Dear Therapist:

My husband and I recently became estranged from our daughter.  She is angry at us for what she perceives we have done her wrong. She was able to convince her brother, with whom we had good relations till then, that we are people who should be avoided.

Both my daughter and my son forbade their children from having contact with me and my husband.  I used to have very close relationships with both families, and I am bereft that this is happening to us.

I tried with rabbis and therapists to meet with them and clear the air, but they refuse.

I love my grandchildren and they love me.  I am at a loss.

Please suggest.

 

Response:

Sadly, I have witnessed too many families that have been torn apart. This can be due to relationships that are actually harmful to some or all of the people involved. Sometimes the problems caused are clear and obvious. At other times, they are perceived by part of the family. At yet other times no one in the family is able to recognize the harm that is being experienced (though it may be obvious to others).

Relationship issues can take various forms. Sometimes, people are hurt by others’ actions that cause them physical harm. Sometimes the hurt is financial. And sometimes, people are hurt emotionally. When this last occurs, it can be difficult for those who are ostensibly inflicting this pain to understand the cause—or the pain itself.

When someone feels psychological pain, the cause can often seem arbitrary. They may be reacting to something that would never cause us to feel hurt, yet they seem immeasurably distraught. While this may seem to be illogical, that’s the nature of emotions. Emotions are caused by our unconscious mind—the part of our mind that reacts to associations, triggers, and insecurities. These are developed throughout childhood and adolescence, and reinforced throughout life.

Psychological pain within relationships is a two-way street. Although we may not understand the other person’s pain (and may have trouble recognizing the causes), this doesn’t make their pain any less real. There are certainly times when we are hurt by them, and they don’t seem to understand what they did wrong.

Often, we will grasp onto the most obvious explanation for our emotional pain, when this is only the symbolic trigger for a deeper pain. Within relationships, this can become reciprocal, causing the relationship to become harmful for both (or all) parties. Without understanding the causes of our own pain—and that of the others within the relationship, healing can be difficult or impossible.

Marriage counseling, for instance, often evolves into a combination of joint therapy along with individual therapy for each person. This allows each one to better understand their own and the other’s unconscious triggers and insecurities that lead to problematic communication.

Sadly, your family is now fractured, and you’re in a position where you have little or no control over the actions of your children or grandchildren. There is little that you can do to get them to convince them to change their minds. It certainly sounds like a good family therapist might be able to help. Hopefully they will be willing to give this a shot in the near future.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317