Feeling Abandoned/Rejected By an Estranged Adult Child

It’s not uncommon for rejected parents to feel just terrible during an estrangement from their adult child or children. They might experience a sense of abandonment, rejection, despair or even resentment. There are so many questions. So many fears.

There’s a range of unpleasant emotions that the parent may feel. It’s like a broken roller coaster ride that won’t stop. But abandonment and rejection in particular are often the drivers of troublesome thoughts and behaviors.

Does estrangement itself cause parents to feel abandoned, rejected, etc.?

It certainly seems like it. The parent may have known that things weren’t totally fine between themselves and their child before the estrangement, but they never expected estrangement. And they certainly didn’t feel like this until their child stepped away from the relationship.

For other rejected parents, there was no clue ahead of time. They thought everything was great… until suddenly, it wasn’t. (It wasn’t sudden for the adult child, but on the receiving end, it’s easy to get blind-sided.)

Feelings of abandonment, rejection, sadness, etc. are obviously attached to the unwanted estrangement. But are they really caused by it?

I’d like to suggest that although these feelings are often triggered by estrangement, the ultimate cause lies in the parent’s past. Often before their children were even born.

And that’s good news for — as I so often talk about — taking your power back.

Old Feelings Triggered

Why do some parents just roll their eyes and chuckle when their 20-something children use their homes as hotels? Why do some seem fine with hearing from adult children “whenever”? Why are they content to let an angry adult child cool off and come back in their own time?

Not all parents experience the same feelings when faced with distancing behaviors in adult children. That’s because not all of us carry the same emotional wounds.

Some parents are burdened, through no fault of their own, with old emotional wounds that never completely healed.

When they were children, these unfortunate parents may have felt an unspoken sense of abandonment. They might have experienced food scarcity, lack of positive attention, too little nurturing, or actual abandonment.

Maybe they felt rejected as the family black sheep, or because of a divorce, an unkind sibling, a disability, or even the “benign neglect” of one or both parents.

In many cases, those feelings of abandonment and rejection had nowhere to go, and so were simply suppressed. But suppressed feelings don’t go away.  Painful emotions hang around, easily getting triggered by new experiences.

The parent who knew abandonment or rejection as a child, and had to suppress those feelings, moves forward as best he can in life. In many cases, the early injuries are neither acknowledged nor addressed adequately for healing to happen.

As long as they remain unhealed, early injuries make us all more vulnerable to depression and despair.

Deja Vu

When an adult child’s behavior “looks like” abandonment (e.g., not calling or not returning texts), old feelings of abandonment are triggered.

When an adult child’s behavior “looks like” rejection (e.g., same as above, or anger, disappointment, or complaints about parenting), old feelings of rejection are triggered.

No emotional pain is greater than old wounds reopened.

Both abandonment and rejection can evoke strong defensive reactions in the parent. She may reflexively demand a response from an adult child who’s not inclined to respond at the moment.

The parent may become angry and find complaints intolerable. He may even retaliate, making it impossible to hear and understand the feelings behind the complaints — let alone address them as the parent.

Because estrangement is an emotional experience for the adult child, their communication may feel very loaded to the parent. Add to that the parent’s own triggered emotions, and a tinderbox becomes a bonfire of conflict and negative feelings.

This is why it’s often too difficult for parents to make good repairs without the aid of time and personal work.

If you know that early emotional injuries are being triggered by your child’s behavior, and that your own behavior is on the verge of being hijacked by the past, you’ll want to take care of the “stuff” that’s getting triggered. That way you have a chance of approaching the estrangement with a cool head and a winning strategy.

I recommend local, non-estrangement-focused individual therapy with a compassionate counselor, social worker, or other mental health professional. If you have trauma in your past, seek a trauma specialist and deal with that first. Your relationship with your child(ren) will benefit from every single thing you do to heal yourself.

Don’t be in a hurry to reconnect before you’re ready. Instead, put all your energy into becoming ready for reconnection yourself.

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