Pages

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Are Parents Who are Cut Off by Their Adult Children Really That Clueless? (Themes of This Blog Seen In Newspaper Advice Columns – Part III)



**For an interesting exception to the pattern discussed in this post, see an update at 
http://davidmallenmd.blogspot.com/2016/03/adult-children-who-cut-off-their.html

In the advice column Annie’s Mailbox by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, there has recently been a series of letters from the parents of adult children who have cut them out of their lives. The parents complain that they have absolutely no idea and do not understand why this has happened, and they seem to indicate that they had been just model parents or, at worst, guilty of some very minor parental transgressions.

Lately, a couple of other letter writers opined that just perhaps the parental behavior was a lot more problematic than these folks would have the world believe. For the most part, whenever I delve into the family dynamics of those patients who either cut off parents or have been cut off like this, that is certainly always the case.


In reading the letters from the parents who just cannot seem to figure out why their children have cut them off, a question arises. Are they really that clueless? Are they “in denial?” - whatever that means?  To me, “denial” of reality is just – how should I put this? – lying.


In fact, when such parents are in the process of portraying themselves as the innocent victims of mean-spirited, unreasonable adult children, they are in fact, pushing their adult children even further away. They are, in a sense, invalidating their adult children’s sense of reality about what transpires in their relationships.  In doing so, they are literally being hateful. This of course further infuriates the adult children. This illustrates one subtle form of distancing behavior. 


The last letter in the following series illustrates the adult child's anger about this issue better than I ever could.

(How such situations might be repaired is described by the letter writer of 4/5/14).


10/8/13.  Dear Annie: When our daughter was a child, she had emotional issues and extensive anger management problems. With tremendous concern and love, we got her professional support and therapy, and ultimately, our daughter learned the skills to control herself. What we did not do was tell extended family members of these private problems. We had seen their extreme intolerance for any kind of mental health issues and did not want our daughter to suffer prejudice from her own family. In college, the troubling incidents started again. Because of our daughter's refusal to let us have access to her medical information, we had no real idea of what was happening. The next few years included troubling breakups with both friends and boyfriends, extreme weight loss and talk of suicide.


Our daughter is now 32 and recently married. She suddenly and inexplicably has cut us off. When we try to communicate with her, she becomes hysterical with rage. We have learned she has been saying horrible things about us to the same extended family members we tried to protect her from in childhood. We are devastated. One relative actually told my husband that we must have done something terrible to our daughter for her to treat us this way. These family members now have a special, almost frenzied new importance to our daughter. They judge us constantly. To be accused of such mistreatment is insulting and painful. Please print this so these family members will stop jumping to conclusions. — Reading This Can Help


Dear Reading: Most likely, the only thing that will change their perspective is to be on the receiving end of your daughter's erratic behavior. Despite all the therapy she had when younger, her problems haven't disappeared. She has simply chosen to deal with them in her own way, which currently precludes a loving relationship with you. We hope that will change. While you cannot control what the relatives think, please take comfort in knowing you handled your daughter's issues in a way that protected and helped her. That is what good parents do.
12/26/13.  Dear Annie: You often print letters from older parents dealing with rejection from their adult children. This is literally an epidemic everywhere. Anger and hatred are destroying families. My husband and I have three adult children who were the delight of our lives. We had a typical loving family, with vacations, birthday parties and special celebrations that included friends and extended family. We had anxious times during illnesses, surgeries and accidents, but we made it through. All three of our children have grown to be successful, well-liked and respected adults. Sadly, over the past 22 years, they all have chosen to shut us out of their lives. We've had minor disagreements at times, but never any major battles that might justify their choices. None of them will tell us why they are angry. They refuse to have any contact or open dialog that might heal our relationship. I know you're probably thinking "there must be something." If so, we don't know what it is. My husband is 81, and I am 78. We understand there is a real possibility that we will never hear from our children before we die. We do our best to focus on the great times we had and to hold onto the many precious memories of their growing-up years. Holidays are the hardest, but with God's help, we make it through. We have forgiven our children and will always pray for them. We will always thank God for choosing us to be their parents. — Joining the Letting Go Club

