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

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