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Death of estranged parent

Surviving Estrangement

You’ve made a decision to estrange yourself from your unhealthy, abusive or toxic family – or perhaps that decision was made for you – so what now? Here we discuss surviving estrangement.

Emotional Response to Estrangement and Trauma 

When surviving estrangement, chances are one or more of the below will apply to you:

  • You feel like you are the only person to be going through parental estrangement

  • You have feelings of guilt or shame – check our estrangement wiki to understand why these are more likely to be grief for the parent you wish you had

  • You feel like you can’t talk to anyone about your estrangement

  • You get upset by ‘happy’ events, even if they don’t directly involve your family – check out our triggers wiki

  • You have CPTSD (or symptoms of it): 

Estrangement
  • Difficulty controlling your emotions
  • Feeling very angry or distrustful towards the world
  • Constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Feeling as if you are permanently damaged or worthless
  • Feeling as if you are completely different to other people
  • Feeling like nobody can understand what happened to you
  • Avoiding friendships and relationships, or finding them very difficult
  • Often experiencing dissociative symptoms such as depersonalisation or derealisation
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches
  • Regular suicidal feelings
  • Emotional flashbacks

Navigating Emotions

If you wouldn’t tell a domestic abuse survivor to reconcile with an abusive partner, don’t put the same unrealistic expectations on yourself. It’s not your fault! Let’s just say that up front. In fact, let’s say it again. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

Often Estranged Adult Children will feel like it is their fault and it’s up to them to ‘fix’ the relationship. Growing up in a toxic and/or abusive environment means that your parents were not there to support your developmental, emotional and/or physical needs. Estrangement is therefore a healthy response to an unhealthy situation.

If you come to the conclusion that, after surviving abuse/toxicity/neglect, you can never have a functional relationship with your parents then reconciliation is not healthy. Breakaway supports its members navigate estrangement.

In addition to reading our community, receiving advice, answering your questions and supporting other members, there’s also help in real life too. Breakaway recommends the use of a therapist who will help guide you through the multitude of complex emotions Estranged Adult Children feel. Remember that as in all walks of life there are good and bad therapists; be sure to ask if they have experience in family estrangement and abuse. Unfortunately we often see bad therapists encouraging Estranged Adult Children to contact and reconcile with their abusive parents. I cannot understand why a therapist who wouldn’t say that to a domestic abusive survivor, would say that to family abuse survivor.

More information on estrangement can be found in our estrangement wiki.

Things I Wish I Had Been Told About Surviving Estrangement

At the time of writing this guide I have been in no contact with my parents for over a decade and a half. I spent the first decade living in a dark cloud, and – quite frankly – nearly didn’t survive the first six months. I wish I had access to specialist Breakaway-like resources, and that someone had told me:

Estrangement and how society perceives it

  • Estrangement is more far common that you think. You just don't realise because no one talks about it.
  • Society generally - backed up by books and movies - will side with abusive parents and feel sorry for them if they children no longer speak to them. And for a double whammy... will often think there is 'something wrong' with the individual who chooses to go no contact with abusive parents. Although Gen Z are breaking these stereotypes. If people in your life side with your parents you don't need them in your life either. (And the most famous toxic and abusive family is the UK Royal Family!)

Healing and recovery

  • Time is only a healer if you put the work into your recovery. If you chose to ignore your estrangement you won't make progress. Breakaway and therapy are great resources.
  • You will never reach full recovery. We experience a complex type of grief for the parents we wish we had. Few people can 'recover' from grief, but if you put in the work then over time the good days outnumber the bad days.

Triggers

  • Each Estranged Adult Kid will have their own unique triggers. A big one for me are TV programs and adverts in the run-up to Christmas. Learn what your triggers are so you can manage them. More information on triggers can be found on our estrangement triggers wiki.
  • Expect bad days to come when you've finally reached a good, happy place.
  • By talking to your significant other, close friends and/or manager when you're having bad days lessens the length of the bad days significantly.

Flying Monkeys

  • Be prepared for flying monkeys to come out of the woodwork. Flying monkeys are people who perform 'abuse by-proxy' on behalf of your parents. Often a 'charming' narcissist-type parent can recruit people to do their bidding, including getting back in contact. Block Flying Monkeys as the cannot be trusted and don't have your best interests in mind.

Safety and peace of mind

  • Set-up a new email address and safeguard its existence from your parents. Same for your phone number. If estranged parents are likely to deposit money-with-strings-attached into your bank account then set-up a new bank account.
  • Life is easier if your parents don't know where you live. Don't give your new address out to family members as eventually they will give it to your parents and they turn up uninvited at your front door.
  • If you parents harass you then take out a restraining order / cease and desist order. Keeping a record of all unwanted encounters and communications, including screenshots, texts, emails and voice messages helps.

No contact and surviving estrangement

  • And finally... Ronan Keating has the best take: "You say it best, when you say nothing at all". Unless there is evidence that your parents have gone to therapy with a desire to work on themselves with demonstrable outcomes, they won't have changed and will still not be able to have a functional relationship with you, no matter how hard you will it. They will on occasion 'love bomb' you. Stay strong, keep those boundaries and don't reply.