Dear Joining: Your letter is heartbreaking. When children are brought up by loving parents, we don't know why some remain close and others do not. The same fire that melts butter will forge steel. If you have any family members who are in touch with your children, perhaps they could help you understand what is going on and even intercede on your behalf. In the meantime, you are wise to accept what you cannot change and compassionate to forgive those who have hurt you.
3/7/14. Dear Annie: My wife and I have lost contact with our son. He is a recovering addict. As far as we know, he has maintained a job and, I hope, has been able to stay clean. He has moved to a city about four hours away with his new girlfriend, and I am sure she is keeping him in line.  My wife is heartbroken. We maintained a room for him in our home until he was almost 30 years old. He was always close to his mother, and they would speak on a daily basis. Now, he doesn't call or take our calls or emails, and never accepts cards or letters. He said he needed space when he left, and that was a year ago. My wife grieves as though he has passed, crying at night, wondering what happened to our son. What should I do to relieve the pain? Should we keep trying to contact him? We don't understand how he can be so hurtful. — Tears in Vermont

Dear Tears: We are so sorry that your son has chosen to cut off contact, but you cannot force him to stay in touch. Are you in touch with the girlfriend? Is she a reliable partner, or might she be abusive? Even so, he is an adult, and you can only do so much without his cooperation. In the meantime, please consider counseling. You are grieving and worried, and you need to move forward so your son's absence doesn't become the focus of your daily life. It will not be easy. But we recommend that you keep sending your son emails and cards, just saying that you love him and that you will always be available should he decide to contact you. We hope he will. Soon.
4/5/14.  Dear Annie: Thanks for printing the letter from "Joining the Letting Go Club," who feel rejected by their grown children. One part of the letter got my attention — the part where they say they've had "minor disagreements" at times, but nothing so major as to cut off contact. I have had this same situation with my family, and honestly, sometimes the disagreements aren't as minor as the folks believe. 

Sometimes disagreements are downplayed to avoid dealing with the hurt feelings and poor communication between family members. The grown children may feel they can't talk to their parents because of negative and heated exchanges in the past. Nonetheless, I do agree that the grown children need to tell their parents why they don't have any contact, even if it upsets the parents. They have a right to know. Several years after a falling out, I reached out to my family members. Over time, we were able to rebuild our relationship, and last year, we had a wonderful Christmas holiday together. I greatly appreciate the special relationship my children now have with their grandparents. Sometimes you have to be the bigger person and do what is best for the family — even if you don't always agree. — No State

Dear No: How heartwarming that you took that first step — not only for your sake, but for that of your children.
2/28/14.   Dear Annie: I have followed the many outraged responses regarding adult children who have cut elderly parents out of their lives, so let me give another view. My mother is 86 and possessed of her faculties. She can live alone and unassisted. Both of my sisters cut her out of their lives years ago. Why? Because Mom has a cruel mouth and is bigoted, gratuitously insulting, highly opinionated and very vocal about what she thinks of you and everyone else. Mom complained that she has been shunned because of her age, and I told her it is because she is unpleasant and impossible, and that she should get counseling. She responded with a well-chosen two-word obscenity. So I'm done.
I have tried with great patience to keep Mom in my life, but she is so difficult that I, too, have finally thrown in the towel. I don't need the stress that she creates. Please let your readers know that the behavior of some adult children may be abundantly justified. — Finished in Chicago

5/10/14.  Dear Annie: I feel sure that, were she to pick up pen and paper, my mother would be among those parents wailing over their "heartless" children's "abandoning" them. My mother would say that she was a loving, wonderful parent, and I'm sure she believes it. Annie, this is a woman who told me every day that she wished she'd aborted me. When I was very little, she helpfully explained the term so I would know exactly what she meant. Very rarely are abusive parents capable of comprehending that they are, in fact, abusive. There is no child on Earth who wants to not have parents. If your kids have cut you out of their lives, there is a reason, and that reason is YOU. — S. 

37 comments:

  1. Yes all those poor un-suspecting innocent parents eh, my heart bleeds.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No kidding! I recently discovered they gather together on FB and bash their "narcissistic" kids all day long! https://www.facebook.com/groups/parentsestrangedgrandparentsalienated/

