What Not to Say to a Friend Who Is Estranged From a Parent (and 3 Things They Need to Hear)
As a 35-year-old woman who has been estranged from her father for almost two years, I have been lucky that my friends have never said the things I have expected them to say. However, the fear was almost crippling at first. Not only was I going through immense pain that I couldn't heal my relationship with my once-beloved dad and that things would never be again what I thought they were or wanted them to be, but I was also dealing with the fact that I was the one making one of the hardest choices I have had to make.
It wasn't the first time, either. This was the second go-around with my father after an initial estrangement that ended up with us getting back in touch and trying again. In some ways, the second time was harder than the first because it seemed more final. I have less hope this time around that he can be a non-toxic entity in my life.
Manipulation and Letting Go
In my case, my father would manipulate me to serve himself. My wants and my needs were irrelevant to him. Sometimes, things would be twisted to look like a good "deal" for me, but it was always self-serving and one-sided. After years, I learned I was being manipulated by him constantly; eventually, after trying to talk to him about it, reason with him, overlook it, and fight it, I let him go.
I'm sure he loves me the best way he can in his heart, but his actions of being parasitic left me on the brink of a breakdown, and it wasn't fair to my husband or myself. We have to love each other from a distance. And although it's hard to say out loud, my life is better without him.
9 Things Not to Say to a Friend Going Through Parental Estrangement
When an adult child feels the need to cut a parent out of their life, it can be shocking not only to them, but also to the people around them. We all know we can stop being friends with people or get a divorce from a spouse, but to cut communication from a parent seems unheard of to many people.
It's not fun, and it is an absolute last resort for many of us. A lot of these adult children form a close-knit bond and create "family" elsewhere. If you have a friend that is going through a parental estrangement, here are a few things to try to avoid saying to them.
1. "They're your parents/mother/father."
This is true, we know this. That's part of what makes this type of toxic relationship so difficult. It is also why we probably didn't cut ties sooner than we wanted to. Usually, when an adult child has cut a parent out of their life, the decision wasn't made lightly. We know it is our mother or father, but something got so bad that they became toxic. We gave them every chance, every opportunity to allow them to heal the relationship and, for whatever reason, they couldn't do it.
Unfortunately, toxic relationships don't discriminate and limit themselves to bad people in a dark alley.They often come in the form of loved ones. As hard as it is to believe, they can even be our own parents. The very nature of abuse is when someone who is supposed to love us causes us harm and we let them out of "love." We can't ever allow it. Having a title doesn't give anyone on this earth a free pass to cause someone pain.
2. "They love you more than anything in the world."
This is probably true, but it also may not be. They most likely do love us, but they can also unknowingly or knowingly hurt and disrespect us. The odds are that if they got cut-out, they were not listening to what we needed for the relationship to continue. Parents don't always love their kids unconditionally. If your parents do, you are beyond blessed.
Some parents are very broken people when they have children and they have to mend themselves while they are raising us. It sometimes leaves them unable to love us unconditionally because, honestly, they don't love themselves. The idea that they are our parents and love us unconditionally should not allow us to tolerate toxicity more than we would other relationships.
3. "They only want what's best for you."
I generally think this is true but sometimes a parents own selfishness and unresolved issues get in the way. Sometimes, parents will live vicariously through their children. Sometimes this isn't harmful, but a natural occurrence. There are other times this has terrible consequences. Sometimes parents will take their own failures and disappointments out on their children and adult children and this can be where a lot of relationships fall apart,or worse, the person falls apart.
This is how my father was. As I got older, I realized that I was a means to an end. It wasn't enough for him to be my father and friend. I had to provide him with whatever he wanted. In his case, he was always wheeling and dealing. I would try to compromise and it was never enough. Don't tolerate it. That is called a one way relationship. It should be least expected from a healthy, vibrant, able-bodied parent.
4. "You're mean and selfish."
No we're not. It's actually quite the opposite. We have put our own needs and desires second to our parent's for a long time. We have forgone setting adequate boundaries in our lives that are beneficial, not only to us, but the people around us. We actually were more selfish before implementing any changes. We were unaware of how a toxic parent/adult child relationship was affecting our children, marriage, co-workers, friends, and ourselves.
