When Family Members Drift Apart - A
Spiritual Perspective

By Julie Redstone

Relationships that are inherited often feel like they are not chosen. Some are peaceful and loving, but many are embattled or difficult in other ways. Sometimes the reasons for creating distance seem more compelling than the reasons for creating love, yet in all cases it is of benefit to the heart and soul to create a path of return to love.

For example, there are times when members of a family become engaged in long-standing disputes with each other with ongoing feelings of tension, irritability, and judgment that take on a life of their own. This can result in a stand-off over many years in which others are tolerated, but not with a great deal of good-will. There are also times when something much quieter and more subtle takes place which creates distance between oneself and others. Often the reasons are unclear, but may appear to have to do with differences in values which create obstacles to closeness. In the presence of the former, anger and judgment of one toward another can go on for years, even for a lifetime, while in the presence of the latter, we can drift so far apart from members of our family that the original reason for doing so is lost in a haze of indifference and neglect. Then, a bridge must be created to span the chasm that has developed between us and those whom we are related to, not only biologically but spiritually as well.

The need to build a bridge to others who seem lost to us or separated from us is a need of a spiritual kind, for it involves acknowledging the inner nature of the relationship between ourselves and our parents, ourselves and our children, ourselves and siblings. These relationships have all been chosen on a soul-level in order to establish themes of meaning in our passage through life, and the sense of their importance must apply even to relationships that appear confusing, misplaced, or lacking in love, as well as to those that seem gracious and light-filled. Generally, the challenges presented to us by relationships that are difficult are among the most central challenges of our life, and their mastery can become pivotal turning points for us, affecting the rest of life in other areas as well.

In the case of anger and judgment, the path to forgiveness and acceptance is the one that must be found, for in the absence of forgiveness we carry the pain of self-judgment with us throughout life as well as judgment of the other. This is because judgment of another is always and without exception based on judgment of the self in some way that remains hidden. And because it is hidden, it is revealed only by what we reject in another. Often, this is hard to see, and yet rejection of another for seemingly 'justifiable' reasons is always rejection of that part of the self that is like or could be like the other who cannot be forgiven.

In the case of alienation, estrangement, and distance between family members, the situation is somewhat different. Here, there is not the volatility or heat of anger to bring family members into a confrontational engagement. Rather, there is a quiet lack of feeling which covers another more profound layer of experience, namely, a sense of sorrow or loss, based on the feeling that love is not or was not possible. This sense of loss or lack can permeate a relationship on a cellular level so that it no longer seems possible to be in a relationship at all. It can be buried so deeply that it may be impossible to remember that there was a time when love was present or a time when love was lost. In our awareness, the original experience of woundedness becomes covered over, and in its place we find a sense of apathy or indifference - tools of the psyche that are designed to conceal the more painful experience of feeling that love could not be. The reasons for this may have been unknown to us in the past and may continue to be unknown, and yet the separation remains.

To take the step toward building a bridge across the gulf of estrangement, one must first have a heart that is unwilling to accept indifference as a solution to problems or as an attitude in life. One must be willing to let the heart grow larger so that more caring is possible, and out of this caring can grow a willingness to experience the original hurt and the original decision to withdraw. Without the willingness to give up indifference or apathy, a soul cannot move past the comfort that comes from not having to deal with things, and can remain, sometimes for a lifetime, in a place where nothing disturbs but nothing grows either.

The spiritual or karmic bonds between family members tend to be very strong, reflecting the choice that souls make to gather together in family groups in order to promote each other's learning. That the choice has been deliberate on a soul-level does not mean that the path of relationship is peaceful, however. It means that the relationship itself can result in something that is good and beneficial for both. It can be used to promote growth and the expansion of possibilities for the heart and soul that would be missed were the relationship not in the picture. Where relationships in families are nourishing and supportive, this may be easy to see. Where they are difficult or destructive, this may be harder to understand.

Nevertheless, even in cases where relationships are difficult or painful – even in such cases, souls have come together in order to learn from such relationships. Often, the learning is one of the heart about what to appreciate in life, what to seek, what to value. This requirement of learning does not mean that one need stay longer than is necessary in a harmful or destructive relationship in order to learn what is needed. But it does mean that the inner pursuit of meaning needs to take place so that where woundedness has been part of the relationship, so too, can forgiveness and compassion become part of it. Sometimes, this is the work of an entire lifetime.

There are, in the end, no relationships within families that cannot find their way back to love. This is true no matter how far apart family members may be physically, and no matter how many years have passed. There are no relationships in which the heart cannot seek to extend itself in love and forgiveness to all. It is a matter of viewing things from the perspective of the soul, a perspective which understands that each being who comes into our life, and especially those with whom we have a significant relationship, come bearing gifts of learning and of growth. The learning, indeed, may be the increased capacity to love and to forgive what seems unforgivable. Yet whatever the focus, the soul-nature of relationships within families is a reason to build bridges of healing to all from whom we have become separated, because in the building of such bridges, love and an honoring of the unity of Spirit is affirmed over indifference and anger, and we redeem the lost or alienated parts of ourselves as well as what has been lost in the other.

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