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Estrangement: the loss of a previously existing relationship between family members, through physical and/or emotional distancing, to the extent that there is little or no communication between the individuals for a prolonged period.

It’s very common for sibling sexual trauma to lead to estranged relationships. Sometimes the estrangement is temporary; sometimes it is lifelong. Sometimes estrangement is the healthiest possible option for all involved; sometimes it is the tragic outcome of a misunderstanding or misguided interventions of legal or social services.


Sometimes the sibling who caused the trauma ends up estranged from the sibling they hurt. The rifts can go in many and unexpected directions--between children and parents, between other siblings, between parents, stepparents, extended family, in-laws. No two families are alike in the “how,” but unfortunately many families do have the reality of estrangement in common.


Living in an estranged family relationship is a type of pseudo-death. The person is not in your life, but they are still on the earth. You may hear from others what is happening in their life. You may be left out of their life events. Or you may hear nothing. You may have grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or in-laws that you have never met. You may wonder if you would find out if they died--or if they would find out if you died.


You may think of them every day. You may shove them to the back of your mind. You may finally feel free without that person in your life. You may feel guilty for hurting them. You may feel angry at them for casting you off. You may feel anger that they abused you to the point you can no longer look at their face. You may wonder what you did wrong to cause the estrangement. You may feel many of these things at once.


There are no guaranteed solutions, no way to take away the difficulties that come with estrangement. Reach into your healing toolkit and find ways to maintain your mental health. Working to heal yourself is a step you can take toward being more stable and ready to navigate any future attempts at reconciliation.


The serenity approach may provide a framework for living with estrangement, and 12-Step programs such as Al-Anon can provide a source of support and understanding outside your family.


It is important to realize that, while it seems like ideal families are everywhere on social media and commercial media, most people are forced to navigate at least one difficult or broken family relationship at some point in life. Taking a chance and reaching out to others, particularly at difficult times such as holidays, may ease the pain for you and those you meet.


Additional Resources

Tina Glibertson book: Reconnecting with your Estranged Adult Child

Tina Gilbertson Website: The Reconnection Club

Josh Coleman book: Rules of Estrangement

Josh Coleman Website: Webinars, Facebook page, other connections for estranged parents

Laura Davis: I Thought We’d Never Speak Again

Litsa Williams, Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Someone Who is Still Alive

Nora McIrnerny: Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast

Josh Coleman Essay (searing, intense, real): What if He Were Your Kid?

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