      Delete
  2. I have siblings who have effectively cut off our remaining parent, though they protest through a screen of guilt and rationalizations as to why they contact our parent only a few times a year with brief phone calls. As one of the advice column submissions above argues, ours was a "typical" family, who took vacations and had birthday parties. Out of public view, our parents were cruel and malicious, and who never hesitated to belittle us on their altar of self-importance. I could very easily see our remaining parent voicing similar confusion as to why none of his children speak to him, but it would take no more than 5 minutes of looking beneath our family's surface to find the answer.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm very glad some adult children submit their own accounts. Although I cut contact nearly 3 years ago, my sibling still talks to her occasionally. She is still telling anyone who will listen how she doesn't understand why I did it, even though I sent two very detailed letters, outlining behavior from her I would no longer tolerate. She was very abusive to both my sibling and I, but she is a perfect parent. I ultimately stopped contact because she was attempting to triangulate my children, like she did with my sibling and I when we were children. Perhaps some parents really don't know why their children have cut them off, but I don't buy a majority of it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dr. Allen, I really do think some of these parents are in denial (not lying) and they just can't see/face the reality of what they did.
    Case in point: My parents would describe themselves as loving and good parents. However my sister has BPD and I have my own personality issues and I have confronted them with what they did (physical abuse from father and invalidation of my sister after she reported our sexual abuse done by my grandfather), they still have a hard time making the connection (denial). I went through a period of anger and limited contact with them, and they saw that as me being "punishing" towards them.
    I think they see themselves as good parents because of their own particularly horrific upbringing and the parenting they experienced..maybe the parenting they did -was- good in comparison to what they experienced. I just don't get the sense that they are lying on purpose, and that really the reality of what happened is just too painful for them to face.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Katsis,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I absolutely do think parents who were abusive or neglectful really do feel bad about it deep down - even ones who not only admit what they did but act as if they are proud of it (and you might be shocked at how many of those there are).

      And I work on getting my patients to be empathic to their parents actions, for the very reasons you mention, so I think it's usually very generous and wise of people to give such parents the benefit of the doubt.

      However, empathy does not involve excusing or justfying what they did, just trying to understand it. In fact, if formerly abused children act as if they think what happened was OK, they are not being empathic, because the abuser knows that then they are the ones who are lying! And lying can't be truly empathic.

      Not wanting to face reality is lying to yourself, but it is still lying. And it makes truly forgiving someone all the more difficult if not impossible. My take on the reason many such parents make forgiveness difficult in this manner is because, deep down, they don't believe they deserve their child's forgiveness.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your response, it makes sense and has given me a lot to think about...

      Delete
  5. Dr Allen,
    You said in the comment that you work on getting your patients to be empathic to their parents actions. My question is, would you still encourage this for a patient whose narcissistic parents exploited their empathic nature as a child to the point where the patient had problems even connecting with themselves? For example, where the mother's own childhood abuse was discussed daily with the child, rather than focus on the child or the abuse the mother was giving at the time. Where the mother's story overwhelmed the entire family so that it was the only story? When ever I read about being empathic to my abusive parents, I feel physically sick at the years I spent thinking poor mom. I know her childhood stories better than my own. I am completely filled with rage at how much empathy I gave to her at my own expense. Why would it help me to feel empathy to her?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Good question. Let me clarify: when I encourage patients to be empathic, that is not the final goal. It's done as a means to a specific end. Patients are next coached to then USE their empathy to effectively confront their parents with ongoing mistreatment, NOT to accept them as they are.

      The confrontation is meant to put a STOP to ongoing dysfunctional relationship patterns (such as completely one-sided relationships for example).

      If I am reading what you wrote correctly, you are saying that you are now more angry with your mother about the years you thought "poor mom" than empathic with her past mistreatment.

      In fact, when someone incessantly hits other people over the head with a sob story, this process will usually lead to just this result.

      I'm one of the few therapists who sees that people who do this sort of thing know very well that they are actually making it HARD for other people to empathise with them. Deep down, they feel they don't really deserve it.

      I can't say anything about your case in particular, but in general folks who do this, despite their protestations to the contrary, are purposely trying to get other people to be angry at them, not empathic! It works.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Anonymous who posted from June 3 and after. I know precisely of the intrapersonal challenges that come when you are not allowed to be yourself as a child. Your perspective really hit home with me. I will remain parentless also, not because I choose this but because, take the childhood memories away, I have tried to foster an unconditional kindness with my mom and dad as an adult and they have continued to abuse me as an adult. No mental health professional is going to tell me otherwise, I feel free to finally be myself for the first time in life at age 28 and no one's taking another year from me for as long as I live! Best of luck to you, and thanks so much for posting this as it's been greatly helpful in normalizing my own painful journey.

