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Estrangement Takes Two

If someone has cut you off, and the two of you aren’t speaking, it can feel like something is being done to you. It’s like you’re the victim and they’re the perpetrator.

But if you take a step back and look at the entire picture over time, it’s probably not quite like that.

Two Perpetrators, Two Victims

Do you have an email, mailing address, website, or phone number for the person?

Do you know where they work or play?

Do you know anyone who might be in contact with them?

Do you know what state (or country) they live in?

If you can answer “Yes” to just one of the questions above, you are a full participant in the estrangement. Both a victim and a perpetrator. Or neither, if you prefer.

Your feelings have so far kept you from making successful contact. There’s no shame in that. The point here is not to assign blame, but to accept responsibility for your feelings, thoughts and actions.

You don’t have to feel like a victim of estrangement.

When you acknowledge your part in what’s happening, you regain a sense of power. Power is the upside of responsibility.

You could do something to make amends, to apologize for hurting them (even though you didn’t mean to), to let them know how important they are to you, and why. You could fight for the relationship.

Always, there’s the caveat: You need to be sure that having a relationship with this person is what you want.

If you DO want the relationship, why not fight for it?

Yes, I know it’s risky. I know they’ve already rejected you, and all indications are they’ll do so again.

So why should you bother?

You shouldn’t, unless the relationship is super important to you. Because if that’s true, chances are the relationship is important to them, too.

In that case, rest assured they’re as hurt as you are. And they’re protecting themselves by staying away from you. (And guess what? You’re doing the same thing!)

Decision Time

So ask yourself, how much do I want a relationship with this person whose rejection has hurt me so much, and whom I managed to hurt badly enough that they can’t stand to be around me?

Consider the following:

  • How satisfying was the relationship before things went wrong?
  • How much value did it bring to your life?
  • What will you lose if you lose the relationship?
  • Can you find it somewhere else?

If you decide the relationship isn’t worth it, you can grieve what you’ve lost and move on.

If you decide your love for this person is greater than your fear of being hurt again, maybe you’ll use your newfound power to follow the estrangement advice on my website.

Whatever you decide, I wish you peace and happiness.

Estrangement Takes Two, Part 2

Are you a parent? Read the excerpt from the Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children.

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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42 Responses to "Estrangement Takes Two"

  • Elva Anson
    September 12, 2012 - 12:12 pm Reply

    I like your blogs, Tina. It is important to ask oneself, “Where does my power lie? What can I do?” and own your own responses. I have blogs on parenting and couple relationships. You can get to either of them from my webite. http.www.family1stbooks.com

  • mamacflys
    September 17, 2012 - 11:23 pm Reply

    I have enjoyed reading several of your tips. I am an Estranged Mom from my only son, who’s turning 22. You are right it takes two. As it seems I have excersised myself out of his life for now. No matter what I have tried, he’s just not willing. It seems as if he has the upper hand, and I don’t even to recieve a crumb here or there. You gave me things to ponder which I shall. Thank you.
    Mama C

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 21, 2012 - 12:08 pm Reply

      Mama C, your openness to this post says a lot about who you are. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I wish you all the best as you navigate this difficult situation.

      • mamacflys
        September 25, 2012 - 12:46 am Reply

        Thank you Tina. I wished you were out in Northern California. I will soon be venturing in putting together a Social Group meeting for Mother’s Estranged from their Adult Children, in my back yard, in Contra Costa – that is about 40 minutes out from San Francisco. It’s too lonely and two fold, “missing my only son”, and estranged from close friends and family. Thank God I no longer walk on egg shells cause I divorced my X.

        Walking a plank on heels alone is no fun, however, walking with friends who are on the same course, well that’s more a resaon for CELEBRATING! Thanks for your reply as well. Stay in touch, and I too. Mama C

        • Tina Gilbertson
          September 25, 2012 - 9:56 am Reply

          Your group sounds like a terrific idea, Mama C. I wish there were such a group in every city. Good luck!

