treated versus how my sister was treated. My sister also has an incredibly strained relationship with our father, but I think she had it in some ways a little bit easier than I did because she was also more academically inclined in the ways that he wanted me to be, but I wasn’t. I was a language arts creative child, but he wanted me to be a scientist.
The physical distance really helped. When I started university, I could physically pull back. When I moved abroad for grad school, it was yet another step further. I just continued to live abroad after grad school. When my parents separated, I was living in Afghanistan. I was about as far as I could physically be away from him. Once he moved out of the house, there was no need for me to have any more contact with him, so I just said, “Cool, I’m done!” I never had a final conversation with him. I never said, “This is what I’m doing.” Once he was out of the house, I blocked him on everything and that was it. I just let that ship sail.
Julia Joubert: I can imagine it would still be quite a difficult thing to do, blocking someone in any regard feels like a very purposeful and aggressive act sometimes. What did that feel like for you?
Tina Marie: I don’t think blocking people feels like an aggressive act, an aggression towards them. I saw it as the other way around. I saw it as aggressively protecting myself and for the first time having the ability and the life circumstance where that was an option. When my parents were together, I couldn’t aggressively protect myself. When he didn’t have to be in my life anymore, sure it was an aggressive act, but it was one that I did for me.
Julia Joubert: When I posed the question of the cultural and contextual side of estrangement to Dr. Fullchange, she expressed that Tina’s experience is actually one shared by many people.
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: Yes, what Tina experienced is very, very common. One of the things that cuts across all cultures is the purpose of estrangement. Estrangement is useful to alleviate some sort of distress that the relationship causes. That’s its primary function. What human being does not want to relieve distress? That’s a universal human need. At the same time, there are definitely societal influences and cultural and contextual influences that affect the rates of estrangement and also who is more likely to experience estrangement.
In very broad strokes, when we look at estrangement in more individualistic societies, more collectivistic societies which tend to be more Western societies versus Eastern we see that estrangement is more common in societies where individualism is stressed or valued.
In the United States for example, when we look at rates of estrangement, some studies are showing that with immediate family members, the rates are as high as almost 30% of folks who have reported some estrangement in their immediate families. When we extend beyond that, it’s about half of people who reported who said that they were estranged from any family member, immediate or extended. If you think about that statistic, it’s a pretty normal thing. It most likely occurs within the circles of people we know, people who are estranged from their family members in some way or another.
At the same time, we have cultural and societal influences that affect the perception of estrangement. For example, we see that estrangement happens more often with fathers, children estranging from their fathers versus mothers. Part of that is because our society has generally valued the mother/child bond over the father/child bond. We also see that rates of estrangement are higher for those who are part of the LGBTQ community that is oftentimes rooted in homophobia, sexism and gender binary.
Oftentimes when people experience distress or feelings of grief or loss around the estrangement, sometimes it is around the estrangement, but often times it’s also around that secondary response that other people are having to that person deciding on the status of their relationship being estranged. I think that’s important. We have a mismatch; what actually happens and what society says should happen and they are oftentimes different.
This is where it’s important for folks to know what the true narrative is around estrangement. It’s not actually that uncommon. There are very valid reasons for estrangement.
There are groups, especially nowadays with so many resources available online where people can be in a community with other people who are going through a similar process whether you are someone who has decided to estrange from someone else or someone who is on the receiving end of estrangement.
Julia Joubert: I asked Tina about how culture played a role in the secondary response that other people had to her decision of estranging herself from her father.
Tina Marie: I definitely did receive pushback because again, in Portuguese culture, there is a lot of toxic masculinity bound up in the culture, the idea of the man and “but he’s your father.” I unfortunately got pushback from the aunt that I was closest to, my fathers’ sister. During Christmas, my sister and I went to say hi to her and she basically surprised us with our father. We walked in and he was there. We were like “absolutely not!”
Julia Joubert: Did you try to speak to her about that behavior?