      Delete
  6. Hi again Dr.
    Do you think your explanation would account for the feeling that I had that the more I tried and the more accommodating I was to her, the more demanding and put upon she acted. Yet now when I have gone no contact, she acts almost gleefully justified? Like she can now honestly be unhappy? Apparently she is telling family members that I want her to be dead... completely her own invention as the only thing I did to "cut her off" was to stop calling. That was it. She made no attempt to find out what was wrong, it was as if her point was proven and she was satisfied with the result.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that could very well be consistent with the dynamic I am describing. Both her apparent attacks on you and self-satisfaction may both be feigned to anger and push you away even more, since secretly she may think she's doing you a favor by getting her awful self out of your life. See http://davidmallenmd.blogspot.com/2012/02/hatefulness-as-gift-of-love-part-i.html

      Delete
  7. I read that one and many of your post. Although I related to so much of what you say I just don't understand why you think it is best to stay in contact with parents like this. Being parentless does leave a huge gap in your life...but what is the alternative? Its so sad and pointless and upsetting. What possible line of communication is left? There is no way to repair or extract anything but further. Some people can never accept that there are damages to anyone but themselves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's only best to remain in contact if you can stop any ongoing dysfunctional patterns and mistreatment.

      I understand that many people don't think it's possible to do that. Many patients tell me that their family is the worst there ever was. But you'd be amazed. Every time I think I've seen every possible way family members can hurt and mistreat each other, boy am I in for a surprise.

      Unfortunately, getting past everyone's denial, guilt, shame, anger, existential fears, distancing behavior, etc. is extremely difficult, takes quite a while, and requires a lot of courage and peristance, as well as the services of a therapist who really understands the intergenerational issues involved. Even then, there are no guarantees.

      Unfortunately there are not a lot of therapists who are familiar with techniques for true family reconciliation under these circumstances. But there are some of us out there.

      The models used by therapists who deal with these issues are listed near the end of http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/matter-personality/201205/finding-good-psychotherapist

      Delete
    2. Is it okay if I don't want to reconcile? That I want to be in my new healthy life with my in-laws and chosen family? They really don't serve a purpose in my life.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous - I can't answer that for you without knowing a lot more. It's ultimately your call. Again, I don't think it's possible to reconcile if the family members continue to abuse or invalidate you and you don't know how to get them to stop and/or can't find a therapist who can help you do that..

      Delete
  8. Yes

    Not sure I agree or not with your ideas on parents in this post. I have tried the good cop, bad cop method with my mother with a couple of periods of no contact whatever. For what result?? Why none at all, still the poor egomaniac martyr she has always been.
    Still fool me for hoping she would change over time or after I cut her off. Where does that leave me, accepting the unacceptable??
    Thanks for the thought provoking article.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well, yes we are clueless but life is not as black and white or cut and dried as some would wish. Nobody in the family understands it, including her sibling or her husband. There is a history of mental health issues with our one child, but she is not evil, neither are we, it's far more complex than just laying blame, which seems to me a convenient cop out for people who look at life as black and white. We love our child, we are very ready to go to family counseling if she ever wants to go, but until then we keep a loving but respectful distance. It's been heartbreaking journey of grief, self examination, counseling etc. but our biggest sadness is the anguish our child must be going through to have made such a decision. People are so ready to sit in judgment and offer cruel opinions against the parents or adult children without the least understanding that sometimes there are no easy answers or scapegoats.

    ReplyDelete
  10. You state: Are they really that clueless? Are they “in denial?” - whatever that means? To me, “denial” of reality is just – how should I put this? – lying.

    My utter frustration with this 'denial' in relatives led me to the discovery of "Alexithymia' , or emotional blindness, as an alternative explanation. http://www.alexi.info/info_Alexithymia_2.html

    This excerpt, from Emotionally Dumb: An Overview of Alexithymia , by Jason Thompson, was especially helpful.

    An alexithymic individual will attack perceptions which risk arousing emotional recognition – by falsifying, displacing, rejecting or omitting certain aspects of conversation in order to destroy those signals used to build emotional meanings. This also has the effect of obstructing personal links with the world and the people in it leaving all exchanges devitalized and devoid of emotional significance.

