11 questions to ask before ending familial estrangement

Familial estrangement needs not last forever, but you should never invite anyone back into your life without considering whether your life will be brighter with them in it.

Black kitten and white kitten laying on bed next to window, looking out window

Both you and the person(s) you’ve gone no-contact with experienced estrangement trauma and have a lot of personal growth to engage in.

Here are questions to ask both yourself and the person you’re considering reconciling with.

For yourself

1. What kind of relationship do I want with them? Do I even want one?

If you don’t want a relationship with them, then ending the estrangement is pointless.

Don’t end your estrangement with your parents simply because you have kids now. The reason(s) you estranged your parents are valid — not whims you engaged spur-of-the-moment.

Do I feel capable of trusting them again?

If you don’t feel as though you could trust them ever again, because the pain cut that deep, you need to consider what kind of relationship you could possibly have with people you don’t trust.

  • Will they need to do anything before you can trust them again?
  • Will you need to keep them at a distance?
  • Are they allowed to have your address or will you utilize a PO Box?
  • What information will you share with them?
  • What information will you refrain from giving them?

Why do I want a relationship with them?

Society tells us a lot of things about family — mostly that we need to forgive the family who hurt us and “move on”. However, moving on is difficult when part of moving on from trauma and pain is acknowledging the pain and confronting the people who traumatized us.

If we don’t hold people accountable for their behavior, then they grow up into the types of people who raised/betrayed us — and we are choosing to repeat the cycle out of obligation for…what, exactly?

Reflect on your previous relationship with them and think deeply about why you want a relationship with them beyond obligations to keep in touch with family.

Don’t hold out for an apology

Forced apologies are worthless.

Moreover, you might be wanting an apology for your entire childhood; that’s way too vague and doesn’t do anything. Apologies right off the bat don’t particularly acknowledge their behavior or prove they’re holding themselves accountable.

Ending estrangement is about healing together to form a new relationship. The old relationship needs mending so you can stitch the wounds and create a new dynamic that works in your new life.

That said, you’re most likely to receive a genuine apology after a lot of healing and reconciling instead of before.

2. Have I given them the opportunity to do the work they need to do to repair our relationship?

Conflict resolution of the past relied on apologies and “moving on”, ignoring the wounds the conflict caused. That doesn’t work long-term, though, and it shows.

Sometimes, we outgrow our relationships and need to leave them behind; other times, we outgrow our relationships and need time for the other people to grow so those relationships can be repaired.

I think this is the part a lot of people, especially generations beyond Millennials, don’t realize: You cannot apologize and keep going like you always have. As long as each party is behaving the same way, the conflict will continue to break the relationship apart.

Estranged relatives need time to grow from the experience of estrangement to become the people capable of working through the conflict.

Have I communicated the problems directly?

Have you expressed your thoughts and feelings about their behavior directly to them?

Have you told them what issues you have with their behavior?

If you don’t directly tell people your negative thoughts and feelings about their behavior, that builds up into resentment. Lack of communication in relationships leads to relationship conflict.

Conflict cannot be resolved without open, honest and direct communication from every party involved.

Unfortunately, people don’t always listen when we share about conflict or try to resolve it.

My example: Deep wounds vs. surface-level problems

The issues I have with many relatives involve deep wounds, while they perceive every ounce of conflict we have as surface-level problems.

One issue, for example, was that I didn’t have a job because I was freelancing. They value a traditional lifestyle, so my desire to start my own business and be my own boss was frowned upon. I was blamed for my grandmother’s serious illness because my way of living “made her worried sick” to the point that she couldn’t sleep.

I felt stifled, chained and as if I was living under a microscope. Every single thing I did was criticized to the extreme.

Multiple times, my boundaries were ignored. They told me that I didn’t deserve respect, kindness or love because I didn’t check specific boxes.

To them, the issue pertained to me having a job. “If you just had a job, we wouldn’t have any problems!”

To me, the conflict went deeper — ’twas a pattern across my lifespan of them constantly disregarding my boundaries, and dismissing my thoughts and feelings in favor of highlighting their own.

To them, I deserved to be treated like dirt and punched around because I didn’t have a job. To me, they raised me to hate myself and expected me to continue sticking around as if I needed their approval to thrive.

The emotional abuse took a toll on me and affected my mental health. Even after I left, the smear campaign and harassment continued.

They called pretty much everyone, treating me like a missing person, because I stopped taking their calls and texts — and they needed to paint me as a “severely mentally ill” person.

3. Have I been honest with myself about the role I played?

If you think you didn’t play a role in the interpersonal conflict(s) yourself, take more time to reflect on the experience and your actions.

I could have refrained from moving closer to family, since I was finally in a good position financially since I’d received a settlement check from a car accident. My relatives thought me living so far away “strained” our relationship, but I felt somewhat free…even though I hated living in Greenville, TX (too much flooding).

I could have listened to my therapist and trauma coach, both of whom literally begged me to go no-contact because of how much I hated who I turned into when those relatives were in my life.

Of course, this isn’t about what we “could” or “should” have done better — it’s about recognizing the role we played in the past and figuring out how to stop the pattern now and beyond.