Tina Marie: Not really. We don’t really have that kind of relationship. The most surprising place that I got pushback was from my mom which I was not expecting because she was there for the entirety of my childhood and saw how my father treated us. My mom spent a lot of her life doing her absolute best to protect me and my sister from our father. When they divorced, of course I thought that she would understand, but I think that she was getting pushback from the rest of the family and my grandfather. I think she also felt like maybe just because they were divorced didn’t mean that we couldn’t have a relationship with him.
She would be like, “You should call your dad.” I was like, “Absolutely not!”
I had to sit down with myself and remind myself that my mother is as much of a victim of my father as my sister and I are. That was not coming from her, it was coming from the pressure that she was getting from the rest of the family and possibly her own feelings around the divorce. I never really asked. Eventually my sister and I said, “We will not contact him! You have to stop!” and she did.
Julia Joubert: For anyone who might be experiencing something similar with pushback from people that they love, do you have any advice for how to navigate those conversations?
Tina Marie: When it came to actually having those conversations, I learned very quickly not to try to explain myself. I would just say, “I will not contact my father. Thanks for checking in. I appreciate your concern, but I’m not willing to have a relationship with him at this time.” As soon as you start trying to provide a reason, people try to counter it or try to logic your way out of it. I learned very quickly to give people absolutely nothing. As soon as you give people anything, they will tug on those strings.
Julia Joubert: Dr. Fullchange shared that while the way that Tina handled that conflict must have been very difficult, to her it also sounded very healthy. Dr. Fullchange went on to express that the nonviolent communication framework of observations, feelings, needs and requests is helpful in any process of distress but especially in estrangement.
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: Often times the person who is experiencing estrangement will get more distressed from other people around them, but to be able to use the NVC [nonviolent communication] framework and recognize that maybe that person is feeling anger or fear because of what she is telling herself about her own family. Maybe she needs some stability. How can I meet that need? What is the bandwidth that I have to meet that need? That could be really helpful.
One of the things I think that is important to recognize is that estrangement is not something that just happens and then it’s just a permanent state. It is something that waivers. For most people, there are actually multiple cycles of estrangement and reconciliation that happen over the lifespan of that relationship. Sometimes providing that education can alleviate people’s stress about it.
Julia Joubert: I’d like to turn now to the perspective of an estranged. While her position and experience cannot of course be compared to that of Tina’s father, Kreed Revere is a formerly estranged mom of two adult children. She is also a formerly estranged adult child experiencing both sides of the parent/adult child fence. In January of 2016, Kreed realized that something was amiss when she hadn’t heard from her daughters for a long while.
Kreed Revere: It was about one or two weeks before I realized before I realized something was amiss and something was not right. I wasn’t ever a parent that was in constant contact with my children. A few times a week we would text back and forth or have a phone call. About a week or two went by and I realized that I hadn’t heard from them. I reached out by texting. I got no return text. I called. I got no return phone call.
Then I got on social media and realized that I had been blocked from everything on social media. That is when I had the realization of what was actually happening. I didn’t know at the time that that was estrangement. To my recollections, I had never heard the word “estrangement.” All I knew was that I was not able to reach my children. I went into absolute panic. A whole host of emotions came up with that. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. When I had the realization that my kids did not want to talk to me, my only children, it really devastated me.
During that period of time, I was estranged from my one daughter for about one year and the other daughter for about two years. During that one- and two-year time period, I was in contact minimally, mostly by email and not phone calls for the most part. The emails were very nasty, the communication that I was getting back from my girls. That was my definition of the emails. When I received those emails, I would just completely back off because I was so hurt. It wasn’t a complete and total cutoff, but it was certainly not anything healthy or resembling anything that we had had in the past.
Julia Joubert: Did it come as a surprise to you that you went from being in communication to realizing that you were blocked?
Kreed Revere: I was completely surprised at that moment in time. Looking back, I absolutely can see that there were signs leading up to that, but in that moment, I thought what on earth has happened? I was completely blindsided. That’s how it felt to me.
