Death of an Estranged Parent

by Kris Peterson.

There are many articles on parents with estranged adult children.  This article however will touch on adult children with estranged parents.

When people hear about the loss or the impending loss of an estranged parent some people feel shocked and unprepared to experience the range of emotions of grief.  They may struggle with a wide variety of things that they will have to be consider in a very short period of time.  Funeral attendance, flights across the country, other people’s feelings and their own feelings.  The loss may leave them mourning not only their estranged parents death but also the loss of an imaginary, what-may-have-been relationship.

Sometimes people find out about the death of their parent in an insensitive way.  Maybe they found out after the fact in obituaries or through the “grape-vine” of other estranged family members.  Communication in estranged family relationships are sometimes non-existent. It is not unusual for major events – even a death – to not be communicated. They may assume that they were left out with evil intent when it’s possible that the family of the estranged parent has perceived the relationship to be so strained that the person wouldn’t want it communicated.

Reasons people may grieve an estranged parent:

  1. Grieving that the relationship now has no chance of mending. Often at some level there is an unspoken hope that the relationship might be restored. Death closes the door on reconciliation. Words are left unsaid and the feelings still remain, sometimes without closure.
  2. Grieving the loss of a part of heritage. Even though the relationship with the parent wasn’t strong, the death involves someone who is a part of their lineage and the chance to learn about the other half of their family may be gone.
  3. Grieve what might have been.  People reflect on a time when they loved the parent, or wanted to love them. Although there may not be a longing for things to change, there is a feeling of melancholy that things were not different. The death of the parent brings to mind ideas of how the relationship should have been.  After the loss, the dream for a better relationship remains only a dream, and in many cases people grieve the death of the dream rather than the loss of the person.

Some people experience apathy to the loss of the non-existent parent in their lives.  It is entirely possible that they dealt with the grief of loss when they were first estranged.   The length of time and purpose of the estrangement greatly affects each persons response.

Ways to help someone with the loss of an estranged parent:

  • Regardless of whatever expectations they think society has placed on them for handling the loss of an estranged parent, they have experienced a loss and they are allowed to grieve.  Giving them space to grieve without judgment is important.
  • People may express deep sadness and remorse for the wasted years.  Missed phone calls or chances to re-connect and opportunities lost.  Remind them to not waste the rest of their life looking back at what could have been.
  • Talking about the past can be cathartic and open doorways to recovery.  Though sometimes people don’t realize that reciting a general litany of of unhappiness is one of the main reasons they stay stuck.  The goal is to become emotionally complete with what happened so that they don’t need to be a current victim of what happened in the past. It’s bad enough that they were mistreated and/or harmed, but remaining stuck in the destructive mental repetition can prevent them from moving forward.
  • Remind them that forgiveness isn’t saying that the estranged child ‘accepts’ or ‘approves’ what happened. Forgiveness is the acknowledgment that what happened, happened, and that they are now ready to let go of the baggage.  Forgiveness isn’t always about the other person, it’s about moving forward.

What NOT to say to someone grieving the death of an estranged parent:

  • “They were an awful person, why do you even care?” Invalidates the feelings of the grieving person.  They are trying to figure out their own emotions in the situation.  They may be feeling confused or upset that they care about this person too. They may be upset that they care for this person at all, adding even more to their confusion and grief.  Invalidating their feelings may make them feel like they aren’t allowed to express them at all.
  • When will you feel better?” Expectation for a timeline for grieving puts unnecessary pressure on the griever to just get over it and again reinforces that they aren’t allowed to express their emotions.
  • “You didn’t even know him/her” amplifies what the griever is probably already thinking.  Knowing this doesn’t take away from the pain of being unable to connect to their estranged parent, in cases it might even be the primary cause of their grief.

Resources:

I thought we‘d never speak again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation,By Laura Davis.  She weaves powerful accounts of parents reconciling with children, embittered siblings reconnecting, angry friends reunited, when war veterans and crime victims meet with their enemies, to her own experiences reconciling with her mother after a long, painful estrangement.

Healing Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace After Being Cut Off From a Family, By Mark Sichel.  Family therapist Mark Sichel addresses the pain and shame connected with family rifts and offers a way through the crisis and on toward healing and fulfillment.

Family Estrangements: How They Begin, How to Mend Them, How to Cope with Them, By Barbara LeBey.  Working closely with two family therapists, Barbara LeBey offers a set of tested guidelines to help you approach alienated or angry family members, deal with your own issues, and mend your broken family relationships–even if you think it may already be too late.

Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief, By Jennifer Elison and Chris Mcgonigle.  Sometimes we are relieved that our loved one is no longer suffering; at the other end of the spectrum, a death might finally free us of an abusive or unhappy relationship.  In this groundbreaking book, the authors share their own and others’ stories, compassionate clinical analysis, and pragmatic counsel with other disenfranchised survivors.

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, By Susan Forward.  In this remarkable self-help guide, Dr. Susan Forward draws on case histories and the real-life voices of adult children of toxic parents to help you free yourself from the frustrating patterns of your relationship with your parents — and discover a new world of self-confidence, inner strength, and emotional independence.

