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MY STORY

I create research and support for people impacted by family estrangement

 

There are millions of us out there who have a cut off experience of family but so few talk about it for fear of judgement or exclusion. When I was in my late twenties, I wrote about this shame that I felt with my situation in The Guardian. As a result of this piece, in 2012, I went on to found the only non-for-profit that works on family estrangement, called Stand Alone. I built, grew and led the charity for for 11 years until 2023, when I decided it was time to step back and focus more fully on supporting individuals with coaching on family estrangement. and .estrangement support groups

In the process of building Stand Alone, I met and heard from hundreds of people who felt they were alone with having challenging family relationships. I felt it was my calling as a campaigning journalist to bring these people together to create more awareness of the prevalence and impact this experience of family had. I also began to create and facilitate support groups where people could meet others, talk openly about estrangement. It was very clear the psychological relief that people felt in finding shared experience after years of feeling alone and abnormal. I worked with Dr Lucy Blake to quantify this impact in a powerful research paper published in 2022.

 I continued for a decade to create credible evidence around this subject and capture the lived experience of estrangement in a way that would mean policy makers could listen. Most often I collaborated with Cambridge University's Centre for Family Research, to develop knowledge around the issue that was so desperately lacking. These publications include research on the prevalence of family estrangement, sibling estrangementseeking specialist counselling support with family estrangement, and the financial and material challenges of being estranged from family.

I believe research has to have an impact. My media work, campaigning and research have contributed to pioneering public policy changes in the UK for some of society's most vulnerable young adults who have no family support. This has been most notable in the Higher Education sector in the UK, where estranged young adults are now recognised as a vulnerable group by government. Over 100 institutions have pledged to create financial, material and emotional support for estranged young people. I sit as an advisor for Scottish Government on the matter, and I help shape future policy for a number of UK governmental agencies.

It all started with writing and speaking and I have continued to use my voice to create awareness and dialogue in society. I am an experienced keynote speaker and media expert on the topic of family estrangement. I have appeared on BBC Breakfast, BBC Victoria Derbyshire, TVO Canada, BBC Radio 4, CBC Canada. I have written articles and been featured in interviews in The Guardian, The Independent, BBC, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Refinery 29, The Telegraph, The Atlantic and The New York Times. You can read my articles here. 

For this body of work (and the millions of pounds that I fundraised to do it) I was awarded an honorary doctorate by University of Brighton in 2018. You can watch my acceptance speech below.

 

Over the last decade, my work has helped millions of people globally to feel less alone, heal and move on from family estrangement.

Dr Becca Bland receiving her honorary doctorate from University of Brighton

Estrangement in families

It's not easy to talk about the darkest parts of family life, but to create a different future, I believe we must bring these shadows into the light. So often society suggests that people who are biologically related to us will bring us closeness, protection, pleasure and unconditional love. I know that isn’t always the case and family just isn't so simple. I had the gift to be able to articulate that and the courage and support to keep on saying it.

The stigma that exists around not having contact with a key family member can make us retreat into silence and inauthenticity. So often the media portray that family estrangement is a flippant response to a one-off argument. Yet, these are decisions which are sad, painful and laboured over and are caused by abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental health struggles, divorce and re-marriage, forced marriage, HBV, LGBT+ and trans rejection. 

Many people battle guilt, shame and fear after they make the decision that the relationship just isn’t working and is destructive to their life. Or on the other side, battle shame and helplessness for being rejected.

During the early years of estrangement from family, I felt the red-hot anger, the resentment, the shame and the self-judgement. I felt the burning injustice and the complete and utter sadness of familial estrangement. 
I avoided the intensity of my feelings by working, drinking and exercising relentlessly. Like any addiction, it only hid a huge emptiness and grief that I was afraid to feel. In recent years, I found the strength to feel all the estrangement grief. I have also found forgiveness, peace and the strength to live a more authentic and fearless life. 

As you read this, you might feel that growing from estrangement is impossible but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. I had the help of some wonderful humans who facilitated me to see that a life beyond shame, fear and avoidance was possible. I am proud of who I am today because of my estrangement, and the gifts it has given me.
I’m here to pass that hope on to you.

So much of the key to growth is self-love, and learning to choose the right people to love. We can only truly receive love and respect from others when we open up our hearts and love ourselves.  

When I am not writing, doing yoga or coaching, you can find me diving into nature. Nothing makes me more grounded and grateful than the unconditional acceptance I find in being by the sea or walking in the city.

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