Julia Joubert: You’ve expressed panic. What other feelings did you have at that time?
Kreed Revere: Looking back now, I really feel like I was having feelings similar to grief. In the beginning, I was very angry. Why won’t they talk to me? I don’t understand what is happening. I was so unbelievably frustrated. I’m the type of person who gets a lot of meaning out of life when I can make sense of things and could not make heads or tails of this. I often describe it as being in a windowless room with the door shut and the light off in complete darkness. You don’t know which end is up. There is complete disorientation. That quickly went into shame. Oh my gosh, what does this mean? I’m a mother and my children want nothing to do with me. I must be a horrible, horrible person that my children don’t want to talk to me.
I’ve always thought in my life about my parents leaving me, passing on. When we have relationships, people leave our lives, but I always thought my children were a constant, that they would always be in my life, so when they exited by choice, it destroyed the foundation of everything that I thought I knew in the world. It was really life-altering. It was hard. It was very difficult to come out of that. I still had some shame even after we reconciled, guilt. There are lots of emotions tied up in that.
Julia Joubert: I am curious about how you navigated those emotions, especially the earlier ones of panic, anger and frustration. Those are complex and conflict-driven feelings. How did you manage those feelings during that time? Looking back, do you feel that you did everything the way you wanted to do or were there some learnings throughout the process?
Kreed Revere: I did not respond in healthy ways at all. It was completely primal self-preservation. I pointed the finger at them. This was all their fault. What got me through all of that and being able to navigate through it instead of getting stuck in those feelings was therapy. I was in therapy at the time that the estrangement occurred for different reasons and then when the estrangement occurred, I shifted gears and started focusing on navigating that through therapy.
There wasn’t a tip or a trick or a tool that she gave me. It was really her sitting with me and allowing me to have the feelings that I was having without shaming me. She told me that I was human. These were natural feelings and emotions that I was having, and she just allowed them to exist.
The few friends that I had at the time were really quick to want me to stop having the feelings that I was having due to their own uncomfortableness. They also wanted to protect me and help me to feel better, but it wasn’t super helpful because they were telling me not to be angry. It was such a huge emotion that I needed to feel it and I was able to do that in therapy.
Julia Joubert: Being able to take the space to feel her huge emotions was essential for Kreed. Dr. Fullchange adds that these emotions are especially tough to navigate when as a result of involuntary estrangement.
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: Estrangement no matter how you look at it, there is a loss. There is also sometimes something to be gained, but there is always something that is lost. When we talk about loss, we also talk about grief. We know from grief research that there is not really any one right way to grieve nor is there one right emotion to experience. You can really experience the entire range of emotions from anger and sadness to shame to denial to acceptance with both voluntary and involuntary estrangements. There can be a whole range of emotions. Often times, what I notice with involuntary estrangements, especially when it is involuntary estrangement experienced by a parent whose child has estranged them, there is often a lot of shame associate with that, especially when it’s the mother who is the estranged. There are a lot of societal and contextual factors related to that, but normalizing whatever feelings and emotions a person does experience in the process of estrangement.
Julia Joubert: When you are feeling these societal pressures, you’re also feeling internal pressures, questioning yourself; “Am I being as empathetic as I can be? Have I given as many chances as I can? Have I exhausted every avenue to find a way to make the relationship work? If not, how do I go from there? Is it okay to just disappear? Does anyone owe anyone else a conversation?
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: These are really good questions. The first thing is to make sure that you have a counter narrative that is rooted in truth. The societal narrative may be “you must reconcile! You only have one father/mother” but in reality, about half of the people in the United States are estranged from some family and about 30% of folks are estranged from immediate family members. To have that sense of urgency around reconciliation is not actually rooted in reality. A lot of these societal narratives are rooted in things that are untrue.