    Aleximythmia is estimated to affect about 10% of the population so is obviously only one potential contributing factor.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I like the article, of course the 'parents' know and I think there is a huge need out there for adult children to speak out more. I have to post a couple of times as it is too long for one posting (according to the html)

    I can see with both my parents, (separately guilty of abuse and neglect - leading to more abuse by stepfathers) that they absolutely cold wall refuse to admit any recognition of my childhood. In fact any expression of it is denied. I can actually see that they have (separately as they are divorced) reconstructed past events into a cognitive historical construct that doesn't exist. I'm a psychologist and have spent years trying to repair the dysfunctional relationships once I became an adult and a mother, gave them those loving opportunities/holidays/contacts with my children (while carefully monitoring contact and access, this was easy as we live in separate countries so I was always by my children's side) at the same time, supporting and acknowledging their pain during my childhood, (while of course rarely speaking about my own). Unfortunately for some of these 'parents' they repeat the story over and over again to a sympathetic ear that will listen, changing little by little the story until they genuinely believe an entire false reality themselves. I have sat and watched my mother do it in front of me while she knew I personally witnessed other events! I think this is where the problem is. They know what they've done, they feel guilty, but they have disconnected from the events and have entered into that other reality and any challenge to that reality is met with anger.

    However when does enough become enough in the process of healing for the adult children and forgiveness? As you have rightly said in your post, my parents both know I've been lying ... that is for sure ... so it was never real. At the point when my female parent decided to write a book to make "her suffering" public and send it throughout her country 'to make people pay' and named people publicly, including me in it, with no apology or warning to me. I still forgave. When she said my 7 year old daughter was 'evil' I still forgave. When she hurled at me in anger/projection that I was abusing my kids because she witnessed a silly argument at the dinner table between me and my husband I still forgave .... When is enough enough? of forgiveness and understanding for their suffering? … but it has to stop for the adult children at some point. For me it was when she expected us to spend our last holidays with her after she told us all that due to naming politicians and powerful people publicly that her life was at risk but she expected my support, and me to risk my kids lives. I have been vilified by people: 'how could she be so cruel as to turn her back on her mother at this stressful point'. Madness of course. Of course I see that. Of course I understand that's what it is and it is no easy thing for an adult child to say "I have had enough, I have tried, I have communicated with understanding but it is denied back".

    ReplyDelete
  12. last part ...

    The male parent in my life has decided to disown me as he cannot handle ANY challenge to the cognitive reconstruction that he has created about my past. It has now become accusations from him that I abandoned him when I was 10!! Talk about role reversal but it has been this way all my life, me the parent of 2 incredibly immature people. His entire neglect for me in his life meant I led a life of poverty, violence and other men (stepfather figures) arriving in my bed as I was a child totally alone in houses as one parent went off partying and another travelled the world getting rich. Either I shut up and accept his reality or there is no relationship is how he presents it. Though of course he pretends to communicate consisting of saying to me "you are lying, you are slandering me" and total cold walling when I present my story. The media are giving a very bad press to adult children who walk away from dysfunctional parents but it's very one sided. We are not dysfunctional necessarily ourselves. I have been married for 21 years, my husband is incredible and a rock, I certainly didn't repeat my childhood but then again I've studied psychology right up to phd level, not everyone has that chance. I have 2 wonderful teenage daughters who are amazing, intelligent and competent girls, a business, a home etc … But in order to continue my successful adult life I have to finally close the door on my parents who refuse to move on. I think that adult children do not make this decision lightly at all, it is painful and sad but simply put … enough is enough if the 'parents' won't move on.
    Thank you for this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  13. As someone who took care of my mentally ill parents throughout my childhood and tried to end my life from the stress, I can tell you this is such a serious problem.
    Some solutions for parents :
    A) Ask your child: How are you? Are you okay? Are you upset with me? and mean it.
    B) Offer to pay and/or go with them for some family therapy.

    If you can't do that as a parent, then your kid deserves better parents.

    Ignorance is not a legitimate excuse for parents, and the initial advice inquiries are reflective of emotional manipulation on the parents' part (i.e., did anyone of the parents actually ask their children if they were ok before publicly shaming their child)?

    Emotional support is not rocket science, and it should be especially easy for all these folks who claim to live the "golden rule".

