Family Rifts – Why They Happen and How to Heal From Them

Family Rifts - Why They Happen and How to Heal From ThemFamily rifts are a topic that doesn’t receive as much attention as it should. Professor of human development at Cornell University, Karl Pillemer found that there are only 20 reliable scientific research papers on estrangement, and they aren’t based on large and representative samples. The Cornell Family Reconciliation Project is conducting a US survey that suggests that tens of millions of Americans currently are estranged from at least one relative!

How Family Rifts Happen

Back view of embraced grandparents enjoying while looking at their family on a field in autumn day.
Pillemer says that among the primary reasons for family estrangements is divorce which often creates a long-term strain on family relations. Other reasons can include conflicts over inheritance, vast differences in beliefs and values, politics, religion, and conflicts over a family member’s sexual identity. It often happens that a family member feels let down by their relatives due to unmet expectations. Pillemer has found that families with a strong positive history of love and attachment are more likely to heal and reconcile.

The Number of Estrangements Is Rising

A Sad and lonely 60 years old senior in is apartmentNo real data exists to effectively track the rate of family rifts forming, however, Pillemer believes that they might be on the rise. The main reasons for this are recent cultural shifts, such as the increase in divorce rates which usually lead to family estrangements. Pillemer also believes that there is a change in perspective where many Americans, especially young people, place greater emphasis on personal well-being and have a lower threshold of what they are willing to put up with from family members be it abuse, a rejection of their values, sexuality, and gender identity.

Finding Healing

Open armsOlder people are typically more affected by family rifts and left feeling heartbroken and isolated. Working with a psychologist is advisable to begin the reconciliation process and remedy the relationship in question. Family members that have been estranged are advised to trigger the reconciliation, develop empathy for the other person, and take responsibility by acknowledging why the other person felt the need to cut them off. Respecting the other family member’s vision of what a healthy connection looks like, even if expectations and values differ, is crucial.