  • trophydaughter
    September 29, 2012 - 11:57 am Reply

    Tina, thanks for this post. I’ve been estranged from my mother for going on 6 years. We had a falling out during a vacation together. At the time, my husband and my nieces and nephews who live with her, begged me to reach out and mend the rift. I found I couldn’t do it. I’d been the one shouldering the responsibility of the relationship for years and the falling out opened my eyes to the fact that I’d spend the greater part of my adult life trying to get my mother to love me, and that was never going to happen. It was an incredibly painful realization but also quite freeing. I explained to my husband that for the relationship to continue, I needed my mother to be the one to reach out in reconciliation. Six years later she hasn’t done so. Instead, she wrote me out of her will and told my nieces and nephews that I am bipolar. (Which is not true.)

    I don’t think a relationship with my mother is worth it. She is very damaged and because of that, inflicts damage on others. I don’t think she does it on purpose. That doesn’t mean I should subject myself to it. I have grieved and am moving on.

    The one thing I would still like to do, however, is write her a letter and tell her how I feel. She has told me I’ll be sorry when she’s dead. Not sure if she means because I’m not in the will or because I’ll regret not having reconciled with her. The only regret I believe I’ll actually have is never standing up to her, never calling her on the mental abuse, never telling her how I feel. Not that it would matter to our relationship. For some reason it just matters that I say it. Thoughts on this?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 30, 2012 - 5:42 pm Reply

      Trophydaughter, I am so sorry for your pain in your relationship with your mother. We each get just one shot at that relationship in our lives, and it’s tragic when it goes so badly off track. What a sad situation.

      I can understand your desire to write a letter. Writing one is never a bad idea; sending it can be trickier. Before you consider allowing your mother to access your feelings in this way, ask yourself what you’re hoping for. It can be devastating to receive a negative response — or worse, no response — once you’ve put your heart on paper.

      If you’re certain the outcome won’t turn into another painful experience for you, there’s no law against sending it. Just be prepared to receive absolutely nothing in reply.

      Another thing you might do is to share it with others who are likely to understand and appreciate your feelings. It might be a close friend, your therapist or members of a support group.

      Just remember you can always send it later, but once it’s sent, you can never un-send it.

      Best of luck, thanks for your comment and a big hug to you.

      • chris
        May 23, 2013 - 2:59 pm Reply

        Trophygirl’s situation sounds very much like my own and I opted not to send a letter for the very reasons you state Tina. My mom is very wounded and thus doesn’t process her feelings or reign in her actions in a way healthier people do. I have found in the past that the more available I make me feelings and hurts to her, the more these things are turned around and used on me or against me. I chose safe people around me who already displayed at minimum the basics of good communication and empathy, mainly my husband, therapist and a handful of close friends to share with and that has been significantly healing. I think when our parents are this damaged, their perception is so distorted that they just cannot absorb or relate to other’s feelings, especially negative feelings directed at them. At the beginning of the major blow ups between my mother as I started trying to put some relationship-saving boundaries in place, I did send my mo some letters as I felt it was safer than a phone condo- I would write the letter, review it and then my T. would go over it with me. She would help me focus on what I needed to say, help me rephrase some things that I wrote that were deliberately hurtful and cull it down to the minimum. I can say looking back at those letters, even just the process of editing made me a better, more thoughtful communicator. I din’t help my mom and I but it helped with everyone else I communicate with.

    • Barbara Riley
      December 27, 2013 - 7:24 pm Reply

      Times have changed but parents of older generations expect their children to make all the effort. If you send the letters and she keeps them when she dies the family will see you tried to reconcile, if she cuts you out of her will, put in a family provision claim, the court usually rectifies wills where the testator hasn’t written substantiated reasons for cutting you out of her will usually egregious behaviour, not just a falling out that got egos going.

  • Tina Gilbertson
    March 1, 2013 - 8:47 am Reply

    Sad Dad [comment removed by request], I’m sorry for your estrangement from your sons. It sounds like you’re making earnest efforts to make up for your part in what happened. The only advice I can offer is to expand on what you said in your email.

    You said, “I realize I have done some things and I am really sorry for it.” That’s a good start. A great apology includes more detail about what you’re taking responsibility for. “Some things” leaves the recipient with the possibility that you’re not sure what exactly you’re apologizing for.

