Doing Life Together

hug-1315552_1920I’ve heard so many stories of hurt related to family cut off in my 25 years of being a family therapist. The person who cuts off is offended and angry.  And the cut off family usually desire contact and relationship.

Cut off is especially difficult around the holidays. Even though the cut off member is still alive, grief is felt and often triggered at holidays or special events. The person’s absence is more noticeable during times we celebrate with family.

There is a powerlessness associated with family members who cuts off. You can’t talk about issues, resolve problems or even begin a conversation when someone refuses to interact with you. There is no opportunity for reconciliation.

Some  reasons people cut off from family members is due to abuse, violence and active substance abuse. In those cases, the abusive person’s behavior is preventing a relationship. Until the abuser takes responsibility, gets help and makes changes, cut off is a safety response. This type of cut off is understandable. No one should put themselves in danger.

But other reasons have to do with value differences, mental illness, betrayal, and personality problems. These can create a divide so great that one party refuses to deal with the problem at hand or won’t acknowledge any responsibility for their part of the emotional distance.

When cut off is about differences of opinion or unresolved conflict, family members owe it to each other to try and work on the relationships. And while this process can be difficult, I have seen remarkable changes in families who pursue therapy or reconcile on their own.

Usually reconciliation begins with each party acknowledging their part of the divide. Then apologies are made and forgiveness is offered. Strategies to reconnect in healthier ways need to be discussed and agreed upon. Maybe some topics of conversation are off limits because they become too volatile. Or maybe there are areas you agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

Reconciliation does require an evaluation of your own behavior. Is being right worth losing a relationship? Is your pride standing in the way of saying you are sorry? Have you been critical? Do you constantly bring up the past, etc.? Perhaps new boundaries need to be established.

Whatever the hurt or wound, can it be repaired and the bond re-established? In my experience, reconciliation is possible when family members exercise forgiveness and begin to talk and work through their problems rather than avoid. Perhaps this Christmas season, family reconciliation is the gift to give.


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