You’re Uninvited

“Whenever someone makes out a guest list, the people not on it become officially uninvited, and that makes them the enemies of the invited. Guest lists are just a way of choosing sides. ” 
— E.L. Konigsburg

I can’t imagine a more relevant quote when we start thinking about the impact estrangement has on families around such things as special family events; weddings, births, funerals, birthdays, Christmas and the like. I have many posts on this blog about making it through such occasions, coping with grief and loss, and struggling with issues of acceptance of self and others. That’s not so much what I want to write about today.

There’s a post I wrote a long while back, Families Gone AWOL, that looks at the issues more broadly and is worth revisiting. People often compare estrangement to a death in the family. In my post I go to some lengths to explain why this analogy often does not fit. Dead people don’t get married, they don’t graduate, they don’t have babies. Dead people don’t have birthdays, they don’t gather for holidays and they generally don’t die again. Estranged family members do all of these things … and even if we are well and truly estranged, many of us still have a variety of ways of finding out that these things are happening and that we are not a part of them.

The follow along is we will also have these events occurring in our lives and we too will be busy with inviting or conversely not inviting. Sometimes we can feel quite alright with that. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can vacillate between the two positions.  I wrote a very personal blog post about how this works for me in my family called, Choose Joy. It was about my daughter’s high school graduation last year, and how difficult it can be to live with the realities of estrangement. Not only difficult for ourselves, but often difficult for entire family “factions”- those who are “in”and those who are “out”.

Many of us will struggle with making decisions about whether we should turn up for family events that we are clearly not invited to participate in; funerals are a great example of this. We may feel our own grief and our own need for goodbyes and closure, trump any current family disconnections or upsets. Many of us will also struggle to manage our own special occasions; do we notify estranged family members? Do we put differences aside to invite people who we are estranged from? Is that the “higher road”, the more noble, evolved choice?

We may struggle to reconcile the inevitable tensions  estrangement brings. What does it mean if we are estranged from one person, like a sibling for instance, but we do not wish to be estranged from our sibling’s children? Can we choose not to be in relationship with one person, yet want to be in relationship with other people who maintain relationships with that person?

We may have heard that one of the most common times that reconciliation happens is during one of these family events. What we may not have heard is these events also can reinforce estrangement and make a nightmare out of events that should not be nightmares; weddings and births spring to mind.

Like estrangement, death brings grief and loss. Unlike death, estrangement brings with it complexity, possibility, and highly charged emotional conundrums. I’ll endeavour to write some follow along posts to this one, which might unpack some of these incredibly difficult choices.

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5 Responses to You’re Uninvited

  1. Anon says:

    This blog leaves me speechless as it addresses some things that I am going through in my family. In trying to heal, it is helpful to have the insight and issues addressed as they are here. THANK you for this blog.
    I’m just, speechless. And grateful.

  2. edward says:

    We have the right to cut people out of our lives, and it is true that “Time is the coin of life, take care lest any spend it for you”.

    Long ago I decided that to entertain people I did not like, even though they were family members, is an exercise in futility I did not want to experience, the more so because of the phoniness and dishonesty one would have to embrace in order to do so.

    Thus regardless of the cost, it pays to remember and live the axiom, “To thine own self be true”. You will never be sorry. and indeed, why do people feel they have to suffer fools, ingrates, and narcissistic people that you owe nothing to except the duty to boot them and keep them out of your life. Huh?

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Edward,

      Thanks for you post, which I will endeavour to put some thoughts to.

      Indeed, we can do anything we want to do. We are not limited except by what we are or or not willing to do.All that said, every choice we make carries its own consequences.Sometimes with estrangement, those consequences can be very high, even if we are hurt and angry. Our families are an important part of our self-concept and the seat of where we learn about relationships. Family is also a highly charged word – we are led to believe that family means certain things. For instance, that family is where we should be most loved, most valued, most cared for. Even when this is not happening, it’s hard to shake the belief that it should be.

      For many people, estrangement is not a direct result of liking or not liking and it must be said, there are many degrees of liking and trusting, and we don’t always have the luxury of not associating with people we don’t like. We can also not like a person, or something that they are doing, and yet love them very much. Therein is part of the quandary of estrangement.

      Yes, we do need to be true to ourselves, and that means a variety of things and is subject to change. What needs to happen today, may be unnecessary tomorrow. Part of being true to self, means allowing ourselves to have the widest world view, not the most closed. The cost of self-protection can be that everything begins to feel like a risk. The cost of cutting out everyone who does things we don’t like, is that we may find ourselves very alone.

      We can also be true to ourselves and yet, feel very sorry for the decisions that entails. For instance, we can deeply love our child, however, if that child is acting in a destructive way, to self or others, we may need to separate ourselves from those behaviours and that trail of destruction. It doesn’t mean we stop loving our child, or caring about them or hoping that their circumstances will change and that we can find a way of being “in relationship” again.

      If it was as simple as booting family members out of our lives and being done with them, there would be no pain, no fall out and certainly no need for this blog. To say that people should cut their families out of their lives with no particular feelings around it, seems short sighted and fails to acknowledge the many, many people who are estranged and who do have feelings about it. Lots of feelings, both positive and negative, bearable and unbearable.

      A few thoughts.

      Take care,

  3. RKH says:

    My husband and I weren’t invited to his sister’s second daughter’s infant baptism. It wasn’t really a surprise to us. The estrangement is mutual and happened right about the time she got pregnant. Still it was a result of that very estrangement that my husband and I certainly didn’t think about when we agreed to estrange ourselves from his sisters. Well, we were that same sister’s sponsors (sort of like godparents) for her first daughter’s infant baptism. Now I suppose we could have easily just shown up at the baptism. Well, the baptism was held at our former church of many years. But we didn’t go and didn’t even consider it. Moreover, there were a few other things we couldn’t have foreseen. His sister sent out an electronic invitation that appeared on the Facebook walls of family and mutual friends. Obviously it didn’t end up on my husband’s. I even had to awkwardly and briefly explain to a friend (a member of our former church) that we wouldn’t be attending the baptism. I then couldn’t help but think, what if members of our former church wonder during the baptism, Where is so and so? These just aren’t things that you think about when you are seeing red and say things like, “I don’t ever want to hear from you again. Don’t call. Don’t write.” (Okay, those weren’t my words, but they were my husband’s.) We still stand by our decision yet there are these moments… these unforeseen, awkward, emabarrassing, hurtful consequences. Sometimes I find myself thinking, How did we get here?

  4. Luci Bloom says:

    I’ve had the same experiences RKH. It was my mothers birthday yesterday, and I didn’t call. I feel terrible about it now, shame, guilt, remorse, like I’m scum, and yet I know that mentally why would I want to call someone who treats me like I don’t exist? It makes no sense, but emotionally I am tortured by it. I have been having memories of being held as a baby, and loved and the sense that we were connected once and it was perfect, and then I grew. I knew she didn’t like me from teenage years, and even walked in on her telling my brother that she didn’t like me, which was really awful. I realized sometime afterwards that I didn’t really like her either and didn’t want to be friends with her when I was an adult and left home, and that’s where we are now.
    It’s terribly sad when I think about it at times…tragic really, because she did used to be a great mother, but things changed when her mother died, and she did not seek help with her grieving over that. She changed into someone I do not recognize and not anyone I would want to be around. My father did his best to maintain a relationship with me, but didn’t realize how invasive and violating of my boundaries he could be, and wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell him all this. At the end of the day we need to take care of ourselves first. Reminding myself of this now is helpful, but I wonder how many years I will feel this shame and guilt at their birthdays? Will it always be this way? And yes, totally get the “how did we get here” feeling.

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