NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Estrangements Between Parents and Adult Children

In my prior article, How Can Trauma Therapy Help to Cope With Family Estrangements?, I began a discussion about family estrangements and how trauma therapy can help.

Family estrangements, also known as cutoffs, can occur between parents and adult children or between adult siblings (see my article: Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships).

Estrangements Between Parents and Adult Children

In the current article, which is a part of a series of articles on family estrangements, I'm focusing on estrangements between parents and adult children where the adult child has a problem with a parent's current behavior or past behavior.

In this article, I'll use the terms estrangement and cutoffs interchangeably.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Estrangement Between Parents and Adult Children?
Estrangements can occur for many reasons including but not limited to:
  • Abuse, including a history of childhood emotional and physical abuse and sexual abuse
  • Betrayal
  • Bullying
  • Psychological problems
  • Substance misuse and other compulsive or addictive behavior
  • Lack of emotional support
  • Political views
  • Money issues, including money borrowed, wills, inheritance plans and so on
  • Other reasons
How Common Are Estrangements Between Parents and Adult Children?
It's estimated that approximately 12% of parents and adult children are estranged.

Estrangements Between Parents and Adult Children

Most of the time cutoffs are initiated by adult children.  About 5-6% are initiated by parents.

How Long Do Estrangements Between Parents and Adult Children Last?
The length of time for estrangements varies based on the people involved, the problems between them and other individual issues between parents and adult children.

On average, estrangements between parents and adult children last about nine years. However, an estrangement can be days, weeks or months long.

Can an Estrangement Based on a History of Childhood Abuse Be Reconciled?
The best possible hope for a reconciliation is for a parent to acknowledge and make amends to an adult child.  

The problem is that parents who engaged in childhood abuse often don't admit any wrongdoing. 

Even if they admit that their behavior was abusive, they might try to minimize it by saying their behavior wasn't that bad. 

They might also try to minimize it by trying to deny how the early abuse affects the adult child now by saying something like, "That happened so long ago. Why don't you just get over it?" (see my article: How a History of Unresolved Childhood Trauma Can Affect How You Feel About Yourself as an Adult).

Needless to say, it's hurtful for an adult child, who was abused by a parent, to hear their parent dismiss or minimize the impact of the abuse. 

Under these circumstances, some adult children might feel confused and doubt their early experiences or whether they have a right to ask their parent to take responsibility and make amends.

When a parent isn't ready to take responsibility and make amends, they place a nearly impossible barrier for reconciliation. 

Even if the adult child decides to try to somehow put aside their hurt, they will probably still feel resentment and sadness, which might only allow them to engage in limited contact with their parent.

Even if a parent takes responsibility and shows genuine remorse for their behavior, a reconciliation isn't automatic. Emotional healing is a process and, depending upon the problem and the people involved, a reconciliation might be slow or nearly impossible.

Next Article:
In my next article I'll continue to focus on family estrangements and some suggestions on how to reconcile these cutoffs:

Getting Help in Therapy
Family estrangements are usually emotionally wrenching and traumatic whether you're the person who initiated the cutoff or you're the person who has been cutoff.

Getting Help in Therapy

Trauma therapy can help you to heal.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to start the healing process.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialities, as a trauma therapist, is helping adult clients to heal (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapst?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.