    Try something specific like this: “I said ‘xyz’ in anger and I’ve regretted it every moment since. I don’t really believe ‘xyz,’ I think ‘abc’ instead.” Or “I’ve been trying to control you so that you won’t end up like me, but I realize now that’s not fair to you.”

    The other thing you might do is send a letter rather than an email. Emails are too easy to delete if someone isn’t in the mood for them. That’s possible with a letter, too. But if you don’t include a return address the recipient can’t be 100% certain it’s from you.

  • victoria
    March 22, 2013 - 10:49 pm Reply

    Separating is a process that can take many years. Kind of like a marriage. It rarely ends from one incident, but from years of issues that were never resolved. In the end, if you have someone in your life who does not respect you, is not trustworthy, or caring- no matter who they are, you have to ask yourself some tough questions. Was I put on this earth to not be valued and loved as I and everyone deserve? You can always send positive energy and love, added with prayer to the person, but you do not owe them your self-respect or your time. It’s a journey for sure. One that is scary and painful, but we all have challenges that we can either become bitter about or grow and learn from. Thank you for the helpful advice.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      March 23, 2013 - 9:45 am Reply

      Victoria, your words strike me as very wise. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  • semirenegade
    May 25, 2013 - 3:40 pm Reply

    Tina, I am grateful to have discovered you via power of google. 🙂 Reading and rereading, I’ve learning how to cope, to learn and live on from the estrangement from my young adult daughters. The pain is indescribable. It’s taken time, though for the first time in about 18 months, self-responsibility, accountability sets in and I understand, really getting it.

    I’ve taken responsibility for myself; the admittance of decisions made, no matter where I was emotionally at that time, an extremely difficult process. I’m still on that part of my journey. At the same time, I now feel THEIR pain in a way I have not felt before, a way of expressing with true authenticity.

    My choice is they are worth all the pain I’m experiencing. Sometimes I’m not certain I can endure more pain. I think I can and then it hits me like a wall of glass as it did the week. Thing is, I don’t want them to endure anymore pain. So I question what’s best for THEM and what’s best for ME. Answer remains elusive.

    For now, I will share your beautiful post, perhaps other posts as well pertaining to estrangement for this topic has forever changed me.

    Thank you.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 26, 2013 - 11:04 am Reply

      Semirenegade, if I were your daughter, your comment would soften my heart. Your words are full of honesty and the pain of genuine growth. No matter what happens from here, your journey is already a successful one. Your self-esteem will benefit permanently from your willingness to withstand painful truths. All my best to you, and thank you so much for writing.

    • mimi
      February 20, 2014 - 3:01 am Reply

      Indescribable pain – your words and description is the first I have heard that echo my daily feelings right now and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your journey and insightful ness into your self, so pure and honest. I also talk with myself everyday about the state of my daughters healthiness and their well being is still my priority so for now I will continue the journey to live my life in its purest form and improve everyday.

  • semirenegade
    June 4, 2013 - 1:18 pm Reply

    Thank you for your kindness, Tina. I seek only the truth – my own truth. Takes looking deeply into one’s soul to begin to master what that means. I am a woman in constant process. I shall always be open to learn, always share what I’ve learned.

    Continue doing great things….making a difference.

  • rockydurga
    July 16, 2013 - 5:13 pm Reply

    I am in this situation where my mom has written me off because of an incident where she got her feelings hurt and she felt attacked. Long story but she put my daughter at risk and just can’t recognize our concern about that still. Of course this whole thing hurts me directly, being rejected, but my other concerns are for her as she ages and that she may need help as I am an only child. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I have a daughter which makes it harder for me to choose a path because I don’t want her to loose her grandma or be thinking we just write elders off. This situation includes her being involved with a felon, drugs and possible criminal activity. If it were just me I’d morn and let it go. But I feel an obligation to my mom and my daughter while I’m not ready to grovel and say I’m sorry. She made a lot of poor decisions in the two years and I’m concerned with her judgement and if it may be age related.
    At this point I’m thinking of doing the best that I can with a counselor to explain to my daughter she won’t be seeing her grandma. I have kept the door open with my mom but she firmly shut it in my face in no uncertain terms recently.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      July 17, 2013 - 11:04 am Reply

      Rockydurga, I feel for you. It sounds like you’re truly concerned about doing the right thing, both for your daughter and for your mom. In the situation you’ve described, however, it seems clear that at least one of them is going to get hurt no matter what you do. Your mom’s behavior has put you in a no-win situation. Be gentle with yourself and trust your good instincts. All my best.