Often times, estrangement has a lot of benefits. Yes, it can be difficult. There is loss, but also there is a lot to be gained. I’ve worked with so many clients who once they made the decision to have some amount of estrangement found a lot of relief. Their symptoms of depression and anxiety alleviated. They were able to be much more functional on a day-to-day basis. That doesn’t work for everyone, but for many people, it does work.
That’s not to say that it will work forever. You may have tried repeatedly and felt that you have exhausted all possibilities and that may be true, you may have exhausted all possibilities for the moment but that doesn’t mean that later on down the line you won’t change your mind, or you also might maintain the status quo of estrangement.
Julia Joubert: When someone is experiencing estrangement, be they the estranged, you’ve said to slow down, pause, feel the feelings and experience them. You mentioned as well having a counter narrative be a part of that, looking at what is true and what is not true. These things are incredibly difficult to do, but they are crucial components to making whatever decision you make feel like the right one for you. How do we do that? How do we recognize for example that I have actually ended up in an echo chamber? It makes me feel good but it’s not necessarily productive for this complicated situation that I find myself in. Do you have any steps that we can take to recognize if we are in that position and how to change that?
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: One of the first things that I recommend to folks I work with is to name the values that they want to live by. For some people, family is a really significant value or harmony is a really significant value or community is a very significant value. For other people, autonomy is a really significant value. If you recognize that you’re in an echo chamber, there is already quite a bit of self-awareness around what one’s values might be. That might be one of the first steps, recognizing the values that you want to guide your life and operating from those values, grounding yourself in those values, especially during moments when your emotions may be more volatile. That might drive you to find people who will align with the values that you have.
Julia Joubert: You and your daughters have since reconnected?
Kreed Revere: Correct.
Julia Joubert: What was that process of reestablishing contact with your daughters like? If you don’t mind me asking in terms of specificities as well, who sent the first text? Who reached out? Were you very particular about the language you used and the suggestions you made for meeting places and those kinds of things?
Kreed Revere: That’s a great, great question and I for the life of me think that due to the trauma that I was in as a result of the estrangement, I don’t remember the very specifics. I think it was my daughter who reached out and asked me to lunch, my one daughter. I don’t recall me having made that phone call. I could be mistaken. This was four months in after the official estrangement.
At that point in time, I was so scared. I remember the feeling of not knowing what to say. I didn’t know what not to say. I felt like I was in quicksand that had stopped moving for a moment, but I couldn’t go forward, I couldn’t go back, right or left. I was just frozen right there. We met for lunch. I remember driving and parking and thinking I have to go home. I can’t do this. I don’t know what to do. I felt like I was meeting someone for the very first time almost. I just didn’t know how to interact with this child of mine that I had known her entire life. It was a very bizarre feeling.
At that point in time, I was crying all the time. I was trying my best to keep it together during that conversation. It was difficult. It was very difficult. She sat very stoic and not emotional that I could see from my perspective. It was a very challenging hour that we spent together.
Julia Joubert: How did you leave that hour together?
Kreed Revere: I left feeling better than I did going into meeting her. I remember feeling like I could breathe again. I didn’t know where it was going to go or how it was going to play out, but I no longer felt hopeless.
Julia Joubert: How many years has it been since you have reconnected with them and reestablished your relationship?
Kreed Revere: Well, we’re working on five and six years now.
Julia Joubert: What was that process like for you? You’ve mentioned that initial lunch. What did it look like after that? How were you with each other? What was your approach to it? Would you be able to walk us through the months that followed?
Kreed Revere: During that time, I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I was very mindful. When I say “mindful,” I was mindful to really back off from my normal way of being with people. I was very hesitant to make comments about things to fully engage in conversation because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing that would land me back in estrangement. It was uneasy. I remember feeling very tired after we would have any sort of contact. I was so mentally exhausted from trying to manage my words and really think about what I was saying and how I was saying it.
Julia Joubert: You then had a period of being too scared to say anything. Was there a point where you expressed that to your daughter?
