You’ve made a decision to estrange yourself from your unhealthy, abusive or toxic family – or perhaps that decision was made for you – and you feel that in order to keep yourself safe you need to lay out some boundaries or conditions, or at the very least offer an explanation. Perhaps your therapist has recommended the writing of a no contact letter.
Before sending a no contact letter, email or text to your estranged parent/s consider the following, all of which summarises the many experiences of estranged adult children we see in our community. But note there isn’t a right or wrong answer: this guide is to inform rather than advise.
However, if you are suffering harassment from your parents you can seek legal advise on a cease and desist order. Keeping a dated record of all unwanted encounters and communications, including screenshots, texts, emails and voice messages helps. If you fear for your immediate safety, contact your local police.
These are the most common reasons we see on Breakaway for estrangement. As the list is diverse, so are the experiences of EAKer’s boundary letters.
You have explained to your parents many times the exact reason/s your relationship is non-functional and provided specific examples of the trauma or abuse suffered, yet they claim they known of no reason behind the estrangement (see the Missing, Missing Reasons by Issendai). If this rings true, then regardless of how short, matter of fact and true your letter what is the likelihood of the letter falling on deaf ears?
Often the estranged parents will will say:
“That isn’t a real reason to cut ties”
or, if a family member asks, will resort to:
“I have no idea why my child cut ties with me”
Sometimes by saying they “don’t know why” EPs are finding another way for you to stay in contact with them. Our users who find themselves in the missing, missing reasons situation eventually report — and accept — that there is nothing they can do to make themselves be heard, and that it isn’t their fault nor responsibly to fix an irrevocably broken relationship.
Sending a boundary or no contact letter to a missing, missing reasons EP has never had a positive outcome on Breakaway.
Your abusive, toxic or controlling estranged parent denies the abuse ever took place, attacks your for attempting to hold them accountable for their actions, and claims that they are actually the victim in the situation, thus reversing what may be a reality of victim and offender. In DARVO situations we find that any carefully constructed letter – especially those that are long and in-depth – actually just add fuel to already raging flames, having the opposite intended effect of the letter.
Letters sent to DARVO EPs actually have an even worse success rate than seen by the missing, missing reasons group. We often see letters sent to DARVO EPs often results in an escalation of the abuse.
There are good and bad therapists. Bad therapists see reconciliation as preferable to ostracisation, further traumatising the survivor of abuse; victim-shaming. These so-called therapists will often encourage you to write a letter to send to your EPs. They will often spend many sessions with you ‘perfecting’ it.
Before sending such a letter, ask yourself how many times abusers reverse course… how many times have your seen them grow a conscience that causes them to apologise or behave better? Suffice it to say, a leopard never changes is spots… and neither – in our experience – do EPs.
After a lifetime of not being heard, anger and frustration, some EAKers find emotional catharsis in spilling all of their feelings onto the page. In fact, many therapists recommend it as part of your therapy.
Good therapists will safely and professionally analyse and work with you as you navigate the emotions the letter brings to the surface.
Bad therapists, however, may actively support the sending of such therapeutic letter. If you have this type of therapist, stand back and ask yourself what is to be gained from this. Will the EPs simply use it as a tool to infer your instability, irrationalness or anger? Can it be used to DARVO you? Will it be used as a tool to further inflict you with further pain and suffering? Do your parents fall into the missing, missing reasons category?
As stated at the beginning, everyone’s situation in individual, so there isn’t a one-sized approach… however I can’t think of one single instance where there has been a good outcome for an EAK reading their EP the riot act, only negative.
Estrangement hurts and it isn’t something we do by choice, only self-protection after years of abuse. Often EAKers feel they owe their situation one last chance before severing contact.
Ask yourself: do you think an unfunctional relationship can be resolved through a boundary letter?
Often there may be one abuser and one enabler. EAKers may think a letter will help the enabler see the error of their ways.
Ask yourself: the primary objective of any parent is to unconditionally love, support and help their child grow into a successful adult. If they have failed all your life in that regard – the most basic regard – what is the probability of success through a letter?
EAKers often feel obliged to keep their EPs updated on significant life events, including babies, marriage or death.
Ask yourself: you are a successful and independent person, why does your abuser need to know this information? Why has their abuse granted them this entitlement?
There will be EAKers who have EPs with substance abuse issues, but rarely do we hear about it being the primary cause of wanting to write a letter. Often substance abuse goes hand-in-hand with physical abuse and neglect, and will be covered off in other letter types.
Estranged adult children can suffer with substance abuse issues and I would imagine they may reach out to their EPs as part of their recovery program… however, we don’t tend to see these people in our community. Our community deals with people who estranged themselves for their own safety. In that regard we are not experts in these types of letters and would suggest seeking advice from your recovery program.
Those EAKers who offer no explanation, no reason, zero recourse pathways often find life quieter, more peaceful and simpler.
It is not the responsibility of the estranged adult child to offer justification for no contact. We don’t have divorce at our disposal, nor do we have any requirement to validate our decision to anyone. Should abusers be granted closure… all the while you have none?
Going no contact is as easy as… providing no contact!
→Acknowledgement of abuse
→Processing of abuse or toxicity
→Confirmation their estrangement was the right choice
These are the outcomes we see EAKers have with their no contact letters. Suffice it to say the sample will have a slight bias from the exclusion of those who may have positive experiences but never report their success in an Estranged Adult Child community. I would warmly welcome these to be shared.
Boundary / no contact letters have many negative outcomes, as witnessed with great regularity on Breakaway. Positive outcomes — and although we have a biased sample-base — are minimal and not experienced on Breakaway: we often see posts asking about sending a letter, with many who follow up saying something like “I know you said not to send it, but I did… and you were right”.
The evidence suggests boundary letters are good to write, but not good to send.
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