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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