Kreed Revere: Not really because when the three of us, both of them reconciled with me individually, we were reconciled about four to five years before we ever sat down to talk about the estrangement. We never had a conversation about anything related to the estrangement after we reconciled until that one conversation that came about because my youngest daughter knew of the podcast that I had. She listened to the podcast and she said, “I think the three of us need to sit down and talk because I think there has been some miscommunication.”
Julia Joubert: When you say “reconciled” forgive me, to me reconciliation looks like the three of you sit down and have that conversation and talk about it. What does reconciliation look like if you have not spoken about the elephant in the room?
Kreed Revere: Reconciliation by and large for most people who are formally estranged and then become reconciled is just that we are back in each other’s lives. By and large, most times those conversations never happen.
Julia Joubert: And how did the conversation go when the three of you did eventually four or five years later actually get to sit down and talk?
Kreed Revere: That was another situation where I was driving and thought I had to turn around and go home. I can’t do this. I thought that they were absolutely going to throw me under the bus and run over me. I just thought that I was in for the worst of the worst.
I arrived at my one daughters’ house, and I just listened. Each one of them shared what they needed to share with me, and I made apologies where I needed to make apologies and where they asked for apologies. I made those apologies, and I meant them. It wasn’t just lip service.
By this point, I had already been working with different support groups. I was a facilitator for a support group. I was coming at it from a very different perspective. It was deeply personal.
The meeting was about an hour and a half and then I immediately went to my therapist. I had an appointment with my therapist directly after that meeting. It was so eye-opening to me because all the reasons that I thought the estrangement occurred, all the things that I had built up in my head were completely off base.
Julia Joubert: Did you take an opportunity to share your experience with your daughters?
Kreed Revere: No.
Julia Joubert: What was your reason for not doing that?
Kreed Revere: It was an active choice. It didn’t come from a place of me being the parent and needing to be supportive. It came from them needing to tell their side of the story and that was not the time for me to tell mine. That is exactly what my therapist provided for me. I know how healing that was for me and I wanted to be able to extend that to my children.
Julia Joubert: I wanted to get Dr. Fullchange’s perspective on this idea of the fear that arises when lines of communication open up again, the fear that Kreed had about saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing and potentially closing the door forever. How do we manage communication in this incredibly unstable time?
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: As a tool, as a framework, I think the NVC [non-violent communication] framework is really helpful. Another add on to that is making sure that there is space held for each party but not simultaneously. Sometime in the beginning stages of reconciliation each party comes in full of emotions and thoughts and wants to talk about what’s going on. That can be really overwhelming and can actually even be triggering because sometimes estrangement happens because there isn’t enough space held for one or more people.
To be able to go into that NVC framework and for one person to hold space for another and put on their empathic abilities and be validating and compassionate until the person is heard. Then take turns. I’m describing this like it’s easy, but no, it’s not. For some folks that I work with, this process of reconciliation takes many months, sometimes years. There are entire specialties of therapy around reconciliation. This is just perhaps a first step.
Julia Joubert: Returning to the core values that Dr. Fullchange mentioned in part one of this program. For Kreed, family is a really significant value and reconciliation was the desired next step. For Tina, whose relationship with her abusive father was always strained, her core value was peace and harmony within self. Maintaining estrangement is her way of upholding those values.
Tina Marie: I think a lot if was also just trying to disentangle myself from this idea of what we owe our parents. In American culture and also especially in Portuguese culture, there is this idea that as a child you own your parents something. They brought you into this world. You owe them a certain amount of love, a certain amount of respect. It’s been disentangling myself from that thought process. As much as I would love to waive my magic wand and live in a world where I have a father with whom I get on very well, that’s just not possible in this world. I think a lot of the boundaries with myself have been coming to terms with that and also grieving that because plenty of people have dads that they get along with and it hurts to see. I don’t get to have that, at least not with this person in this world, but there are also plenty of people throughout my life who have been father figures or who have taught me things and provided support that I wish I had received from my dad. Does that make sense?
