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As children, the sitcoms and movies we watched led many of us to believe that families were comprised of loving, devoted people who shared strong bonds and supported one another no matter what happened.
For many of us, the reality of family life didn’t turn out to be quite so idyllic.
In fact, many people feel little to no connection to their family members at all.
They may care about them, and even love them in their own way, but they don’t miss them when they aren’t around. Furthermore, the care they have for their siblings, parents, and beyond may either be on par with how they feel about their friends, or even significantly less.
The expectation that one “should” have a strong connection to family members might lead some people to believe that there’s something wrong with them. After all, those heartwarming holiday movies wouldn’t exist if they weren’t inspired by true events, right?
Well, not necessarily. There’s a massive rift between what other people think family dynamics “should” be like and how they actually turn out. Furthermore, there’s no right or wrong way to feel about anyone—whether you share genetics with them or not.
If you feel little to no connection to your family, and you’ve been trying to understand why, it’s important to try to discern where this lack of connection stems from. Once you determine that, you can figure out which steps to take next, if any.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist because they are best-placed to help you understand, address, and cope with the lack of connection you feel with your family. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient (get 10% off your first month when you sign up through this link).
7 Reasons You Feel Disconnected From Your Family
There can be countless different reasons why you might feel disconnected from your relatives, whether biological or adoptive. Some of them may be a result of the role you had in your dysfunctional family, while others are simply due to circumstance or individual personality.
The list below encompasses some of the most common reasons for familial disconnect, though situations will differ for every individual.
1. You’re the black sheep.
In many dysfunctional families, there’s a “golden child” and a “black sheep.” Generally, the former is the child who’s idolized for being exactly what the parents always dreamed of. In contrast, the black sheep is the rebel: the defiant, independent kid who refuses to play along with their abusive family’s crap.
Sometimes the black sheep of the family stands out because they’re naturally different from the rest of their relatives. For example, they might be a musician in a family of math geniuses or have more liberal views than their conservative relatives. In other situations, they intentionally rebel against the perspectives and expectations that others try to impose upon them.
Either way, it’s difficult to have a connection to people who are the complete opposite to you. You can’t discuss topics they’re into if you have no interest or knowledge in them, and vice versa.
Similarly, you won’t be able to talk about things that are important to you if they find everything about your life to be disappointing or offensive. It’s often easier to withdraw and remain at a distance than try to take part in conversations or activities you have no interest or skill in.
2. You were the family scapegoat.
Another way to phrase this is that you were everyone’s emotional punching bag and blame-carrier for everything that went wrong. If dinner got burned, it wasn’t the fault of the one cooking; you distracted them (even if you were on a different floor)!
Alternatively, the mere fact that you exist may be the cause of everything bad happening in their life. They might tell you that they would have been happier if you’d never been born, that you’re a burden they were forced to take care of, or similar pleasantries.
If you were scapegoated on a regular basis, then you likely learned early that you aren’t able to trust anyone in your family. After all, they proved to you time and time again that your only purpose was to take the blame for all the family ills.
They may have even love-bombed you on occasion to reel you back in if it seemed as though you were pulling away, only to drop another motherlode of misery on you the next time they were upset.
In a case like this, it’s not a surprise if you have no connection to the people who mistreated you for years.
3. Your family has experienced a tragedy or other intense hardship.
This happens more often than not, and it is actually one of the primary contributing factors to relationship breakdown.
A tragic experience can often make or break a relationship, and that goes for familial bonds as well as romantic pairings. For instance, an accident that results in the loss of a child doesn’t just impact the parents, but the siblings and grandparents as well.
Sometimes it isn’t loss that can damage family dynamics, but a personal, mental, or physical health breakdown. Let’s say one of the parents experiences intense difficulty and goes through a period of heavy drinking or drug use. They may be abusive toward everyone around them, and even if they get help and clean up, the damage has already been done.