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, By Lindsay C. Gibson.  clinical psychologist Lindsay Gibson exposes the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable. You will see how these parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood.

The Bereavement Academy

Are You In A Cult?

Whether you are already in one, or considering joining any kind of group be it a religious group, place of work, performance group etc. the following article will enlighten you on what signs to look out for.

By Rick Ross – Expert Consultant and Intervention Therapist.

Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.

  1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
  2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
  3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
  4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
  5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
  6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
  7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
  8. Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
  9. The group/leader is always right.
  10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.

  1. Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.
  2. Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower’s mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused–as that person’s involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.
  3. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution”.
  4. Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.
  5. Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.
  6. Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.
  7. A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.
  8. Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.
  9. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.
  10. Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.

Ten signs of a safe group/leader.

  1. A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
  2. A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.
  3. A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.
  4. A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
  5. A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.
  6. A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.
  7. A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
  8. A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
  9. A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
  10. A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.

Don’t be naïve, develop a good BS Detector.

You can protect yourself from unsafe groups and leaders by developing a good BS detector. Check things out, know the facts and examine the evidence. A safe group will be patient with your decision making process. If a group or leader grows angry and anxious just because you want to make an informed and careful decision before joining; beware.

Cult Education

Mourning The Loss of People You Had To Cut Off

By Harmony Yendes.

Mourning is hard. It doesn’t matter if the person has passed away, is estranged from you or has chosen not to have contact with you. It. is. hard.

Mourning can be more complicated when the person is still alive but you cannot see them, speak to them, write to them, tell them about your day, your happy moments or your big achievements in life. Or the opposite spectrum, like not being able to talk to them when things are tough, knowing they would have the perfect advice or the perfect response to how you are feeling. We get dependent on certain people and their responses to the events going on in our lives. Sometimes, when a person is abruptly cut out of your life, or you have just “lost touch” when one or both of you moved away, it can be difficult to cope. We find that we miss the smell of our mother’s cooking or the way that she smiled when she was super proud of us.

In the place of those happy memories come tears, pain, repressed feelings and sometimes anger depending on how the relationship ended. Knowing they are still out there somewhere in this big ole world makes it sometimes hard to bear. We don’t know how they are doing, how life has changed for them, we don’t get to celebrate things with them anymore.

All of these feelings are completely normal. Beating yourself up for cutting a person out of your life for your better interest is not healthy and shouldn’t be a reason to let that person back into your life.

They hurt you.

They did something to make you feel as you do now.

We each have the right to take care of our own well-being. The problem with that is it often contradicts the notion that we should “respect our elders,” “take care of our parents” or that “love conquers all.”

All of these philosophies are one-sided. They leave no space for the truth. Sometimes we just have shitty parents, friends, relatives or relationships. They don’t take into account that sometimes the abuse of said elder, parent or person we love can be toxic, overwhelming, overbearing and sometimes downright scary.

That doesn’t mean we cannot still love them! It just means we choose to love them from a distance. I found that in my case, staying in limited contact was only hurting me more because any time I received any kind of contact it was never positive. It always dragged me right back down into the toxic cesspool of despair. I was depressed because I couldn’t fix all the things wrong with their life, with mine and with our relationship, or fix our inability to see eye-to-eye on many important subjects.

I was allowing myself to wither away by trying to keep someone else alive…

That couldn’t work for me anymore. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be by being a depressed, anxious, worried, fearful, stressed out individual. I wanted freedom from terror.

It is so weird to think that I felt that way. Because how can you feel terror towards a person you also love?

Do not beat yourself up for this.

For those of you still reading, I want to tell you this:

Your feelings are valid.

You have a right to feel them, just as they are, with no manipulation by others or by the person who is hurting you.

You are a good person even if you’ve had to cut someone out of your life. Cutting someone out of your life doesn’t make you a bad person.

Do not beat yourself up for feeling your feelings.

Do not keep giving up your patience, sanity, clear-minded stability and rational perceptions for the sake of the other person’s happiness. You only have one life, don’t waste it by living for someone else.

You cannot heal someone who chooses not to heal themselves. Do not let yourself fall into this trap. There is a reason you chose to leave that person behind, but it’s OK to mourn the loss of this relationship.

Keep shining.

Keep growing.

Keep changing.

You will get there.

The Mighty

The Science of Bouncing Back from Trauma

What causes us to move on from traumatic experiences? Psychologists are finding it’s not always about bouncing back—sometimes we have to feel our whole world fall to pieces.

The Vietnam War veteran had enlisted when he was young, serving two combat tours and surviving multiple firefights. “To this day,” said psychologist Jack Tsai of the Yale School of Medicine, “his war memories are triggered by certain smells that remind him of Vietnam”: overgrown vegetation, the acrid stench of burning, or even sweat—like that which ran in rivulets down the faces of men fighting for their lives in the sweltering jungles—brought it all back. It was classic post-traumatic stress.

As Tsai was treating him (successfully) for PTSD, however, something unexpected emerged. The vet still described his Vietnam experiences as horrific, but he said the painful memories remind him of who he is. His experience typifies research psychologists’ new understanding of trauma: When people are least resilient—in the sense that they are knocked for a loop, do not bounce back quickly or at all, and suffer emotionally for months, if not years—they can eventually emerge from trauma stronger, more appreciative of life, more sympathetic to the suffering of others, and with different (arguably more enlightened) values and priorities. 

