Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions.
Estrangement is more common than we may think. According to The Guardian, a random survey of 1,340 participants revealed that more than a quarter of the group were estranged from a close family relative. When I participated in various healing programs, I met many people in similar situations.
Reconciliation is difficult, especially if the rift occurred because of neglect, rejection, abuse, or addiction to drugs or alcohol. I recently read a tweet by Mary, who said she was estranged from her daughter Sara and did not know what to do. She asked people to pray for the restoration of the relationship.
I felt for her. In an ideal world, people will forgive people like Mary for offending them. Unfortunately, life does not work that way. Broken relationships are hard to restore because of trust issues, neglect, abandonment, abuse, and other reasons. So what can be done to reconcile with others who refuse to reconnect?
Tips for Handling Situations When People Who Refuse to Reconcile
Understand Why They Refuse Reconcile
Mary may have no idea why her daughter refused to speak to her and avoided her. Being cut off without knowing what was going on made her feel powerless to change the situation.
Mary may have done everything possible to reconnect with her daughter such as acknowledging that her daughter is hurting, admitting any wrongdoing, and apologizing for her part in the estrangement. People in similar situations may send emails asking about the estranged person’s life and interests and send birthday and Christmas cards every year.
In this scenario, other people such as mutual friends and family may provide insights into why the relationship is broken. A mental health professional may also be able to help explore some possibilities in therapy. In other estrangement situations, misunderstandings create barriers. Estranged people may hold on to past hurts and resentment. Other people in our lives may help to clear up misconceptions in the mind of the person who refuses to deal with us.
Admit Our Part in the Situation
We may be innocent of wrongdoing in our circumstances. However, we may have done something such as saying or doing the wrong thing or crossing a boundary. Our words or actions may have destroyed their trust in us.
We need to stop denying our part and blaming others for our actions and face what we have done. Accepting fault gives us a place to start to heal ourselves and the relationship. If Mary does this, she would be ready if her daughter decided to contact her. Mary could start to heal the relationship by confessing her fault, apologizing, and offering to make amends, if needed.
Demonstrate a Willingness to Change
We should work on the issues that may have caused or contributed to the separation such as drug and alcohol abuse. In these cases, we may need to show that we have changed our bad behavior, are willing to be held accountable, and are trustworthy.
Forgive the Person and Ourselves
We may resent the person for cutting off ties with us. Our anger will create barriers to reconciliation. On the other hand, forgiveness heals our hurts and puts the situation behind us.
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We may have to forgive ourselves for words and actions that contributed to the breakup. Guilt and shame will spur us into making poor choices that will negatively impact our relationships. The past is the past; we have to let go of our grievances against the estranged person and start fresh. We cannot change the past, but we can make healthy decisions about our future.
Give Them Some Space
We may want to swoop in and try to fix the situation. We may come in like a bull in a china shop armed with explanations, excuses, apologies, and promises to do better. These actions can make things worse by irritating them. The injured party may refuse to accept them. When people are hurt, they tend to withdraw and need some space.
We will be tempted to manipulate them into reconnection.
Some of the weapons we may use are:
- Dismissing their feelings by claiming that the injured parties are being over-sensitive
- Guilt-inducing comments such as: “I love you and sacrificed a lot for you. You owe me.”
- Claiming we are old and do not have much longer to live
- Saying we are in poor health and will get sicker without them
- Other manipulative moves may involve confronting the injured parties unexpectedly. These tactics are likely to backfire.
When Mary posted her tweet about her daughter, she was probably feeling impatient to restore the relationship. Impatience drove her crazy with frustration. All she can do at this point is communicate that she is open to repairing the relationship. Sometimes resolutions in these situations are possible if we are willing to wait.
We need people in our lives who will support us and provide a listening ear. Mental health professionals can help us process our emotions and help us make decisions. People who are in both of our lives may give us insight into possible causes of the rift. Mary’s friends and family also may be able to clear up any misconceptions the daughter may have that influenced her to break the connection to her mother.
Grieve the Loss of the Relationship
We should allow ourselves to grieve over our losses. We will miss them, especially on holidays. It will hurt if the injured parties ignore us when we meet on the street or at social functions.
Estrangement is really tough when we want to reconcile and the people we care about, and they don’t. We need to accept that we cannot control the other person and make them restore our relationship. However, we can address any barriers that exist to reconnecting and being open to change.
As the old expression goes: “It ain’t over until it's over.” We should not give up hope. The doors to reconciliation may open when we least expect it.
When Reconciliation Is Impossible, Psychology Today, Kathy McCoy Ph.D.
How Parents Can Start to Reconcile with Estranged Kids, Greater Good, Joshua Coleman
Dear Therapist: My Daughter Hasn’t Wanted a Relationship With Me for 25 Years, The Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb
How to reconcile after a family rift, The Guardian, Sharon Walker
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Carola Finch