When people become estranged from other members of their family, they may experience a loss that is akin to the experience of bereavement. They may also feel a sense of failure at their failure to live up to society's expectations of their role as parent, child or sibling.
That is the finding of research being presented by the Chartered Psychologist Dr Jason Robinson to the annual conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Counselling Psychology in London.
Dr Robinson interviewed 15 people who had become estranged from other members of their families about their feelings, their experiences and how they coped with the situation.
Dr Robinson said: "My core finding was that people feel not only emotionally estranged from family members but also ideologically estranged from prevailing discourses about family relationships. The idea that the family is the central institution of society rests on a lot of assumptions that are rarely examined, and many people's lives do not involve a conventional happy family.
Dr Robinson says that the interviewees highlighted the way that the family can provide practical or moral support in times of hardship.
He continued: "This can make estranged individuals particularly vulnerable in times of need and much more needs to be learnt about how people manage in these conditions.
"However, many people do experience estrangement from their families and often their pain is added to because they also become estranged from the idea that the family is the most important institution in society. We should all reflect on the assumptions we make about the family, because it is such a powerful idea."