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How to Deal With an Estranged Sibling Relationship

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr, studioD

Being estranged from a sibling is difficult and painful, especially during the holidays, according to Dr. Cara Barker, founder of The Love Project, in a December 2010 article for the “Huffington Post.” Your sibling could refuse to make contact with you or just avoid discussing the reason why you don’t interact, according to Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., M.F.T., a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and depression, in her July 2010 series on estrangement for “Psychology Today.” With either form of estrangement, you must determine whether to try and reconnect or allow the sibling to remain estranged.

Discover why you and your sibling disconnected, suggests psychologist Carol Netzer, author of "Cutoffs: How Family Members Who Sever Relationships Can Reconnect," in a March 1998 article for the “Chicago Tribune.” Ask your sibling directly, send a letter asking for the reason or ask another family member or friend if your sibling won’t provide that information, Netzer advises. Understanding the reason can help you know what to do. If you are the one who initiated the estrangement, leave your sibling with a letter explaining your decision.

Build a bridge with the family member by sending notes, social-media posts, phone calls or text messages to keep them updated on family events if you don’t want to completely sever the relationship or if you want to reconnect after an estrangement. Include small gifts for birthdays and holidays, if you wish. Suggest neutral places for meeting together. Take small steps to let your sibling know that you want to reconnect without being pushy or intrusive.

Realize that it is up to your sibling to reach back. If your sibling isn’t open to reconnection today, give it some time and then make a few overtures when things have had time to settle down, Netzer says. If your sibling wants to maintain the estrangement, allow yourself to grieve the loss of the relationship.

Accept the estrangement and decide to mend yourself. If the relationship is toxic to you or if your sibling has no desire to reconnect, reconciliation might never be possible. Work with a therapist to resolve your feelings about the relationship, forgive your sibling for the disconnect and forgive yourself for whatever guilt you feel for the break. This step is helpful whether or not you ever reconcile.

Build a healthy support network if you must divorce yourself from your sibling and reduce other family connections to keep your sibling out of your life. Let family members know not to provide information to your sibling if your sibling is a toxic person in your life. Build a healthy relationship with yourself, suggests Barker, by having a safe place to be heard, meaningful rituals, healthy activities and an appreciation for who you are.

Consider how your social media can increase or reduce your connection with your sibling. Either of you could maintain diverted connection through posts on social media, such as keeping track of life events such as marriages, births, divorces and deaths. If you are not connected directly, connections through other family members or friends are possible, according to a “New York Times” article on estrangement and Facebook. Your social-media connection could make the estrangement more painful if your sibling becomes intrusive or if watching her life from afar makes you sadder than you would be without a connection. If social media makes the estrangement worse, delete your social-media pages or severely limit who has access to your account.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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