5 Ways That Family Estrangement Can Inflict Lifelong Harm

Ways Family Estrangement Can Inflict Lifelong Harm

Family estrangement, be it parental or sibling, or worse, both, is one of the most painful and heartbreaking things a human being can go through.

Key Points

  • Cutoffs can ripple through one’s life and identity, producing a unique form of grief as the estranged mourn the living.
  • The estranged often have a lingering difficulty adjusting to, accepting, and making sense of their losses.
  • The estranged often suffer a loss of self-esteem and trust, which may play out in other relationships and ultimately compromise well-being.

Family estrangement causes ripples through one’s life and identity. The experience creates a uniquely devastating form of grief in which an estranged family member often mourns the living.

The ambiguity of estrangement and the chronic hope (or dread) of encountering the estranged family member often exacerbate feelings of longing, anxiety, and anger.

Those who are cut off often have a lingering difficulty adjusting to, accepting, and making sense of the loss, even when they have an otherwise fulfilling life. Those who choose to end a family relationship and consider it irrevocable may find that feelings of loss and regret accompany the decision.

Related: Family Estrangement: How Grown-Ups Pull Away From Toxic Families

Social work researcher Kyle Agllias, one of the foremost experts on the subject, writes in her groundbreaking book, Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective, that estrangement is particularly difficult to accept because it has no predictable or predetermined outcomes nor an identifiable end point.

“The death of a family member,” she explains, “does not impact self-esteem or sense of self-worth the way estrangement does.”

The loss is especially acute for siblings. Brothers and sisters are our earliest, closest companions, instilling important social qualities—tolerance, generosity, loyalty—that eventually affect every subsequent relationship, from friends and colleagues to lovers and partners.

Siblings typically spend more time together than with anyone else; for the fortunate, the relationship endures for decades, outlasting friendships, marriages, and parents. Losing what should have been a lifelong bond built on shared history is a sad, continuing deprivation.

In a survey, I conducted for my book Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation, respondents discussed how the ongoing nature of estrangement defined their lives.

Family estrangement and effects and familial estrangement
Parental estrangement

5 Ways That Family Estrangement Can Inflict Lifelong Harm

1. Trust

The estranged often feel they can’t trust anyone, damaging their ability to fully engage in relationships.

Several respondents described struggling with trust:

  • I actually find myself trying not to get too close to anybody because of my horrible experiences with family members who cut me out of their lives.
  • I have major trust issues with everyone now. I worry that those I care about will suddenly leave me with no explanation.
  • When a friend distances themselves from me for a good reason (a crisis where they need to be alone), I get triggered and panicked. I feel like I am being taken for granted as I did with my family.

Author Agllias reports that estrangement-related trust issues can wreak such psychological havoc as emotional withdrawal, defensive posturing, people-pleasing behaviors, and overeager development of close but unsustainable relationships, possibly even leading to abuse.

Related: How To Cope With A Toxic And Estranged Family Relationship: 11 Tips

2. Friendships

Without the ability to trust, developing friendships can be especially challenging. Worse, the estranged—especially those who initiated the cutoff—often feel judged and stigmatized when others have advised them to “forget about” the sibling or “move on.”

Some become needy and reliant on family and friends, imposing emotional demands and overblown expectations that can strain and even destroy relationships. “The estranged might feel a need to hold on tightly to non-estranged relationships for fear of losing them too,” Agllias explains.

3. Self-esteem

One woman reported constantly questioning herself. She is socially reserved, feeling that if her own sister won’t have a relationship with her, why would a mere acquaintance have any interest? She says she finds herself alone and isolated.

When a sibling terminates a relationship, the shunned sibling typically feels responsible for the breach. The loss leaves a gnawing sense of unlovability and lack of self-worth—typical of people who have been ostracized.

Studies have revealed that pain is the initial reaction to any kind of ostracism, says Dr. Kipling D. Williams, a distinguished professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University who studies the subject.

“Ostracism,” he explains, “then instigates actions aimed at recovering thwarted needs of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence.”

Family estrangement and it's long-term effects
Family estrangement Psychologica effects

4. Family

Estrangement often places family members in the discomfiting and frequently impossible position of having to choose sides. The situation can become so polarizing as to incite a familial civil war.

The estranged may aggressively recruit and lobby non-aligned family members, perhaps resorting to bullying, accusations, and attacks. The estranged may demand loyalty or threaten to ostracize family members who refuse to take their side.

My own mother felt caught between my brother and me when we were estranged. Here’s how she recalls it:

It was always in the back of my mind—I have a son and daughter who have nothing to do with each other. I was always thinking, What can I do? How can we get together? How can I get my family back? I felt hurt and embarrassed that my children didn’t have anything to do with each other. I never talked to anyone about it. I felt ashamed, so I carried the pain alone.

At times, I was furious about the situation: I would get invited to a family party that excluded one of my children. I never knew what to do—Should I attend or not? Should I insist that I will only go to an event if both my children are invited? Whatever choice I made, I was going to hurt one of my children.

Related: 5 Painful Things You Wonder When Your Parent is Estranged

5. Rumination

One of the most debilitating consequences of estrangement is the thought pattern of rumination: rehashing the same thoughts over and over, even when those thoughts breed sadness or negativity.

Many rejected siblings—even some who chose to terminate the relationship—find themselves constantly mulling: “What did I do? What was my role in the cutoff? Can I fix this?”

