Effects of Trauma: Estrangement From Family


What does estrangement mean?

In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen how traumatic relationships and serious mental disorders can lead to emotional cutoff or estrangement.

Emotional cutoff, a term coined by American psychiatrist Murray Bowen, is described as “people managing their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other family members by reducing or totally cutting off emotional contact with them” in order to reduce their anxiety.

This type of distancing can happen on a physical level – literally moving far away from an abusive member of one’s past or simply refusing to see them, or on a more interactive level -avoiding sensitive topics of conversation or otherwise closely “managing” the relationship through one’s behavior and communication style.

Those who use emotional cutoff as a coping mechanism often ironically end up trying to replicate their prior relationships in their new ones in order to fill an emotional hole or make things “different this time.“ 

Is estrangement for me?

When someone has an estranged relationship with their family, the question is often whether the distance they place between themselves and their family members is due to healthy boundaries (it is certainly true that some relationships are toxic and that one is better served to end them), or instead due to an unprocessed emotional detachment.

When a relationship with a family member is not healthy — meaning it is emotionally, physically, or financially abusive and causing suffering-the victim has every right to stop interacting with that person.

Effects of Trauma: Estrangement From Family

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