By no stretch of the imagination would the vet be called resilient in the sense that research psychologists use the term: an ability to go on with life, essentially unchanged mentally and emotionally, in the wake of profound adversity. To the contrary, environmental triggers returned the vet’s troubled mind to the horrors of land mines and ambushes and friends blown apart. At the same time, the vet’s military experience (and his triumph over PTSD) makes him feel that he can accomplish anything. “Nothing bothers him too much, because everything pales in comparison to Vietnam,” said Tsai.

For many, post-traumatic growth brings closer relationships—as family and other loved ones are more cherished—and a stronger sense of connection to other sufferers. 

This effect, post-traumatic growth, was so named in 1996 by psychologists Lawrence Calhoun and Richard Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina. It can take many forms, but all involve positive psychological changes: a greater sense of personal strength (“if I survived that, I can survive anything”), deeper spiritual awareness, greater appreciation of life, and recognition of previously unseen pathways and possibilities for one’s life. For many, post-traumatic growth brings closer relationships—as family and other loved ones are more cherished—and a stronger sense of connection to other sufferers. 

Stronger Than Before

The concept that from great suffering can come great wisdom is both ancient and familiar. An oncologist friend of mine talks about patients who say cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to them, cutting through life’s usual trivia and making them value the truly important. President Jimmy Carter’s Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan (1944–2008), said his battle with cancer made him see that “the simple joys of life are everywhere and are boundless.”

After a car crash in which my childhood friend Joyce lost her right leg at age 20, her months-long recovery and rehab left her with hours upon empty hours to think. “Stuff that used to be a big deal, like being popular, just isn’t anymore,” I remember her saying. “I care about making a difference [she became a schoolteacher], and I think I’m more empathetic. I feel that when someone is suffering I understand in my bones what she’s experiencing. Before, it was just, oh, poor her.” However, post-traumatic growth does not mean traumas are desirable, let alone that they should be downplayed when they befall others. As bestselling author Rabbi Harold Kushner said about the spiritual growth he experienced after the death of his 14-year-old son, “I would give up all of those gains in a second if I could have him back.”

Few lives are without suffering, crisis, and traumas, from extreme or rare ones, such as becoming a war refugee or being taken hostage, to common ones, such as bereavement, accidents, house fires, combat, or your own or a loved one’s serious or chronic illness. For years, psychology has assumed that the best inoculation against post-traumatic stress—as well as responses to trauma that fall well short of mental disorder—is resilience, the ability to pick up one’s life where it was before the trauma. Now that psychology has made post-traumatic growth a focus of research, what is emerging is a new understanding of the complicated relationship between trauma, resilience, PTSD, and post-traumatic growth.

Post-traumatic Growth vs. Resilience

Although the psychological concept of resilience dates back to the 1970s, scientists are still struggling to understand its origins. Some studies find it’s fostered in childhood by a strong relationship with a parent or other adult, and the belief that your fate is in your own hands (a sense of agency). But the opposite belief, that “God is in control and everything happens for a reason,” may contribute to resilience, too, said UNC’s Calhoun. A 2016 review of people who survived atrocities and war in nine countries from South Sudan and Uganda to Bosnia and Burundi found that resilience varied by culture. Strong emotional connections to others fostered resilience among survivors in some societies but not others, and a sense of agency actually backfired among some: If you believe your fate is in your hands and then see your family cut down by a sniper in Sarajevo, you feel not only grief but also crushing guilt.

In the absence of resilience, post-traumatic growth—a very different response to trauma—might emerge instead. “Post-traumatic growth means you’ve been broken—but you put yourself back together” in a stronger, more meaningful way, Tsai said. This may come as a surprise to those who think of resilience as the ability to learn, change, and gain strength in the face of adversity. Among research psychologists, however, resilience is about bouncing back with relative ease to where you were before, not necessarily bouncing forward to a stronger place. By this understanding, without the breaking, there cannot be putting back together, so people with strong coping capacities will be less challenged by trauma and therefore less likely to experience post-traumatic growth. 

In the absence of resilience, post-traumatic growth—a very different response to trauma—might emerge instead.

For post-traumatic growth to occur, the breaking need not be so extreme as to constitute PTSD, as was the case for the Vietnam War vet. Tsai and his colleagues found that among the 1,057 US military veterans they studied, the average number of lifetime traumas (such as bereavement, natural disaster, illness, and accidents, as well as military traumas) was 5.7. Only 1 in 10 had PTSD, yet 59% of the vets had experienced post-traumatic growth. And the strongest predictor of whether someone would avoid PTSD after additional trauma was whether they had experienced post-traumatic growth after an earlier one, Tsai and his colleagues reported in the Journal of Affective Disorders. It was the first study to examine whether previous post-traumatic growth can protect against PTSD if trauma strikes again. The findings suggest post-traumatic growth might in fact boost resilience.