Once you sort out those things, implement them into your life. I’m not going to consider ending any estrangement until I’ve a handle on my boundaries, for instance. Before I can allow them back into my life, I need to completely disengage from my need for anyone else’s approval to live my life.

4. Am I in the right emotional place to discuss the difficulties I experienced?

Can you articulate your experience without exhibiting signs of trauma, like shaking? If not, then sharing your point of view might result in more trauma.

Your no-contact relatives might feed off of that negative energy and verbally back you into a corner where you feel like they hold all the cards and you’re at their mercy.

You need to be capable of being emotionally present and emotionally aware of the current situation, while remaining privy to previous experiences. Otherwise, you might submit yourself to a reactive abuse situation that has you worse off.

In other words, you need to exude unchanging emotional stability — a poker face, if you will.

5. Am I capable of hearing the worst possible responses?

You have to know that you probably won’t receive the best possible answers to your questions. The people you cut off from your life are probably not ready to repair the relationship, as they’ve probably not put forth any effort to develop emotional intelligence.

Are you in too fragile a place right now that you couldn’t handle that? Are you prepared to expose yourself to a potentially volatile environment?

Do you want to expend the emotional labor required to sustain and recover from all that which will come from ending the estrangement?

Do you have the patience and compassion to hear their side and accept their feelings as valid, too?

6. Have they indicated that they want to repair the relationship?

If the estranged family member hasn’t asked to rebuild the relationship, they might have no interest in restoring the relationship.

There is no “right or wrong” answer to this question, for how you feel about the answer being a “yes” or “no” is for you.

Presently, if my egg donor requested to restore our relationship, I would consider and ask her the questions in the next section — then decide whether to end estrangement based on those answers. 🤷‍♀️

For the person from whom you estranged

When you reach the point of ending estrangement with an old loved one, you need to ask them questions to determine whether a relationship with them can work out.

Both of you need to be on the same page about relationships; you need to determine what relationship values you’re okay with skimping out on.

For example, I have estranged relatives who go the “agree to disagree” approach on things that directly affect my rights to live and play into them thinking I need to be cured — like being gay, autistic and having boundaries.

You can’t “agree to disagree” with core values that make-or-break relationships.

1. Can you give me 2-3 reasons why I stopped speaking to you?

Give your estranged relatives the opportunity to describe the situation from their perspective. This will give you insight into how they perceived the experience.

It might also fill you in on how entitled they felt and how they still feel about it.

2. What do you think a good/healthy relationship is?

Each person you want to end estrangement with needs to know what a healthy relationship is. You also need to know what a healthy relationship is.

If they provide you with textbook answers, ask questions utilizing past experiences.

For example, I might ask my aunt if she thinks a healthy relationship with me involves telling my business to other people in the family — since she frequently shared everything I told her with others because she felt they “had a right to know”.

Brainstorm a few questions from examples before speaking with the person you want to end the estrangement with, so the heat of the moment doesn’t cause you to behave like the old you.

3. Have you read or listened to any media about estrangement?

Where have they been receiving their information about estrangement?

Estranged parents and caregivers whine in Facebook groups and online forums about how entitled and in-the-right they feel. Support groups for estranged parents of adult children pride themselves in stalking and harassing their adult children.

Knowing whether your estranged relatives partook in any of these groups, and where they’ve received their intel, helps you figure out whether they’re genuine and have put in the personal work to heal from this trauma.

4. Why do you think having a relationship with me is important?

This question helps you determine how entitled they feel, what they value about you, and whether they truly want a relationship with you or if they feel obligated to maintain face.

What I’ve found is true from my family is that they don’t care about being a family in regard to showing up and supporting each other; rather, they care most about the family dynamic as it pertains to the obligation of families sticking together.

Staying close to, and on good terms with, my family isn’t one of my family values. I need more than that, if I’m going to call someone “family”.

5. Would you be willing to first speak to each other again in a safe, neutral space with a trained family mediator or counselor?

The most common reason for estrangement — or any interpersonal relationship conflict — is communication.

Therefore, the wisest route to take when reconnecting with estranged loved ones is speaking to each other via professionals trained in resolving familial conflict.

A family mediator or counselor acts as a referee and ensures everyone has the opportunity to share their perspective — and asks difficult questions to participants. A counselor can ask reflecting questions to your estranged relative(s) that you cannot, for example.

If you choose to go this route, choose the professional yourself. This way, you can establish boundaries beforehand and have backup support so you don’t go too far. Your existing therapist may also offer such services, if you have one.

Otherwise, you will be at the mercy of their therapist/mediator/counselor.

Things to remember

Reconciling the relationship with estranged loved ones requires a mutual decision made by each party.

You have to be ready for things not to go your way — that is, you can’t force reconciliation onto people who have no interest in it.

Don’t attempt to repair the relationship because you feel obligated to do so for the sake of upholding the family’s image — or whatever other toxic relationship standard.

I’ve concluded that my family will be more along the lines of a “found family” — and I’m okay with that. ✨

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