Family estrangement.



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.

24 thoughts on “Family estrangement.

  1. “There is never a scar, but always an open wound.”
    This is a perfect statement to describe my feelings about it.

    Decent article and I like your added commentary as well.
    As you know (I think) I was quite scapegoated in the last months of my involvement with my family. It’s a wound I fear may never heal…the way they ALL treated me.

    My mom sends me birthday cards asking for forgiveness without apologizing, writes shit to try to manipulate me into guilt and shame (and it works.)
    She seems to think my lack of contact with her is about my childhood. Yeah, that sucked, but that’s not why I don’t want anything to do with her and if she was using her brain, she’d realize that if it was just about my childhood, I’d still be talking to my siblings.

    It hurts a lot too that she doesn’t see what she did to me in those last few months of my father’s life. And that she wants forgiveness without even apologizing to me. Blech.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mine doesn’t even do what yours does. Mine sends me generic birthday or Christmas cards with the obligatory “I love you” but I know it’s all BS. My conversations with her even before I went NC were as shallow as those you have with the bank teller. Maybe even more so. She never shared any of her feelings with me, and never wanted to hear mine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Birthdays are hard. I am very torn about receiving a card at all. When it doesn’t come by the day of, I’m disappointed and sad. But when it comes and I open it and read the gooey sweet message and then the hand written guilt trip and projected shame, I end up in a melt down that takes me weeks to recover from. And I’m not so sure I’ve recovered this year yet and my birthday is the beginning of October.

        If she’s gonna send one, a simple happy birthday would suffice and an “I love you” would be OK too…although I’m certainly skeptical on that. But the guilt trip wrecks me. I regress emotionally and really miss having a mom.

        This year she almost got me, had me thinking, maybe it IS me, but when I wrote about it, I got some comments that helped me realize that it isn’t.

        Liked by 2 people

        • No, it isn’t about you. She is gaslighting you and knows she is putting you on a guilt trip. I’m sorry she does that and gets you so upset. Is she aware how much it upsets you? If she is, do you think she does it purposely to upset you or do you think she’s just oblivious to how you are feeling?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you.
            And they are good questions. I have not relayed my feelings in the last few years because of my no contact so I’m guessing that she doesn’t really know.

            But then isn’t that just my own projection. I don’t know. As a mother, you’d think she’d know that it would be upsetting but I do think that she is very unaware of the fact that she is even gas lighting me or guilt tripping me.

            I think she really believes that she is attempting to genuinely make amends. Unfortunately she is clueless on how to do that.

            Thing is she’s told me that she blames me for the family dynamic. The whole family walks on eggshells around each other. And apparently that’s my fault.

            Is she oblivious? I can’t honestly say anymore. I just don’t know.

            It was interesting the stuff that I discovered when I posted a short thing about getting a birthday card. I got a comment that got me writing the story in the comment section.

            I went back and forth with another blogger and it came to my attention how narcissistic my mother has been. I was flabbergasted while at the same time it had cleared up so much confusion I’d had about my mother.

            Thanks for asking me about this. Definitely more food for thought.

            Liked by 2 people

            • I’m glad my questions made you think and thank you for answering them, your answers make ME think! I think it’s entirely possible your mother has no idea what she is doing; although narcissists seem to be playing a carefully constructed game and seem to know exactly what buttons to push that will trigger you, I think most of the time they don’t have a bloody clue what they’re doing. It’s a knee jerk reaction, instilled in them for so long that there’s no consciousness that they are doing it.

              Liked by 2 people

            • Oh, you’re welcome. We gotta help each other. Estrangement sucks even when the ones we’re estranged from are no good for us.

              Unconscious. That would be the word to describe my mother I do believe.

              I definitely prefer that if she is being hurtful that she knows not what she does. Better than her doing it maliciously to specifically hurt me. Which doesn’t seem like the case to me either.

              She wants me to go see her in Florida (as of October she did) but I just can’t bring myself to contact her. I’m not sure that I never will, just that right now, no.