One can forgive and forget, but there are some situations you can’t simply bounce back from.
4. You’re hesitant to form bonds because of your own past behaviors.
Sometimes connections are broken due to our own actions, rather than those of others. For example, if you went through a period of difficulty in your teens or early twenties, you may have alienated your family members through the choices you made at that time.
Although you may have cleaned up your act and changed your life from that point onward, they might still see you as the person you were then. As such, they might be cold toward you or scrutinize your every word and action to see if you’re going to fall back into old habits.
It’s difficult to be comfortable around people who are constantly expecting you to screw up, even if you’ve proven to them that you’ve changed. Similarly, they might feel like they’re walking on eggshells so as not to trigger you into repeating past harmful behaviors. As such, the disconnect happens on both sides and nobody’s happy.
5. You were (or perhaps still are) neglected.
Although neglect may not cause the same types of overt scars as physical abuse, it can still be incredibly damaging. Neglect can occur due to countless different reasons, but the end result is a profound lack of connection.
You may have been trying to establish bonds with your family members for years, only to be ignored or set aside until “later,” but that “later” never happened. As a result, you had to make sure that your own needs were met without any help.
This may have taught you independence and self-sufficiency, but it also let you know that your family members didn’t care enough about you to put any effort into you.
In fact, if the neglect happened in early childhood, you may be dealing with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). When an infant or very young child doesn’t receive the emotional attention it needs, that child will subconsciously turn off emotional receptivity.
As a result, they may find it difficult (or even impossible) to form connections with others as they go through life. The neglect they experienced may have been unintentional, but it can damage a person’s ability to form real bonds with others for the rest of their lives.
Neglect often happens when the parents are stretched thinly and prioritize some of their children over the others. For instance, younger siblings and those with special needs take up more of their parents’ time and energy, so the older or neurotypical ones are cast aside. As a result, they end up feeling unimportant and unable to trust or rely on anyone but themselves.
6. You have nothing in common with them.
This sometimes goes along with being the “black sheep” of the family, but sometimes it’s simply a case of having absolutely nothing in common with the people you’re related to either by blood or adoption.
It’s rather like trying to connect with coworkers or friend groups whose interests and hobbies are the complete opposite to your own. How can you create a bond when there’s absolutely no common ground?
Things get even more difficult if those around you mock you for your interests. Are you a bookworm in a family of sports fanatics? Or a fitness fan surrounded by couch potatoes?
When those close to you constantly put you down or sabotage you when you try to pursue your own interests, it’s unsurprising that you want to keep them at a distance—both emotionally and physically.
Then there are issues such as politics and religion that can be very polarizing. The wider the gap between the two parties, the more communication and connection suffer.
7. You’re neurodivergent.
People who are on the autism spectrum or have other types of neurodivergence may find it difficult to establish strong connections with other people. This doesn’t mean that they don’t feel love, empathy, or other emotions; they just can’t read body language or clue into social cues.
As a result, they may feel alienated from the rest of their family, rather like an outsider who’s playing a role among people they have to live with. It seems like, at least hypothetically, they should get along with them because of blood ties, but they just don’t.
Unintentional miscommunications can cause tension, which might create an even larger rift. Similarly, discomfort with situations or stimuli that don’t bother anyone else might make the rest of the family irritable and resentful toward the autistic family member.
If you’re neurodivergent (or suspect that you might be), you may be much more comfortable spending time with the family pet(s) than with your parents or siblings. After all, there are no subtle nuances to try and pick up from their behavior, nor subtexts in the words they say. Animal behavior is very easy to understand, and they love without judgment.
What To Do About The Lack Of Connection
Ultimately there are three options you can choose from if you feel no connection to your family. You can either try to form connections with the family members you like and want to be closer to or accept that it’ll never happen and move on. Below are some tips on how you can go about doing each of these once you determine the approach that you feel is best for all of you.
Option 1: Try to rebuild the bonds between you and your relatives.