Post-traumatic growth—unlike resilience—is not a return to baseline. It is the product of reassembling your “general set of beliefs about the world/universe and your place in it,” said Calhoun: You question the benevolence, predictability, and control ability of the world, your sense of self, the path you expected life to follow. From the shards of previous beliefs, you create wholly new worldviews, and can perhaps emerge a stronger person than you were before.

What is Trauma?

Among psychiatrists, what constitutes “trauma” is controversial. Some define trauma based on the nature of the event: Psychiatry’s diagnostic manual, for instance, says a traumatic experience  must be outside the range of what humans normally encounter. Others define trauma based on how people respond to an experience: Intense fear, helplessness, horror, or distress would be symptoms of trauma.

A circular definition —“trauma is something that leaves you traumatized”—is obviously not ideal. Nor is “outside the range of normal experience” a reliable measure: Tragically, many experiences that once were outside that range no longer are, such as natural disasters, mass shootings, or wartime horrors.

Scholars are therefore trying to do better. An emerging definition holds that trauma challenges a person’s “assumptive world”: her belief in how people behave, how the world works, and how her life would unfold. By this understanding, trauma needn’t threaten life or health, nor cause post-traumatic stress disorder. But it must make you question your bedrock assumptions, such as that the world is fair, that terrible things do not befall good people, that there are limits to humans’ capacity for inhumanity, that things will always work out, or that the old die before the young. By that definition, few of us make it through this life without experiencing trauma.

Mindful.Org

Unprocessed Toxic Childhood Shame

By Darius Cikanavicius

Toxic shame is one of the most common debilitating feelings that people struggle with.

Toxic shame is a term that refers to a chronic feeling or emotional state of feeling bad, worthless, inferior, and fundamentally flawed. It is called toxic because it is unjust, whereas healthy shame is when we do something morally wrong, such as aggressing against others.

The origins of toxic shame

Toxic shame has its roots in trauma. Trauma is a word that people either don’t think much about or they associate it with something extreme, like broken bones or severe sexual abuse. While these things are indeed very traumatic, there are a lot of traumatic experiences that people don’t recognize as trauma. That’s why many people struggle to understand how things like childhood neglect can be a form of abuse and trauma.

In most cases, it is trauma a person experienced in their childhood and adolescence. Moreover, this trauma was experienced in a repeated fashion and wasn’t processed as such nor healed. So the person was conditioned into routinely feeling ashamed when there was nothing or very little to be ashamed of.

Regarding toxic shame specifically, it develops because an individual’s primary caregivers or other important figures routinely shamed, or punished them either passively or actively. Such a person internalized those hurtful and untrue words and behaviors, and it became their understanding of who they are as a person.

Toxic shame beliefs and emotional states

Some common beliefs a person suffering from toxic shame may have include:

I am unlovable; I don’t matter; everything is my fault; I can’t do anything right; I don’t deserve good things; I was a bad child; I deserve to be treated the way others treat me; I’m a bad person; my needs and wants are not important; nobody likes me; I can’t be myself around others; I have to hide my true emotions and thoughts; I’m never good enough.

We explored the topic more in a previous article titled 5 Beliefs People with Adverse Upbringing Have about Themselves.

It is common for a shame-ridden person to also suffer from chronic anxiety and low self-esteem. Some people cope by hurting or not taking care of themselves, while some hurt other people and become highly antisocial and narcissistic.

Toxic shame is often accompanied by toxic guilt, where the person feels unjust responsibility and guilt. So the person not only feels ashamed, but also guilty for things they are not actually responsible for. They also feel responsible for other people’s emotions, and feel ashamed and guilty when other people are unhappy, especially if it’s in some way related to them.

It’s common that shame-ridden people lack a sense of self and are dominated by their false-self, which is a combination of adaptation techniques and coping mechanisms that they developed to deal with their unresolved trauma. As I write in the book Human Development and Trauma:

“This early erasure of self often develops into an internalized practice of self-erasure in later life, or various other emotional problems like the inability to name emotions, the presence of guilt or shame about feeling emotion, or a general numbness surrounding emotion.”

Toxic shame behaviors

Lack of healthy self-love. Because such a person usually suffers from low self-esteem and overt or covert self-loathing, these things manifest themselves in poor self-care, self-harm, lack of empathy, inadequate social skills, and more.

Emptiness. The person also feels chronic emptinessloneliness, and a lack of motivation. They don’t want to do anything, don’t have any active goals, and do things only to distract themselves from how they feel.

Perfectionism. A lot of people who struggle with toxic shame are also highly perfectionistic because as children they were held to unrealistic standards and punished and shamed for failing to meet them.

Narcissism. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who develop grandiose fantasies about how they will become rich, famous, powerful, and conquer the world, believing it will make those painful feelings go away, which is not what happens even if they succeed.

Unhealthy relationships. Many people suffering from toxic shame have unhealthy relationships because they don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like. Or they are incapable of building and maintaining one.

Usually they settle for a “good enough” relationship, where both parties are highly unhappy but are too weak, in their own way, to pursue true happiness. Sometimes, again, it’s because they believe they don’t deserve anything better. Also, the relationship is a decent way to cope with all the unbearable painful feelings that come up when the person is alone.

