Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The New Breakup

A new epidemic is on the rise..."getting locked out."

Estrangement has been around since the beginning of time.  And any good coach or therapist will tell you there are times when estrangement is necessary....with physically violent people, child molesters, addictive personalities, and substance abusers.  Changing this kind of behavior is difficult and people often resist change and refuse to get professional help.

However, parents who have not been addicts, abusive or engaged in harmful behavior are hearing the words "I don't want to see you or have contact anymore" without any real explanation. What's going on?  I'm not sure, but it's got to be one of the most tragic things one can experience.

I am walking this painful road with a dear friend who has been estranged by her adult child, their spouse and the two small grandchildren. The sad thing is there are options other than estrangement for the person who feels frustration with a parent. It's part of every life to realize you don't see eye to eye with your parents. When our firstborn enters the world, we all resolve not to "________" like our parents did. We are determined to be the most near-perfect parent possible.  At some point, we realize parenting is about the hardest job on earth. We do the best we can.

So why this wave of estrangement from seemingly good parents?  Here are some possibilities:

1) People who estrange may feel powerless and have a need for control.  

Adolescents who suffered from hurtful experiences, negative comments or bullying in their youth may be prone to choose estrangement in their adult years.  Dad, Mom or siblings may be the targets, but there may be other factors causing them to shoot the arrows. 

2) People who estrange may have never developed good communication skills in their peer or family relationships.

Unfortunately, the Media provides a plethora of drama and reactionary words. Often dialogue and actions are inflammatory rather than reasonable. When people are faced with a dilemma that calls for making behavioral choices, what they "saw" can make its way onto their list of options. And they can be influenced by people around them who try to control someone using estrangement tactics.

3)  People who estrange may be struggling with depression and mental illness.  

Mental illness can manifest itself in different ways.  That's why it's important to seek professional help and not let it go untreated. Mental illness doesn't make sense to the healthy person. But it is very real for the person who is suffering.

4)  People who estrange may dislike something a parent has said or done. 

Sometimes parents who change a behavior such as refusing to give a child money after a pattern of doing so, may experience estrangement as a "punishment" for not doing what their child wants. The estrangement may be an attempt to manipulate the parent. 

5)  A therapist may be recommending their client not have contact with the parent/sibling, etc.

A client hires a therapist to work with them and if the relationship with their parent is a point of contention, the therapist may feel a temporary distancing is necessary. "Temporary" is a relative term. Hopefully, a therapist will be able to see what is true as time goes by and be able to help their client toward healing and some type of reconciliation.

If you are someone who is dealing with estrangement, respect the person who is asking for it and let them have what they want. Responding in anger, pleading or begging will only create hostility and cause more damage. Pray, pray and pray some more. Ask God to show you how you can learn and grow through this difficult experience. Crisis can be like a flashlight shining on our blind spots. And new horizons can emerge that bring joy into our lives in spite of a painful estrangement.

If you've been "locked out," life is not over. Find a counselor, support group and people you trust who will listen and encourage you while you grieve. Believe it or not, there are still reasons for you to get up in the morning. Seek to engage with others and find activities that will be fulfilling even though you may not feel like participating. Eventually, what you feel you are forcing yourself to do, will become more natural and even enjoyable with the passage of time. The pain is still there, but you don't have to let it consume you. 

There are a growing number of websites devoted to supporting those who are faced with estrangement from family members or close friends. I realize I've written this more from the viewpoint of parents experiencing estrangement by their children.

Before you choose to estrange yourself from someone, remember it is worse than a death to the person being locked out. Rebuilding trust, if you ever choose to reconcile, will be a long and hard-fought task and will likely require the involvement of a third party professional to mediate the process. Estrangement leaves scars. It can be said of regret....."regret is insight that comes a day too late." (unknown)

To those who experience being locked out of their loved one's life...there are many other people who will value you and benefit from your love and devotion. Go find them.  Remain hopeful, forgiving, and prayerful, all the while pursuing the good and pure opportunities ahead of you.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11 (The Holy Bible, New International Version.)

Photo: www.dreamstime.com Gina Smith

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Home Where I Belong

Being that I'm newly transplanted in Northern California, I've been pondering what it means to feel "at home" somewhere. Where actually is "home?"

Is it based on where you were raised? Or could it be the length of time you've lived somewhere that determines where home is? Is "home" a feeling that develops over time? Or is it a sense of contentment not based on longevity or environment?

On my life journey I've lived in four different states, but most of my years have been in Southern California...forty plus, to be more exact.  The first thirteen years were spent in Michigan. And shorter periods were spent in Wyoming and Texas.

I think as one gets older, it's more challenging to actually feel at home somewhere. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. We loved Southern California. And after making a cross-country move with my family in the midst of the 8th grade, I was not anxious to move my children during their school years. We were blessed to be in one place until they were out of college and living on their own.

Friends in Southern California would ask us why we would consider moving voluntarily when we lived so close to long-time friends and family.  Good question. Here are a few of the things I've considered benefits of relocating:

1)  You have to adapt to a new environment. I try to look at this as a place of opportunity, not something forced on me.

2)  You enlarge your circle of friends and acquaintances. I have crossed paths with so many people through the moves we've made. Many of them have had significant influence in my life.  Most of them are people who've lived in multiple locations.  Where they are now is not where I originally met them.

3)  You see the world from different perspectives thereby increasing your understanding of people and viewpoints. It's easy to become narrowly focused in our worldviews. When we live in different places, we learn why other people think and act the way they do.

4)  You appreciate things you may have taken for granted. It's easy to overlook some of the blessings we live with every day. When you trade them for other realities, you begin to see them in a new light.

5)  You test your resiliency. How willing am I to learn to live with different circumstances? 

6)  You learn more about yourself. If you think you are not a judgmental person, try moving.

7)  You come to depend on God on a deeper level. Inevitable times of loneliness sweep over us, but He's ALWAYS there.  The need for intimacy and interaction with our Creator increases.

I've been reading about the life of Joseph in the Old Testament (Genesis 37-50,) a fascinating story of betrayal and tragedy wrapped in suspense. Joseph was forced, through the hateful deeds of his older brothers, from his homeland, never to return to it as a place to reside.

Through choices made for him, not by him, his home became Egypt. Joseph learned things about himself and accompanying lessons, at every turn. Things like:  Arrogance is a breeding ground for contempt. Our good and noble choices are not always recognized or rewarded by those around us. Waiting is hard, very hard. Sometimes when things seem to be falling apart, they are actually falling into place. But it can take decades to find out.

We spent a week in Southern California recently. Toward the end of our stay I felt a real attraction to return to our home here in Northern California despite enjoying my time with the familiarity of friends and family in our former community. I think that surprised me a little. I realized I do have a sense of "belonging" here.  It's nice to feel a joyful sense of purpose even though there are things I miss about other places I've called home. I think Joseph may have come to that conclusion too.

Photo:  happykanppy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net