The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Facebook and Estrangement

I often hear from people who have had a bad expeirence when they have either tried to contact, or have been contacted by an estranged family member through facebook, and then they wrestle with what to do.

The advent of many social networking sites has created a dilemma for many estranged, partially estranged, and newly reconciled family members. A common senario:

While perusing facebook, you stumble upon your estranged parent, child, or sibling. Your heart begins to race and your emotions stir like the waves of an ocean being whipped by conflicting winds. What to do? Curiosity get the better of you. Do I send a friends request? Or, not?


You receive a notification that your estranged parent, child, or sibling has sent you a friends request. After the initial shock, your mind goes into overdrive. You may be very wary and not open to reconciliation. Contact through a social networking site causes you to feel intruded upon, stalked, angry, or fearful. The simple solution is to deny the request.

At best, you may find yourself in an awkward position. Even if you are open to reconciliation, granting unrestricted access to your personal life hardly seems wise.

I know people who have begrudgingly granted the request, only to find it necessary to later "block" the family member.

Therein lies the dilemma, if you are open to attempting reconciliation, how do you safe-guard this boundary, deny the request, but still convey an openness to explore a new relationship?

Reconciliation is best attempted in baby-steps; allowing for exercising appropriate boundaries while re-building trust and redefining the relationship and level of contact. The chances for success are greater when proceeding slowly. It is very difficult to pull back when we move too fast.

As tempting as it may seem, in my humble opinion, social networking sites are not the appropriate venue to connect with estranged, or newly reconciled family members. This also appears to be the consensus with many of my counterparts.

Establishing contact through a social networking site is risky business that often results in a lose-lose situation. The person who attempts contact often feels hurt, angry, and rejected, while the one who is contacted can view the intrusion as a boundary violation.

Fortunately, my family members re-established contact privately and to this day we are not social networking "friends." This enabled me to safe-guard my boundaries and explore our relationships at my own pace. If one of my family members had sent me a "friends" request to re-establish contact, I would have felt comfortable exercising a boundary in this area by saying, "I am interested in re-establishing contact through e-mail, and by telephone; however, facebook is not a comfortable arena for me to work at rebuilding a relationship with you."


Karen said...

Excellent advice, Nancy! I agree 100% and have given this same advice to others. Restoration can be a fragile process and needs to be treated like fine, delicate china. I agree, taking slow and small steps is the best way to proceed in restoration.

Anonymous said...

this exact situation happened to me recently. and i'm comforted that the actions i decided to take are exactly the ones you recommend. i was not comfortable accepting the friend request of my sibling, i told him i wasn't comfortable at this point to accept his request but that i was willing to message with him. it just felt too personal to allow him access to my page, photos and everything. i think his feelings were hurt, but i feel good that i took care of myself. i kept a boundary i felt comfortable with, but allowed an amount of open communication to be established - again at a level at which i felt comfortable. i also feel pretty good that i'm not taking his reaction as my responsibility. he is responsible for his own reaction. if he wants to feel sorry for himself, that is his business. he could equally be understanding and respectful. they are his feelings. we are each responsible for taking care of ourselves and managing our own reactions. and that is what i'm doing. thank you for this post! :)

healandforgive said...

Dear Karen,

What a wonderful analogy!:

Restoration can be a fragile process and needs to be treated like fine, delicate china.

Thank you!

healandforgive said...

Wow! MM, Kudos to you!

Boundary issues are very tough for survivors.

Thanks for sharing a perfect model!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Nancy -

I had the experience of finding my abuser via Facebook -- he was the music director of my childhood church, and our church's national organization was very small -- many families have stayed in contact over the years since. So, he is a FB friend of my sister . . and a FB friend of many of my FB friends . . .

It was very shocking to be looking at my sister's friends list and see his face after so many years . . .

Needless to say, I didn't send a friend request to him, especially since I just confronted him via snail mail last summer.

- Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

healandforgive said...

Dear Marie,

How horrible. I would be aghast to find my abuser as a FB friend of one of my siblings and/or friends.

I don't know if your sister and friends know about the abuse, but if so, I would feel betrayed.

Kudos to you for having the courage to confront him!

All my best,

Anonymous said...

To echo Karen, excellent advice!

I do not use FB, or any other social netweorking site, and this is one of the reasons... I simply do not know who might be on there, who might try to contact me... I feel much safer staying away from those sites. But there are some people that I might keep in touch with that way if I could feel brave enough to allow myself some sensible boundaries. And if I could cope with the possibilities.

Mountainmamma, well done! You're absolutely right about him owning his own feelings ;)

And to Marie, I hope there is a comfortable and safe way for you continue to use FB, if that's what you want to do.

I had a friend convince me to sign up to FB a few years ago, to keep in touch when I moved away... the first time I logged in to it a man that I very much wanted to never see or hear anything of again had sent me a friends request. I deactivated the account immediately and have never thought about going back.


Anonymous said...

wow, thanks nancy! i'm so used to people not understanding and thinking i'm being cold and unforgiving for the boundary i've put up with my brother. saying things like "but it's family!"

it's soooo nice to have someone not only understand, but to say such nice things! thank you so much~~ i'm so grateful for you and your blog :)

healandforgive said...

You're Welcome MM,

I'm sorry you haven't received support in this arena. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why people don't understand.

Others who have had a totally different experience because they grew up in "healthy" families often don't understand because they have a different frame of reference - or because they don't understand boundaries themselves.

You definitely deserve support to take care of your own well-being and it sounds like you are doing a great job!

healandforgive said...

Dear Ruth,

Thank you for all of your supportive comments.

The internet offers many wonderful opportunities and can certainly leave us open to vulnerabilities.

Good for you for recognizing your comfort zone and safe-guarding your well-being.

mile191 said...

hmmmm. alot to think about. I like your post just after this one as well. think about writing or submitting one for the carnival.

I am hosting the blog carnival this month. Come join in if you would like. hugs, mile 191

healandforgive said...

Hi Mile191,

Thanks for stopping by. I did notice that you were hosting The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse this month. YAY! I think you'll be a wonderful host.

I love your "FREEDOM TO HEAL" theme. I'll look over my posts to see if i have one that fits and if I don't I'll try to write one before the deadline.

Thanks for the invitation!


Anonymous said...

i have had this experience contacting people from my past that when I knew them then...i knew them well. and decades later, they don't remember me. none of them. talk about rejection and what it feels like. wow. one was a pastor of a church for example. and others were just people i knew. it was a very horrible feeling that NO ONE remembered me. wow. so alone, that feeling. i was stunned.

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for sharing. Social networking sites can be vulnerable stuff.

I'm sorry you felt so alone after reaching out to connect to a shared history....very sad.