The mind is desperately trying to create meaning around an experience that may not have a good explanation. Rumination can be crippling, and over-sharing its bitter thoughts can drive people away.

Some relationships are simply too toxic to sustain. Still, there’s no denying that cutoffs harm well-being and hurt other relationships. Awareness helps to guard against the long reach and lasting damage of estrangement.

Want to know more about the long term effects of family estrangement? Check this video out below!

Familial estrangement and effects of family estrangement

To learn more, buy The Sibling Estrangement Journalhttps://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BLLTT6SJ#SalesRank


Agllias, Kylie (2017) Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective (New York: Routledge)

Williams, Kip, “Kip Williams Media Contact Overview,” January 29, 2020, Social Psychology Network, williams.socialpsychology.org.

Written By Fern Schumer Chapman
Originally Appeared On Psychology Today
Ways Family Estrangement Can Inflict Lifelong Harm pin

— About the Author —


  1. Arthur Hernandez, Esq. Avatar
    Arthur Hernandez, Esq.

    Thank you wonderful discussion on family estrangement especially when you think your family is the only dysfunctional family experiencing estrangement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next

Is It Love Or A Trap? 10 Ominous And Warning Signs Of Love Bombing

Ominous And Warning Signs Of Love Bombing: Love Or Trap?

Have you ever experienced the turbulent side of love, that comes from falling head over heels for someone? The butterflies in your stomach, the passion you feel, and the feeling of being swept off your feet – feels amazing, doesn’t it? But what if I told you that behind this seemingly perfect façade lies something dark and sinister? What if I told you these are warning signs of love bombing?

Welcome to the dark world of love bombing; a psychological tactic used by manipulative people to gain control over your mind and heart. In this article, we will talk about what does love bombing mean, and the signs you are being love bombed.

Let’s get started first with what does love bombing mean, shal

Up Next

Surviving Toxic Friendships: 15 Shocking Signs Of An Abusive Friend You Can’t Afford To Ignore

Signs of an Abusive Friend: Surviving Toxic Friendships

Do you feel like your BFF is jealous of you? Do they constantly criticize and always try to influence your decisions? Are they always around when they need a favor from you, but immediately disappear when you need support? Then it is likely you have a toxic, abusive friend. Let us explore the signs of an abusive friend and how to deal with an abusive friend.

A friendship is one of the most authentic and purest forms of relationships we can experience as it is not bound by blood or any compulsion. Friendships are born out of mutual respect, support, companionship and happiness. Our friends support us and pick us up when we are down and guide us when we stray too far.

However, some individuals use the mask of friendship simply to exploit, dominate and abuse us. They pretend to be our friends as long as we are of use to them and freque

Up Next

The Playbook Of Deceit: 11 Narcissistic Games Used To Torment You

Narcissistic Games Used To Torment: Playbook Of Deceit

Have you ever encountered someone that made you question your own sanity? Or found yourself caught in a web of manipulation, unsure of how you got there? If so, then you may have encountered a narcissist and have been a victim of narcissistic games.

Narcissists are masters at psychological games. A charming smile hides their darker agenda as they play several mind games to control and exploit you. These mind games narcissists play can be psychologically damaging, without you even realizing it at times.

In this article, we’ll unravel 11 narcissistic games, exposing all their tactics, so that you don’t fall

Up Next

Under The Narcissistic Veil: The Struggles Of Sons Of Narcissistic Mothers

Sons Of Narcissistic Mothers: Understanding Their Struggles

Having a narcissistic mother is, safe to say, one of the most traumatic things to go through. Sons of narcissistic mothers look at the world and relationships in an entirely skewed way, and this is due to the lessons they have learned growing up with a narcissistic mother.


The worldview of a young man whose mother has narcissistic personality disorder becomes skewed.

NPD is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy, among other traits.

Once one have been gaslit, they may always suspect the people they are close with may be ho

Up Next

How Men Suffer From The Lack Of Maternal Love And Affection When Raised by Unloving Mothers

How Men Suffer From The Lack Of Maternal Love

It is a commonly accepted belief that motherly love and affection are essential for the healthy development of a child. However, research suggests that a lack of maternal love and affection can have particularly negative effects on men.

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, men who reported having a lack of maternal love and affection during their childhood were more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety as adults, compared to men who reported having a warm and loving relationship with their mothers.

Similarly, ano

Up Next

Unlocking The Pain Of The Past: 10 Signs Of Repressed Childhood Trauma In Adults

Signs Of Repressed Childhood Trauma In Adults

Ever find yourself reacting strongly to situations and not quite sure why? Either you hear echoes of your past, or it’s probably because you listen to your inner child. In this article, we’re delving into the signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults – those subtle whispers from your younger self that can shape your present.

Picture it like a hidden script influencing your responses. But fear not, understanding these signs of repressed childhood trauma can empower you to reclaim control.

So, grab a metaphorical flashlight as we navigate through the shadows of the past, unveiling the clues that migh

Up Next

Why Is Everybody So Mean To Me? 20 Lesser Known Reasons And How To Respond

Why Is Everybody So Mean To Me? Hidden Reasons

Ever wondered “why is everybody so mean to me?” It is an agonizing question that lingers in the minds of many people who feel like they are always being confronted with hostility from others. 

Though it may seem overwhelming and personal, it’s essential to acknowledge that there are a lot of factors at play in human interactions. Let’s find out why some people tend to behave rudely and how to deal with mean people.

Why is Everybody So Mean to Me?