Adolescents, Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Children, Family counselling, Mental Health

How can I repair a cut-off with my family member?

Are you estranged or cut-off from your child? Perhaps you haven’t had contact for several months or even years?

Maybe you are also missing out on seeing their children – your grandchildren? Or are you an adult child who hasn’t seen your parent/s for some time?

Or perhaps you are estranged from your sibling and you don’t know what to do about it? Chances are you are in a great deal of pain. And the rest of your family is potentially split or caught in the middle – suffering as well.

I am a Family Therapist who sees families like yours all of the time. When someone makes initial contact with me for this work it is usually the parent, adult child or a sibling. I have worked to repair relationships within families where the estrangement has been as short as a couple of months and as long as a decade. “Can relationships really be healed after all this time?” “Can a Family Counsellor really help your family with this problem?”. These are the questions I am asked repeatedly before families commence therapy with me.

So can cut-offs – even long ones – be repaired?

Absolutely! But the vast majority of families require professional help to do so.

Why? There are lots of reasons why family members cut each off. And there is a lot of hurt involved. Family members need a safe space to explore those hurts in a productive way that heals that hurt and does not make the problem worse.

One of the biggest problems I see in this work is that people have got themselves tangled up in a whole lot of misunderstandings and assumptions because they haven’t really learnt how to communicate calmly or to really listen to the other properly.

Good communication skills are vital when working with underlying issues in cut-offs.

Should you repair the cut-off?

Sometimes the answer to that is no – for example, when abuse has occurred or there is a toxic family member. This occurs in a small number of cases that I see.

The majority of cut-offs should be repaired for the sake of the overall family system. If you are an aging parent, you will be in deep pain and stressed when you should be enjoying your twilight years. The grief will be immense for you. Nothing is more painful than losing a child.

If you are the adult child in the cut-off you are maybe feeling very angry. Missing your parent/s and upset they are not in your life. You may be distracted with your own children but still feel the everyday void of your parents or siblings not there.

Entire families can be split and many relationships lost. And what about grandchildren and future generations? Cut-offs repeat over time – do you really want your children/grandchildren and so on to go through this too?

What happens in family counselling when a cut-off has occurred?

You are probably feeling pretty anxious about being in a room with a cut-off family member. And you are hoping like anything that family therapy is not going to make the problem worse or deepen the pain. You need to feel confident in the Family Counsellor – to know that they have a structured plan forward. And that they will control the session so things don’t get out of hand.

To be honest, managing several family members who are cut-off in an enclosed space is no picnic. It is very common for conflict to rise quickly so I really need to be able to manage the different personalities so things don’t get out of hand.

When it is an adult family, I see people on their own first so they can get to know me and feel a lot more settled before I bring everyone together.

When you see me you will be guided to talk in a constructive way. And you will be guided to hear your loved one speak without becoming defensive. You will be encouraged to talk from a place of hurt as opposed to anger. It can feel like you are being coached to communicate. I will direct the questions and I do not allow people to talk over each other. The work is firm and directed. You will feel looked after and understood by me but you will not be allowed to behave badly.

Behavioural changes will be implemented.

Homework tasks are allocated in small achievable ways to move the relationships along to where it needs to go.

After session two I find that anxiety lessens and family members don’t feel the same fear they once did in talking about their relationship.

Can Family Therapy help all cut-offs?

Unfortunately, no. I would say that 80% of the families I see go on to enjoy new healthy relationships with each other. However, some personalities can be stubborn and tricky to work with. It often comes down to a willingness to make changes on a behavioural and communication front – and to accept that there is always blame on both sides.

A lack of empathy can also prevent a person from really understanding where another person is coming from. And these situations are very sad because it leaves relationships lost.

When this happens I work with the family members to manage their expectations and grief around lost relationships.

It is crucial that you see a qualified Family Therapist for this work. Working with cut-offs require a specialised set of therapy skills. Make sure you see somebody who is a clinical member of AAFT. And if you seek their help your best chance of this working is to follow their guidance – not to hold onto unhelpful behaviour and communication of your own.

A wonderful thing:

When a cut off is repaired it is extremely emotional for everyone – including me. It’s one of the most powerful human emotions I have ever witnessed in my rooms and when it happens I always feel extremely privileged to do the work that I do. Repairing a cut-off is a gift to not only yourselves but future generations.

Don’t delay it. You can’t get back those lost years. Family counselling can and does work. The most common quote I hear in my work is: “I only wished we had sought Family Counselling sooner”. Seeing a professional Family Therapist can be life changing. Call us today on 02 8968 9397 to arrange an appointment. 

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