              Liked by 2 people

    • I am embarrassed to admit that I am 64 yrs. old & still struggling with scapegoat issues, even though my parents are long gone. I have 3 older brothers who had little to do with me growing up so my narcissistic mother was my main contact. When I was 6 yrs old my father was hospitalized for psychotic behavior, given shock treatments. He also had a delusional disorder, believed my mother was sneaking around with other men. He was hospitalized more than once, my uncles handled the matter which became the family secret. My oldest brother told me about father’s illness when I was 11. He is 10 yrs older than me & at that time was married with a child, living in another state. He told me flatly, then walked away., he’s always been a very cold person. My mother never learned to drive & left the house only to grocery shop or run quick errands so my father wouldn’t be suspicious. All she did was housework, cook, clean & watch soap operas…& take her rage out on me. My father would give me rides to town or wherever & complain about what a cold, horrible person my mother was. I was a shy & depressed kid but at 14 an English teacher took me under her wing. My mother hated the teacher. Then I started to speak up & defend myself which enraged my mother even more. She would complain to relatives about me being a problem child. Even my oldest brother bought her bullshit, supported her. I would write desperate letters to my middle brother who gave me the most attention but he would intelllectualize, tell me to see things from parents’ point of view, they sacrificed so much, fed & clothed us. When I went to college I was so confused & without direction. It was the ’70’s, I did drugs, slept around, became anorexic , started dropping classes, then dropped out after 3 yrs. I used to call parents in tears about dropping classes which infuriated them. I went back home & my parents were very resentful & ashamed of me. My mother made a sarcastic comment about my factory job. Finally left for good at 24, worked in nursing homes, lived in low income housing until I married at 26. Never had children, one abortion. My husband is a manipulative, controlling, insecure narcissist who enjoys my dependence on him. I dropped out of workforce at 52, tried schooling to get a better job in a different field. When I did get a new job it was a bad fit, gloomy little office so I quit suddenly in a panic. Have been hospitalized twice in my ’30’s & ’40’s for depression. Am in therapy now & want to leave husband. Am pretty much estranged from brothers. They have immense contempt for me. Had recent email exchange with middle brother who is a narcissist, charming, cunning manipulator & liar. I emailed him for support when I was feeling suicidal & he told me no one in “the family” liked me because I”m abusive. He’s saying that because I busted him on lies & no one is allowed to criticize him, not even wife. But he says he loves me, doesn’t want me to feel alone. He excluded me from a family reunion last year, just a few miles from my home. Both he & oldest brother say they love me while stabbing & twisting knife. It’s so insidious so I decided this week I was cutting off contact. I’ve told husband several times I’m leaving him (have a vacation condo to go to but it’s very isolated). Husband goes into denial, demands that I be “nice” to him, pretends that things are status quo. I’m hoping when I leave I can get a retail job. Didn’t decorate for Christmas, just put up a little tree with white lights, it gives me a little bit of hopeful comfort. But most of the time I’m sad because I figured so many things out, through my kind therapist, when it is now too late in life. I don’t have many friends but don’t trust people so I avoid new experiences. If I had one wish this holiday it would be that young people from dysfunctional families read my story so that they don’t wait until it’s too late to turn their lives around. Get help. Trust your gut. Surround yourself with supportive people. Don’t be afraid.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your mother sounds a lot like mine. 😦 Always so “disappointed”in me but behind my back telling relatives that I was a loser, worthless, etc. To my face, she’d act “concerned” and ask me a lot of “concerned” questions, but even then I knew it was so she could go back to everyone with the information I gave her and use it as fodder for her smear campaign against me. She has turned all the relatives against me, even the ones who never knew me. Now they don’t want to know me because they assume I’m as bad she tells them I am.


  2. Thank you for sharing this. Much of what you said, I can relate to. I was estranged from my father for about ten years. He died a few years back and I sometimes feel remorse that we couldn’t mend things.
    It is hard to mend deep seeded wounds. I am trying to learn to forgive and not hold onto things as it doesn’t help me. It is a hard battle.
    Thank you again and God bless.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m sorry you never got to mend your rift with your dad. I never got to with mine either, as he died in June this year. Although I was never NC with him, we had become very distant.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so good, I had to come back and read it again. It’s the story of my life, in a nutshell. The Psychology Today article is thought-provoking, too.

    This morning I discovered that you sent me an email on November 11. I am so sorry I missed it. I haven’t been doing too well since the death of our friend-neighbor-associate pastor on November 12. He always seemed so healthy. He just collapsed and died, without warning. He was my age, actually a couple of months younger.

    Anyway, I am starting to do better now. I sent a reply to your email. Knowing how your mind works, I think you will find it interesting.

    I appreciate you so much. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sometimes families fall apart just because it takes work to keep them together, and no one makes the effort. My siblings and I certainly have our differences, some of them rather significant, but as long as our parents were living, we still got together once or twice a year, and we got along reasonably well (primarily by avoiding certain topics of conversation). Now that our parents are dead, we just don’t get together any more, and haven’t for many years. (Didn’t even get together when our dad died ten years ago, since there was no funeral.) I’ve tried to reestablish contact a couple of times, but no luck. I don’t know where they are or what they’re doing (I’m assuming they’re retired by now), and don’t know what my nieces and nephew are doing or where they are. Any one of them could get in touch with me easily at any time, because I’ve had the same phone number for 39 years and the same street address for 31 years, but they never even make the effort. Sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

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