parent opinion

'I'm estranged from my sibling, but I don't want to be.'

I have six sisters, and despite the fairly large gap in ages between us, I have a good, loving relationship with five of them. The sixth? It pains me to admit that she's more or less a stranger to me. It's been that way for as long as I can remember, and I can't pinpoint exactly why we've never really been able to forge a strong bond. I do love her – she's my sister. But I don't really know her, and anything that goes on in her life comes filtered down as second-hand information from other members of the family who are better at maintaining communication with her.

Unlike many sibling estrangements, there was never any huge event that caused a rift between us, or a significant fight that created tension. Nor was there any resentment from our shared childhoods, which is another common cause of siblings being torn apart later in life. 

If I had to put it down to one thing, the reason I have never been able to get close to this one younger sister is the fact that we are so different. I'm an empathetic person, but I just don't understand her, or why she does the things she does. I've always described her as not really living in 'the real world', and I guess in that respect, it's as though she's not even really my sister. Certainly not like my other close sisters are. And it doesn't help any chance of bonding when she physically doesn't show up to family events, either.

Video: The unspoken, heroic acts of sisterhood. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

It turns out I'm not alone in my guilt and confusion over not having a relationship with a sibling. As the holiday season drew nearer, many people took to TikTok to share their experiences of growing apart from a sibling they were once close to, or of never really having had the loving bond with a sibling they wanted when they were growing up.

Dealing with guilt over an estrangement.

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Lissy Abrahams explains that family relationships are the most complex of all, and says that it is "normal" for many people to not get along with their siblings – whether that be because of personality differences, circumstantial reasons or for no concrete reason at all.

"Many siblings are not in touch with each other. In the past when humans lived on the savannah, loyal sibling relationships were part of the survival strategy to alert them to predators and to keep each other safe," Abrahams explains. 

"These days, humans are more dispersed and don't have the same role in ensuring each other's survival, so more of them live separately and create more disconnected lives.

She adds, "Many siblings need to adjust their expectations for what the relationship 'should be' and deal with what it actually is in reality. If the guilt isn't dissipating sufficiently, find a good therapist who can help to understand the past experiences that impacted the relationship and process deeper feelings that linger. This may alleviate the guilt by either healing the relationship or accepting the gap that exists between the siblings."


Over on Reddit, the topic of estranged siblings is one that never really loses traction – and for some, that estrangement causes little more than indifference. There are no ill feelings or anger or guilt, just matter-of-factness about two people who have simply been born into the same family, and not necessarily choosing to be tied to one another for life.

One commenter wrote: "I wouldn't say [our relationship is] bad, but my brother and I simply don't keep in touch. He's a lot older than me, so we never really had a close bond or anything. I haven't seen him in eight years, and we text each other like once or twice a year at most."

For others, their expectations of a healthy sibling relationship just never eventuated. "My sister and I grew up in a single-parent household. And although you would think that would make us closer, we never got along. To the point that now, in my adulthood, we don't speak at all and I can barely recall any memories growing up with her."

It's never too late to reconnect.

If it was childhood behaviours or family issues that caused the rift, as adults looking at the situation, they're more likely to be able to take the mature, understanding path to reconciliation.


Abrahams explains, "Sibling dynamics can change in adulthood. As adults, they've matured and can step outside of their childhood version of their sibling to see other perspectives. Children can adopt victim-like positions and as an adult they often understand that life is more complex than that. This can help them develop a more empathic view of what their sibling experienced in childhood."

Rifts can often begin in childhood. Image: Getty.


Reuniting with an estranged sibling for the holidays can cause anxiety for some, who anticipate awkwardness or confrontation, but there are ways to get through it, and even use it to move towards reconnection if that is your hope.

First, Abrahams suggests being realistic about the situation. "You're unlikely to work through long-standing issues with your sibling on this occasion, unless a quick apology from either one of you is all that's needed. However, it may be that you both soften on this occasion and want to connect, so be open to the possibility of repair in your relationship."

Abrahams also advises people to think ahead about what you hope to gain from the situation, and plan your thoughts and actions accordingly. "Plan in advance how you want to interact with them. You can keep your distance if you want or you can keep conversations light, or look for topics with some common ground.

"You can set boundaries around uncomfortable topics and steer the conversation away, or limit your time together – or even take your leave."

Feature Image: Getty.

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