The Benefits of JF&CS’ Estrangement Group

November 16, 2021

The Benefits of JF&CS’ Estrangement Group 

Family is one of the most important relationships in a person’s life. For most, family is a source of stability and love, and a relationship that can always be depended on. However, for some, family relationships can be complex and even difficult. And for a rare few, family relationships can become so strained that they can cease contact entirely. This is often termed as “estrangement.”

Estrangement is a complex phenomenon and often takes place over time due to numerous years of friction and conflict with a family, as opposed to being caused by a singular event. Similar to the five stages of grief, it comes in various stages such as distancing, reconciliation, and conditional contact.

It is also misunderstood, meaning those who suffer from estranged family relationships can be left feeling very alone or even ashamed of what they are going through. Because of this, JF&CS therapist Brennen Joseph, LPC, NCC and Community Chaplain, Rabbi Judith Beiner started a support group.

“The goal of the group is to offer support, de-stigmatize estrangement, and to create awareness that fractured family relationships are more common than people realize,” said Brennen.

Complicated Family Relationships

Changing family dynamics, such as when parents divorce and remarry, when children grow and have children of their own, or other circumstances where new people and emotions need to be considered can lead toward estrangement. “We see a lot of parents with fractured relationships with their adult children. However, it can be any broken relationship - sibling to sibling, or even grandparent and grandchild.”

Brennen explains further that the relationship doesn’t have to be entirely cut off to be considered estranged, and that it can be anything from “ghosting” someone to a limited relationship. There may also be stringent conditions in which a family member can be included in the other person’s life.

A large survey in the Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Science found that 17 percent of college and graduate students experienced estrangement from someone in their immediate family. A separate survey published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found 12 percent of older adults were estranged from a child. Estrangement is more common than people realize, and many feel they don’t have an outlet for support when dealing with the side effects of it.

Talking About Estrangement

Estrangement is an important topic for people to be able to talk about. Speaking publicly about mental health and getting help has become more accepted into the mainstream in recent years, and talking about estrangement should be no exception.

Rabbi Beiner mentions that, like many living with mental health issues, carrying the stigma of estrangement can bring a sense of shame to those dealing with it: “It’s not something people like to talk about, but it exists. And many who suffer with it feel alone, especially those who didn’t get any closure or don’t know why they are estranged.”

“In the first support group we held, we learned a lot,” continued Rabbi Beiner. “The group was mainly parents with adult children who broke from the relationship. And none of the parents knew why it happened. There wasn’t this big, cataclysmic event where the person screamed ‘Never talk to me again.’ They didn’t know why it had happened at all, which made it even harder to deal with.”

Rabbi Beiner says that different members of the group had varying degrees of involvement with family. Some have been totally cut out of the family and even threatened with legal action, while others are still invited to holiday events but allowed no further contact. Some members of the group were only contacted during emergencies, when there was nobody else to call.

Estrangement in a Time of the Pandemic

During the pandemic, with travel being limited and many practicing social distancing and staying indoors, it’s been easier than ever for people to feel alone and isolated from the world. And for those dealing with estrangement, it can exacerbate the feelings of loneliness and despair even further. “If a family member wanted to close the door on a relationship or not get together for family events, the pandemic provided an opportunity,” explains Brennen. “There is research suggesting that a lack of communication among family members is growing in society. This often results in family members distancing themselves, putting up strong boundaries and eventually estrangement.”

The changing social climate and generational divide also helps serve as a catalyst for estrangement in some families.

“A lot of research suggests that the last few generations have been ‘me’ generations,” explains Rabbi Beiner. “More parents now spend all their time on their children’s needs. So those kids grow up and they may have missed the memo about any obligation towards your parents. But when you look at other cultures, especially Asian cultures, the child’s obligation to care for their parents is woven strongly throughout society. We don’t have that here.”

Brennen also mentions the volatile political climate as a contributor to increased estrangement, saying: “Politics and different thoughts about the COVID-19 virus can also cause a divide. There’s a lack of people being able to respect one another’s differing beliefs and opinions, which can negatively impact a family.”

How the JF&CS Support Group Helps

The JF&CS support group gives people a safe place to express their feelings about their estrangement situation without judgement, and a place to process the difficult emotions that come along with it. The group also provides a sense of community and support, knowing that the person isn’t alone in his or her situation.

Additionally, the group provides coping mechanisms to help navigate the complexity that estrangement can bring.

“One of the things we talk about in the group are strategies,” explains Rabbi Beiner. “If a birthday comes up, the family members might question whether to send a gift. Or if Thanksgiving is coming up, we could have a conversation on how to plan for that occasion. A lot of the conversations are real-world situations and troubleshooting problems individuals are experiencing.”

The group also shares articles and books that may be helpful to members. Brennen expresses that they try to provide strategy and advice for everyone’s unique situations: “It’s a lot of letting go, processing, accepting, and giving individuals the space to make decisions about what is best for them.”

Currently, the estrangement support group meetings are every other Thursday at 4:00 PM. The groups typically run in an eight-week cycle. The current cycle runs through the end of the year, and you can always continue in the next cycle if you decide to join late. To learn more about the Estrangement Group, please contact Brennen Joseph at (770) 677-9478 or

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