Family estrangement has been defined as distancing and loss of affection within a family.

It is not uncommon: research indicates that 1 in 5 families in the UK have been affected by family estrangement and its consequences. It is important to remember you are not alone.

The festive period can be particularly challenging for people who are estranged from their family members. Reminders of happy families and questions from colleagues can be frustrating. Below is a guide intended to help with some common festive frustrations.

During the Christmas period, it can feel like happy families are everywhere. Adverts or images of the idyllic family Christmas can trigger feelings of inadequacy for people that have become estranged from their family or children.

If you’re finding that these adverts are making you frustrated or aggravated, you can try your best to avoid them. But if you feel the frustration building up, have a think about speaking to someone about the feelings they are triggering. It’s better to express these feelings with those that care about you, rather than allowing them to trouble you for months!

Unfortunately, these adverts will reappear every year. Try to remember that these adverts and images are not made to make you feel inadequate. They are commercially generated representations of a picturesque family Christmas and are not necessarily reflective of reality.

As early as November, you may be asked by colleagues or friends about your plans for the Christmas period. It can be challenging for people who are estranged to disclose that they will not be spending Christmas with family. Many worry about facing judgement or awkwardness from others. It can be helpful to try and tackle these questions as honestly as possible. It can sometimes make you feel more frustrated if you respond by lying. Try being vague at first and then if people ask for more information, you can say that you prefer not to or that you find it difficult to talk about your situation.

Here are some suggestions on how to explain:

  • ‘I’ve decided not to go home this year…’
  • ‘I’m spending the day in my new flat…’
  • ‘I’m helping to feed the homeless on Christmas day….’

If deflecting curiosity doesn’t work, a short, frank and honest approach can halt seasonal probing:

  • ‘I don’t see my family much…’
  • ‘My family and I didn’t have the skills to get through some difficulties…’

These questions about family are normally motivated by polite intentions to make casual small talk and are not intended to make you feel uncomfortable. Rememeber family estrangement is common (1 in 5 families have experience) so it is possible that the individual asking you the question has some experience of estrangement themselves. In fact, a lot of people will be secretly envious that you are free to choose your own Christmas, and do not have the obligations that some may find draining.

People who are estranged have said that they often find it hard visiting another family home at Christmas. However, it can also be tricky to decline festive offers from friends and in-laws.

It can be fun to celebrate with friends and have a more traditional Christmas. But, remember that you are under no obligation to have a social Christmas and it is completely fine to spend the day in your own way.

Many people join Crisis at Christmas and unite to feed the homeless – you won’t be alone, and it’s often full of like-minded people who don’t celebrate Christmas Day in the traditional way.

Or going abroad to a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas can be a big relief, especially if you already enjoy foreign travel and are able to splash out.

If you decide you would like to spend Christmas with another family, always make sure to be kind to yourself and remember it is okay to feel overwhelmed. If it starts to feel a bit too much for you, then try taking a break and leaving the situation for a walk or simply sit in another room for a while. Tell your friend or partner that you are finding it difficult - it can be helpful to let them know that you may need to take a break or to have some space before you go over to their home. Being honest about your needs during this period will not automatically make you a burden to others.

As a student, it can be challenging to spend Christmas in halls of residence or student accommodation if you are estranged from your family. Here are some tips to avoid feeling lonely this festive period:

Check if other students are staying for the holidays. Grouping together can be fun over the festive period. You can come together and plan food, drink and activities to make the festive period your own.

Let a student support worker know if you are experiencing anxiety or feeling sad about the holidays. They can help you to find activities or events to help you keep focussed and active.

If a friend invites you to their home for Christmas, think about taking them up on their offer. Attending someone else’s family Christmas is not always easy for people with a complicated family background and some people feel like a burden to others. But, going with this option means that you have someone who cares for you with you if you feel vulnerable and need support. They wouldn’t invite you if they did not want you to be there.

If you feel more comfortable spending Christmas on your own, ask a friend to call or facetime/skype with you at some point during the day. Remember that there is support available (outlined at the end of this article) if you do start to feel down or alone. There are Facebook community groups for people who are estranged from their family and these can be helpful to feel connected to others who are also spending the day on their own.

It can be a refreshing experience to enjoy Christmas on your own in your own way. However, people who are experiencing estrangement have said that it can be an emotional rollercoaster of a day and can be difficult at times, especially if you often check social media. So, it can be good to make sure at least one person knows about your plans and plan to have a chat with them at some point during the day.

The Facebook community groups can be helpful to talk to others who are enjoying Christmas on their own. It can feel good to be social on your own terms, so give others a message throughout the day and send good wishes.

Remember that even if your family situation is different to other people's, it does not mean you can’t celebrate over Christmas. Take the opportunity to do what you want to do - get nice food in, buy yourself the gifts you want and watch your favourite films or TV.

All the family reminders around Christmas time can have you thinking about a possible reconciliation with family members. However, it is very important to think about the decision carefully before you make any movements.

Is Christmas the ideal time to reach out? Is reconnection something you would want at other times in the year? Do you think the people you want to reach out to will be in the right headspace to talk about your family issues at Christmas?

In order to be successful in a reconciliation, it is important that both sides are willing to try and understand each other. If you would like to work towards this then sending a card or gift for Christmas can be a good start. Trying to visit the person when they are not expecting you may not give the results you hope for. It is a very brave move to attempt a reconciliation at Christmas but it could cause you emotional distress if things do not go to plan.

If you have made up your mind that this is what you want to do, then make sure to talk to a friend before you do anything. Explain to them why you have decided to reconnect at this time of year in particular. They can be helpful for advice and it’s good to have someone there for support if things do not go as you would've liked. If you do decide to go ahead, try to call ahead and find out how you will be received.

Always put your own emotional and physical wellbeing first.

Try to remember that not everyone is spending the festive period with their families and a lot of people do not celebrate during this period at all. It can be a really challenging couple of days, but remember you are not alone and you can get through it.

At Keeping Well BLMK, we can provide a safe, supportive space for you to talk about what’s going on for you. We can also help think with you about how you might want to access support and make onward referrals if needed. To get in touch:

  • Stand Alone is a UK charity that supports people who are estranged from relatives. They are there to help people of all ages that become estranged or disowned from their family or key family members. Visit their website for more information and advice.
  • If you feel you need to talk to someone urgently call the Samaritans for free, non-judgemental, and confidential support on 116 123 or email
  • If you are experiencing family estrangement as a result of escaping forced marriage or honour abuse, call the Karma Nirvana helpline 0800 5999247
  • If you are an abuse survivor and want specific help with processing and understanding your past, contact the National Association for People Abused in Childhood support line on 0800 085 3330