If you want to have more of a connection with your family, there are a few techniques that you can try. Different approaches will work in different circumstances, especially if there are cultural or generational differences involved, so adapt these to best suit your needs.
Be honest with them.
One of the best things you can do if you want to establish or strengthen bonds with others is to tell them how you’re feeling. Of course, this can be difficult if circumstances have caused a rift between you or if there are notable differences that you’d need to overcome.
For example, older relatives from certain cultural backgrounds may feel uncomfortable demonstrating affection toward their family members. They might never apologize when they do you wrong, nor tell you how they feel about you. As such, if you’re trying to forge new bonds with them, you might experience pushback because of their discomfort.
If you know that a verbal, in-person discussion would do more harm than good, try writing them a letter (or email) instead. This allows you to get everything you want to say out in the open without worrying about stammering or getting emotional. You can edit it until you’re satisfied, and then let them respond to you when they’re ready.
Try to avoid being accusatory, especially if you feel as though they’ve neglected you. As we mentioned earlier, neglect is rarely intentional and often happens when parents are dealing with far more than they’re capable of handling.
Instead, use “I feel” statements and leave space open for kind, compassionate discussion. They may not even be aware of how their actions have affected you, so telling them how you feel may give them the opportunity to make you more of a priority.
Similarly, be open to the possibility that they might tell you about ways in which you’ve alienated them in turn. You may feel that you’ve been an ideal sibling/child/parent/and so on, but those around you may have a significantly different perspective.
If you express to your family member that you’re sad that you don’t have a bond with them, and they come back and tell you that this rift has occurred because of hurtful behaviors on your part, listen to them.
All relationships require give, take, and compromise. Listen to one another, seek to understand where everyone else is coming from, and then determine the best way to move forward together.
Create an opportunity to bond.
You might feel that you have absolutely nothing in common with your family members, but there has to be something that you all enjoy or feel strongly about.
As an example, the lot of you might be complete opposites, but everyone loves the eldest member of the family. If this is the case, you can broach the possibility of working together to host a beautiful celebration for this revered grandparent. It’s likely that everyone will jump on board for such an occasion, and you can all put your individual talents to good use to make this happen.
Are you the only member of your family who can’t cook to save your life? That’s okay. Let the others organize the menu, catering, and so on, and you can sort out decorations or music. Let everyone work to their strengths so together you can create the event of the century.
Tempers might still flare here and there during the planning stages, but it’s likely that the good memories will far outweigh the tensions. The end result will be that everyone will experience joy and satisfaction, and you’ll have bridged the gap that’s been wedged between all of you for who knows how long.
Option 2: Accept that you don’t have a connection, and likely never will.
Sometimes, forging new bonds just isn’t an option, and the best course of action is simple acceptance.
Once one accepts a situation instead of wishing it were something else, it becomes a lot easier to deal with. This is because there’s a solid path ahead instead of multiple “what if?” options going off in all directions.
Think of it rather like someone coming to terms with the fact that they have a chronic or terminal illness. Instead of searching for possible cures or remedies, they can work with what they have and take the best route forward for them.
Take some time to grieve.
You’ve likely spent years wearing yourself thin, trying to gain the approval (or even the acknowledgement) of family members who were supposed to like and care about you. When you get to a point where you realize this is never going to happen, that’s going to hurt. For some people, it’ll hurt as badly as the death of a loved one.
After all, it hurts like hell to come to terms with the fact that your family doesn’t care much about you. You may have been the ideal child and sibling, but we can’t force people to love us any more than we can force ourselves to love those whom we feel nothing for.
As a result, you’ll need to take some time to mourn the loss of something that never was but that you may have always dreamed would happen. The hope you carried within you has been snuffed out, and that hurts like hell. But once the pain starts to ease off, it’s also immensely freeing.
Know that there’s no time limit on the grieving process. Some people get over difficult situations quickly, while others may still weep for what might have been decades after the rift occurred.