Susceptibility to manipulation. Since they are ridden with toxic shame, guilt, loneliness, and inadequacy, manipulators can push those exact buttons to make them feel those exact emotions and then they will do what the manipulators want to get rid of that painful emotion.

“Why are you hurting me?” “Don’t you want to be a part of us instead of being a lonely loser?” “This product will finally make you look beautiful.” “It’s all your fault.” There are many examples of things abusers and manipulators say.

Summary and final words

Children who experience trauma often feel shame. Since this shame is usually unidentified and unaddressed, the child grows into an adult who suffers from a chronic shame.

Toxic shame is closely related to other emotional states and beliefs, including low self-esteem, self-loathing, chronic guilt, unresolved anger, and never feeling good enough.

Consequently, these mental states result in unhealthy behavior, including acting out, hurting others, feeling responsible for others, self-erasing, having toxic relationships, poor self-care, poor boundaries, being overly sensitive to other people’s perception of them, being susceptible to manipulation and exploitation, and many others.

All these painful, unprocessed emotions actually belong in the context of their childhood environment where they were initially hurt and violated, but they are currently unable to make that connection and resolve it, so they deal with them in the ways they learned: actively or passively hurting themselves or others, or both.

Psych Central

Coping With The Rejection of a Child

One of the hardest things to experience is the betrayal wound that occurs when your own child grows up to hate you.  I have seen this numerous times in my life, to the point that I am compelled to write about it.

Parents who have been rejected by one or more of their children experience a type of pain that is not matched by any other – even the betrayal of a spouse or parent.

If you are a parent who has been rejected by your child or children then hopefully this paper will be beneficial to you.  Of course, if you were and still are an abusive parent, then perhaps your child did what was necessary in order to protect him or herself from further abuse; but, if you are a typical, “good enough” parent, then your child’s rejection is unnatural and unhealthy – for all involved.

What types of children reject their parent(s) in this respect? (Note: these options are not mutually exclusive.)

  • Children with Narcissistic Parental Alienation Syndrome
  • Children with attachment trauma
  • Children with personality disorders

If you are experiencing the heart ache of a child who rejected you, then you probably feel devastated, hurt, confused, angry, furious, misunderstood, shocked, invalidated, and empty.  Was I a bad parent?  Why did my children turn against me?  What could I have done differently? Maybe I said “no” too many times. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on him/her. Where did I go wrong?

Many questions enter your mind.

Usually, children, no matter what, are loyal to their parents – even very neglectful and abusive ones. When a child rejects a parent it usually has something to do with something else other than abuse or neglect. In fact, when a person cuts ties with an abusive or neglectful parent it is usually a difficult process and requires the child to set difficult boundaries, and is nearly impossible to do.

What about the parent whose child rejects them easily or with no sense of conscience or remorse, acting as if their parent were Attila the Hun, using criticism and judgment as tools of attack against the parent; using every weakness of the parent as justification for the ostracizing him/her? This type of parental rejection is not natural and is usually the result of one of the above three mentioned possibilities.

I will discuss each option here.

Children with Narcissistic Parental Alienation Syndrome:

This is the dynamic that occurs when a child is manipulated by the narcissistic parent to reject the other, healthy and empathic parent.  It happens because the narcissistic parent uses a type of invisible coercion to convince the child that the other parent is no good. In essence, the narcissistic parent teaches his/her child to hate his/her other parent, and uses the child as a weapon to hurt the other, non-narcissistic parent.

Often this is done by implication and non-verbal communication, such as when a child returns home from being with the targeted parent and the narcissist acts overly concerned or alarmed by anything that may have gone on at the targeted parent’s house; by acting as if there is cause for distress, and that the child is very fortunate to be away from that “unhealthy environment…”

For further information on the topic of Narcissistic Parental Alienation, please click here.

Children with attachment trauma:

While attachment occurs all through the human lifespan, the most crucial time in a human being’s life for attachment is between the times of birth to two years. If the child experiences a breach in time, away from the mother, for any reason – be it abuse, neglect, or something else prevents the mother from being present and attuned to her child, then attachment trauma results.

Once a child has not connected properly with his/her mother, then the child did not develop the appropriate skills for having a healthy interpersonal attachment. A mother needs to provide the necessary attunement and resonance needed to learn how to love and trust another person. When a child is not given that type of relational input, he/she adjusts or copes by shutting down his/her needs. This results in later relationship problems, particularly involving the relationship with the mother, or anyone else offering intimacy and nurturing.

Children with personality disorders:

There appears to be a genetic component to personality disorders. If a child has a parent or other person in his biological family with a personality disorder, or even other mental illness, then perhaps he/she has inherited a biological propensity to have a personality disorder him/herself.

According to Google dictionary, a personality disorder is defined as:  “a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behavior of a specified kind, typically manifest by the time one reaches adolescence and causing long-term difficulties in personal relationships or in functioning in society.”

As you can see by this definition that people with personality disorders are not easy to have close relationships with; this would include parent-child relationships.

What to do?