  • 30somethingladywantsababy
    September 7, 2013 - 1:47 pm Reply

    My adult brother hasn’t spoken to me for a year. He was violent towards me one night and that’s when the estangement began. Now…I am a bit worried that your logic will say I must have done something to upset him. However violence can never be acceptable and for the record all I did was disagree with him about aboriginies in Australia!
    Anyway I was hurt and upset by his behaviour and decided I won’t talk to him until he apologises. One year on and he hasn’t apologised.
    He has, however, recently sent me a text message and accussed me of sexually abusing him when we were kids. I am 3 years older than him and what he is saying is not true and hurts me a lot because I was sexually abused as a child. The person was charged and went to prison.
    Please explain to me exactly how I have (according to your logic) partly caused our estrangement?
    My door has always been open to him and I am willing to talk to him if he apologises and explains his behaviour towards me. He won’t do that though!
    I believe I am a victim in this situation. How on earth can I be anything else?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 7, 2013 - 2:58 pm Reply

      Thanks for visiting, 30somethingladywantsababy, and for taking the time to write. I’m afraid I can’t tell you how you might have partly caused the estrangement, because I have no explanation, and reading your (necessarily condensed) story leaves me with more questions than answers.

      I’m wondering whether you have any kind of a handle on why your brother would accuse you of sexually abusing him. Since you don’t remember doing any such thing, it’s a mighty odd thing for him to say. If he just made that up to hurt you, well, that’s pretty darn cruel. It also raise the question, Why does he want to hurt you?

      If you feel like a victim in this situation, then you’re undoubtedly right about that. It just sounds like you may not be the only one. I recommend family counseling if you’re interested in getting to the heart of the matter.

      Thanks again for your sharing your story. I wish you healing and peace.

  • Doreen
    November 22, 2013 - 3:17 am Reply

    I think a mother is the back bone of a family and if there’s someone alienating someone in it she should not go along with any invites from the person who is alienating anyone from an event. If you go to such a family function I believe you are only contributing to it. Thinking of Thanksgiving here.

  • Mary
    December 7, 2013 - 7:03 pm Reply

    I am estranged from my grown daughters as a result of having divorced their dad. I have tried and tried to repair our relationship, apologized, and bent over backwards to be near them. I have been repeatedly shunned & ignored by them. My heart is broken, I am completely broken. I miss my girls, love them with all my soul. I am at the point where mentally I can’t take anymore. Please pray for me, us. Thanks for listening.

    • Ann
      December 7, 2013 - 7:34 pm Reply

      I am so sorry, Mary. Just prayed for you the same prayer I pray each day for myself… For reconciliation and for God to bring beauty from ashes.

      • Mary
        December 8, 2013 - 6:50 am Reply

        Dear Ann,
        Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I teared up reading your response. Finally someone who understands. I will pray for you as well. God bless. Please keep in touch. I think we may be able to comfort eachother as we know exactly how the other feels. Mary

  • semirenegade
    December 7, 2013 - 8:14 pm Reply

    Dearest Mary ~

    After reading your comment just now, feel compelled to reach out to you tonight.

    I am estranged from my two daughters due to divorcing their dad as well. I just wanted to let you know I’m doing better these days. Though still estranged (been a year and a half since I’ve seen either one – very little correspondence) through incredible friends, a wonderful therapist, an abundance of learning self-compassion and gratitude, I am more hopeful.

    More importantly, I want you to know I’m right there with you. As mothers, we are completely lost without the reciprocity of love from our children. You are valued, loved and appreciated. Feel free to reach me anytime..

    Hugs to you.

  • Ann
    December 8, 2013 - 6:08 pm Reply

    Mary, thinking of you this evening, this Christmas season… It’s so painful, so hard, isn’t it? I agree with Semi Renegade above in that we desperately want reciprocity of love from our children. I hope you have a close community and good friends who can help you through this time. And I thank you for your prayers!

