Subject: An Interview with Dr. Laura on Family Estrangements
Date: 2003-04-01

An Interview with Dr. Laura on Family Estrangements
Mimi Avins, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, writing an article about "Family Estrangements", recently interviewed Dr. Laura. Read Dr Laura's full responses to Mimi's questions below.

Fr: Dr. Laura C. Schlessinger (California State Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)

Date: April 1, 2003

Re: Family Estrangements
  1. “Please explain your point of view on why it can sometimes be a healthy decision for an individual to have nothing to do with a family member or members.,”
    A wonderful, compassionate, strong, and important book on this subject is an “oldie”: "Necessary Losses" by Judith Viorst. Basically, as I explain often on my radio program, any individual has the right and responsibility to self-defense; “self” is defined as one’s own person as well as spouse and children. In a situation where it is clear that an association with a family member is dangerous or destructive, it would be considered unhealthy to continue contact. I always try to get callers who are contemplating an end to contact to clearly distinguish between “dangerous/destructive and just plain “annoying.” When the family member is simply annoying, my recommendation is usually three-fold: (1) be respectful and polite and (2) minimize, but don’t eliminate contact, and (3) accept the reality of their personality/character and stop frustrating yourself with unrealistic expectations and stop trying to get them to be what they aren’t. Number (3) is usually the most difficult because people have to deal with loss.

  2. “If a family member is a drug addict or alcoholic, and their addiction has governed treatment of a family member, is a decision not to speak to them an outgrowth or corollary of the tough-love approach?”
    On-going abuse of drugs or alcohol usually result in behaviors which are destructive and even dangerous to other family members. My first recommendation is an “intervention ,” that is, a formal meeting of family and friends of the addict or alcoholic, often together with a mental health specialist, in an attempt to influence the addict or alcoholic to seek treatment. Where that has failed, and the behaviors of that addict are injurious to another’s well-being, it is understandable that they would separate out in order to protect themselves. I do not ever recommend separation as a manipulation tool – therefore, I do not see it as a so-called “tough-love” measure.

  3. “Are estrangements from family members really attempts to control, i.e. do it my way or I’ll never speak to you again? Does that ever work?
    No, indeed, it is the opposite! Estrangements under those conditions are a reaction to being controlled by the addict or alcoholic!! Many ex -addicts and ex -alcoholics, however, who have called my radio program express that one of the motivations for changing their lives was the loss of important friends and family who had had enough. In retrospect, they express understanding and agreement with those people having left them considering what they were like.

  4. “For someone who has “divorced” a toxic family, can a surrogate family of friends take their place?”
    It’s not usual that someone has to divorce a whole family. That is generally only the case when there is/was severe sexual or physical abuse and the family is rallying around the “secret” instead of the “victim.” One of my frequently repeated mantras to this issue is the following: “God gives each of us two opportunities to have a wonderful parent-child relationship – first as a child, then as the parent.” I remind listeners and callers that they have a choice – they can perpetually suffer, mourn, and battle the dangerous/destructive types in their lives, or they can move forward and create beauty and happiness by opening their minds, hearts, arms, and lives to other wonderful people out there who can offer them acceptance and affection. They have a choice.

  5. “Do you think your view on family estrangements is threatening to some people and if so, why?”
    Sometimes – but not for long. Some people find it too painful to accept the reality of who or what their family member is. They are stuck in defining themselves through the acceptance by that “evil” individual. They may find it difficult to let go and become healthy. This is most typically the case when the interaction with that family member persisted throughout their childhood – and now they’re filled with self-doubts, low self-esteem, fears, hurts, humiliations and so forth. It takes time, patience, and compassion for them to take those steps to move away from the darkness.

    I would also assume that the “evil-doers” (to quote President Bush) are not happy losing control of their victim.

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