Finding the Upside in Family Estrangements

International rap star Eminem was back in the headlines recently when news broke his father died at 67 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  

The father and son were famously estranged, with Marshall Bruce Mathers Jr. purportedly leaving his wife and son early on. 

Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers III, has said he never met his father. So when Mathers Jr. died, fans were eagerly awaiting a comment. But a response never came. 

As it turns out, family estrangements aren’t as uncommon as we might think. New research suggests familial ties can dissolve, despite the adage blood is thicker than water. 

In the broad sense, estrangement is defined as one or more people intentionally discontinuing communication with another member of the family because of negativity. There can be long stretches without communication because of finances or distance, but those do not fall under the estrangement umbrella. 

“Estrangement can be the healthiest thing for many people when the relationship between parent and child becomes a toxic one,” said Patricia Student, an APRN at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, whose specialty is mental health for children and teens. “These are like any other toxic relationship, but a family relationship is different only in how we met.”  

There is a prevailing myth that family is supposed to get along simply because and this isn’t reality.   

In 2017, Dr. Lucy Blake, a lecturer at Edge Hill University in England, published a review of 51 studies on familial estrangement in the Journal of Family Theory & Review.

One conclusion of the review is that family estrangement is misunderstood.

“Assuming that every relationship between a parent and child will last a lifetime is as simplistic as assuming every couple will never split up,” a New York Times article said. 

“I think people are ashamed or embarrassed by making the correct decision to live a healthy life by keeping an unhealthy relationship at bay,” Student said. “Because of this embarrassment, they keep the estrangement to themselves. It has been my experience that it is not unusual in many instances, and people should not be embarrassed by making a healthy decision for their lives.”

Estrangement evolves in myriad ways, but it usually takes place over time, rather than from one event. The rupture could come from a parent distancing themselves from a child, or vice versa. 

Whatever the reasons — and it is almost always due to multiple reasons — estrangement is not rare.  

In 2014 survey showed about 8 percent of roughly 2,000 British adults said that they had cut off a family member. This indicates about five million people. 

Estrangement can cause stress and anxiety, and it’s important to recognize these symptoms. 

“People who are estranged from their family need to see it not as their failure, but the only option for them to live a healthy and happy life,” Student said. “Just because people have children does not mean they were capable of being parents. and this does not mean they are bad people.” 

For more information on familial estrangement, speak with your health care provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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