When someone has been cut off by a family member, he or she often feels immense hurt, incomprehension, rage, rejection, and a sense of injustice. Of course, this can be true for the initiator of a cutoff as well. Even when someone initiates a cutoff for legitimate reasons (abuse or betrayal, for example), the initiator is still likely to experience regret, sadness, and longing for what might have been. Indeed, the profoundly damaging power of a protracted cutoff can last a lifetime—for initiators and those on the receiving end of cutoffs.
Helping families heal cutoffs is painstakingly delicate work, with a high risk for stumbling over buried land mines. Therefore, I always start by asking the client whether physical violence of any sort has occurred. If so, I calculate, based on when and how it happened, the seriousness of it and the likelihood that violence will erupt again as a result of attempting reconnection. If the risk of repeat violence seems too great, I may see a client individually but postpone or discourage any attempt at reconciliation.
Some cases can’t or shouldn’t be reconciled, but if resolution is the goal, I suggest a meeting with each family member separately as a prelude to scheduling joint sessions. If anyone outright refuses the individual session, I work with the initiating party to bring that person in through methods that may even involve a neutral third party.
In each individual session, I keep expectations low by…