The best advice I can offer is as follows:

  1. Ask your child what he or she needs from you in order to repair the relationship. If your child tells you something specific, just listen and determine if you can honor your child’s request. If it is reasonable and sincere, than do your best to repair what has been broken.
  2. Don’t act on your feelings of defensiveness. If you feel defensive, learn to talk within your own head and keep your mouth shut. You should not defend yourself to your child. You can say something neutral, such as, “I have a different perspective on the story, but I’m not going to defend myself because it won’t be productive.”
  3. Expect Respect. Realize that no matter what, everyone deserves to be treated with respect – including you.
  4. Don’t idealize your children or your relationship with them. Yes, our children are the most important people in our lives, but they should not be idealized or enshrined. They are mere mortals just like you and I.If your child is rejecting you, it’s one thing to feel disappointed and sad, but it becomes unhealthy if you can’t focus on anything else other than that. You are best served to remind yourself that you have other relationships that are important as well, and learn to focus on the ones that work.
  5. Grieve. Allow yourself to feel the sadness of being rejected by your child. Grieve over the loss of the innocence that the relationship once was. Grieve over your lost child – even though he or she is still alive. In your world, he/she is no longer part of your life. That sense of “what can I do?” keeps you yearning and longing for reconciliation; but sometimes reconciliation is not forthcoming.
  6. Live one day at a time. Even if you have no contact with your child today, you have no way of knowing what tomorrow may bring. None of us does. The best thing we can do is to live the best way we know how today. When you can focus on one day only, you feel less hopeless and desperate. Remind yourself, “I cannot predict the future.”
  7. Don’t beg. No matter how hurt or desperate you feel to have a relationship with your rejecting child, never stoop to the level of begging for attention or even forgiveness. You will not be respected by your child if you beg and it will demean your position as a parent.
  8. Be empowered. Don’t let your rejecting child steal your personal power. Just because you are having difficulties in this area of your life, don’t get to the place where you feel personally defeated. Do what it takes to be good to yourself – seek therapy, join a support group, travel, go to the gym, do whatever you can to own your own power and stop giving it away to anyone else.

One thing that is certain about life is that it is about all about letting go. As parents our job is to raise our children to the best of our ability and teach them how to be independent, productive adults. If, during the process, they choose a path we don’t agree with, we must remind ourselves that we can’t live their lives for them. Learning to let go is the best way to manage any part of life that doesn’t go the way we expect, including when our children choose to reject us.

Psych Central

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Understanding Fear Based Media

by Deborah Serani

With the fear and panic surrounding the Corona Virus at the moment, its advisable to understand how the media can be responsible.

News is a money-making industry. One that doesn’t always make the goal to report the facts accurately. Gone are the days of tuning in to be informed straightforwardly about local and national issues. In truth, watching the news can be a psychologically risky pursuit, which could undermine your mental and physical health.

Fear-based news stories prey on the anxieties we all have and then hold us hostage. Being glued to the television, reading the paper, or surfing the Internet increases ratings and market shares — but it also raises the probability of depression relapse.

News programming uses a hierarchy of if it bleeds, it leads. Fear-based news programming has two aims. The first is to grab the viewer’s attention. In the news media, this is called the teaser. The second aim is to persuade the viewer that the solution for reducing the identified fear will be in the news story. If a teaser asks, “What’s in your tap water that YOU need to know about?” a viewer will likely tune in to get the up-to-date information to ensure safety.

The success of fear-based news relies on presenting dramatic anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, promoting isolated events as trends, depicting categories of people as dangerous and replacing optimism with fatalistic thinking. News conglomerates who want to achieve this use media logic, by tweaking the rhythm, grammar, and presentation format of news stories to elicit the greatest impact. Did you know that some news stations work with consultants who offer fear-based topics that are pre-scripted, outlined with point-of-view shots, and have experts at-the-ready? This practice is known as stunting or just-add-water reporting. Often, these practices present misleading information and promote anxiety in the viewer.

Another pattern in newscasts is that the breaking news story doesn’t go beyond a surface level. The need to get-the-story-to-get-the-ratings often causes reporters to bypass thorough fact-checking. As the first story develops to a second level in later reports, the reporter corrects the inaccuracies and missing elements. As the process of fact-finding continually changes, so does the news story. What journalists first reported with intense emotion or sensationalism is no longer accurate. What occurs psychologically for the viewer is a fragmented sense of knowing what’s real, which sets off feelings of hopelessness and helplessness — experiences known to worsen depression.

Read more here

Surprising Facts About Rejection


10 Surprising Facts About Rejection

Research finds that rejection affects intelligence, reason, and more.

Johan Larson/Shutterstock

Source: Johan Larson/Shutterstock

We know that rejection really hurts, but it can also inflict damage to our psychological well-being that goes beyond emotional pain. Here are 10 lesser known facts that describe the effects rejection has on our emotions, thinking, and behavior.