    ReplyDelete
  14. "If your kids have cut you out of their lives, there is a reason, and that reason is YOU. — S. "

    That's all that needs be said. Getting ready to cut my own abusive mother out of my life. She can grow old and rot in a home for all I care; alone, because she drives everyone away.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is what I don't understand about therapy. Are you saying that if your parents fail to understand their LARGE part in why you cut them off, than it is healthy to do so? My mother was always mentally ill, but her family always made excuses for her erratic behavior. One of this excuses was my father. Even though they split over 25 years ago, all of her irresponsible decisions have been because of him. There is no accountability. When I was young my mother moved around a lot because of new relationships and when they failed she was back at my grandmothers. My grandmother often made it a point to tell my mother was a shitty person she was and I don't even think I have heard once in my life my grandmother tell my mother she loves her. I moved around a lot and witnesses a lot of domestic violence. I was never asked how I felt. My mother's side, including my mother herself, tried to embed the fact that my father "abandoned" me and that no one on his side of the family truly loved me. They even concluded that he was cheating on my mother, when they had no basis to do so. My mother suffers from BPD and PPD (i think) and my life was a constant unstable drama. I have a toddler myself and to this day, she is trying to turn my daughter against me and my husband. She fails to see her destructive behavior. Recently, she told that she changed my diapers when I was a baby so I should respect her. I guess I owe her respect since she gave me the necessities of life! There is no need for her in my life whatsoever. She ruins whatever she touches - she is a lost soul! I will not be part of this mental abuse any longer and I will definitely not subject my daughter to even a fraction of the life I had.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ms. Colluci,

      I'm not sure I understand your question, assuming it was addressed to me. Is it healthy to do what exactly?

      Also, I'm saying that in the vast majority of cases like yours, the parents do NOT fail to understand what they did/are doing, but understand it very well, and are playing dumb to further push their children away - often because they hate themselves.

      Delete
    2. Hi Dr. Allen. Sorry for not being clear. What I was asking if whether it was healthy to cut off your parents in general if they don't acknowledge their large part in your reason to cut them off. I know that my mother is not healthy for me and my family and the best thing to do is walk away. But there is a part of me that feels guilty.

      Delete
    3. The way I see it, there are three, not two options.

      The worst is to hang around and continue to be psychologically abused and/or invalidated.

      The second best is to go the "toxic parent" route and divorce one's family. That is not ideal, because everyone carries their parents around with them in their heads, and in the majority of cases the family memmbers continue to affect one's own behavior as well as the relationships people have with their own kids. And most abused people secretly long for a better relationship with them.

      The third option is the best but the most difficult. It is to find a therapist familiar with family dynamics (not that easy to find these days) and to work on strategies to confront, in as empathically away as possible, the parents about their ongoing abusive behavior as well as the reasons for it from their own backgrounds. The goal is to get them to STOP those dysfunctional interactions with the person doing the confronting in the future (not to "fix" the parent), and to fess up to what happened in the past.

      This takes courage and perseverence, since families have all developed ways to get their members to shut up about what is going on, and every family is different. There are no guarantees, but in general I have found that where there's a will, there is a way.

      Delete
    4. Dr. Allen,

      My mother has Paranoid Personality Disorder, Bi-polar Disorder and Unipolar Disorder. She has been on prescription medication for as long as I can remember. I have no idea what meds she is currently on but she is almost always glossy-eyed. We have tried therapy before and it does not work. It is like talking to a brick wall. She still carries the same mentality she had 20 years ago.

      Delete
    5. If a parent is psychotic, that completely changes my recommendation. If a parent is constantly stoned with no breaks, one also can't talk to them constructively.

      Brick walls, however, can be torn down. I know that's hard to believe. The strategies have to be custom designed for each case.

      A therapist familiar with family interactions, dynamics, and genograms is usually required. If more people would demand that therapists look at their social environment instead of just assuming that everything is all in their heads, more such therapists might start becoming available.

