These pieces about family estrangement are part of a five-part series I am writing for the CPTSD Foundation owned by Athena Moberg where I write for their blog. This subject is important for this time of year. Shirley
Family estrangement is a very grief-ridden and personal experience that family members face when someone leaves or driven away from their family of origin. It occurs in families of all different demographic situations, including all races, religions, and cultures.
But why do family estrangements happen?
In this article, we shall focus on some of the most common reasons why family estrangements occur including:
- Mismatched expectations about family roles and relationships
- Clash of personality or values
- Issues relating to mental health problems
- Traumatic family event
Read on for more information.
Family Estrangement Caused by Abuse
Abuse is one of the top reasons for estrangement between the parents and children in a family. Abuse isn’t just something that happens in childhood; sometimes, parents are destructive to their children’s mental health beginning in adulthood or continuing from when they were kids.
There are several types of abuse. Among them are:
- Sexual Abuse
- Physical Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Verbal Abuse
One might believe that these things would not occur between a parent and their adult child. However, abuse can and does happen leaving the child distancing themselves from their parents due to the pain involved.
Sometimes parents are abandoned by their children due to other circumstances involving abuse where the parent is the target, and the adult children are the perpetrators.
Either way, the devastation that abuse of any kind has on a family is profound and may lead to family members not speaking or even acknowledging one another for decades.
Neglect and Family Estrangement
Neglect usually found between parents and their children, where the kids are left to fend for themselves as best they can when the parent can and should intervene. However, neglect can also occur between parents and adult children, where the parent withholds affection or refuses to acknowledge their child’s accomplishments.
Neglect leaves scars that, like abuse, will not heal without some supportive intervention from support groups or professional help. This is because it eats away at the self-esteem and self-worth of those who experience it.
There are instances where neglect perpetrated by an adult child on their parents, such as elder abuse, where the parent is not given or allowed money or support to meet their needs.
Either way, neglect can and does tear families apart, leaving neither party wanting to have anything to do with the other.
Family Estrangement Caused by Mismatched Expectations About Family Roles and Relationships
Mismatched expectations, dreams, relationships, and roles can play a role in causing family estrangement, especially if the parents do not agree with the choices of their children.
Perhaps a daughter marries someone of another religion or enters a marriage with someone of the same sex. These experiences can drive a wedge between parents and their children and even between brothers and sisters.
There are other reasons in this category that parents and children or other family members part ways. They may include:
- The adult child not completing college but drops out to a career of which the parents do not approve
- The adult child does not wish to be the caregiver for their parents, and the parents believe they have invested in their children so they should take care of them later in life
- The adult child and parent do not see eye to eye on their choice of spouses
There are honestly as many reasons families part ways over mismatched expectations, dreams, relationships, and roles as there are families that have them.
Family Estrangement and Clashes of Personality or Values
Clashes of personality and values are two of the most common types of causes for family estrangement. These values might boil down to differences in lifestyles, political affiliations, and geographic locations.
Perhaps the adult child gets a divorce, which clashes heavily with the religious and personal values of the parents; this can cause a deep divide. Political differences can also create a rift in the family when neither side or just one will concede to allow each to have their own beliefs on the subject.
Any way you see it, differences in beliefs, values, and personal choices can drive and predict a family estrangement forming.
Family Estrangement and Issues Relating to Mental Health Problems
Mental health issues can drive a wedge between family members quickly and thoroughly because of the stigma that is attached. Mothers, fathers, and siblings may choose to disown a family member simply because they decide to seek help for an emotional problem.
Drug and alcohol addictions can also drive people apart in the family due to feelings of shame and blaming the addict’s behavior on them instead of the disease. Also, families may get exhausted worrying about and fearing for a family member who is known to be using drugs or alcohol and be wary of allowing them into their homes for fear they will steal objects to sell.
Drugs and alcohol and other mental health disorders come with a large amount of blame as parents try to look at themselves to see what they did wrong, not understanding that anyone can fall prey to mind-altering substances.
The same is true for adult children of parents who abuse drugs or alcohol.
Family Estrangement After A Traumatic Family Event
Many family tragedies can lead to family estrangement including death or divorce. Both events leave deep scars full of blame and shame which is especially true if the adult child blames one parent for the divorce. Blaming one parent rather than both can happen if the other decides to lead a campaign of poisoning their children against their ex-spouse.
This blame game is even worse once one or the other parent remarries, especially if new children are born into the family. The ex-spouse may harm the relationship of their children against their “offending” spouse, leaving the family fragmented and decimated.
Death of a parent or a child can also drive a family apart and cause some to choose family estrangement as the solution to their pain. One can understand the pain that losing a child or parent does to a family, but family estrangement only adds to the tragedy adding scars that may never heal.
Final Thoughts for This Piece
No one said that relationships, even in families, would be easy. They are complicated and yet very necessary for human survival.
While family estrangement is not something that many would consider healthy, in some instances, it is the most robust response that is available. Adult children should not and must not allow their toxic parents to rule their lives, and parents of children who are abusive or neglectful of them shouldn’t put up with their damaging behavior.
In other words, there are times when sanity and safety are thicker than blood.
That having been said, there are also times when family estrangement is brought on by stubbornness because one or both parties refuse to admit they were wrong. There are times, then, that it becomes necessary to set aside petty differences and find or at least offer peace to the other party.
If one does offer a laurel of peace to the parents or child that has strayed away, it is essential to remember that they have the right to refuse to accept and to walk away once more.
“If you walked away from a
toxic, negative, abusive,
relationship or friendship
— you won.” ~ Lalah Delia
“Don’t let toxic people infect you with the fear of giving and receiving one of the most powerful forces in this world… LOVE!” ~ Yvonne Pierre