Psychology Today has an interesting article about why family members become estranged. In most cases, it’s an adult child between the ages of 25 and 35 who initiates the severing of the parent-child relationship.
“A difficult parent is that which the daughter or son experiences as being at the cusp of rejecting the child, or casting them out as a result of disapproval, disgust, or disappointment. When a daughter or son made the difficult decision to sever the relationship, it was usually because they felt that maintaining it was too emotionally costly, that they had to distort their soul into shapes that did not feel right to them in order to please or pacify a parent.”
In other words, No Contact. I think most cases of an adult child severing their relationship with their parent(s) are due to feeling as if they have already been rejected or emotionally abandoned by the parent, so there isn’t as much guilt over severing contact as there might otherwise be. But there is still sadness and grief involved, especially during holidays and possibly on birthdays. The grief isn’t over what was lost so much as what never was or what could have been.
Tragically and unfairly, there is stigma against adults who lack family support or relationships. Most people don’t really sympathize with you if you are estranged from your family, because they don’t understand it. Most people think family will always be there for you through thick and thin, and in an ideal world, that is how it should be. We are tribal creatures, wired for attachment, even as adults.
So when things go wrong and your family has cast you out of their midst, either because you became the scapegoat, or your values or lifestyle are disapproved of by the rest of the family, people from normal, loving families think the problem must be with YOU. They can’t imagine that any family would cast out or reject one of their own, so you must be the one at fault. If you have gone No Contact, they think that is a cruel and unusual thing for any adult child to do to the people who gave them life. But because they weren’t the children of narcissistic parents, and have no clue what being the family scapegoat is like, they cannot understand the pain of staying involved with people who cannot love you unconditionally and are rejecting and abusive toward you even if they haven’t outright cast you out.
Many estranged ACONs are financially vulnerable due to having dismally low self esteem that kept them from acquiring the confidence and drive to be successful in a career or the self esteem to build satisfying, healthy relationships. Many ACONs are divorced (often from other cold and rejecting abusive or narcissistic types much like their parents), unmarried, impoverished, and lonely. Many also find it difficult if not impossible to build a surrogate family of close friends, because of their difficulties making friends for the same reasons their other close relationships don’t last. They simply don’t have the self esteem or social skills needed for that. A rejecting family who then turns around and blames you for your “failures” (due to not having given you the tools that most children got from their families to do well in life) is like salt rubbed in an already gaping and infected wound. It’s beyond unfair. Add to that the sad fact that scapegoated adult children are usually left out of any will, if there is one.
Social service agencies and charities don’t help much. They are temporary measures at best, and have limited resources. They don’t love you unconditionally like a family would; in fact, they don’t really care. So scapegoated and marginalized adult children often have no resources to which they can turn when things are rough (and they usually are). They are vulnerable in every way it is possible to be vulnerable, due to poor mental and often physical health and without the means or the tools or the friends and family to give them support when they most need it. Then, much like their own families did, society blames them for their failures and poverty, telling them it’s their own fault they have so few resources and insults them by calling them worthless drains on society. It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that most homeless people were the scapegoated children of narcissistic families. Having been dealt such a lousy hand in life’s lottery, you’d think there’d be more suicides among estranged adult children. But the survival instinct is strong with us. It had to be, or we wouldn’t still be here.
The price of being the most emotionally honest member in a narcissistic family is a high one.