Julia Joubert: It does.
Tina Marie: I think the next couple of decades are going to be really interesting. My parents are getting older. What is going to happen when he starts potentially requiring care or winds up in the hospital? I’m not sure. I think about that sometimes and I’m not sure how I will respond to that or whether I will feel then in that moment like I should go see him or feel like I want to work towards reconciliation. At this moment in time, I can firmly say this person will never be in my life. I also know that things will happen in the next couple of decades that might – I don’t know. I really don’t know.
Julia Joubert: Here is Dr. Fullchange to explore the complexities of reconciliation.
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: I want to back up a little bit and talk about what even reconciliation means. There is reconciliation of the relationship, but then there is also a process of reconciliation within the person. Certainly, in American society and in many societies, we are not actually taught how to reconcile. There are very broad historical reasons for that as well as interpersonal reasons. Certainly, in my own family, we weren’t taught reconciliation. I can trace that back to not just the interpersonal skills or lack of interpersonal skills of my parents and grandparents, but I can trace it all the way back to the history of colonization. Here in the United States, similarly there is a long history of colonization and lack of repair, lack of reconciliation.
I want to normalize reconciliation. It one is not raised in a way that has modeled reconciliation either in our families or our society, of course we are not going to be equipped, nor are the other people who we are estranged from are going to be equipped with how to reconcile.
I want to really slow down and talk more about reconciliation within oneself before trying to reconcile with another person. When we look at the research on compassion and empathy, we actually find that it’s much more difficult to show and feel compassion and empathy towards another person without first showing compassion towards oneself.
That’s the first step, just slow down and allow for space and time for the person who is experiencing that estrangement to actually recognize the feelings that I’m feeling and what they are coming from. Perhaps they’re coming from a long personal history that I have with this person or perhaps there is larger societal and historical context also. To really have a felt sense of gosh, I make sense to me, and I accept me and what I’m feeling whether that is a sense of sadness and grief or often times a lot of anger. I think the angry feelings are a bit harder for a lot of folks to sit with. We are not a society that says let’s sit in feelings or in anger especially. I do think it’s important to take time to do that.
Going forward then we can talk about what reconciliation might look like from a broader perspective. Just like estrangement is a long continuum, so is reconciliation a long continuum.
For a lot of folks that I work with, they might not term those interactions as reconciliation, but often times there will a new version of the relationship. I think this idea of reconciliation as returning back to how things were is unrealistic because there has been a long process, a long history that has often led to the estrangement. That doesn’t just go away. The process of reconciliation can often look like new realizations, new understandings so that whatever new relationship is formed, however it forms or whatever shape it takes it is going to be and maybe should be different from how it was before.
Julia Joubert: And if people choose not to reconcile, that is often viewed as a failure, a failure of a relationship be it a friendship or a relationship with family. How would you advise someone experiencing feelings of shame and failure? How would you advise them to reframe that for themselves and accept that at least for now, this is it?
Dr. Aileen Fullchange: Often what happens in the work that I do with folks is that as folks get heathier and heathier, their relationships with other people, whether it’s family or friends, changes and that’s because often times health begats bealth. To think of a relationship ending as a failure is just inaccurate. It’s often times actually an indication of health. If you’re gardening, you have to take out some plants to make room for others that you want to grow and thrive and flourish.
It’s very similar in that sometimes in order to make room for healthy relationships to grow and flourish, we do have to limit the unhealthy relationships. That is a success. For a lot of folks even just setting boundaries realizing it’s not what they want is a success. That’s huge. I would encourage folks to reframe things in that way and also to find people who are able to reframe the narrative in that way and to support or reinforce the reframe.
Julia Joubert: Previously, Tina Marie, the adult child estranged from her father had expressed a very clear tool of boundary setting with people in her life who pushed back against her decision to cut ties with her father. She simply did not engage. She also maintained that in order to flourish, she had to, as Dr. Fullchange put it, “Take out some plants to make room for others.” Tina has noticed that as a result of her experience with her father, she has needed to learn how to reframe for other relationships.
