What You Should Know About Reverse Parental Alienation

Updated on May 30, 2020
Deb Vesco Roberts profile image

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


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:

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 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.

Questions & Answers

  • What happens if all the others in my family, kids, and husband, are selfish uncaring narcissists that continually hurt, abuse, and disclude me?

    I am in the same boat as you, with close family members outcasting and being emotionally abusive towards me because they disagree with my positive life choices made eight years ago. I empathize whole-heartedly.

    I agree, the continual pain is debilitating at times, but this is where self-awareness and confidence come into play. As hard as it is, you must take the high road and not fuel the fire. If your husband is doing this to you, you need to evaluate your relationship and marriage and seek counseling or therapy if he is willing. You must find your own inner peace and happiness and that means ignoring them and their behaviors. They are trying to get a rise out of you and it sounds like it's working. Don't let them. Seek solace in your friendships and find hobbies and activities you love...where you can meet new people and experience inclusion, rather than disclusion. I found that establishing a regular yoga practice at a local studio was my saving grace. Not only am I giving my body the love it needs, but I'm also feeding my soul with powerful, positive, vibes, mental clarity, and new friendships. I hope this helps you in some way. The bottom line is, you must take control of your life before it controls you.

© 2018 Debra Roberts


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    • profile image


      5 months ago

      I am so happy to read your post I so want to understand my daughter whom I love so much yet she are so hard to please I also have a son I love my children equality as a parent children are different one like to hug and one dont I always been fare to both of them but my dauther never sèe it always have to be her way .For a long time she got her way .I finally stand up to her now we dont talk my choice until she can talk to me with respect how can we talk .

    • profile image


      14 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


      14 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


      14 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 

      14 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


      14 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 

      14 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 

      14 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 

      14 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


      14 months ago

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

    • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

      Debra Roberts 

      15 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) 

      15 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 

      20 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 

      21 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


      21 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 

      22 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 

      22 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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