What You Should Know About Reverse Parental Alienation

Updated on June 10, 2019
Deb Vesco Roberts profile image

Family dysfunction and toxicity is not easy to discuss and can be emotionally crippling if you let it.

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Family Dysfunction Can Lead to Alienation

Every day, hundreds of family ties are severed, mostly due to lack of understanding or communication. How does one come to grips with such a sad outcome, yet go on to live a happy and peaceful life with so much animosity and unsettled emotions hanging over their head?

If you are a parent, especially a mother, please think about the long-term consequences before allowing your anger, judgment, or a grudge against your adult child (or any relative) to ruin your relationship forever. Think about the effects of these negative actions and how behaviors of today will impact other family members and future generations for years to come. Is this the legacy you want to leave behind for others to remember you? My hope is the answer is "no".

Negative reactions can have a very painful and lifelong effect on your child, and others within the family as people generally feel forced to choose a side. What is the point of such reactions and behaviors? Is the sake of being right, controlling, or wishing to guilt your adult child worth the long-term agony it causes?

Instead, try taking the high road and let go of your inner narcissist. Instead, offer a listening ear, and allow your adult child to make his or her own decisions—and then do your best to support whatever those decisions are, even if you disagree. It takes a strong will, a conscious effort, and dedication to your child to not make knee-jerk reactions you may forever regret. Being a supportive parent is the best gift you can give your child.

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Adult Children Need a Healthy Relationship With Their Parents

As a parent, you needn't approve or agree with your adult child's choices. But as with many situations in life, pick and choose your battles wisely and decide if your family bonds are worth sacrificing over a difference of opinion. You can provide the support they need and help them navigate through life's challenges. They need comfort, acceptance, safety, and love, not opinions or judgment that make their issues even more difficult to face and ultimately, overcome.

Our children are not a possession to control. In most cases, our children were wanted and desired, and some parents even worked hard to have them. Adult children should not be expected to live up to a parent's expectations, just because we created them. They are individuals. I cannot stress this enough. Allow them to be their own people; not a clone of you or who you want them to be.

As mothers and fathers, we must raise our children to be kind-hearted human beings with a good work ethic and respect for others. We also must help and support them through life's struggles and teach them the necessary skills to survive and cope with such challenges. On a side note, it's never helpful to throw religious guilt into the equation. Not everyone believes the way you do, even if it is "how you raised them". That is yet another form of control and mentally abusive too.

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A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and often child neglect or abuse on the part of individual parents occur continuously and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions.

— David Stoop and James Masteller

No One is Guaranteed Perfect, Loving, Understanding Parents

If you find yourself the target of family aggression, parental estrangement, or as a victim of emotional abuse from a parent or other family member, it's time to remove yourself from that situation if you have exhausted all measures to reconcile or even agree to disagree.

It may sound cliche', but when your parent alienates you, the issues they have with you, may not actually be with you, but with themselves. You have no control over how your parent feels about, treats, or behaves towards you. You can only control how you respond to the abuse--and it is abuse. This may mean allowing the parent to walk away and not chasing them or trying to convince them to accept you and this may be temporary or in severe cases, permanent.

Your happiness must be a priority. As tough as it is, this may mean having to cut out this toxic parent from your life forever if they are not willing to work on themselves and have a healthy relationship with you. If this happens, you must find a way to forgive your parent and give yourself permission to break free of the guilt that is being put upon you.

Why Some Mothers Can't Love

Some mothers have a very difficult time loving their children, particularly their daughters, as in my case. These are some of the reasons:

  • Jealousy that her child has accomplished things she didn't have the courage to do.
  • They have nothing in common and simply can't find a common ground on which to connect.
  • She has high or unreasonable expectations.
  • She feels she they must always be the center of attention, not you.
  • Perhaps the parent/child relationship was always stressed--she did not handle an active, opinionated child well (the "seen and not heard/speak when spoken to, your opinion doesn't matter, show me respect at all times" kind of parent). This was my situation. I was never allowed to have a voice. I was always being told to slow down, walk don't run; basically stifled from being my true self. This always caused tension as we moved forward into an adult child/parent role.
  • Maybe being a tough mother stems from not feeling loved by her own mother (or father), or something terrible happened during her childhood she cannot process or overcome and the adult child bears the brunt of the anguish.

Ways to Cope and Respond to Reverse Parental Alienation

Whatever the case may be, if you are the victim of any or all of the above actions by your own "tough mother", you must first and foremost understand it's perfectly acceptable to take care of yourself before you try to repair the damage caused by these behaviors. Practice self-love by doing what you need to do to get life on your desired path, whether that be moving and starting over, finding a new job, taking up new hobbies, or establishing a new relationship/marriage--even if she does not approve of this.

Distance and silence are key at first. Try reaching out slowly with a call or even an email or a card. Then try a meet-up for coffee or lunch. Don't expect a happy reunion at first; actually, don't expect anything and you won't be disappointed. The most important aspect is that you tried.

If you continue to try in good faith and persistently get bitten, it's time to resume the silence and distance until she is ready to seek counseling and work on her reactions and approaches towards you. For some, the painful reality is it may never happen and the situation may never change.

There are many excellent books loaded with advice from experienced writers and professionals who have lived this situation or helped those who have. Take advantage of these reads. Talk to your friends or see a family counselor. Start a yoga practice or take up a sport as an outlet for your frustration.

My two favorite books on this topic are as follows:

Difficult Mothers Cure: Toxic Relationships With Narcissistic Mothers Understood and Overcome Forever. It is written by a man who had a strained relationship with his mother and he even wished he could have had a different one. He wanted her to be proud of him (something that I tried and struggled with my entire life, to no avail). His outcome has a happy ending and he shares how they repaired their strained relationship. When I first read it, it gave me hope that my relationship could also be repaired, and I'm sure many can be; unfortunately, mine was not one of them.

