What You Should Know About Reverse Parental Alienation
Family Dysfunction Can Lead to Alienation
Every day, hundreds of family ties are severed, mostly due to a lack of understanding or communication. How do we come to grips with such a sad outcome and live a happy and peaceful life with animosity and unsettled emotions hanging over our heads?
If you're a parent, think about the long-term consequences before allowing 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 the 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."
Adverse reactions can have a harrowing and lifelong effect on your child, and others within the family as people generally feel forced to choose sides. 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. 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 not to make knee-jerk reactions you may forever regret. Being a supportive parent is the best gift you can give your child.
Adult Children Need a Healthy Relationship With Their Parents
As a parent, you needn't approve or agree with your adult child's choices. 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 challenging 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 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.
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're a target of family aggression, estrangement, or victim of emotional abuse, it's time to remove yourself from the situation once you've exhausted measures to reconcile.
It may sound cliche', but when your parent alienates you, the issues they have with you, may not 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. It may mean allowing the parent to walk away and not chasing them or trying to convince him or her to accept you. It may be temporary or in severe cases, permanent.
Your happiness must be a priority. It could mean you remove the toxic parent from your life forever if they aren't willing to have a healthy relationship with you. If this happens, you must find a way to forgive your parent and break free of the guilt that's upon you.
Why Some Mothers Can't Love
Some mothers have a challenging 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 dare to do.
- They have nothing in common and can't find common ground on which to connect.
- She has high or unreasonable expectations.
- She feels she 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). I was in such a situation. I wasn't allowed a voice. I was always told to slow down, walk, don't run, and stifled from being my true self. It was this that caused tension moving into an adult child/parent role.
- Maybe being a tough mother stems from not feeling loved by her mother (or father). Perhaps something terrible happened as a child she hasn't worked through, causing the adult child to bear the brunt of her anguish.
Ways to Cope and Respond to Reverse Parental Alienation
If you're a victim of the above actions by your "tough mother," understand it's acceptable to take care of yourself before trying to repair the damage her actions caused. Practice self-love and get your life on a positive path, whether this is a move, a new job, hobby, or a new relationship, even if she doesn't approve.
Distance and silence are critical 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 in good faith and persistently get bitten, it's time to resume the silence and distance until she seeks counseling to improve her approach with 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:
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. Difficult Mothers Cure: Toxic Relationships With Narcissistic Mothers Understood and Overcome Forever.
I then had to look for advice on how to cope and move forward without my mother. That's where the book 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. Mothers Who Can't Love: A Healing Guide For Daughters
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 also to read her story: "When Your Adult Child Stops Talking to You: 5 Things They Want You to Know".
If you're an adult child of a tough mother (et al.), you might find improvement in how you react to your children in their times of need. I know I did. I have more patience, understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of my adult children. I am conscious 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 them. It's crazy how we can turn terrible situations into valuable learning experiences.
I will probably always feel unloved by my 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.
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.
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© 2018 Debra Roberts