Our expectations of family life often come up short in reality. In some cases what should be a loving haven actually turn into a nightmare and family members can not only drift apart, but even become lost to one another over time.
Not to disagree with Tolstoy, but evidence suggests that most unhappy families tend to drift apart along predictable commonalties.
The following are three very common ways that families fall apart:
You might have a black sheep in your family. Or that black sheep might be you. One study found that 80 percent of participants had one in theirs.
Family marginalization is when one family member chronically experiences exclusion, disapproval and being treated differently by the rest of the family.
Marginalization may result from several different family dynamics; such as the child who has nothing in common with his or her parents, the child prone to anxiety or depression who isn’t understood, or the sibling who took a rebellious career path.
Family members may explicitly communicate how “different” or “eccentric” or “odd” the black sheep of the family is. Or they may not communicate at all, but instead subtly distance themselves emotionally from that family member.
This form of distancing occurs when one parent persuades their child to alienate the other parent.
Often a result of a nasty divorce, parent-child alienation causes the child to essential take a side with the parent doing the persuading. Recent research shows that 13.4 percent of parents are alienated by at least one of their children.
Some researchers think parent-child alienation happens by “brainwashing,” while others suggest that the parent’s alienating behavior is unintentional, and the result of being upset with their ex-partner.
Whatever the reasons, the methods and results are the same. The parent doing the persuading might bad-mouth the child’s other parent, force limited contact (or none), create an impression that the other parent is dangerous or forbid talking about that parent.
The effects on children from parent-child alienation are severe. When a child loses the ability to give and accept love from a parent, the child often experiences low self-esteem or self-hatred, lack of trust, depression and substance abuse.
According to Dr. Kristina Scharp, a Communication Studies professor at Utah State University, family estrangement might be as common as divorce in families today.
Estrangement is when one family member wants to limit interaction or end his or her relationship completely with one or more members of the family.
Estrangement is often the result of neglect or abuse (either sexual, psychological or physical). However, less severe reasons may cause estrangement as well. Opposing views, differing expectations or disapproval may all contribute to two family members not seeing eye-to-eye.
Often a cycle will occur, in which the family members will make up, then become estranged again, then repeat the cycle.
The ways in which families distance themselves from each other aren’t uncommon, but the reasons why will be as unique as the individual family members themselves.
For some families, the best solution to unhealthy family relationships is maintaining distance. For others, it may be time for reconciliation.
If you are trying to reconnect with a long lost family member, a potentially useful tool is BeenVerified. With a few basic details, such as the person’s age and last know state, the people search can help provide you with a number of potential options for getting back in touch and maybe even find a way to heal past misunderstandings.