    • Mary
      December 9, 2013 - 5:04 pm Reply

      Hi Ann, this time of year is hard. Everyone is celebrating with their families. I am numb with pain and sadness. I am blessed with wonderful friends. Thank you for your kind words. May God bless you. I will pray for you, us.

  • Bruce
    December 17, 2013 - 9:08 am Reply

    I have been estranged from my 3 (adult) children now for almost 13 years. The estrangement started after the divorce of their mother. I had a “liberal” parenting time schedule. Every time I wanted to see them they were always busy. I went through the court system, etc. etc. and before you know it a decade fly’s by. Now they are 25, 22 and 18. I am 50 and this has been the greatest sadness in my life. However, you do need to go on though and live your life. It is hard and easier said then done. The roughest part is thinking about them when they were younger when I was around. I did not sexually or emotionally abuse them. I have paid 13 years of alimony and child support payments. Mom decided to keep me out of their life and she won. I look at it this way, if my children hate me this much then as they get emotionally older they will need to deal with the realities of what really happened. “Why do I really hate Dad this much?” People will manufacture things in their mind over time. At least I know I did the right thing in divorcing their mother, she was just an impossible women to live with. If I would have stayed in the marriage for the sake of the kids I would have ended up committing suicide. I am in a wonderful relationship for the past 10 years and have three wonderful step children that love me very much. At least this gives me confirmation that I am not the monster that I am surely made out to be. The realities of life are just hard and I recommend to find new things that will get you through the tough times. I have mentally prepared myself that I will never see my children again. It’s hard but I want to stop holding the hot coals in my hands. I want to live……

    • Mary
      December 17, 2013 - 6:03 pm Reply

      Merry Christmas Bruce, I am so sorry to hear about your estrangement with your children. I know how it feels to be rejected, phone calls not being returned, & the cold shoulder when I did get to see them. I too have considered suicide but couldn’t do that to my husband. I have a void that nobody can fill. I try to be up beat and positive but it is so hard. This year is the first that we haven’t seen them for the holidays. I pray for reconciliation, that their hearts will soften. I love them & pray for them everyday. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Thanks for responding, it has really helped finding this site. All my friends have normal relationships with their children, so I don’t feel that they truly understand. Good luck to you & wishing you all things that are good.

  • Barbara Riley
    December 27, 2013 - 8:25 pm Reply

    I have an adult son and daughter and they have told me and pretty much everyone they can that I was a bad parent. My financial difficulties are the result of my generosity to them, they don’t like that I’m older, can’t work and have no money to part with, so they are ungrateful and abusive. My daughter has always allowed her son to lie and complain about me, he left school at 14, now he’s an adult he’s very hostile couch potato, makes genuine threats. They refuse to accept Xmas presents, because they appear to want money instead, they complain I don’t write but don’t respond to emails, or texts, which I word carefully to be positive and appreciative. The lack of respect and fear has cause me to be treated for anxiety. Strangely, both adult children have in the past few years liked their estranged father on fb (I agreed to a divorced when they were young because he showed cruel streak and drank) he’s had three marriages, children in each, from which he estranged. My adult children apparently think well of him and he posts he’s proud of them, yet he’s never even sent them a birthday, or Christmas card, or ever wanted to see them in their whole lives, now that’s what I consider to be a bad parent, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • calebcastaneda
    January 25, 2014 - 12:48 pm Reply

    I am sorry to be this blunt, but you simply don’t know what you are talking about. Maybe the reason why so many people have written you disagreeing with you that both people are responsible is because it simply isn’t true.

    My case: my parents and I are estranged because they are religious bigots and I am gay. I have written them repeatedly trying to get them to see sense. Their response is always the same: they will have nothing to do with me until I come back to their cult and stop being gay.

    Pray tell how any of this is my fault?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      January 25, 2014 - 6:04 pm Reply

      I can’t begin to tell you how deeply sorry I am that your parents have rejected you, Calebcastaneda. How sad for you, and for them, that they hold such limiting beliefs. I’ll never understand it.

      Thank you for taking the time to add your voice, and an important perspective, to the discussion.

