Family Alienation

Family alienation is a far-to-common occurrence in the modern family. The destructive and devastating, family alienation occurs when one person in the family becomes the enemy and is wrongly blamed as the root cause of family problems. The family member who is alienated might be a parent, child, grandparent or spouse.

Family alienation is more typical in family systems that are marked by substance abuse or mental health problems. An example is the family member who refuses to enable substance abuse, while the rest of the family condones and supports the addict. Refusing to let the user borrow money or leaving family gatherings when a family member becomes intoxicated becomes irrational and cruel excuses to reject and even ridicule. When mental health problems are present the family member who is alienated is often the person who sounds the alarm of problematic behaviors or endorses mental health treatment.

Family Alienation – The Process

Family alienation walls off the alienated family member from the rest of the family. The alienated family member is often ridiculed and repeatedly rejected. She is called “too sensitive” or “hard to please”. Irrational and untruthful labels are used to justify the rejection. Colluding and division are used to create a narrative that makes the role of the alienated family member the enemy. At first, the alienation and cruel treatment are denied or minimized. After enough rejection, the alienated family member might bargain with the family members in order to re-enter the family structure. When the rejection becomes excessively mean-spirited and intolerable, the alienated family member begins to come to terms with the anger or depression he feels. In addition to adjusting to the emotional upheaval, the alienated family member struggles to find a new identity after alienation. Much of their life has been uprooted. Their roles, financial security, sense of purpose must be re-identified.


For the alienated family member, self-care is crucial. Therapy with a counselor is always recommended and helps the family member to process her emotions and strategies for rebuilding and reclaiming her life. Other self-care strategies include:

Healthy Distraction – Find a way to distract your mind when you feel a frightening sense of being up uprooted. Don’t deny what has happened. However, because of the intensity of the pain, it is common to engage in obsessive thinking in an attempt to make sense of the rejection. Know that your mind is racing trying to make sense of something that may never make sense.  A healthy distraction will stop the mind from racing and perhaps, eventually let the heart catch up. Once you have accepted the condition, re-framing what your new life might optimally look like will begin to take form.

Support – If you have been made the enemy in your family, support is critical. Lean into your friends. If you do not have friends, try to find a support group. Processing what you are feeling will release some of the intensity of the strong emotions you are feeling.

Take In The Good – It is very hard to see rays of sunlight in the midst of a downpour. But if we look deeply we know that there is some element of light, although it is faint, even in storm clouds.  Practice gratitude and finding the good. Perhaps you have your health, friends, a good job. One of the most influential spiritual teachers is Thich Nhat Hanh. He reminds us to see the non-tooth ache. When we have a toothache it is difficult to focus on anything but the pain. But, when we are liberated from the pain of the toothache we are mindful of the relief from pain for only a moment.

Be in peace – diane