Enjoy GRAND Magazine

for grandparents & those who love them


The Pain Of Estrangement – Grandparent Alienation

The Pain Of Estrangement

When I became a psychologist, I could not have predicted my practice would one day be filled with parents suffering from ongoing, unrelenting grief. That I would need to grapple with questions like: What if I never see my child ever again? What if my grandchildren think that I don’t love them? Does my son remember any of the beautiful times that we had together? Does my daughter still care about me if she’s decided she won’t see me? Or does she just hate me? 

I also didn’t know that I would have to address heartrending end-of-life issues such as: Who will bury me? Will I die alone in a hospital bed with no children or grandchildren to comfort me? Will my children even miss me once I’m gone? If I get cancer, will they finally end the estrangement? How will I feel if they won’t?


Nobody trained me for these questions, and I’m sure I responded clumsily and ineffectually the first few years that I began to be flooded with referrals after writing When Parents Hurt. But after working with so many estranged parents over the past decade, here’s what I’ve learned. To start: There’s nothing I can do or say that will take away your pain.

You’re going to see a grandmother push her granddaughter down the street with her daughter smiling by her side and feeling pain. You’re going to listen to your friend or relative tell you about the fantastic trip they all went on with their three adult children and their grandchildren and feel pain.

It’s what you do with the pain that will make the difference between a life tethered to constant, implacable sorrow and one that has joy and meaning along with the pain.”

You’re going to wake up from a dream where your son blissfully reconciled with you; remember, you’re heading into year seven of no contact and feel pain.  Despite your most vital inner warnings, you’ll go again to your child’s Facebook page or Instagram or wherever the hell they post pictures of themselves, their children, their in-laws, their friends—seemingly everybody but you and feel pain.

Here’s what else I’ve learned: It’s what you do with the pain that will make the difference between a life tethered to constant, implacable sorrow and one that has joy and meaning along with the pain.

“The path out of hell is through misery,” writes University of Washington psychologist and researcher Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. “By refusing to accept the misery that is part of climbing out of hell, you fall back into hell.”

The path out of hell is through misery. Excuse me? What is that supposed to mean? It means that you have to start by “radically accepting” where you are right now. Radical acceptance means you don’t fight what you’re feeling now. You feel sad? Feel sad. Don’t judge it, don’t push it away, don’t diminish it, don’t try to control its passage. Turn toward the feeling rather than turn away from it.

If you need more help managing the pain of estrangement, join us this Tuesday for

Healing the Pain of Estrangement

Tuesday Oct 24 at 430 Pacific

Order here

Order series here

Joshua Coleman

About the author

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best practice findings about American families.

Only $ 6.95

A Special eBook for New and Expecting GRANDparents

My Grand Baby ebook cover