    • Doreen
      January 25, 2014 - 9:15 pm Reply

      I agree that it’s ridiculous to think that there’s always two perpetrators, give me a break. Sometimes family members are just ignorant and you ask yourself…how the hell did you get born into such ignorance. Let any of us who feel like this just know that others won’t understand because they haven’t walked in our shoes. It’s sad so many humans have to in order to get it!!! My mother discriminates against me. Sometimes I feel selfish people are made through crappy parents who make you have to love yourself the way they should be. I’ve been saying, I’m a monster in the making due to my so called mother. Ah, who cares folks…just because we were born to these idiots, it doesn’t make us owe them anything when they don’t show it to us themselves. Blood shared doesn’t give you the right to respect or care if you’re not dishing it your damn self. I love and like myself and screw any family member who thinks they’re better then and treats you different due to any damn thing. I just know I’m obviously more educated, stronger and smarter then them…poor idiots. They’re missing out, not me 🙂

    • Doreen
      January 25, 2014 - 9:19 pm Reply

      It’s not and some people who haven’t walked in your shoes, just don’t get it sadly. Keep doing you and forget your ignorant folks. Their loss. Just because we were born to idiots, doesn’t make us 🙂

  • Connie
    January 28, 2014 - 5:02 pm Reply

    6 months ago I got a “Dear Mom” e-mail from my 35 year old son, that took the wind out of my sails and surprised me and the 2 people close to me who are the only people I have made aware of the situation. At the age of 17, I got pregnant. Back in 1978, it was necessary to “get” married when you embarrassed the family like this. Although I was too young and didn’t want that, I did the “right” thing. I gave up college to become a wife, mother and many times the only wage-earner. The tumultuous marriage lasted for 20 years. His father and I had such contempt for each other by then. However, even though it was a challenge, I kept all my thoughts and details of the 20 year marriage to myself. Unfortunately, my ex didn’t do the same. He chose to bad-mouth me to anyone who would listen, including calling and spreading lies about me to my parents and other relatives. Through it all, I bit my tongue, thinking that some day everyone – including my son – would see through the X’s act…especially when he remarried a year after our divorce. Yes…his extra-curricular activities had been going on since the day we married. Throughout it all, I did everything within my means for my son. We had the normal child-parent ups and downs but I felt we had a good relationship. He has grown into a successful man whom I am proud of. It seems that things went downhill after he married…and totally fell off the cliff when they had a child. When my adorable grandson was 11 months old, I got the e-mail from my son saying that he didn’t want me in his life anymore and proceeded to blame me for the divorce “that caused him to live the rest of his life with divorced parents.” He accused me of being selfish and manipulative. He threw out “examples” that were half-truths and out-right lies of things that had happened. He ended by forbidding me to contact him in any manner – saying that he would not answer phone calls or listen to voice messages, would not respond to text or e-mails and if I showed up at his house, he would have me removed from the property! He added that these were his words and thoughts only – no one else’s. Needless to say, I was shocked and hurt. At no time prior to that did he give me any indication that there was something wrong with our relationship! Although it has been difficult, I have not attempted to contact him, lest I piss him off – he made it perfectly clear that I was not to attempt. I hoped and assumed that once he thought about his harsh words, he would feel bad, contact me and we could talk about what was really upsetting him. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Does anyone have any thoughts of suggestions? Thank you so much for taking time to listen to me. I am so embarrassed that the only people who I have talked to about this are my husband and brother.

  • Sam
    February 22, 2014 - 10:49 am Reply

    “Do you have an email, mailing address, website, or phone number for the person?
    Do you know where they work or play?
    Do you know anyone who might be in contact with them?
    Do you know what state (or country) they live in?”

    These questions and the advice that follows them presume the reader is capable of using said information in a civil, respectful way. Unfortunately, this sort of very-well-intended advice just encourages stalking behaviors.

    Attempting to contact someone who no longer wishes to hear from you is not polite, considerate, mature behavior. If you no longer have their direct contact information, you can be certain they will not welcome your advances. Trying to reach them through their workplace and non-work activities/organizations puts them in an awkward position, at the very least requiring they explain away your, the “rejectee” ‘s, inappropriate enquiry. The relationship with you now costs them even more, the benefit even less.