Tina Marie: Something that I’ve been working on in therapy, as a result of living with my dad for as long as I did, my tendency has been to move very quickly to end things. Part of what my therapist has been getting me to do is to stop, take a breath, ground myself and think about it. With friendships that have ended, especially as an adult in the last few years has been really hard. For comfort and safety, I just want to end the relationship, boom and it’s finished. Part of unlearning that has been sitting with the discomfort of not liking it, not feeling safe and taking a minute or days or weeks or months to think about it and make sure that I’m making the decision from the right place, that the decision is coming from me and not from this protective response.
Julia Joubert: So if I understand correctly, these friendships that have ended, you have given them the time, the space, the thought, the opportunity for second chances, for discussion to really formulate these ideas and reasons why you needed to protect yourself.
Tina Marie: Yes, I’ve tried. I’ve tried to do it that way. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and for somebody else is to just let them go. As much as that sucks, the limbo of a terrible or toxic relationship is a really uncomfortable place to park yourself.
Julia Joubert: To close, I turned to Tina Marie and Kreed Revere for their personal advice and resources for navigating estrangement.
Kreed Revere: I know that this sounds very cliché and very simplistic, but it really boils down to this for me and that is that we are human. We are going to experience emotions that maybe we’ve never experienced. We will have regrets. We will have guilt. We will also have love.
It’s important to begin to entertain a different perspective. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with it, but when we can look at things through a different lens, it just puts a different spin on things. It gives us things that we can think about. When we can look at it that way, it tends to take the charge out of things. When we can take the charge out of things, the flame of emotions isn’t so high. It begins to smolder, and we can begin to see things differently.
The next piece of advice is to stay curious and be patient. This is not a sprint in any stretch of the imagination. Most parents are so eager to come back into a relationship with their children often times because they’re retired, or they have less day-to-day responsibilities, but reminding them that their children have careers and families, so it takes them a little longer generally to come back and once you’ve been hurt, it takes longer to want to go back. Exercise patience and develop curiosity.
Tina Marie: I’m trying to think about memoires about familial estrangement that I have enjoyed. I love memoires as a genre. I very often find myself with memoires about dysfunctional families or challenging relationships with parents. I’m going through my good reads right now and one is “I’m Glad My Mom Died” by Jennette McCurdy or “Gypsy Boy” by Mikey Walsh which is about growing up in a traveler community, coming out gay and having to run from his father. “All About Love” by Bell Hooks just for a slightly different or healthier take on love and what love is supposed to look like. “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls which is about her growing up with really crazy parents. She has a good relationship with her father, but there was also a point in her adult life where she was estranged from them because she was struggling to make her own life outside of them.
The thought that I just had as I’m scrolling through my good reads is that there are a lot of cult books in there about breaking away from cults. All of these are narratives about breaking away from generally male cult leaders in one way or another. I’m like, is that why I like these books? There’s a lot of cult books, Julia. There are so many cult memoirs.
Julia Joubert: And a lot to learn apparently.
Tina Marie: Yes!
Julia Joubert: I really like that a lot of your references for tools on how to navigate this be they memoires or books on cults is that they provide you with some sort of real-life blueprint to potentially be inspired by or followed. That’s something personally that I also gravitate towards. I think this process is so up and down, so different day-to-day that sometimes you do just want to see how someone else has done it, give it a shot and see where it goes from there.
Tina Marie: Yes, I think if there were a blueprint for dealing with estrangement, it would be so lovely if it laid out step by step what to do, but human relationships are so complicated, especially the decision to remove yourself from a relationship that socially/culturally we’re taught is so important, parent/child. I don’t think it can follow a blueprint. Everyone has to take the steps that feel right to them and feel like they make sense. We’re moving on blind faith if we move away from relationships that we know are not working and hopefully moving towards something that is going to be better.