Five Tips For Handling Family Estrangement During The Holidays

Many people with narcissists in their lives deal with family estrangement. This type of estrangement is different from not being with your family due to the COVID pandemic. When you’re estranged from family to protect yourself from someone’s narcissistic behavior, the holidays can trigger feelings of guilt and loneliness. In addition, you may feel that your family estrangement is a shameful secret you must hide from others. Here are five tips to help you cope, especially during this particularly difficult holiday season:

1. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. According to Harriet Brown, author of Shadow Daughter: A Memoir of Estrangement, research indicates that “between 5 and 10 percent of parents are estranged from at least one adult child”.

2. Make a plan. There’s no right way to “do” the holidays. Tina treats Thanksgiving as her personal spa day. She pampers herself at home and feels refreshed the next day. Can you share pumpkin pie with friends over Zoom? Go on a socially distanced walk?

3. Give back. Volunteering improves our mental and physical health, increases confidence, and provides our lives with a greater sense of purpose and meaning. It doesn’t have to be expensive. For example, some organizations seek volunteers to write friendly letters to isolated veterans or elders. See for ideas.

4. Create self-care rituals. In addition to caring for others, it’s important to care for yourself. When you’re upset, it helps to have an emotional first aid kit, filled with soothing items that appeal to your five senses. For example, Brooke’s calming kit included:
Sight: Gardening catalogs
Hearing: Spotify Playlist
Taste: Lemon Drop candies
Smell: Lavender hand cream (smell and touch)
Touch: Soft scarf
Some people consider movement to be the sixth sense. For Brooke, that meant dancing to a disco song.

5. Write a blessing for yourself. Read and repeat. In Shadow Daughter: A Memoir of Estrangement, Brown writes that a therapist advised that when your parents don’t bless you, which is a Jewish tradition, “you must learn to bless yourself” (2018, p. 163). You don’t have to be Jewish, or religious at all, to benefit from this tip. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a blessing is words of encouragement and approval, promoting one’s happiness and welfare. Here is Ashley’s
Thanksgiving blessing for herself, based on a “fill-in-blank” model. Use a model that works for you. Ashley’s Blessing: *
I am grateful in this moment for: my warm bed, comedy shows on Netflix, and walks in the fall leaves.
I will continue to seek: connections with others and a lighter spirit.
I wish for myself: acceptance of things I cannot change.
I wish for those I love: health in body and mind.
I wish for those who challenge me: health in body and mind.
I wish for the world: answers to this pandemic.
I bless myself with: courage, peace of mind, and a mindful approach to life.

Think of these five tips like items on a menu. Choose one to try, and tweak the
recipe so it works for you. Then choose another.

*With thanks to Harriet Brown and her therapist for inspiration.

Dr. Stephanie Kriesberg is a licensed psychologist outside of Boston. She
specializes in treating daughters of narcissistic mothers and others
impacted by narcissism. To learn more about her work, please visit her
Make sure to take the quiz on the website: “Are You the Daughter of a
Narcissistic Parent?”

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