Being estranged from family at Christmas

The Christmas holidays can be a particularly difficult time of year for people estranged from members of their immediate family. The focus on family at this time of year, along with the passing comments and assumptions that you will be spending Christmas with your family, can be especially challenging too. However, the majority of people conceal their position because being estranged from either a parent or a grown child is not something that is readily comprehended by those who are removed from such a situation. There can be complicated feelings of shame and a fear of judgement attached to being estranged—for what does having a fractured relationship with ones family imply about you, and what does it denote about your background?

Coping with these feelings at this time of year can be hard and potentially made more difficult by the perpetual reminders of loss, coupled with an inability to talk about these feelings with understanding others. The loss might not be the loss of the relationship itself, which might have even been harmful to your sense of self and wellbeing. Rather, the loss could be associated with not having the possibility of a supportive and sustainable relationship with those you are estranged from. Such losses need to be acknowledged and grieved, although there can be many barriers to grieving a loss of this nature.

To get through the holiday season, there are some things you can do to support yourself. One important source of support can be to connect with others in a similar position to you through online support groups and communities (links below). Because estrangement tends to be an isolating experience, developing connections and having a place where you can safely speak about your experience can help you cope with what you are going through. Seeking professional support therapeutically can also be beneficial to work through and make sense of your experience. Taking a break from social media might also be helpful, especially as feeds fill up with posts of smiling families together celebrating, creating painful reminders of what is missing. Even when being estranged feels like the right choice, it still hurts and arouses painful feelings, such as guilt and shame. Also, developing a support network through friendships and other relationships is an important part of healing in the longer term. Still, these relationships can be especially important to help you get through challenging times of the year like Christmas or birthdays, for instance.

It can also be helpful to think about how you’ve supported yourself through difficult times before. There might be things you did previously that were helpful that you could use again—perhaps you used to keep a journal, practice yoga, go walking etc. Most importantly, though, is being compassionate and kind to yourself when you are struggling. Creating space for self-compassion is fundamental as part of supporting yourself through the difficulties of estrangement at any time of year.

Below are some links to some online support groups:

Other sources of support:

Estrangement, Relationships

The Pain of Family Estrangement

“There must be room in love for hate.” — Molly Peacock

Definitions of estrangement vary, but at its most basic, estrangement can be understood as the breakdown of a relationship between family members. 

The experience of family estrangement is deeply personal, complex and unique, and there can often be a sense of secrecy and shame surrounding the experience. Individuals estranged from one or more family members, tend to feel the need to hide their situation from others, particularly in case of close family relationships such as parent-child estrangement.

Estrangement can be an intensely stigmatising process, with adult-children being condemned for estranging an ageing parent and similarly, a parent may be harshly judged for ostracising a child. Hence, disclosing their estrangement from members of their family is something that people usually go to great lengths to avoid.

However, the secrecy and silence surrounding the intense hurt of estrangement means there is a lack of support for those experiencing it, particularly within immediate social and wider support networks. Research indicates that family estrangement may not be such a rare occurrence as we might think and of course, estrangement is difficult to quantify since it tends to be such an isolating experience with individuals concealing or minimising their experience to others. 

Estrangement between a parent and a child can be seen as particularly acute, given the uniqueness of this relationship, and the parent-child bond is often socially perceived as permanent and therefore unbreakable. The relationship between a mother and child is arguably one of the most emotionally charged and therefore the most wounding when it breaks down.

Notwithstanding the reasons leading up to a family estrangement, there is an inevitable experience of loss. Often, the losses are multiple and may be felt at different levels by those that are estranged, and arguably the loss is more difficult to reconcile when the one that has been lost is still there. These losses can also extend across the generations involving siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and grandchildren. This loss has been referred to as ‘disenfranchised grief’ – a loss that cannot be openly mourned or acknowledged (Doka, 1989). This can leave the grieving person feeling inhibited from seeking and receiving support.

However alone someone might feel, seeking support from close friends where possible, or from an experienced psychotherapist who is independent from your circumstances, can offer a way to make sense of your experience and move forward.


Doka, K.J. (1989) Disenfranchised grief. Jossey-Bass.