Let’s begin by examining why rejection hurts as much as it does:

1. Rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain. fMRI studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. This is why rejection hurts so much (neurologically speaking). In fact our brains respond so similarly to rejection and physical pain that…

2. Tylenol reduces the emotional pain rejection elicits. In a study testing the hypothesis that rejection mimics physical pain, researchers gave some participants acetaminophen (Tylenol) before asking them to recall a painful rejection experience. The people who received Tylenol reported significantly less emotional pain than subjects who took a sugar pill. Psychologists assume that the reason for the strong link between rejection and physical pain is that…

3. Rejection served a vital function in our evolutionary past. In our hunter/gatherer past, being ostracized from our tribes was akin to a death sentence, as we were unlikely to survive for long alone. Evolutionary psychologists assume the brain developed an early warning system to alert us when we were at risk for ostracism. Because it was so important to get our attention, those who experienced rejection as more painful (i.e., because rejection mimicked physical pain in their brain) gained an evolutionary advantage—they were more likely to correct their behavior and consequently, more likely to remain in the tribe. Which probably also explains why…

4. We can relive and re-experience social pain more vividly than we can physical pain. Try recalling an experience in which you felt significant physical pain and your brain pathways will respond, “Meh.” In other words, that memory alone won’t elicit physical pain. But try reliving a painful rejection (actually, don’t—just take my word for it), and you will be flooded with many of the same feelings you had at the time (and your brain will respond much as it did at the time, too). Our brain prioritizes rejection experiences because we are social animals who live in “tribes.” This leads to an aspect about rejection we often overlook…

5. Rejection destabilizes our “Need to Belong.” We all have a fundamental need to belong to a group. When we get rejected, this need becomes destabilized and the disconnection we feel adds to our emotional pain. Reconnecting with those who love us, or reaching out to members of groups to which we feel strong affinity and who value and accept us, has been found to soothe emotional pain after a rejection. Feeling alone and disconnected after a rejection, however, has an often overlooked impact on our behavior…

6. Rejection creates surges of anger and aggression. In 2001, the Surgeon General of the U.S. issued a report stating that rejection was a greater risk for adolescent violence than drugs, poverty, or gang membership. Countless studies have demonstrated that even mild rejections lead people to take out their aggression on innocent bystanders. School shootings, violence against women, and fired workers going “postal” are other examples of the strong link between rejection and aggression. However, much of that aggression elicited by rejection is also turned inward…

Read more here: Psychology Today

Traits of a Narcissist

Image- Canbum.net

Do you know what narcissistic personality disorder is? Would you be able to spot it if you had to? For most people, their belief is that narcissism is “easy” to spot because  laymen and pop psychology characterize narcissism as: selfish ambition, arrogance, cockiness, inconsideration for others, and a strong desire to be at the top of the game. But narcissism is truly difficult to spot in everyday life because some of the kindest and nicest people could be a narcissist. Narcissism doesn’t always shine through the moment you meet someone. In fact, narcissism may not fully bloom until you’ve married the person, accepted a job from a company led by a narcissist, or after many years of knowing the person. In reality, narcissistic personality traits are often hidden by the person’s ability to “act” ways they know other people like.

Read more here:

Psyche Central

Psychological Foundation of False Rumours

The psychological basis of rumours are brought to light when different examples are studied. The main ones are detailed below. They can also be said to be the causes or conditions of rumour spreading. They show why people indulge in gossip and how rumour circulates.

1 Satisfaction of Sex

Of all the rumors we hear in our lives a large number are concerned with incidents based on the sex behaviour of individuals. When four people of a particular area get together it is their invariable practice to dissect the character of another person. Many take pleasure in reading about the alleged sexual corruptions and indiscretions of other people.

Why does this happen?

From the psychological viewpoint the causes behind this are the frustrated and repressed sexual passions and desires of the individuals who ventilate and make up these stories. When the sexual passions of an individual are not satisfied in any way or they are repressed them in the extreme, they are not destroyed but in an unconscious form are trying to find expression or the opportunity for such expression.

Whenever the individual hears any true or false incident of another’s sexual corruption these unconscious desires are aroused and rumour takes shape. In making a rumour the individual also gets some satisfaction or relief indirectly. It will be found on analysis that very often at the root of these degraded tales is the satisfaction of the sexual instinct.

Sometimes this also happens when a person of the opposite sex refuses the proposal of an individual for contact, or fails to encourage the individual. They then seek satisfaction or revenge in defaming the individual who refused his or her proposal.

2 Satisfaction of the feeling of rivalry or revenge

More often than not the rumour originates in the desire of the individual to satisfy his feeling of rivalry or revenge. People who cannot supersede other individuals by fair means try to get their rivals down by defaming and degrading them.

3. Methods of Spreading Rumour

Generally speaking, no particular means are required for spreading rumors but from the scientific viewpoint the methods can be analysed. Generally in order to give currency to a rumour the people who are doing it concoct a story and tell it to the general public in which it passes from one individual to another. There are limits to this kind of rumour spreading and these limits are not very far apart.

If an incident is related to casually, people are inclined to take little, if any note and it fails to become a rumour. The person spreading the rumour has to sharpen the subject, or assimilate some interesting features which were not there originally but are necessary to raise the level above that of everyday drudgery. The better the sharpening, the greater rapidity in which the rumour spreads.

4 Assimilation

Before it can be made to form a rumour it needs to be assimilated. Any occurrence is rumoured only when the public assimilate it because then people accept it and believe it easily. It is common knowledge that rumors spread more easily when the means of transport and communications are easily available and more developed.

A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, or so the saying goes, and new research has sought to prove just how long it takes fact checking to catch up.

