How to Handle the Stress of Christmas – Family Estrangement

For most people, at some time in their lives, Christmas has been about family. There are often good memories about that time. Being part of a group. Feeling loved. Feeling included. And Christmas is always spoken of as a family time.

If you are estranged from family members, Christmas is a time where you are most likely to remember that estrangement. And it hurts.

Family members usually don’t become estranged in a moment. If you are the one who made the choice to remove yourself from those family members, the hurt that lead to that most likely built up over time. And the decision to cut off contact was most likely not made lightly, but made after a lot of thought over an extended period of time. And the estrangement hurts.

If you have been the one a family member has walked out on, there are often the questions about why this happened. Trying to understand. Trying to make sense of it. Feeling hurt.

No matter what has led to you being here, in the lead up to Christmas, remembering family members you know you can’t talk to or see, it hurts.

So how do you deal with it?

Like any loss, estrangement leads to grief. Grief takes time to process. The pain may seem to diminish with time, but it will never go.

Part of the grieving process is expressing your grief. Allowing it to be spoken of and acknowledged. Allowing time for the healing and accepting the scars.

A caring friend may be willing to listen to you. You may choose to visit a counsellor. You may find expressing yourself with art activities is helpful. Movement may help. Writing poetry or journaling can be helpful as well.

Acknowledge the hurt. Don’t try to hide it. What you express hurts less than what you hide.

Reflect on the relationship and find a symbol to express how you grew through that relationship and how you have grown as a result of the end of that relationship.

The symbol can be anything. Clients of mine have chosen a number of symbols:

  • A colourful spinner for the garden;
  • A butterfly picture;
  • A bird bath;
  • Made a collage of pictures out of magazines;
  • Taken photos; and
  • Collected shells from the beach.

They all found the act of reflection, choosing the symbol and being able to see it helped them learn how to fit the estrangement into their lives.

Christmas will hurt. Acknowledge the pain. Find new meaning in the Christmas you are having now. Talk to someone if you need to. Be compassionate to yourself. Be okay to hurt and be okay to enjoy the Christmas you have.


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