Facilitating Conversations Around Estrangement
Often, talking about controversial topics like estrangement can be highly undesirable to someone, and due to this, the topic might be avoided by estranged people due to discomfort. However, discussing these difficult topics can be quite beneficial and help individuals who have never gone through estrangement to learn and become more mindful about this sensitive topic.
Our society is still quite conservative regarding these topics today, and while we have progressed to become more vocal on the matter, there is still a great amount of progress to be made in how we discuss and think about these topics. Our discussions around family, shame, and more on a day-to-day basis still tend to conform to what seems normal what society deems to be the standard for familial relationships. Diverging from this norm puts certain individuals at odds with the status quo, and they might feel as if they are different or don’t fit in; this is often the case with those experiencing estrangement.
While this shouldn’t be the case since everyone is different in their own way and should not be judged or criticized for it, most people don’t understand the concept of estrangement. This can lead to insensitive comments or unhealthy conversations surrounding estrangement. In order to change this, there are a few steps that should be taken.
There are a variety of educational documents that provide ways to introduce a controversial topic and how to proceed. For instance, Heaney (n.d.), Arntsen (n.d.), and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (n.d.) provide different tips to how we can facilitate conversation on controversial topics. These tips include the following:
Introduce the topic
Ex., “I’d really like to talk to you about something I’ve been experiencing lately - I feel like you’re a safe person I could go to.”
Provide a common understanding of the topic
Ex., “Have you ever had to let go of a friend or break up with a partner because they were abusive?”
Ex., “Have you ever had someone exit your life after you set boundaries or came out as LGBTQ?”
Start with views outside (i.e. the community) and your own; both sides
Ex., “I know that with family members, there is often such a strong desire for family members to remain close - there’s this ongoing dialogue about how blood is thicker than water, but I also recognize that there are some cases where that’s just not possible.”
Ex., “I’ve been going through this situation with…..”
Express your opinions
Ex., “It’s been so hard going through all of this because I’ve put in so much effort. I know it’s considered unconventional, but this is something that I think we should have a conversation around because I’m finding that it’s more common than people realize. I also don’t want to put my mental and physical health at stake through this situation and am looking for support.”
Continue with discussion/conversation
These steps are great when facilitating a conversation about estrangement, and in order to do so, people must remain open-minded and become slow to judgment as this will reduce any sense of discomfort or anxiousness in both parties.
Facilitating conversations about estrangement is not easy. These things take time, but hopefully practicing these tips will lead to a meaningful discussion where anyone can talk about estrangement without feeling a sense of discomfort, anxiousness, or stress. Discussion about these stigmatized topics should be normalized so we as a community can gain more knowledge and understanding of one another, and facilitating these conversations in a safe, judgment-free space is a great first step.
Together Estranged is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports and empowers those estranged from family members while enhancing social understanding for the de-stigmatization of estrangement. We offer a Private Facebook Support Group, monthly Zoom support groups sessions, Boston University support groups for students, and information via our website, https://www.togetherestranged.org.