On average, it takes more than 12 hours for a false claim to be debunked online, according to two recent projects that compared how falsehoods and truths spread.

“On Twitter it is found that a true rumor is often resolved within two hours of first emerging. But a rumor that proves false takes closer to 14 hours to be debunked. We find that social media users generally show a tendency towards supporting rumors whose veracity is yet to be resolved”, the researchers wrote.

Why are False Allegations so popular on the Internet

The internet, not just Twitter, seems to abound with false rumors and malicious gossip, but is their popularity testament to a fundamental tendency of believing in the bogus?

Given most people already know the web is brimming with phony information (after all, who on the planet has yet to receive a scam email?) users should be naturally suspicious and sceptical of the internet. Yet hoax internet rumors and gossip continue to grow, not diminish.

This rising epidemic of falsity is therefore a psychological conundrum. Understanding how false allegations spread involves grasping the underlying mechanics of an internet rumour. Information cascades begin with ‘propagators’. Propagators start false rumors often because they are motivated by some kind of self-serving interest, which could include getting attention. They may want to malign an individual, movement or corporation for personal reasons. Receivers and disseminators of false information those who take the baton from the ‘propagators’ and pass it on to the wider world, seem to not allow enough motivation of ‘propagators’. They don’t ‘discount’ the dodgy. Instead they often seem to falsely assume that rumours are being spread for altruistic reasons, to warn and therefore protect.

As opposed to real world conversation, perhaps the underlying vested interest of the internet ‘propagator’ remains more difficult to detect.
Successful rumours are purposefully aligned with what Sunstein refers to as ‘priors’; the prior beliefs of large swathes of the population. A spreading rumour succeeds because it often confirms prior prejudices.

If you have little or no information of your own to check or compare against a rumor, the very fact a large number of other people believe, becomes evidence in itself that it must be true. This is how a rumour feeds on itself to grow in strength.

Even if a rumour starts with just the most gullible believing it, then as it spreads and this number grows, the sheer fact of such a growing consensus convinces the more sceptical. It must be true because so many believe it. This is how rumours confirm themselves.

As a rumour gathers pace, despite the possibility there are many who harbor doubts about its veracity, these doubters tend to keep misgivings to themselves. They prefer to conform, don’t desire negative attention or want to appear out of step with the group. The balancing effect of counter views get swept aside in the tsunami of a rampant rumour.

Doubts may exist but remain private, as a result they are less visible on the internet. If only those who believe a rumour are salient, because they are motivated to spread allegations, then rumours escalate because they crush any opposition before them through sheer weight of numbers.
Cleverly designed rumours make anyone appearing to oppose or doubt, appear supporters of the immoral behaviour being gossiped about. So expressing doubts about the veracity of an allegation concerning someone at the centre of a paedophile accusation looks like support for pedophilia, when it’s no such thing. Doubts can also appear as lacking concern over the issue.

Sunstein cites experiments on how influenced we are by others’ behaviour, in forming our own judgement, on the internet using music downloads. Music choice was chosen because theoretically what we like is a personal preference.
The research he cites found that songs which were popular or unpopular in the control group, where other’s downloads, and therefore judgments were not available, performed very differently in the sections of the experiments where others’ choices were made visible. In those conditions of the experiment, most songs could become popular or unpopular, influenced by the choices of the first downloaders. The identical song could be a hit or a failure, simply because others, at the start of the experiment, were seen to choose to download it or not.

Perhaps the most under-estimated psychological mechanism by which false allegations rapidly gain widespread support on the internet is a process Sunstein refers to as ‘group polarisation’. This process is important because the group taking part will not be aware that they are involved in spreading a false allegation, they will think instead they are dispassionately discussing it.

Group polarisation is a well known tendency for any cluster who are merely discussing something to shift in a more extreme position in the direction they were predisposed to. When individual members of a gathering tend to take risks, a ‘risky shift’ is observed when they get together to make a decision. Where members are individually cautious, even more caution emerges when in a group.

Risky and cautious shift are both examples of group polarization. Group polarization occurs in a wide range of contexts, all bearing on rumour transmission. For example Sunstein cites a study posing the question how attractive are people in photographs? Group deliberation generates more extreme judgments: If individuals think someone is good-looking, the group is likely to conclude that the same individual is devastatingly attractive. Sunstein argues movie stars benefit from this psychological process.

He contends that discussions which occur about an allegation on the internet are likely, through this process of group polarisation, to end in the rumour more believed and therefore disseminated.

Malicious gossip, if unchecked, could end up influencing who governs us. If it wasn’t for the spread of such sham information on the internet, thousands wouldn’t gossip and believe Barack Obama is an Islamist extremist, not born in the United States.

If the internet becomes what we know of the world, the rising spread of deception is particularly ominous. Checks and balances that apply elsewhere are ruled out by the very sprawling freedom of the web.

Official attempts to quash rumours often backfire and even end up lending them more credibility. Perhaps the answer is that all users of the internet need to guard against malicious gossip as opposed to relying on someone else to do it. Whoever is tasked with controlling rumour on the internet, will themselves become the subject of gossip.

The Psychology of Rumours