Why Mistakes with Estrangement Are Unavoidable

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Why Mistakes with Estrangement Are Unavoidable

BY JOSHUA COLEMAN, Ph.D.

Parental estrangement can evoke ongoing and intense feelings of rejection, fear, guilt and anger. It brings out the most primitive, primal feelings in us to realize that the child we have raised and invested so much time, love and energy into is acting like we’ve ruined their lives and they may well never want to see us again.

Once an estrangement gets started, it’s almost impossible for a parent to avoid doing or saying something that won’t make the estrangement worse. It’s like quicksand-the harder you fight to get out, the more stuck you get. This is for several reasons:

Few parents have encountered anything like an estrangement in their lives, and thus, have little prior experience to guide them

The rules that govern behavior in the mind of the parent are typically quite different from the rules that govern the child for her or his generation

Most people who would provide guidance to the parent, therapists included, often give advice that worsens the estrangement rather than improves it.

Parents often respond in ways that, rightly or wrongly, make the adult child feel criticized or guilt-tripped and this has the effect of turning them away, rather than bringing them closer.

When I say mistakes, I want to let people know that these are really inevitable mistakes once an estrangement starts to get triggered. However, they’re important to think about for your ability to work toward a reconciliation with your adult child and to develop your own feelings of serenity and resolution and restore your own self-esteem, whether or not a reconciliation is possible.

 

Read more from Dr. Coleman

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Dr. Joshua Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and a Senior Fellow with The Council on Contemporary Families. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, The BBC, and numerous other outlets.

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