Facing Rifts That May Never Heal
The family fallout from identity politics, religion and massive manipulation
If you have one or several, you’re not alone. We can dress them up and call them ‘estrangements’ but it doesn’t change the pain that comes with a family member’s refusal to communicate, to block or belittle or even to harass us.
These rifts can seem surreal when the source is a loved one. I’ve been hurting for several weeks now. And I know that I’m not alone.
We might think that family has a leg up when it comes to understanding us, but as I wrote in Just Because You’re Related Doesn’t Mean You Can Relate that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, the illusion of a leg up, of shared DNA and childhood experiences, may keep us stuck in a cycle of despair and depression.
Nothing is Normal Now
“No normal” may give you small comfort but it’s worth a reminder. Our economy is built around sucking our attention, reinforcing our overwhelm and fears based on fine-tuned algorithms designed to make money.
We are not seeing or reading the same “news”. We even distinguish between misinformation (inaccurate) and disinformation (intentionally deceptive). Lies are so very pervasive that we have relabeled them according to their different levels of harm.
Religious and political identities, for millions, trump our family ties. Fear-based marketing from the pulpit, “polls” and particularly insidious groups affiliated with white supremacists and other hate groups began infiltrating American minds pre-internet. Now, it’s full-blown war online, phone line — seemingly all the time.
Don’t Expect Them to Change
Regardless of what happens on election day, we are not who we were. Our very cells are changing all the time. What we feed ourselves — what we put into our mouths, in front of our eyes and what we listen to — greatly influences what and how we think, act, and react.
Don’t expect any of that input to change — even with a less narcissistic President or a more democratic government. At least in the short term.
Take Time to Reflect on a Healthier Relationship
Instead of trying to maneuver minefields or eggshells (depending on your relationship’s degree of difficulty), take this time to think about the kind of relationship you would want with your estranged relative.
Is it possible for you to forgive their hurtful words or actions? Is it possible to do so without an apology from them?
If so, what does a more healthy relationship look and sound like? Be clear on how much time and energy you can and want to spend on this new relationship.
Don’t Fall for The Recency Effect
When I told my therapist that I was ruminating about my family members dying before I could talk to them again, she said something that made sense and I’m still reflecting on it:
If that (death) happens, who they are to you does not depend on the last interaction you had.
What she meant of course was that I have a lifetime of memories, some great, some ok, some not so good. But that the last phone call or text doesn’t have to push me into some kind of guilt.
And speaking of Guilt and its cousin Shame, it’s a good idea to not immediately go to either, unless you have something to be sorry for.
Some of us need reminded of that qualifier. If you have been placed in a position of emotional caretaker, “keeping the peace,” or by habit or training, you are the one to say I’m sorry because you know you won’t hear it from them, at least recognize that.
Perhaps by not going down the well-worn sorrowful path, your loved one will notice and the scripted dance may change. But it may not.
One last thing to share as we sit in this same boat together: Be patient. Especially with yourself.