*Pam, a patient of mine, came into our counseling session feeling jilted. She had just run into her brother after years of estrangement following the death of their father. She talked about their relationship and how they had never been that close throughout their childhood. She mentioned that her parents were unsure of how to help the two of them have a relationship.
She said that when she ran into him, they had a very brief conversation. Then, he said he had to get going and quickly walked away. She found the experience painful. A close friend happened to be with her and her friend was shocked at the tone and abruptness of the conversation given that the two were raised in the same household for 18 years. There were no other children in the family.
Researchers in the field of family and sibling relationships say that estrangement among siblings is rare about 7-8%, however it’s likely that this issue is underreported.
Pam said that she has had minimal contact with her brother in recent years, but there would be occasional emails or texts. In the last 6 months, her attempts to reach out to her brother were unsuccessful. Pam has wondered if it is healthy to continue trying to have a relationship with him at all.
Ideas to consider when coping with sibling estrangement:
You can reach out 1-2 times a year with low expectations regarding the response you will receive.
You might also reach out to your sibling to inquire if they would like to have contact and if they decline, ask if you can reach out again in 6 months or a year.
Consider having a family member or professional meet with you and your sibling to ease back into each other’s lives and assist with communication.
Evaluate the reason for the estrangement and your role in it. What can you offer to do differently and what support do you need to make this relationship healthier?
See a therapist or join a support group that specializes in siblings and estrangement.
Consider if reconciliation is the best course of action or if estrangement is a healthier solution?
Speak to a trusted friend that can listen without judgement.
If you decide not to reconnect, you will need to take time to grieve this loss and what could have been, especially if it is your only sibling. Pam thought she had moved on from her brother, but this encounter brought up unresolved feelings and she found it took time to process the experience.
Remember, reconnecting with a sibling may not be possible for many reasons. Pam and others in this situation have taken time to grieve this loss and have tried to focus on the other relationships in their lives whether it be relatives, friends and their intimate partners as a way to have a full life without their sibling.
Kay Gimmestad, LCSW-C is a business coach and clinician in New York City with 20 years of experience working in the profit and not for profit sectors of Human Resources, Health and Human Services. She has built a reputation for being highly skilled in facilitating behavior change while working with employees, both individually and in groups, on matters relating to performance management, substance abuse, crisis intervention, and stress/wellness.