Ending family relationships can be difficult no matter the circumstances. You may have stopped speaking to a parent after divorce or chosen to disconnect with a cousin after heated political differences. No matter the cause, family estrangement can bring up challenging emotions.
If you have ended a relationship with a family member, you may be interested in reuniting. Even if you are not ready for it yet, it may be helpful to consider the process of reconnecting with an estranged family member.
Where do you begin? If you’re considering reconnecting with an estranged family member, it’s important to look at the full picture. Let’s get into what you need to know.
Understanding the Estrangement
Ending a family relationship can be a difficult decision. Many people feel that they were pushed to a breaking point or that they had no other choice before ultimately choosing to disconnect with a specific family member.
Estrangement brings up difficult emotions, and it's essential to consider what led to the rupture in the process of reconnection. Estrangement may be the result of:
Sexual, emotional, physical, or mental abuse
Understanding the reasons behind the estrangement is essential. When you have these reasons in mind, ask yourself: what will restoring this relationship mean for you? Have you processed the circumstances that led to the estrangement?
Clarify Why You Want to Reconnect
Take time to clarify why you want to reconnect. Though it may be painful, this reflection can help you understand your reasons behind seeking reconnection now. What boundaries were crossed? What emotions were involved? Do you feel ready for this, or are you feeling pressured to reconnect from another family member or friend?
Estrangement can also bring up outside opinions-even well-meaning friends and family may question your decisions. For example, you may have heard “blood is thicker than water” or that “you can’t get this time back.”
These comments can feel invalidating, and they often put undue pressure on an already difficult situation. Instead, allow yourself the time to fully consider your “why” before making plans to reconnect.
I’ve Decided to Reconnect, Now What?
You’ve considered and clarified why you want to reconnect, and you’ve decided you want to move forward. What now?
Before reaching out, it’s essential to set expectations of what you want to get out of the conversation. You may want to ask yourself: how would you like this conversation to go? How will you know if these expectations are met? What boundaries need to be in place to feel safe?
Clarifying your expectations of the conversation can help you to determine the best way to reach out. Fortunately, social media and private messages online provide us many ways to reach out if an in-person conversation is not an option.
With that said, it’s important to be mindful of the ways you interact online-“lurking” on the page of an estranged family member can make situations even harder, as toxic social media usage is closely linked to poor mental health symptoms.
Give Yourself a Self-Care Safety Net
In an ideal world, all expectations would be met respectfully, and the relationship would move forward healthily. However, it’s important to prepare yourself for all possible outcomes of attempted reconnection.
Prepare yourself for the best, worst, and everything in between. This might mean talking to other family members or loved ones about the goal of reconnection. Supportive friends and family can serve as a sounding board and provide a soft place to land if the conversation does not go the way you’d hoped.
It may be helpful to have a self-care plan for after the conversation. Make yourself an appointment for a pedicure or a reservation for one at your favorite restaurant. Buy yourself flowers or order yourself a new book you’ve been hoping to read. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll have set aside time to be gentle with yourself and process the experience.
When Reconnecting With Estranged Family Members, Take Things Slowly
It can be tempting to jump right back in and “pick up where you left off.” However, relationships aren’t typically broken or rebuilt overnight. Therefore, it’s crucial to take things as slowly as feels reasonable and emotionally safe for you.
If the estrangement results from broken trust, it is important to remember that trust takes time to rebuild. It is okay if trust feels like an exceptionally far-off destination. As mentioned, take things slowly. Slow, sustainable change will support the health and emotional safety of the relationship.
You may also consider seeking professional help in healing estrangement. Family therapy or individual counseling can support you as you process the experience of reconnecting with an estranged family member. A professional counselor or therapist can provide a helpful third-party perspective and offer a place to process without judgment.
At The Mental Health House, we support families in their rebuilding and reconnecting processes. We are here for you. Contact us today to learn more.