      Delete
  16. Dear Dr. Allen,

    I grew up with physically & mentally abusive parents, leaving home at 17. I agreed to have them back in my life if they paid for therapy. I was diagnosed with PTSD and an anxiety disorder. I went on medication, had hospital trips, went off medication, pretty much lost my mind. I let them back into my life because I figured everything that had happened was my fault & I naturally wanted a family, love, and help getting through school.
    I have moved far away and our relationship grew strong, as long as we didn't see each other. One of my parents has an ongoing illness that effects their ability to do a lot of things. I have always been there for this parent, and spent a good deal of my childhood and adult life, tending to many of this parent's emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental needs. I felt both an obligation, guilt, and of course, I love my family & wanted to help make things better. My other parent has always acted with complete disinterest in me or rage/anger when I am not doing what they want. Whenever there has been a fight, a find myself in a dark and unhealthy place, easily manipulated into apologizing for things I didn't do, trying to keep the peace, always.
    I live alone where I am and I have a big friend support network. I recently experienced a large accident that has left me with many complications and little health coverage. It has led to a battle with insurance, working while extremely injured, and now I am at a point of stress, that feels much akin to my 17 year old self.
    I have naturally turned to my family during such a difficult time. I thought given the way things have been, things had changed. I turned to them because I never wanted to feel 17 and severely depressed & anxious again. I've had so much therapy & help to make things better inside, I didn't actually think it was possible.. and here I am.
    They have sent me some money, after I beg, and told me I am still dealing with complications because I don't have a good enough attitude. In the last year I have experienced rage, anger, impatience, a strong lack of empathy from both parents, frustration, and every other emotion from both of them. Given my injuries, extreme level of pain, financial strains, my traumatic brain injury, and many other complications from the accident, I have not had the patience or even cognitive function to react to them in a way that doesn't fuel the fire. I have never been more vulnerable in this world, and never needed them more. All the want to do is control, abuse, manipulate, and rage at me, or deny my health situation outright. I find myself trying to show them on the phone that I am actually ill. And this is only further proof that this behaviour doesn't change. Either you have to change yourself & be willing to be abused or deflect with different tactics and boundaries or you cut them off. So I've cut mine off. And let me tell you, the letters they send me read exactly like the ones on here. I sit here, tortured, reading them, told I am terrible & me cutting one of my parents off will eventually kill them from stress and disease. ... But who is worrying about me? No one. If you have any advice, I'd appreciate it. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HI Anonymous,

      Unfortunately I am not able to give out specific psychiatric advice in this forum. I would have to know a whole lot more about you and your family and its complete history.

      What I can recommend is that, if you can afford to get back into psychotherapy, look for a therapist who is familiar with dysfunctional family dynamics like yours and who can help you find strategies for dealing with them. Unfortunately, such therapists are becoming harder to find. You can ask about a potential therapist's theoretical orientation before going in.

      The types of therapists I would recommend for you are listed near the end of this blogpost: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/matter-personality/201205/finding-good-psychotherapist

      Sorry I can't be of more help.

      Delete
  17. Hi Dr Allen

    I have two older brothers. My eldest brother has convinced my mother to cut me and the middle brother out of her will. What makes this most unpalatable is the fact that she is a willing participant. The threats my eldest brother made to her was, if you don't do this I will stop seeing you and I will not help you anymore. Before it all blew up, Myself and Brother No2 said that we would look after her. Myself and Bro 2 sat down with Bro1 to talk about what he was doing. After that conversation myself and bro 2 became the bad guys. Within a few days my mother had turned against us and said we were selfish and there was no reason for being mean to Bro 1. I spent the nest two years trying to talk reason to her but she kept saying, I have not done anything wrong. We said, but Mum, you have given Bro 1 everything and us nothing. She just remained silent. I even tried visualising it and showing her by the fingers on my hands, mum, you gave one son 3 homes and the other two, none. Again it was received with silence.

    The only thing I could conclude was that she simply loves Bro 1 the most and is choosing to do this. Even her brother on his deathbed told her to "make things right" but she simply refused.

    Myself and Bro 2 stated the fact that Bro 1 has no children and has no heritage to pass it onto...all to no avail. We (Myself and Bro2) don't want everything, just what we are entitled to. The biggest issue for me is that her actions speak volumes. In my mind she is saying that you (me) are not worth any of my estate and I don't consider you are son.

    I have invited her to my children's birthday parties, my children's Weddings and she has made no effort to even respond. We have not been invited to christmas dinners and we (myself and Bro 2) are no longer welcome at her home.

    It is now almost 4 years down the track and when i see her at family functions I cannot face her without getting angry, frustrated, rejected etc etc.

    I am tired of trying to speak reason to her as she simply ignores it. As far as I am concerned, my mother is dead.
    I have nothing to do with her and would care less if she lives or dies. Angry?!?! You Bet!!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Usually it is not the parents fault the kids are a bunch of self absorbed, entitled assholes....or mentally ill one or the other!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Listen here buddy, not every parent is a saint. They're just everyday people and some of them are pretty shitty people. It's horrible having to deal with shitty parents up until you move out but to then be expected to deal with them as if you're friends, as many parents and adult children do, is asinine. Children aren't self absorbed in wanting a decent relationship with decent people. Sure you can be grateful and considerate that they put a roof over your head as a kid but as a responsibile parent that's expected, kids are for loving not an investment that will pay you back. As independent adults, they don't owe their parents their time. And chances are most kids will want to see their parents when they can, they get responsibilities too when they get older and seeing mom and dad isn't always on the top of the list, especially when mom and dad are assholes.