We are also not selfish because sometimes things need to get worse before they can get better. Sometimes an estrangement is like an intervention. It may have to happen to gain attention that something is seriously wrong in the dynamic. Estrangement doesn't always last forever. For some it might, but for others, it may be essential in a new, healthier beginning.
5. "If you'll cut your own family out, how will you treat me?"
I have been concerned that my friends would wonder if they are seemingly disposable. Certainly if I would cut people from my own family out of my life, they would be easier to cut out and it would be inevitable. That is not true, If you're a positive, loving entity in my life. They have all been gems and completely understanding in my situation.
Don't assume because your friend is estranged from a parent that you'll be cut out next. That's not how it works. Odds are, we have a long complicated relationship with our parent and as we have grown into adulthood, we have realized how toxic the relationship is. We have usually chosen friends that are better than our own family.
6. "I could never do that."
That may be true and we hope you never have to. We wouldn't wish parental estrangement on our enemies, let alone people we love. If you do have a toxic parent and find you can't cut them out, we know how hard the decision is to make and most of us would never try to force you to do what we have done because we know it's not a light decision. We may try to guide you, but well never pressure you. So don't worry if you can't. We're not judging you either.
7. "You'll regret it one day."
Perhaps we will, but will they? Probably not. Why should we be the only ones carrying a burden of guilt for a broken relationship. A relationship requires two people. The breakdown of a relationship also requires two people. You know what we definitely do regret?
- We regret that our boundaries aren't respected as we've entered adulthood.
- We regret you can't, won't, and don't hear us as we tell you our concerns.
- We regret the manipulation, gas-lighting, and any other mental abuse that we have endured at the hands of your "unconditional" love.
But do you know what we regret the most? That we have to make the responsible and hardest decision ever to save our sanity, mental health, physical health, marriages, and children. And that at a certain point, an estrangement may be the last resort in a resolution. So will we regret when the parent passes away someday and we never got the blessing to have a health, happy relationship with them? Yes. We will take 50% of that regret and let them have the rest.
8. "Just forgive your mother/father."
You're right! We must forgive in order to find peace and be free of pain and hurt. What you don't know is that we may have forgiven them. However, forgiving doesn't mean that we need to maintain a toxic relationship. A broken relationship is not fixed though forgiveness alone. Sure it is a first step, but then their needs to be work done on both sides for the relationship to be rebuilt and healed.
If they are unwilling to do that, forgiveness and continuing a relationship will only cause further hurt. Forgiveness is for the forgiver not the forgiven. In a perfect world, forgiveness given unconditionally without any expectations of the other person.
9. "You need to honour thy father and thy mother."
It's a cheap shot to us, no matter how religious we are. We may honor our parents, but we may do it from a distance. To honor doesn't mean to dishonor ourselves or allow them to get away with abuse of any kind, be it emotional, verbal, or physical.
Sometimes the kindest thing us grown children can do is withdraw as to not stay in a toxic relationship with will never be one of mutual respect. As a grown child of my fathers I can assure you, I have treated him with more respect and still respect him more than he respects me.
3 Things Your Friend Would Love to Hear
1. "Even though I can't understand what you're going through, I respect that you did the right thing for you."
We know that the people that we love may not understand how we could estrange ourselves from a parent. It's a catch twenty-two. While we want you to understand and be able to feel what we're going through, we would never wish this feeling on our worst enemy.
Ultimately, we just don't want to be judged and though of as "bad people" for doing something some might consider mean, cold, heartless, or selfish. We just want to understand we are practicing self-love and we will extend that love to the wonderful people in our lives who have our best interests at heart.
2. "I know that you treat people fairly, I know you will do the same with me."
We will! If we did something as hard as cutting out a parent due to poor treatment and not respecting boundaries you can bet your bottom dollar we are more aware of boundaries than ever before.
3. "Think of me as your family."
Since we have eliminated a very crucial relationship from our lives, we want to fill our lives with good relationships and other family. Often though, we choose people that aren't technically "family" as family. If you are in our lives, we want you in our lives. In some ways, I feel there is no purer relationships than the people we choose as family. Nothing says we have to be together, yet we are.
Share Your Story!
What helped when I was in the darkest part of this process was reading articles like this and, even more importantly, the comments from people with similar stories. Please share your stories below to give hope to those who are dealing with this. When I first started realizing I had a problem, I felt so alone. Then with some research, I realized I wasn't. What a gift that was.
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.
© 2019 Jess B