I then had to look for advice on how to cope and move forward without my mother. That's where the book Mothers Who Can't Love: A Healing Guide For Daughters came to my rescue. The author is a therapist who has helped many people with their feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem etc. as a result of feeling unloved or controlled by their mothers. She further breaks down the types of difficult mothers, such as the "competitive and the narcissistic mother". This book provides emotional support for people like me, who have had to proceed with permanent parental separation.

Another way to cope is to connect with others in the same situation. As a result of writing this article, I met another woman, Jessica, who is facing a similar family crisis. I encourage you to also read her story: "When Your Adult Child Stops Talking to You: 5 Things They Want You to Know".

If you are an adult child of a tough mother (et.al), you might even find improvement with the manners in which you respond or react to your own children in their times of need or change. I know I did. I have more patience, understanding, tolerance, and acceptance for my own adult children. I am cognizant of my boundaries and let them live their own lives, in the manner they choose. If I don't like something or feel they are making mistakes, I think before I let my words or actions ruin our relationship. I agree to disagree and I support their decisions, without enabling or criticizing. It's crazy how we can turn terrible situations into valuable learning experiences.

I will probably always feel unloved by my own mother, but at least I know now it's not my fault and it's out of my control. All I can do is use what I have learned to be a better mother and grandmother today, tomorrow, and in the years to come.

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I value any comments and feedback or the sharing of your own personal experiences with your own "tough mother". We are all in this together and it's nice to share coping and learning strategies.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Debra Roberts

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      • profile image

        Angie 

        2 months ago

        I agree with all of these! I grew up in a dysfunctional home and it took me to the age of 33 to release my mother was very unhealthy for me! I have greater peace without her!

      • profile image

        Lyosha 

        2 months ago

        That is such a important post. I (rather thankfully) not to relate to it but it is good to aware for such points. Family is so important, I can't really see myself (or even I afraid) dealing with it

      • profile image

        Thuy 

        2 months ago

        I know a dad friend of mine who goes to a support group for alienated parents. They have a daughter in college and they say that having people to talk to really helps them avoid feeling helpless and alone. Yes the kids become adults and get to make their own choices, but there’s no denying the influence of a dysfunctional family and how it shapes their opinions of their parents

      • profile image

        Live Learn better 

        2 months ago

        This is one of the touchy topics I hate to deal with. Family is what you call it. it could be blood or friends but in the long run, we're all in pursuit of happiness.

        When I'm pissed at you I want nothing to do with you, and I won't trust you around mine.

        Call it whatever you want, when the kids mature they can make whatever choices they wish to.

      • profile image

        Snehal 

        2 months ago

        Um.. You hit the spot dear with this article. From my personal experience I can share that yes a dysfunctional family can lead to alienation. But you know what hurts the post..that no one is taking a step to bring us closer :/

      • profile image

        Despite Pain 

        2 months ago

        Debra, I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I think more people than we realise live with family problems. You can only try so much to try to improve the relationship, but they need to make an effort. If they don't, then you have to do what's right for you, don't you?

      • profile image

        Tracy C 

        2 months ago

        My recently ex-sister-in-law and my 20 something year old nieces are going through this right now. It’s so hard to be in the middle because I can see both sides. I’ll have to check out these books and see if they may be helpful for them.

      • profile image

        Scott DeNicola 

        2 months ago

        My mom and my sister and my mother in law as well are extremely jealous of the life my wife and I have built for ourselves. They all constantly comment about how many friends we have and how busy we always are. Our response is always that life is about being with people you enjoy and who enjoy you. The frustration is that you’d think they’d be happy that they raised children who have made a nice life for themselves. It’s never easy to cut out toxic people or relatives from your life but as an adult it is your life to live as well. Very well written article and very deep.

      • profile image

        Brandi 

        2 months ago

        It is very tough sometimes! Thank you for this article!

      • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

        Debra Roberts 

        3 months ago from Ohio

        I could have also written this reply! You and I sound like we have similar situations and both have tried to no avail. I'm sorry for you because I know the grief and guilt and judgement that comes along with it. I didn't choose to cut her out, he did that part. I just wanted to move on and agree to disagree but she she would not have that. I'm her only living, biological child too, and I thought that would mean something. Hugs to you Erica.

      • profile image

        Erica (The Prepping Wife) 

        3 months ago

        Oh Deb, I’m so glad I found this post! It hit so close to home because I’ve had to cut my mother out of my life. It took me a very long time to realize she was a complete narcissist and it was time for me to make the healthiest choice for myself. It’s sad when I want nothing to do with her, and then there’s always the judgement from others to go along with that. I tried reuniting with no expectations. It was still disappointing because she took it as we were best friends again and had done nothing wrong.

      • profile image

        Bruce Fruehan 

        8 months ago

        Very well written and very true. I've never had a better friend or one I respect more.

      • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

        Debra Roberts 

        9 months ago from Ohio

        Thank you Anna. It was deeply emotional indeed for me to write this as no one wants to admit their family situation is not so great. I used to find it very embarrassing until I started writing about it. Thank you for your thoughtful feedback.

      • profile image

        Anna 

        9 months ago

        Your site is something I am very interested in as it talks about deep emotions that we go through and struggle with in life. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you!

      • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

        Debra Roberts 

        10 months ago from Ohio

        I had never heard of NPD until I started reading and researching and trying to figure out why this happened...and why things have always been so contentious with us. The more I read, the more I have learned that it is more common than I thought. I'm definitely not alone in this struggle.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        10 months ago from UK

        A friend of mine once did some study on narcissistic mothers, which was interesting to read. Your article further enhances my understanding of the subject.

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