I am drowning in grief and experiencing emotional pain …shock, numbness, sadness, despair, loneliness, isolation, forgetfulness, anger, guilt, regret, depression, anxiety, crying, headaches, weakness, aches, pains, yearning, worry, frustration, detachment, isolation, questioning my faith…
When a person is estranged by a family member, they generally experience a range of immediate grief, loss and trauma responses. Responses such as crying and alongside emotional responses such as disbelief, denial and anger. People often ruminate over the estrangement event or the events that led up to the estrangement. Over time, most acute emotions and bodily responses seem to decrease in intensity, and generalized feelings of hurt, betrayal and disappointment might emerge. Even when the estrangement has continued for years or decades, many people suggest the pain persists or re-occurs at particular times. Some will call it “Triggers” which can sometimes cause a person to re-live and re-experience the initial grief, loss and trauma responses, while other times they can be managed.
…being estranged by a family member is one of the most painful events across the lifespan. I should know this and it is intensified by ten folds, its unexpectedness, its ambiguous nature, the powerlessness it creates, and social disapproval…
At first, when a person is estranged by another, they generally do not expect it to happen. Trauma is increased when it is enacted by humans rather than an act of nature and this is even more so when that human is a family member. We are biologically attached to family and socially acculturated into idea of family togetherness. We do not expect an estrangement nor do we?
Estrangement is ambiguous. It has lacks transparency, and it cannot be readily understood. It is not certain if the family member will ever return, so there is no finality or closure to the event. People who have been estranged by a loved one often describe feelings of incredible powerlessness. When someone has been cut off or like me I chose to be cut off; they cannot tell their side of the story nor ask questions or apologize. Without interaction the estranged person is often left wondering and ruminating about the truth, with no means of discovering it.
In the end, the pain of estrangement is often exacerbated because it is disenfranchised or poorly recognized by society. Many people who have been estranged feel an internalized guilt and shame about the situation, and this can affect the way that they interact socially. They might reduce or modify social interactions to avoid people finding out about their estrangement. This can be exacerbated by very real instances of social disapproval, misunderstanding and judgment, ranging from insensitive comments to actual exclusion from particular events.
If you have been through a personal loss you’ve probably experienced it firsthand. When your little sister, who was your bestie, is suddenly fighting you about everything, it can feel like your world is crumbling. Suddenly you’re trying to cope with the death and your support system is no longer supported, but a source of additional stress. You are grieving the death, while feeling like you are losing your family as well.
Let me be clear about one thing, what’s the number one source of conflict? Anyone want to take a guess? No, it’s not only money or material things! Its emotions and distance. As hard as it is for many of us to admit, countless families who never imagine there would be conflict over emotions are suddenly overwhelmed by disagreement and power struggles that are left behind, which leads to distance.
There are many other sources of strain and conflict that can also arise for families. There is no way I could cover them all here. There are many reasons that death can bring out the worst in people. But one important thing to know is that when we are under the stress and crisis of a death, our brains actually work differently. There are parts of our brain that think rationally and there are parts of our brain that think more on impulse and emotion (is it safe to say stupidly). When we are in a heightened state due to a death it is harder to think with that rational part of the brain. We default to using the emotional parts of our brains – parts of our brain that struggle with reasoning, memory, and long-term thinking.
Losing and containing your control, one thing that is important to remember about death and grief is that it typically means a total loss of control. We all want so desperately to be able to control and change what has happened, but with death control is lost. This change, loss of control, and loss of stability can be terrifying. During this time certain family members will be seeking any way they can to regain a sense of control, and believe me it does happens to every family. This may take shape in immediately trying to plan the funeral without getting anyone else’s input, yep sad but true. It may mean immediately sorting through belongings or trying to take charge of finances. Understanding if desire for control is a factor in behavior can be important in how others in the family respond. Helping another family member to have a sense of control, while communicating how their actions are making others feel, can be helpful. If control seems to be a driving factor, other family members may be able to help guide this person’s energy into things that would be useful and that may cause less family strife.
I needed to take timeout and took a few steps. Grief makes us all do crazy, sometimes crappy, things that we often regret. It is important to cut people (and ourselves) some slack. People do all sorts of awful stuff when they grieve, so view these things as poor choices due to an impossible time in life. It doesn’t override the many years of wonderful things you know about the person. Try to remember that this may be the exception in their behavior, not the rule. Just like you need to be gentle and forgiving with yourself, you need to be gentle and forgiving with others. My search of mediation has helped me with my process of grieving and has helped me manage my inner conflicts because I could not do it on my own.