NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

How Can Trauma Therapy Help to Cope With Family Estrangements?

Many people believe that family bonds are unbreakable, and yet many parents, adult children and adult siblings are choosing to have minimal or no contact with each other.

Coping With Family Estrangement

Family estrangements, whether they involve no contact or minimal contact, often bring a sense of:
  • Loss
  • Grief
  • Sadness
  • Shame
  • Guilt
These feelings come up even when people who have chosen to be estranged believe that estrangement is best for everyone involved.

Coping With Family Estrangement

Since family estrangement often goes against many people's basic assumptions and values about what family relationships should be, there is often a stigma attached to choosing to have little or no contact with family members.

The estrangement is difficult enough, but dealing with the stigma adds another emotional burden.  As a result, people often seek help in trauma therapy to cope with their feelings.

Family estrangements can be for a finite amount of time and it's possible, under certain circumstances, for family members to work out their problems (see my articles: Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships and Healing Father-Son Relationships).

Other types of family problems cannot be worked out either because one or more family members are unwilling and/or unable to work out their problems or because doing so would be emotionally or physically harmful to one or more people involved.

Each case is different and, as previously mentioned, a family estrangement doesn't necessarily mean a total cutoff. It can be a decision for minimal contact. 

How Can Trauma Therapy Help to Cope With Family Estrangements?
Assuming you and your therapist are a good therapeutic fit and your therapist has experience helping clients to deal with the trauma of family estrangements, trauma therapy can help you to:
  • Develop Insight and Understanding: Choosing to be estranged from your family can be a confusing and guilt-ridden process even when you know that it's what's best for your mental health. It's also equally true that being the family member who hasn't chosen estrangement and who wants a reconciliation can be just as difficult. Therapy can help you to develop insight and understanding about your family situation so that whatever decision has made (or you are considering making) makes sense to you--even though it brings emotional distress.  
  • Feel Emotionally Supported: A skilled therapist will be objective and not intrusive. She won't try to influence your decision-making process or try to get you to change your mind or advocate for a particular course of action. She will listen with empathic attunement and provide you with emotional support.
  • Develop Tools and Strategies: A skilled psychotherapist will help you to develop the necessary tools and strategies to cope with your situation--no matter if you're the person who has chosen estrangement or the person who wants a reconciliation. Depending upon your needs, these tools and strategies might include helping you to: 
    • Increase your self esteem
    • Communicate your personal needs
    • Develop relationship skills
  • Cope With Grief: Family estrangements are often traumatic for everyone involved. Even when you're the one who has chosen to be estranged from your family, you can still experience grief, sadness and loss. The estrangement can also trigger unresolved trauma. If you're the person who didn't choose the estrangement, you might feel helpless and hopeless to deal with the situation, which can also bring up unresolved trauma.
  • Heal Emotionally: Emotional healing can mean different things for different people. There are certain types of psychotherapy, which were developed specifically to help clients heal from trauma, including family trauma, which a trauma therapist can use, including:
    • EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy
    • AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) 
  • Take the Next Step in Your Life and Avoid Stagnation: Whether you have chosen the estrangement or you feel it has been imposed upon you, you might struggle with how to move on in your life. Moving on doesn't mean that you won't feel sad or angry. It means you recognize that, although your family situation is difficult, you know that getting  stuck indefinitely is detrimental to your well-being. So, you might need tools and strategies to avoid indefinite stagnation.

My Next Article on This Topic:

Getting Help in Therapy
As previously mentioned, family estrangements are often traumatic for everyone involved. 

Getting Help in Trauma Therapy

No matter what your role is in a family estrangement, you could benefit from working with a skilled trauma therapist who has experience helping clients with this issue. 

Rather than struggling alone, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has the skills and experience to help you.

About Me
I am a New York City licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist who works with adults.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma, including family trauma (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.