If you find that you’re stuck in a depressive spiral, or you feel lost at the idea of being “alone” in the world without a family to help support you, consider talking to a therapist.
Your friends or religious advisors may be able to help you out emotionally, at least a little bit, but a therapist can help you dig into the reasons why you’re feeling this way, as well as offer guidance about how to create your own support network.
Get to know who you are outside of the role you’ve been playing for others’ benefit.
Earlier, we briefly touched upon the fact that you may have had to play a particular role in your dysfunctional family. For example, if they scapegoated you on a regular basis or forced you to be the “black sheep” (whether that’s your natural inclination or not), you may have had to take on certain characteristics in order to keep the peace.
Once you’re out of an environment like that, it can be difficult to figure out who you really are. After all, you’ve never had the opportunity to do that before. It may take some time to find out what you like and dislike and what makes you most comfortable.
As an example, my partner grew up with a narcissistic mother and can only cry silently even when she’s seriously upset. She learned early on that she’d be punished severely if anyone heard her crying, so she trained herself to be silent all the time as a defense mechanism. It took years for her to be able to sing aloud (which was also forbidden), but she still can’t make a sound when weeping—even in pain.
Analyze your actions and choices for a while to determine whether you’re behaving authentically or doing what you think other people will approve of the most. Then try to be honest with your inner self to determine whether you sincerely enjoy your daily choices or if you’d be happier doing something else.
You may discover that you’re far happier eating differently than you did in their presence, as well as dressing in a style that feels “right” to you. Additionally, you may do away with habits or traditions that you always disliked. Basically, you don’t have to keep playing pretend or tolerating others’ awful behavior toward you for the sake of possibly forging a bond.
That weight has been lifted forever.
Option 3: Maintain distance to see what happens.
The amount of distance you create with your family members will depend on the kind of relationship you want to have with them in the future. For example, you don’t need to cut ties with your family completely if you’d still like to be involved in holiday gatherings or if you are hoping to help elderly or ill relatives in the future.
In cases like this, maintaining a respectful distance is a good course of action. Be pleasant and polite during short phone conversations or text exchanges, but don’t go out of your way to spend time together. Treat your family members the same way you would your neighbors or coworkers.
In contrast, if you feel that staying in contact with them will result in more suffering on your part, cutting ties and going no-contact might be the best course of action.
Interestingly, this can often have the unexpected effect of creating the very familial connections that you never had before. It’s like the old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Quite often, people don’t realize how amazing people are until they’re no longer in their lives.
If you choose to distance yourself from your family, the absence you leave in their lives might jolt them into putting effort into having a real relationship with you. Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. Sometimes it simply makes people take others for granted. They expect their family members to always be around, and when they aren’t anymore, it’s a sobering slap into reality.
Unfortunately, the same is true for abusive family dynamics. If you’ve been the scapegoat for years and suddenly cut ties with your abusers, they might go out of their way to force you back into the role you’re escaping. Take this into consideration and do what you need to do in order to protect yourself.
Whether the space you take from your family results in closer bonds or unbridled freedom, it’s almost always the healthiest course of action you can take. Those who truly want you in their lives will put the effort into reconnecting with you. In contrast, if they don’t make an effort, you’ll have extricated yourself from people who don’t recognize your worth.
Ultimately, the most important thing you may learn from all of this is that you’re not obligated to feel anything for anyone, and that includes family members.
While the idea of a wholesome family connection is still upheld by many, the reality is that “family” consists of people who sincerely love, trust, and care for one another. If these people aren’t found amongst one’s relatives, they will undoubtedly reveal themselves in time.
Still not sure why you feel so little connection to your family or what you should do about it? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.
Speak to a therapist about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to dig deep into the reasons why you feel the way you do and provide tailored advice on what to do next.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message. And you'll get 10% off your first month when signing up through this link.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.