Parent Estrangement: How To Cope After Going No-Contact
Breaking up with parents. It may sound weird to some, but yes, indeed, there is a breakup from our parents, and it is called parental estrangement. It happens when the adult child decides to cut off from their parents, or from one of the parents. Of course, this usually occurs after long years of efforts for reconciliation and of trying to bridge the differences. When all these efforts are not successful, parental estrangement seems to be the only solution for these adult children. In this article, we will discuss what parental estrangement is, what causes it, and how to cope if you have estranged yourself from your parent(s).
What is Parental Estrangement?
In simple terms, parental estrangement refers to when a person decides that it is no longer possible to put any effort in communicating, connecting, and reconciling with their parents. And, it is only not possible, but keeping a relationship with the parent(s) is causing damage to the person's mental health, or to the people around them. As a result, individuals take the extremely difficult decision to cut off from their parents. They decide to stop communication and stop investing in the relationship. The estrangement can be either with one parent or both of parents. It refers to taking distance from parents, and/or other family members.
How Common is Parental Estrangement?
Although you might think that parental estrangement is not common, in reality, it is more common than one imagines. For example, in a 1997 study on later life intergenerational relationships, researchers found that 7% of adult children are estranged from their mothers, and 27% from their fathers. Similarly, a study in 2015 determined that 43.5% of college and graduate students had been estranged at some point from their parents, and 26.6% reported extended estrangement. As you can observe, parental estrangement is not as uncommon as one might think.
Common Causes of Parental Estrangement
While parental estrangement is common, it can be the result of a variety of reasons.
Some examples include:
From these examples you probably get an idea of how challenging it is for a child to be in a relationship with a parent when these elements are present in the relationship. It is not easy to decide to estrange from your parent. It is the most difficult decision. Yet, it can be necessary for some people's wellbeing.
1. One day, reading through some articles, I found this example of parental estrangement. It read that there was a Jewish family that survived through the Holocaust. While the adult son of this family was practicing inclusion and equality, his father was a very strong believer of white supremacy. And, as you can understand, this is a very strong and polar opposition. As a result, the son and father could not communicate, and the son felt that he always had to defend something that feels like common sense to him. As time went by, the son felt the need to protect his own children from these toxic beliefs and extreme opinions. Ultimately, he decided to estrange from his father.
2. As mentioned, another reason why people distance from their parents can be having experienced an abusive childhood. As people who endured abuse become adults they sometimes realize how damaging it all really was. As they grow up, and might even bear their own children, they realize that they finally can stand up for themselves. As children, they did not have the power to do so and were dependent on their parent(s). But now, they can do something about it; they can decide to estrange from their parent(s).
How To Deal and Cope After Going No-Contact
Deciding to estrange yourself from your parents is not easy. It is a decision that can be painful, scary, and anxiety-provoking. It is, therefore, only natural that you might feel sad, lost, or worried. Here I share some tips that might help you cope with parental estrangement. I hope they are helpful and bring you some relief.
1. Allow yourself to grieve
Allow yourself to grieve through this very challenging period. It can be incredibly difficult to acknowledge that one member of your family, one parent of yours, is not in your life anymore. It can be one of the most difficult emotional experiences that we go through. Just as it is very normal that we feel hurt when a person we care for dies, it is natural and human that we grieve for the loss of a parent in our lives, even though the parent is alive. So, allow yourself to grieve, at your own pace and in your own way.
2. Manage the guilt and shame
Making the decision to cut contact with parents usually comes together with a lot of shame and a lot of guilt. Society believes that children should allow any mistake from their parents because they owe them. They believe that children owe parents for their existence and for all the years they sacrificed to raise them. As a result, if a person decides to 'break up' with their parents, they usually experience a lot of guilt and shame. Typically, there is a lot of shame because the people around them do not understand why they are taking such a decision. People tend to judge according to their own experience, values, and beliefs; which leaves little to no space for other perspectives. As a result, when making the decision to estrange from your parents, we might deal with a lot of internal guilt and shameful experiences. Therefore, an important second step is to deal with the guilt and shame. I know how difficult it is, but maybe a mental health professional can help you. Perhaps a professional who has experience with parental estrangement can guide you and help you process your feelings of guilt and shame.
3. Find your support system
The third step is to allow yourself to surround yourself with people that have the same values as you. With people that respect you, that you can trust, that make space for you. People that are not there to abuse you, but to actually support you and care for you. This is a conscious decision. We cannot choose our parents or family. But we can choose our friends. And, sometimes, our friends are better supporters than our family.
If you have made the hard choice to estrange yourself from your parents, we hope this article has been helpful to you. We know how challenging this decision was for you to make, and understand why you made it. Along your journey, please remember, you are not alone. Take care.
HOME IS WHERE YOUR HEART IS.