“You’re Dead To Me,” Why Estrangement Hurts So Much
Posted Oct 03, 2014, Psychology Today
During the early stages of researching family estrangement I received a phone call from a woman named Cathy*. She didn’t want to be a part of my research. She needed to tell me something. I didn’t realise how important or memorable it would be until I interviewed more and more people and the same theme emerged. She told me that she was a mother of two children – both were lost to her. One had died from cancer in his teens and the other had estranged in her early 20s. I will never forget her words: “The pain of your child dying is incredible, but losing a child to estrangement is unbearable– it hurts so, so much more”.
When a person is estranged by a family member, they generally experience a range of immediate grief, loss and trauma responses. Bodily responses such as shaking, crying and feeling faint are common, alongside emotional responses such as disbelief, denial and anger. People often ruminate over the estrangement event or the events that led up to the estrangement. Over time, most acute emotions and bodily responses seem to decrease in intensity, and generalised feelings of hurt, betrayal and disappointment might emerge.