In 2005 I met with my doctor and asked him how long it would take for a treatment to take effect on a condition that I have. He told me that no one knows because each person's body reacts in their own individual way. Estrangements are like that. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long an estrangement might last or whether it is resolvable.
This page of guidelines was written as a post which is in the blog archives. So many people access this post that I decided to give it a page of its own accessible from the front page of the blog. I have edited the original post slightly.
No one has all the answers. No one can know for sure what will resolve someone else's estrangement or whether it should be resolved. Sometimes resolution is not the best idea even though others might think that reconciliation is the only answer.
People who visit my website and blog are each in different stages of estrangement. At the beginning the feelings are the strongest, especially for those who didn't want an estrangement. In the beginning all sorts of emotions come up: anger, denial, guilt, fear, depression (clinical depression particularly which can be triggered by loss), rage, obsession, grief. Over time, which can be years, the feelings become more manageable. Some people never go through this process and are able to handle becoming estranged with equanimity. Women are more likely to verbalize their feelings than men.
Many women but only three men have written to me about estrangements in the over ten years that I have been writing my blog. It may be that men just aren't used to talking about their feelings as much as women are. Consequently, there is the appearance that estrangements bother women more than men but it may not be the reality.
If the estrangement can't be resolved, it is possible to accept the situation and go on and enjoy life. In the early stages of being estranged, this idea doesn't feel like an acceptable option. However, after all losses, whatever the cause, life does go on and it makes sense to go on and get back to living life with enjoyment.
While I am never comfortable with giving advice on what will work for everyone, I can offer general guidelines on what to do to maximize your own ability to go on with your life, regardless of whether your estrangement ends or not. They are common sense things to do but worth mentioning anyway. It is easy to lose our common sense when we are estranged.
Here are my guidelines:
- Get involved in something you enjoy.
- If you can't enjoy anything, get involved in something anyway. If it is a non-profit organization, you will be doing something productive and helping other people too. This is good stuff all around. It can help you take your mind off of your own problems.
- If your personal sun fails to shine and all of life has taken on the deep gray of depression, see a mental health professional and get treatment. There are several options for treatment and some do work.
- Respect the boundaries of the person from whom you are estranged. This goes for both estrangers and estrangees.
- Don't be petty. Give yourself a good talking to if you find that you are becoming enraged over things that the other person does that, if you really think about it, are not that serious. Tell yourself to chill out, calm down, count to ten, take a walk, say the Serenity Prayer, call a friend.
- Do not verbally or physically abuse anyone, not the person from whom you are estranged or anyone else. Calling someone names, telling them why they did this or that, beating someone up, sending police to their house to find out how they are, damaging their property, lying about them and to them, acting as though non-abusive people are abusive --- that is all abusive. Don't do it.
If you can't control yourself, see a professional to get help so that you can stop doing this.
- Mind your own business. This doesn't mean that you can't know anything about the person who is lost to you. Relatives and friends may share news with you and it is understandable that you would be interested in how a lost loved one is doing. That is not a problem.
What minding your own business means here is that you recognize that what they are doing in their life is their own decision. If they are choosing to deal with estrangement by going hang gliding, then that is their choice. If they choose to write a book, interview 400 people, draw cartoons, see a mental health professional, write on the internet on message boards, that is their choice. If they choose not to get treatment for an obvious mental health problem, that is their choice, as unfortunate as that choice may seem. As adults we are all free to lead our individual lives and deal with our problems in our own way.
The exception to the guideline of minding our own business is if you know that someone is going to harm someone else's person or property or themselves. Then we are obligated to notify authorities to protect ourselves or whomever is at risk of being harmed.
- The more you involve yourself in productive activities that you enjoy and especially activities that help others, the less you will obsess about the person who is gone from your life.
- Do something healthy to express the most painful feelings. Talk to someone about them. Write them down in a journal. Beat up a pillow. Find some place to scream where you won't scare anyone and scream. Write letters with all your feelings and your worst most unacceptable thoughts in them and DON'T send them. Choose something ceremonial to do with the letters but DON'T send them. Release your feelings in a way that hurts no one.
- Think about the quality of the relationship that you had with the person from whom you are estranged. If there is no possibility of a loving caring relationship, think about that and the implications of having a relationship like that. Find happier healthier relationships instead.
- Work on the relationships in your life where you are valued for who you are. Spend time with people who care about you, who you are interested in, who are in good places mentally, who are honest, who are interested in you. If you don't have anyone like that in your life, go out and get involved in productive projects and develop these relationships.
- Work on being the mentally healthiest person that you can personally be, do the best that you can, be kind to people, gentle with yourself, and get involved with other people in ways that improve the world. Eventually whatever stage of estrangement you are in, the situation will become more bearable. You will find other people to appreciate who appreciate you. You will gain a different perspective. You may always feel pain over the losses but the pain can make you a better person in a relationship with others. It all takes time.