Hidden voices – Family estrangement in adulthood.

Why would I write about estrangement in adulthood? Because I’m shedding a brighter light on my life throughout this blog. I wrote about gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse earlier. Way before that I wrote many posts on depression and burnout. One of the factors adding to my depression is the estrangement from my family (not by choice) and from my mother, which I needed to ‘chose’. Interested in the topic of the mother-daughter bond, I decided to look into some research. In this post I’ll take you through some outcomes of a specific study that captured my attention.

From 1629 invites, 807 people joined the survey

Hidden voices [2] is conducted by Dr Lucy Blake[1] in collaboration with Stand Alone Charity and its beneficiaries. An online survey via personal invite to members of the Stand Alone community, was created with the aim of examining the experiences and psychological consequences of estrangement from a family member (2015). As my interest was peaked by the mother-daughter estrangement, I selected mostly that topic.

Adult family estrangement can be understood as the breakdown of a supportive relationship between family members.

Some facts about family estrangement in adulthood.

54% of 807 people agreed with the statement ‘estrangement or relationship breakdown is common in our family’. Family estrangements are not always stable and cycling in and out of estrangement is common, particularly for respondents who were estranged from their mothers.

I must admit that in my family bonds are not that stable and if they are, it is not by choice but by necessity. My mother broke up with my father before I was born and relationships with that part of the family were almost absent. My grandmother visited twice a year, I never knew my grandfather from fathers side. The contact with my father was difficult due to parental alienation, a phenomenon that will be discussed further on. Long story short, no tears were shed when people disappeared from each other’s life. Politics come to play too as many people ‘dissapeared’ under the Communist regime.

Back to the survey; 68% felt that there was stigma around the topic of estrangement and described feeling judged, feeling as if they were contradicting societal expectations and felt there was a general lack of understanding about estrangement.

Going no contact with my mother took me for starters a very long time to decide. I tried out other options before taking that big step. A year later I found myself in therapy suffering anxiety, which I didn’t realize at the time. Physical distance came at a price but also brought some positives. I kept my story silent for the longest time. I felt like people would not understand what I was going through and why such a radical decision would be necessary. I felt like I was really the odd one out. Through blogging and reading other people’s story, it slowly began to dawn on me that I wasn’t that weird as I thought.

Looking for research my eyes are more open now. Estrangement in families is not that uncommon. What I discovered in this study helped me to realize that and I like to share it with you. Maybe you’re struggling too and thinking that you are all alone in this predicament. Well, you’re not. People aren’t perfect and families aren’t perfect. Things do happen and they can hurt. They can turn your life upside down and back again. I want to write to share my findings to shed light on this topic, to step forward from the shadow that keeping secrets can put us into. Let’s start with the why, who and when.

Why do relationships between family members breakdown?

Reasons why children break contact with mother and/or father. Source ‘Silent Voices’.

Who initiated the estrangement? Those estranged from parents were more likely to report having initiated the estrangement, whereas those estranged from children were more likely to report that their son or daughter had cut contact with them. As I said before I ‘chose’ to cut contact. Why in brackets because there was really no other option, no other choice at that point. I was around 28 and struggling for a long time.  Respondents who had cut contact with a parent reported doing so at various ages across the lifespan, with most having done so in their late 20s and early 30s.

To conclude this post they asked respondents to what extent they agreed with the following statement:

We could never have a functional relationship in the future.

Most respondents who were estranged from a parent answered ‘strongly agree’ to this statement. Whereas for those respondents estranged from an adult child, most respondents answered ‘I don’t know’ or ‘strongly disagree.’ This is something that I find so peculiar and it comes back in other articles I read. I can’t wrap my head around it, I must admit that. Daughters can pinpoint to specific actions or a feeling that is tied up directly with the behavior of the mother. While mothers seem to have a very different outlook on things. Sometimes they ‘blame’ the estranged child as being too difficult, rebellious, abusing themselves but not linking the dots.

To  really wrap up we’re going to look at what the mothers and daughters wishes are in terms of their relationship. Maybe a little surprising most wishes are the same. What do people – estranged from their mother –  wish was different? A relationship that was more positive, unconditionally loving, warm and emotionally close. More accepting and respectful, and less critical and judgmental. A relationship in which there was a greater recognition of hurtful behavior. Those are very powerful words for me as I’m astonished how well they are also ‘my’ words or wishes.

“I wish I had a mother that loved me and wanted the best for me. I wish my mother was my best friend and someone I could trust.”

“I wish that she would be willing to own up to her mistakes, so we could work on things together and have a functional and healthy connection. I love her, but I am just not comfortable talking with her anymore since she refuses to move forward.”

What do mothers wish in regards to contact with their daughters? They wish for a relationship that is more positive, unconditionally loving, warm and emotionally close. A relationship in which there was more contact – to know how they are. In which they are given access to seeing grandchildren.

“I wish we could have a relationship where we would be allowed to see our granddaughter. Perhaps start back on a low contact level where we just talked to each other a few times a year or so. I would love to see it be a normal loving relationship like we have with our younger daughter, but so many things have happened and she has been so filled with hate toward us, I don’t see how that is possible.”

“I wish we could still have contact and a relationship. I wish I could be there for her and support her. I wish we could talk about any issues that led to her cutting all contact. I wish I had the opportunity to ‘make amends’ for anything that has gone wrong in the past. I wish I could have been a better mother to her.”

