Estranged From Your Adult Child?
If you are estranged from your adult child, if your child has cut you out of his or her life—whether for a long or short time—it is a gut-wrenching experience. When your child cuts you out of her life it provokes deep feelings of shame, guilt, bewilderment, and hurt, all of which can easily turn to anger. On top of that, it can also arouse people’s worst suspicions and leave you feeling judged, even by friends and family.
Sometimes, of course, there are circumstances in which cutting off from a parent is the only viable option for an adult child (age 18 and older), for instance, in the case of past or present physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a parent.
While it’s common to pin the reason for the estrangement on everything from money issues, to personality conflicts, to divorce or difficult family dynamics, many times, though, estranged parents are left in the dark trying to figure out what went wrong.
And when you are in the dark, the easiest thing to blame is yourself—to believe that you failed as a parent.
But here’s the reality: it was not your choice to sever the relationship. Although you may have contributed to the tensions between you, you are not responsible for your child’s choice to cut you off.
Many adult children struggle with their parents, or with money issues, etc., but not all of them cut ties with their parents.
Why Some Kids Distance Themselves
We humans manage stress in pretty predictable ways. We have a fight or flight response just like other species. And some people are more prone to distancing (flight) when emotional intensity gets high.
We have to recognize that when some people feel anxious, tired of conflict or pressure, or too much of the sticky family togetherness, their response is to distance themselves, be it emotionally, physically or both. When a person distances from others, they feel a sense of relief because the distance seemingly brings the conflict to an end. Of course, nothing is actually resolved; instead, more stress is generated.
On the outside, it looks as though the child and his parents are disconnected. But on the inside, they are actually thinking about each other all the time and remain overly focused on one another. They are, in fact, still extremely involved with one another: they are emotionally bound up together, even though all communication has ceased. Neither is free from the original problem; nor are they free from each other.
Distancing, at its extreme, turns to cutting off. It can occur after long periods of conflict or as a sudden reaction to a difficult encounter. Whatever the issue, the person doing the cutting off has difficulty addressing and resolving the problem directly and maturely. Instead, they stop communicating. Continuing the relationship seems unmanageable to them.
Anger is natural, but not helpful. Step back and try to understand what led to this estrangement. What patterns were operating in your family dance? If you can look at your family from a more factual vantage point, it may feel less personal. No one is to blame. Now if the door opens, you will be in a much better position to reconcile.
Debbie Pincus, MS, LMHC