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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Coping with family conflict

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

This week I looked at the complex topic of family dynamics and estrangement for Metro.

Every family is different, and there are a multitude of reasons why family members might come into conflict, and eventually become estranged from each other.

It could be due to:

  • a sudden response to a dispute or revelation

  • an act of self-preservation, with one party separating themselves from someone who treats them badly

  • a slow march towards estrangement, between two people who don’t see eye to eye. Perhaps they’ve remained civil to keep the peace, but they just can’t hold it together any more

  • the rejection of culture or community, when one side decides that they no longer want to follow a certain way of living any more

Whatever the reason, estrangement and family conflict can be painful for both sides, even for the party that has chosen this path.

What are the long term effects of estrangement on our wellbeing? Why do we see these effects?

Sense of belonging. Our family of origin offers us a sense of belonging, of community. If we are cast out from that family, or choose to separate ourselves, then we lose that sense of belonging. This can impact on our sense of identity and self-esteem, and make us question who we are.

Guilt and shame. If we are estranged from our family, there might be a sense of guilt. Guilt that we caused the estrangement, or that we didn’t do everything in our power to keep the family together. We might feel embarrassed when other people find out that we are estranged from our relatives. This can all lead to a sense of shame or anxiety, that we have done something wrong because we are bad, or because there is something fundamentally wrong with us. This can weigh heavily on how we feel about ourselves, on our own self-esteem.

Loss of support networks. We often look to our family for a sense of unconditional love and support. If we are coping with family conflict and this isn’t available, then we find ourselves seeking support elsewhere. Sometimes we can find this by building other, nurturing communities of support. But if we don’t find this support, then we might end up developing less healthy behaviours or habits while we are searching for our needs to be met, or to numb the pain that we feel.

Relationship patterns and trust. Family relationships are at the core of how we see ourselves, and how we interact with others. Estrangement can be a sign that we are building healthy boundaries and looking after ourselves. However, coping with family conflict might have a lasting impact on how we interact with others. We might find it hard to trust and show vulnerability. Or we might desperately seek out connection, potentially putting us at risk of being manipulated.

Tips for coping with family conflict and estrangement

  • Recognise what you need. If you can’t get your needs met from your family, think about how you can get your needs met elsewhere.

  • Don’t push your feelings away. Maybe you’re angry, sad, anxious, happy, frustrated, liberated, or embarrassed. It’s likely to be a whole mixture of feelings. Seek out a way to explore and express them.

  • If things are unlikely to change, consider what you ‘need’ in order to accept the situation. Or to gain some kind of closure for yourself. Do you fantasize about a conversation, an outburst, an altercation where you really get a chance to voice how you feel? Consider whether this is possible – or whether it would deliver the outcome that you’re looking for. If the answer is no, then reflect on how you can accept this.

  • Prepare yourself for family gatherings. It’s not easy amid family conflict, and it might be stressful. Remember this: you can’t control what other people do or say, but you can control how it makes you feel.

Keen to explore more? In counselling we can take a deeper look at your relationships and how you interact with other people. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a 30-minute introductory call.

Click here to view the original article in Metro.

coping with family conflict

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