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In a Family, Estrangement Means Crisis

Family estrangements, in the best of times, bring isolation and hopelessness. But as the family experiences a crisis — a death in the family, a parent becoming ill or cognitively impaired, a divorce — it brings confusion and often longing for a way to connect, and a glimmer of hope that past hurts can be put aside so families can rally around the problem.

As a family therapist, I routinely hear stories about “cutoffs.” There is an event or a disagreement and family members stop talking. Sometimes the estrangement is unspoken, but the rift goes on for years. The shame involved in acknowledging family cutoffs hides the widespread nature of the phenomenon.

In fact, while researching this article, everyone I spoke to had a personal example. (I am using their first names only.) In my practice, I have also seen how a crisis can be an opportunity to reconnect with estranged family members or can be a trigger for past hurts.

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