Unhappy families: new research shows 9 out of 10 adults estranged from their families struggle over the Christmas period.
As most of us hustle about finalising festive plans and picking up ideal gifts, there will be some of us that will struggle over the coming Christmas period. Our new report looks at the experiences of people who are estranged from family members highlighting the particular difficulties associated with Christmas.
The report, ‘Hidden Voices – Family Estrangement in Adulthood’ a collaboration with the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge and my charity Stand Alone, is the first in depth piece of UK research on family estrangement. It examines the experiences of over 800 people who self-identify as being estranged from their whole family or a key family member, such as their mother, father, siblings or children.
The festive period is often difficult for those touched by family estrangement and can be a key time of isolation and vulnerability, with 90% of respondents saying they found the Christmas period a key time of challenge. Other challenging times were reported as birthdays (85%), being around other families (81%) and the death of family members (79%).
Dr Lucy Blake from the Centre for Family Research explains:
“Almost every estranged person finds Christmas the hardest period. There’s a strong societal expectation of what a family looks like. Social media plays a part too because it becomes a highlight reel of people’s family lives, with Facebook feeds filled with pictures of families celebrating festivities together. The reality doesn’t always look like this, but people often find that side difficult to talk about.”
Common factors that contribute to relationship breakdown with parents, siblings and children include emotional abuse, clashes of personality and values, and mismatched expectations about family roles and relationships.
54% agreed that estrangement or relationship breakdown was common in their family. Stigma around the topic of family estrangement is also an issue: 68% of respondents felt that there was stigma around the topic of family estrangement and described feeling judged and feeling as if they were contradicting societal expectations.
1 in 4 respondents had turned to their GP for support but found them not at all helpful. However, not all experiences of estrangement were negative. Around 80% of respondents felt there had been some positive outcomes of their experiences of estrangement, such as greater feelings of freedom and independence.
I have found that the unconditionally loving, supportive group of family relations is idealised in society, yet this is not always attainable for those who are estranged from their family or a family member. The festive period highlights this fact for many people. This report may be difficult to read in places, but I’m hopeful that society has the strength to keep listening to people in this position, with the view to better understanding why our adult family relationships are not always as unconditionally close and supportive as we might wish and imagine them to be.