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Estrangement - Bad Therapist, No Contact Letter

Background

Breakaway is a supportive and engaging estrangement community for adult children where a conscious decision to estrange from one or both of their parents has been made.

Defining Estrangement

It is not for us to define what is and isn’t estrangement as it is common for Adult Children to cycle in and out of No/Low Contact, balancing between emotional and physical estrangement, before fully estranging. Increasingly we see that relationships that Adult Children would once call “distant”, “inactive” or “complicated” now labelled as “estranged”.

There is a distinct lack of research into estrangement, but those who do research don’t have a single definition of estrangement either! One of Stand Alone’s research papers commented that:

Estrangement

Qualitative researchers have focused on the negative quality of the relationship and the intentional decision of at least one family member to initiate and maintain distance, and quantitative researchers have focused on the absence of contact between family members.

There is, however, consensus in how estrangement is conceptualised: as a healthy response to an unhealthy situation.

Reasons Adult Children End Their Relationship With Their Parents

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but the most common factors we see on Breakaway for parental estrangement are:

    1. Physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse and/or neglect
    2. Substance abuse and/or mental health problems
    3. Narcissistic traits, including inability to apologise, playing favourites amongst siblings, conditional love
    4. Ignored boundaries
    5. Expectations about family roles
    6. Parental disapproval of Adult Child’s romantic relationships
    7. Religion, politics and homophobia
    8. Money and financial control
    9. Overbearing and undermining grand-parenting
    10. Traumatic family event

Reasons Parents Give For Estrangement

Conversely, in stark contrast to the above list of reasons why parents are estranged from their children the reasons parents give – particularly on Estranged Parent Forums – are often vague (and not actually missing). The reasons often use abusive and enabling language, like:

    1. Shocked
    2. Ungrateful
    3. Disappointed
    4. Heartbroken
    5. Woke or snowflake
    6. Troubled child
    7. Powerplay
    8. Therapists are part of the problem
    9. We live in crazy times
    10. “Lifestyle norms have changed” – particularly prevalent amongst the bigoted and homophobic variety
    11. “My child’s spouse turn them against me”

Seasoned EAKers will often point new EAKs to Issendai’s The Missing, Missing Reasons which better explains the difference in our perception vs Estranged Parents’ on EP forums.

Stigma of Estrangement

Sadly, Adult Children often feel a great sense of shame and guilt around estrangement due to perceived societal norms, as well as pressure to maintain family ties “…because faaaaamliy”. However, through the support of Breakaway, therapy, self-reflection and encountering similar stories, these feelings of shame and guilt are actually found to more accurately reflect feelings of grief for parents we wish we had.

Anthropologically, humans are one of the few members of the animal kingdom who experience grief and carry its burden with us throughout our lives. It’s therefore common for Estranged Adult Children to never fully feel like they have ‘recovered’. And that’s OK.

Moreover, studies show that parental estrangement is more common that you’d realise simply because the stigma of estrangement stops people from disclosing their situation. Here at Breakaway you’ll find support and guidance from individuals who have been in similar situations. Such a community – in real life or on the internet – is rare (although there are plenty of Estranged Parent Forums) but vital to the path of healing.

Extended Family Estrangement

Strikingly, parental estrangement doesn’t always result in deliberate extended family estrangement. However, we see many posts on Breakaway where extended family members are recruited by the ‘charming’ narcissistic estranged parents and turned into Flying Monkeys. The Flying Monkeys do their parents’ bidding, circumventing any boundaries the Adult Child has put in place. Also, we see siblings side with parents, undermining and not believing the extent of abuse or toxicity. Sometimes they are in a different stage of awareness from their estranged sibling, or alternatively playing a different role (e.g. golden child vs scape goat).

Abuse and toxicity can be generational. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see EAK posts where abuse and toxic behaviour is enmeshed and considered ‘normal’ by those within the family. Adult Children who escape and break the cycle will have values that differ from the extended family.

Ultimately, in order to retain boundaries and keep themselves safe from further emotional trauma and manipulation we see over time Adult Child generally become more estranged from their extended family. Some members are fortunate and have some key family members who listen to the experiences of the Adult Child, understand, condemn the abuse, and then cut contact with the abuser. These are good people. But those who listen, make you think they understand and then continue to have contact with you abusers ‘to keep the peace’ are people most EAKers find unhealthy to keep in their lives.

 

Gaslighting of Estrangement

Anthropologically speaking, the close bonds in family (and extended family) units have served homosapiens very well: fostering close relationships and keeping a tight-knit community helped set the path for the dominance of mankind – would we be where we are today if our ancestors had been every neanderthal for themselves? And it serves us well in modern times too… if the relationships are healthy. Society – including every book, TV series or movie – further engrains that family is everything and to be fought for, further perpetuating the stigma of estrangement.

Given such conditioning and experience of good family relationships, it is therefore no surprise to see some family and friends – even after being made aware of the abuse and trauma suffered – say things like:

 

Minimisation

We see the minimisation and gaslighting of Estranged Adult Children daily at EAK. If you experience any of it: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Above all, I cannot reconcile how society is intolerant of [ex]partners who commit domestic abuse (which includes physical, economic, emotional, sexual abuse, as well as coercive control, threats and intimidation)… yet when the same abuse is committed by parents society tolerates it and proceeds to victim shame. Society has a long way to go.

"but you only get one mother"
"but it's your faaaaaamliy"
"blood is thicker than water"
"can't you just let bygones be bygones?"
"why are you hurting your parents by not speaking to them?"
"when your parents die you'll regret not reconciling with them"
“be the bigger person”
"but [person x] had it worse"
"but they didn't physically hurt you"
"can't you just keep the peace?"
"I don't remember it being that bad"
"you've always been sensitive and taken things to heart"
"just apologise to your parents and make up"
"but your parents love you in their own way"
"but they raised you, you owe them"
"that's how my parents raised me... and it didn't do me any harm"

Reconciliation

In conclusion, it is common for Adult Children to cycle in and out of low to no contact, but most come to realise that they will never have a functional relationship with their parents. This is a difficult outcome to process, but EAK supports Adult Children to that conclusion.

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Estrangement

Hope After Estrangement

Ultimately, estrangement is one of the hardest things anyone can go through, but going low / no contact doesn’t mean the end of your life or opportunities; it can instead be the beginning. People who have spent years going through estrangement report that you get to make your family of choice, heal and live your best life!