• Fraidie Burshtyn

When We Have Lost A Significant Relationship

The Journey From Estrangement to Reunification.


estranged and strained relationships

Over the course of my career as a clinical therapist I have had the honour and privilege of witnessing the tremendous power of the human spirit. It has proven to be a humbling and inspiring experience, as people have shared their struggles to understand and overcome personal tragedies and losses in their lives. I have been inspired by their strength, courage and determination to seek answers and achieve liberation from their pain.


Despite the idiosyncratic nature of an individual’s hardship, therein lies the capacity and fortitude to heal and grow from these experiences.

Relationship estrangement is one particular area of human strife that has proved to be one of the most daunting and difficult issues. The particular circumstances and types of familial estrangement are as diverse as the emotional and psychological intensity and degree of trauma that it elicits. The phenomenon of relationship estrangement is not particular to any specific race, gender, culture, religious ideology or age group.


The best way to describe familial estrangement is when a significant relationship has been fractured and remains unhealed and unresolved for many years. As life is not static sometimes dependable and secure family relationships can drastically transform. People tend to be reactive, defensive and impulsive at times in their relationships, especially if they feel misunderstood or hurt. A natural defence to protect one’s vulnerability is to react in ager. Unfortunately, this can result in the exchange of hurtful words and actions that are fuelled by pain and serve no other purpose but to cause a reaction.


It has been my experience that people do not necessarily remember the disagreement that provoked the estrangement. This can lead to harbouring feelings and beliefs that have become entangled in distortions and mistaken beliefs over time.


I have counselled adult children seeking to reconcile with a parent or significant other as a result of childhood abuse, divorce or childhood abandonment. I have counselled adults who have had no contact with a child for many years and wish to explore the possibility of reconnecting. These grievous and agonizing rifts have left people consumed with pain and regret.


In contrast to the finality of death, estrangement may evoke similar feelings of abandonment, anger and sorrow, yet the experience provides limited relief or resolution.


Over time people tend to create scenarios about what went wrong in the relationship.

They question whether they could have done something to have prevented the rupture or want to return to that time to have a chance to change the circumstances.

They worry about being rejected or blamed which creates further barriers towards reconciliation. Even though the focus of the estrangement may directly involve specific individuals, other family members experience suffering as a result of the emotional fallout.


Reconciliation, or at least the attempt towards a conversation, is a process of personal growth and acceptance.


To live with doubts and fear only serves to mask the underlying pain.

The outcome may result in a successful reconciliation or simply provide a person with the opportunity to accept the permanent loss of the relationship, close their wounds and reclaim their lives.