The Pain of Family Estrangement

A strained, distant or broken relationship with a family member is one of the most painful things a person can experience. When your childhood was complicated by abuse, neglect or trauma, the relationships you have with your family in adulthood can continue to be painful, confusing and sometimes difficult to endure. Often, the hurtful or dysfunctional behaviors continue, even after you've left home and established your own life.

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From the outside, it can be so hard to understand how family members can become estranged from each other. But the heartbreak of distancing or cutting off contact with a parent or sibling can stem from traumatic events, such as emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect, growing up in a household with mental illness or addiction. According to Kylie Agllias, author of Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective, these particular issues strain family relationships in ways that make families vulnerable to estrangement.

Estrangement takes many forms. Efforts to establish emotional distance while maintaining contact. A breakdown of support. Complete cut off of communication and contact. Trying to figure out what kind of relationship you can have with someone who's hurt, neglected or abused you is a painful process. Many questions arise during the process of trying to determine how to approach such damaged relationships. How much time can you spend talking with or visiting them? How much will you let them know about your life? Do you need to take a break from the relationship for awhile to give yourself time work through and heal from trauma? Or is contact with this person just too painful, damaging?

Many of the people I see in my therapy practice are struggling with this painful issue-either after becoming estranged from family members or as they're trying to find a way to stay connected. When there has been abuse or a failure on the part of parent to acknowledge or protect against abuse, the adult parent child relationship is often deeply effected. If estrangement has grown out of a history of abuse between parent and child, the decision to cut off contact or find a way to maintain some sort of connection is naturally fraught with having to make decisions that will promote your own well-being and healing.

In her book Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective, Kylie Agllias writes that: “estrangement from a perpetrator of abuse is a legitimate and often essential way to promote health and healing for survivors. There are times when reconciliation is not appropriate. There are other instances where survivors of abuse find some form of reconciliation or forgiveness important to their health and healing. The very personal decision to estrange or attempt some form of reconciliation is one that should always be respected.”

A broken family relationship is often difficult to talk about openly. Trying to explain why you're estranged or distant from your family can add to the distress of your experience- and add to the guilt, anxiety and shame that can become overwhelming at times. It's common for those who are estranged from their family to try to conceal this part of their lives, for fear of being judged, criticized or to avoid stigma. Add to this the fact that abuse is often kept secret, hidden away from others in the family and the community, making it that much more difficult to find the understanding and support you need.

Therapy can be a safe place to thoughtfully explore what you need for your own healing and how to best approach your family relationships-whether you're ready to work toward a reconciliation, to grieve the loss of the relationship that you can longer be a part of, or to find somewhere in between.

To read more on this topic, check out this recent article from the New York Times:

If you're concerned about how the past is impacting you now, help is available.  To learn more about how therapy can help, please give me a call at (626) 808-5463 or email me at  I look forward to talking to you- Holly

Haunted: Living With Unresolved Childhood Trauma


Like a ghost, your traumatic past can come back to haunt you long after that part of your life is over. Disturbing memories may intrude, and stir up feelings about events that you thought you'd left behind. Because of the way traumatic memories are stored, reminders of disturbing events can stir up trouble in your body, your mind and your relationships, and make the past feel ever present.

Ghosts from the past

Common life experiences can bring up reminders of the past. Traumas large and small, issues that you may have already worked through, or that hadn't been bothering you for years can be reignited by a big change in your life or a seemingly minor event.

A situation at work may leave you feeling on edge, wary of others. A health crisis leaves you feeling dependent, or helpless. Changes in relationships can unsettle your sense of security. Life altering events like having a baby, a sudden loss or death, or a taking on a new roles, such as caregiving for a parent- all of these kinds of situations can open up old feelings and memories and bring the past rushing back. And often, like a troublesome ghost, it can be difficult to figure out just exactly where your emotional and physical reactions are coming from, what's causing you to feel this way.

Strong connections exist between childhood trauma and challenges in adulthood.

Unresolved trauma is one of the most common reasons people seek therapy, and early experiences are a common focus in trying to answer questions about why you're struggling right now.

Childhood is a time when we need to experience a sense of security and being loved, to help develop a sense trust in self and others. But when childhood is complicated by abuse (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse), neglect, and other types of traumas (large and small), the ability to trust ourselves and connect to others can be compromised. Common problems linked to childhood trauma include:

  • difficulty handling emotions

  • increased risk for anxiety, depression, PTSD

  • feelings of shame and guilt

  • low self esteem

  • feeling alienated and difficulty relating to others

  • self destructive behaviors, including problems with alcohol/drugs

But this happened so long ago. It shouldn't be bothering me now.”

Adults who find themselves once again dealing with the past often make comments like “I'm a grownup. This shouldn't still be bothering me”. However, study after study has shown that adverse events in our younger years can be linked to problems in adulthood. One recent longitudinal study published earlier this year found that women who experience adverse events during their formative years (abuse, neglect or family dysfunction) are more likely to experience depression during midlife when compared to women who did not experience these kinds of stressors. (Read the study here: Another important longitudinal study, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) showed important connections between childhood abuse and neglect and a person's health and well-being later in life.