    Many “rejected” parents presume their adult offspring are badmouthing them to coworkers, peers, church friends etc, and want to set the record straight. Newsflash: speaking about personal problems in the workplace, in volunteer organizations and wherever else you suggest “rejectees” hunt us down would make *us* look bad. So we don’t do that; you’re just projecting.

    Reaching out is not the only proactive option. Work on your cognitive and emotion-regulation skills so you’re capable of having a pleasant conversation without assuming the worst and lashing out. Learn to listen non-judgmentally; practice by finding someone who’s chosen estrangement and listen to them without taking the other person’s side. A good counselor can suggest concrete steps that will improve your chances of being ready to open the door and converse as a civil adult, should ever your “rejector” become open to giving you another chance. A good counselor can also help you to reevaluate the narrative you’ve constructed around the origins of the estrangement and see where this is protecting your feelings but blocking your ability to connect here and now.

    In the meantime, your “rejector” probably doesn’t hate you. They’re likely just burned out by your repeated offenses, denial and demands. They’re probably just resigned to your inability to interact in a way that feels safe for them. Don’t worsen long-term prospects for reconciliation by driving them to conceal where they live, work, play, and to give up contact with anyone you can track them through.

    My own parents’ relentless refusal to accept my temporary no-contact order caused my wife difficulty at work during an already grueling year as a first-year associate at a top law firm; her employer obtained a restraining order against them. Thanks to their persistence in using every means possible to contact us, we changed churches and gave up other activities. They’re among the baffled Boomers who feel victimised by boundaries and insist nothing was that bad. I must be bitter, disgruntled, perhaps they did too much for me; my wife might have turned me against them, or perhaps her parents offer us expensive vacations. (Wild conjecture and flatly incorrect.)

    We could have worked through things eventually… if only they’d respected some simple limits.

    Once our daughter was born, I lost all willingness to empathize with my parents. Protecting her is my duty and honor now. There’s no way I’d let her be treated even in the mildly abusive ways my parents see as normal. “Nothing that bad” isn’t how I want her self esteem to be formed. So yes, add me to the list of mysteriously estranged adult offspring who cruelly deprive grandparent of grandchildren. But don’t ever blame my wife.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      February 23, 2014 - 5:06 pm Reply

      Thank you, Sam, for your incredibly helpful comment. The post was directed at people who’ve given up, not those who are stalking their rejectors; however, the points you made are so widely applicable and articulated so clearly that I think many people will benefit from reading your perspective. Thanks for taking the time, and all my best to you and yours.

  • faithwithoutdeedsisdead
    February 23, 2014 - 4:12 pm Reply

    This has been very helpful. I’ve tried understanding what we have done to make my husbands family cut us off. I’ve been respectful. We’ve tried everything. But I guess when things go unsaid and expectations go unmet, people who won’t express these things try to avoid further pain and distance themselves. And I guess we in return have felt rejected and the need to respect their decision. The result: division. But we will continue to pray that one day all shall be well. Thanks for your insight Tina

    • Tina Gilbertson
      February 23, 2014 - 5:20 pm Reply

      I think you nailed it when you referred to “people who won’t express these things.” Too many of us don’t learn how to handle conflict in relationships effectively when we were young, so as adults we avoid it at any cost.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this thorny subject, and good luck with your in-laws.

  • julie bakin
    April 2, 2014 - 5:09 am Reply

    “As mothers, we are completely lost without the reciprocity of love from our children. I have a void that nobody can fill.” Those statements truly reflect how I feel. After spending nearly eight years, trying to get my son to “like me” I’ve finally let him go. It is actually worse than if he had died. He is a good kid, a great kid actually, but he just can’t take the pain of my emotional problems. All I do now about once a month is send him a text or email that says, “Thinking about you. Love you. Mom.” A Mom is supposed to be an unconditional source of love and support, and when we have our own issues, I think it creates unbearable pain for our children. They finally just have to pull away to survive. Sometimes, I think, if we really love our children, we have to let them go, until we are sure that we have mended ourselves.

    • kate
      April 7, 2014 - 5:44 pm Reply

      Best reply ever

  • charlene
    July 3, 2014 - 6:20 pm Reply

    Amazing, a son would be so cruel as to accuse his parents of stocking when all they are probably wanting is love. This is not a man!!!

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