      Delete
  19. I was really interested in this. I am an adult whose parent is pretty awful. I have tried and tried to have a respectful relationship with them while dealing with all the severe anxiety that I now have because of what happened to me as a child. I think my dad would be one of these people. He once told me that he didn't think what he did to me was all that bad and that he did it out of love and to make me a strong person. Let me tell you something, watching your dad point a gun to your mom's head or beating her in the face does not make you stronger and is not done out of love. I think he knows exactly what he has done and it is just so horrible that he can not and will not admit it to himself. He and his wife recently asked me to keep my past quiet so it wouldn't hurt his reputation. That was the end. I do what I do and tell my stories to help others and I will not stop.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have pretty much alienated my family of origin for a year, and last I knew, my mother declared that I was punishing her by ignoring the whole family. I don't care anymore. My family isn't fixable. That means that at one point, the family was whole and sound, but it never was. It was flawed by design, and it will never get better. Last Christmas, my brother-in-law got drunk and hit me in the head. My mother thinks I'm overreacting by being mad. He was just drunk, after all. On the other hand, her drunken and violent husband, whom she thinks is a superhero, only indulged his need to cause pain to other people when dealing with his children. He never hit her, so he must be wonderful, and it is an outrage that I can't simply be happy for her for having so wonderful of a man, no matter what he did to me. Asking my mother what she thinks her children feel simply doesn't compute: it's like asking her what her shoes or her car think.

    But on a practical note, I don't have time for the fighting, the drama, or teasing out what imaginary thing set off anyone into a whirlwind of anguish and delusions of persecution. I can't subject my fiance to these people, or his daughter, or any of my future children. It is better to have no family and have them off somewhere thinking I'm this terrible person than it is to subject people I love to a nightmare I would rather leave behind.

    And my mother thinks she's the greatest mother ever. Why? Because she said so. And my father is the greatest father and husband ever. Why? Because she said so. And god help you if you think otherwise. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then my parents proof as fantastically shitty parents and dysfunctional adults, but my mother is more interested in her fantasies than in realities, real people, real feelings, and real relationships. I'm an adult now; no one can spank or slap me for recognizing the truth. If I don't start living my life, who will live it?

    All of us born to bad parents should not be forced to deal with it for life. We may have been cursed as children, but that doesn't mean we have to be cursed for life.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Recently I dealt with a huge life changing situation involving sexual abuse as a teen. My mom whom I thought was my guardian angel and protector is the same one who, I found out was talking about it and saying it all was my fault to my whole family. I've been sexually abused by a sibling as a kid in 4th grade. My sister. (I'm a girl as well) she would play "games" with me. I'd try to tell my mom but my sister would convince her and her dad I was a liar so her dad ostracized me and my mom made me feel positively evil for hating my sister. My sister is 25 now and I'm 21. I hate her to this day. My mom still acts like everything that happens to me is my fault. Recently on Christmas they all exchanged gifts at my brothers house but I wasn't invited to partake in that. They all talk behind my back about me and when they're around other people try to make it seem like they're good people and they don't know why I distance myself from them. I can't stand them. The more they lie the more I hate them. They are like leeches. They take everything from me they just drain me. I feel so unhappy and depressed around them and I feel like they thrive on that. They like it. They're sick people. They're even turning they're kids on me. My 8yr old nephew and 1yr old nephew. They aren't aloud to talk to me or be near me. It hurt and I'd cry about it to my bf but he would always tell me "just because your related by blood doesn't mean they're your family and that they're good people with your best interests in mind". He would know because his mom is a drug addict who left him in a house with his sister and never came back until he was 25 which was just a year ago. I'm 21 and I married him on Friday. I'm happy when its just us. I feel stress less and free. No anxiety or panic attacks but when I'm around my family I get them daily. I have made my decision to cut them off. I didn't invite a single one to my wedding. Best decision I ever made. I may have the same blood running through my veins but we are NOT family.

    ReplyDelete