Overcoming Childhood Trauma

While childhood trauma can make your life more challenging at times, it doesn't have to define you and how you live your life. Therapy can help you establish a sense of safety, and develop the tools and understanding of yourself you need in order to free yourself from the grip that trauma can have on you. So that you can enjoy your life and the people in it. Develop more confidence and trust in yourself. Find peace of mind.

If you're concerned about how the past is impacting you now, help is available.  To learn more about how therapy can help, please give me a call at (626) 808-5463 or email me at  I look forward to talking to you- Holly

When Anxiety Does More Than Make You Worry

What is Anxiety?


There are plenty of reasons to feel anxious these days. Just a quick glance at news headlines can rattle nerves. Relationships can cause us to fret and worry. Careers create apprehension and angst. Managing stress and anxiety is something everyone must do to some extent. It's just a part of life.

But when anxiety does more than make you worry, fearful thoughts and panic can balloon out of proportion, and make it difficult just getting through the day. And if you've survived trauma, anxiety often worsens traumatic stress and PTSD.  Knowing the difference between normal worry or stress and serious anxiety can be a bit confusing.  But if anxiety is interfering in how you take care of yourself and your ability to engage in your life, it's important to try to figure it out.

Good things to know about anxiety

The statistics:

If anxiety is interfering with your life, you're not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is the most common mental health problem in the United States, affecting almost one-third of adults.

(And adolescents. Parents, read this recent article:

Why we all have some anxiety:

Anxiety has a purpose. It helps us notice and avoid dangerous or risky situations. But when anxiety takes over, you may begin to avoid anxiety producing situations to try to get it to stop. Anxiety symptoms can feel so intense, you just want to rid yourself of it. Staying within a comfort zone(or trying to appease your anxiety) can feel like a relief in the short term. But this kind of coping strategy usually just leads to worsening the anxiety in the long run.

When anxiety takes charge:

Anxiety can quickly become a bully(as many people have described their anxiety to me), pushing you around and controlling too much of your life. Anxiety can affect the way you feel about yourself,and influence how you go about your day-to-day. And anxiety is very common among those who are recovering from depression, trauma, or PTSD, just making things more difficult.

Help for anxiety:

When you're struggling to manage anxiety, a positive first step is to equip yourself with some facts.

The symptoms of anxiety can be very physical, and can easily be mistaken for something else. Many of the people I've worked with commonly end up in the doctor's office or emergency room with panic or anxiety, thinking that they're having heart or breathing problems. Digestive issues can also worsen with anxiety, requiring medical help. Sometimes, you might feel like you're going “crazy”, or that something is very wrong with you. Getting to know how anxiety is showing up in your life will help you free yourself from its grip.

If you're curious about common signs/symptoms of anxiety, here is a link to a helpful article:


One last note about anxiety:

If you're suffering with anxiety, you understandably want relief. The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable. I offer therapy for anxiety disorders, and for unresolved trauma and depression which commonly occur along with anxiety. Anxiety takes many forms and effects each person in unique ways. I integrate traditional talk therapies (Psychodynamic and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as well as EMDR, (a therapy developed for the treatment of trauma) to create an approach that's responsive to your needs and experience.

If you'd like to learn more about how I can help you overcome anxiety, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or 





What is Postpartum Anxiety?

When you venture into motherhood, it's natural and expected to struggle with some level of anxiety. So how do you know when your anxiety has become a problem?

Will I be a good mom? Will my baby be healthy? What if something bad happens? Most moms can relate to anxiety producing questions like these because there are so many unknowns when you have a baby. 

But for many women, anxiety can get in the way of enjoying your new baby. If worry, fear or panic begin to take hold and overwhelm your ability to take care of yourself and your family, it may be time to get help.

Here are some things to know if you're struggling with anxiety:

Your experience is not unusual. Anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum is common. Due to so many changes during and after pregnancy, women become more vulnerable to serious problems with anxiety during pregnancy and after delivery. According to Postpartum Support International 6 - 10% of women will develop problems with anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum(including panic, OCD, generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress), and even more will experience anxiety along with depression.

Anxiety is experienced differently for each woman. Symptoms of anxiety can be felt in your body, your mind and often result in changes in how you go about your day. Learning to effectively manage anxiety usually involves recognizing how anxiety is affecting you -how it shows up in your daily life and impacts your ability to take care of yourself and your baby. Common signs of problematic anxiety are:

  • physical tension, racing heart, nausea/stomach distress, shallow breathing, tight chest

  • avoiding daily activities due to fear, like driving, going out of the house with the baby

  • relentless worry and obsessing, imagining worst case scenarios

  • panic

  • scary/disturbing intrusive thoughts, usually about harm coming to the baby

  • sleep disturbance due to worried thoughts or behaviors, such as frequently feeling the need to check on the baby throughout the night

  • feeling nervous, on edge for most of the day

  • avoiding certain situations or activities, such as driving or leaving the house

  • concern about being alone with the baby

Anxiety is treatable. Getting the right kind of support can help you learn to effectively manage anxiety and find relief. Opening up a conversation about how anxiety is affecting you can be difficult, and many women believe that they should be able to handle problems on their own. But remaining silent or trying keep up the appearance that everything is okay usually just prolongs the problem. The sooner you get help, the more quickly you'll find relief and get back to feeling more like yourself.

Call (626) 808-5463 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.  I would love to talk to you about how I can help.