Mistakes“I’ve been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long, I’m moving on.”
Rascal Flatts

It would be a lot healthier if we could come to a place where we didn’t need to do these elaborate “not my fault” dances – or conversely the big “you did it, your fault” dances.

People make mistakes, we all make them. Relationships are about give and take, ebb and flow, interconnection and sadly, also about making mistakes.

Whilst I am not absolving anyone of responsibility – I am saying, we all carry responsibility. Who hasn’t done something they aren’t proud of, or with hindsight, would rather that they hadn’t done? Yet this powerful pull to assign blame, and position ourselves as blameless exists.

It’s not real of course.

It’s an extension of black and white positioning that allows no variation or shades of grey.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

No, I Don’t Want to be in relationship to You

Stock Image“I encourage people to remember that “no” is a complete sentence.”
― Gavin de Becker

Recently I listened to a Jonathan Fields podcast, How You Handle No is How You Handle Life. The podcast was completely unrelated to family estrangement, or even relationship issues, however it got me thinking.

Jonathan notes that when people bump up against (in his words) a “gracious no” – there’s two predominant responses. The first is a kind of gracious/grateful acceptance, the second is stony resistance. It doesn’t mean that the people in the first group liked hearing the no, they were however, willing to accept the no and use it as an impetus to consider their own position and circumstances. The second group of people were more likely to justify, rationalize, and explain why the no was not “fair” or “right” and instead took the no personally, as a slight and deep rejection.

Estrangement is saying NO to relationship

It occurs to me that the ending or termination of a relationship is also a kind of “no”. No I don’t want to be in relationship to you. This is of course, foundational to the experience of estrangement, when one person gives a gracious {or not so gracious} no to the relationship.

NOTE: We can derail this line of inquiry by getting hung up on all the bewildering and less than perfect ways that people end relationships {and it must be acknowledged that there are definitely better and worse ways to terminate a relationship}. However, if we get caught up on how the no happened, we’re going to miss the opportunity to take a look at what we did in response to it  – which is, after all, the bit of business we can do something about.

There’s an almost guaranteed period of time where those who have been estranged from turn the rejection of relationship into a very personal condemnation of themselves. “What’s wrong with me?” “I must be a terrible person”. Down the road, it’s not uncommon for the self-condemnation, to then turn into criticism of the person who said no. “The estrangee is wrong about me – and here are all the reasons why...” “Actually, the estrangee is the person with the problem and here are all the problems they have ….” “I don’t deserve this” “Its not my fault”. We may vacillate back and forth between these positions, but the no is still no.

Just say “No” to “No”?

I sometimes think as a society we have a lot of problems with the word “no”. We are taught to disregard “no” and push for what we want. Children come into their personhood when they find out that they get choices and learn to say “no”. We celebrate their new found autonomy and then move on to punishing them for saying “no”. It’s not just children, we are routinely exasperated by anyone telling us  “no”. Some of us internalize all this, and go the other way with it and struggle to say no, or set and defend our personal boundaries. But over all, as a culture we seem to want the right to say “no” but sure don’t want to hear it said to us.

Refusing to accept “no” is a theme of great love stories and meteoric rises to success and fame. Refusing to accept “no” is also the theme of far less pleasant things like stalking and rape culture.

Let’s not be oblivious to the fact that relationships end all the time, for all sorts of reasons.

It’s a simple fact that we will all experience the no’s that close off connection/relationship for a time, or permanently. Sometimes those no’s happen between family members. I talked about this in my post, Family Estrangement: Why Me? We’re not doing ourselves any favours when we approach the termination of family relationships as an aberration. No’s happen. Relationships change and sometimes end. Even ones with our family.

Of course someone saying no to relationship with us, hurts. Of course we take it personally. Yet there are many reasons for no, and some of them have very little to do with us.  Additionally it may well be true that we struggle for many reasons to accept the termination of a relationship, that actually have very little to do with the relationship. For instance, attachment patterns {See my post  Attached I’m Sure}. In front of it and behind it, we are still left with no.

How do we deal with the no’s that end relationship?

We have choices about how we will look at the termination, ending or even just smaller changes to relationships. Someone in our family puts boundaries into play that we don’t agree with or aren’t happy about. Or maybe they seem to be distancing themselves and drifting away and we don’t know why. Or maybe the line in the sand was very clearly drawn and its obvious that the relationship is over. Regardless of how the no happens – we get to choose how we will accept the no.

Will we use “no” to re-calibrate our own position on the relationship? Will we welcome the opportunity to look at ourselves, our relationship skills, our values and desires and see how they measure up? Will we stubbornly cling to getting what we want, even when what we want is not reciprocated? Will we continue to push for relationship, even if doing so disregards or is disrespectful of the person who no longer wants the relationship? Will we continue to push for relationship, even when pushing leads to more “no’s”? Will we resist “no”, even when resisting hurts us more? Will we refuse the no, even when doing so doesn’t change “no” to “yes”?

The title of Jonathan Field’s podcast, how you handle no is how you handle life, suggests to me, that how we come to terms with estrangement, may relate at some level to how we manage the ending or termination of other relationships, and maybe have something to do with how we manage no’s in general.

What do you think?
How are you with “No”?


The Paradox of Estrangement

Paradox“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides.”
― Tony Schwartz

Family estrangement is paradox.

For example: I can believe with all my heart that estrangement is highly detrimental for individuals, families, extended families and communities, and I do believe this.

I also believe, at the very same time, that remaining in relationships, including family relationships; which are abusive, demeaning, diminishing or just flat out painful – is in no one’s best interest.

I don’t feel compelled to reconcile the tension between what, on the surface, seem contradictory ideas. As much as I wish there were definitive solutions and answers to family estrangement , I am not wasting time searching for them. I have learned to sit more or less comfortably with uncertainty. I have become better at not needing to know, not needing to understand and not necessarily needing to be understood. Definitive understanding is far less important to me than healing, recovery and leading a full and happy life.

The Zen Buddhists have a tradition of using “Koans” which are paradoxical stories, statements or questions that are abstract and “unknowable” through conventional thinking. Koans challenge us to transcend reduced or simplified answers and leave us instead, with open questions and the capacity to retain an open mind, without the need to find surety or absolute answers and solutions. When we are able to move from our need to know about family estrangement (or anything, really) with absolute certainty – we are liberated. It becomes possible for us to validate our own experiences as well as those of others. It becomes possible to leave ourselves in a place where we can be responsive rather than reactive. It leaves us room to explore ourselves and our experiences. It leaves us room to grow, to heal, to move forward.

So, here at E-Stranged, I am very interested in current family estrangement research yet not so interested in absolute sources of family estrangement wisdom. I am very interested in keeping the paradox of estrangement up front and central to my discussions, thinking, and research. So let me leave you with a koan of sorts:

How do we acknowledge the importance and value of tribe and family and yet be estranged from them


heal and move forward just the same?