Thank you for reading so far and please let me know in the comments if this post resonated with you in some way. I would like to read blogs or experiences that touch on those topics as I feel it would help me a lot in my journey. I also love to read your thoughts about estrangement. As it is not so uncommon as I thought, I believe I can learn a thing or two from the blogging community. So any thoughts, stories, tips, remarks or questions are very welcome.


Notes, further reads, references and credits.

Note 1. This post is written through my personal lens on the topic. I am biased. My opinions are limited to my situation and therefore I didn’t discuss other possible situations. Meaning I selected specific quotes from the survey and I take a specific stand on the matter. I would like to lessen the stigma for daughters struggling with the mother-daughter bond. In no way, shape or form I’m attacking daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, siblings or other family members who find themselves in such a situation. Every situation is unique, every family is and every person is.

Note 2. I didn’t find any references to physical or sexual abuse in this survey. Maybe I didn’t understood it well enough, but this seems odd to me.

[1] Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge

[2] Full survey ‘Hidden Voices. Estrangement in adulthood.’ (2015).

All quotes are cited from the survey ‘Hidden Voices’.

StandAlone.org

For further information you can contact: Becca Bland: b.bland@standalone.org.uk

39 thoughts on “Hidden voices – Family estrangement in adulthood.

  1. I have an odd sort of semi-estrangement with my parents, in that it’s 100% because of my illness. When I’m depressed, I find them annoying and don’t feel any connection to them, so I stop talking to them. It’s been a pattern off and on since I first got sick. I remember after my first hospitalization I didn’t talk to them for several months.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I can very well imagine that mental illness makes it difficult to maintain connections. It just changes things. Sometimes families come closer and become more caring and sometimes it’s not like that. I wonder what the golden middle way would be. I guess everyone needs to decide that for themselves.
      When I feel very low I just don’t want to see or hear anybody. It all too much at that time.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Great article – thank you for sharing it. And it really made me think about the topic like, when I saw first saw the title, I was like “no family estrangement” in my case but as I kept reading it, I have realized that actually this is exactly the case when it comes to my relationship with my father. We have never talked about it or never considered it to be an estrangement but we only get to see each other like once a year. So yes, very useful article about this topic.

    And one off topic question: is your family originally from Eastern Europe? (Just read the part where you mentioned about the communist regime)

    Cheers

    Mark

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for your comment Mark. I’m sorry that things happen to be like that with your father.
      My family is originally from Poland and I was born under the communist regime. I don’t know about other families because there are warm and ‘normal’ families who lived through all that. I just think about communism as something that made it even harder to develop empathy and stable, loving bonds between people. Or maybe that is just an excuse in my head.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. You reminded me that I meant to comment yesterday, but ran out of time. My mother and I were not estranged (most of the time) but we were very different people, and we kept each other at arm’s length. My daughter, however, was very close to her, so in that respect, I was the odd one out. After my mum died, my relationship with my daughter just went downhill.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Grandparents are always a bit odd I think, they want to make up for when they were younger. And they allow way too much! (sometimes off course). But it isn’t easy to feel the odd one out in your own family.
      My mom and me are also two very very different people but an arm’s length wasn’t enough to keep up appearances.
      I wonder why we (culturally) think of families as warm and loving, when it is definitely not always the case.
      When something goes ‘wrong’, the family is also quick to be found ‘guilty’. He or she came from a difficult home or had a difficult childhood so no wonder that … As if a ‘happy home’ would be capable of solving all of the world’s problems.
      Sorry for ranting a bit but that’s my opinion. I don’t it an easy subject to think about.
      Thanks for commenting, it made me think anyway 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Mum was very much “duty” and I was/am more concerned about how people behave. I was quite happy to cut people out altogether, permanently, if they weren’t nice people. I’m still like that – I have family in Australia with whom I am cordial, by email, but it is probably as well that we do not meet each other because I suspect we’d all be disappointed.
        The family is quite small now but my daughter gets sentimental about relatives. But not duty, as such, because she never sees them. The people I stay in contact with, it is because there is affection there.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for sharing this!

    Me too, I am sorry to read that you went no contact with your mother. In my case, being estranged from my father is not a very difficult thing as I have a stepfather and I have considered him to be my real father ever since my teenage years.

    And I do agree with you about communism – it was a pretty difficult period for many families and it surely had an impact on personal relationships. Some of my family members ended up in prison, others had to flee to Canada, so yeah – it surely was a great trauma to many.

    Me too, I have some Polish origins (my grandma). I just love Poland it is a beautiful country 🙂

    Blessings

    Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And thank you for sharing your story and being so open about it.
      I’ve received a request once to write about communism but I feel that it’s not the time yet for me. Especially being a child, I doubt if I even can grasp the totality of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I guess it is not an easy thing to write about and there are so many conflicting opinions about the communist period – some people I know think it was not that bad while others say it was terrible so I guess it really depends on the situation a given person was in. I only know what my family told me as I was born right after the Romanian Revolution (that’s when my parents decided to move to Hungary) but once you feel ready to write about it I think it would be a really great article – like communism from a point of view of a child is definitely something that a lot of people would like to read about and would be helpful to many of us – especially to those who grew up in Central and Eastern Europe. And it is also interesting to see what impact this whole period had on our mental health – my country, Hungary has one of the highest rates of depression (and many other mental disorders) in the whole world and I think it is partially because of the insecurity that was caused by the fall of communism. My generation grew up in a very chaotic period when the country was transitioning from a socialist economy to a capitalist one and this really had an impact on our mental health.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That would be really interesting to see how that transition period from communist to a kapitalist regime affected mental health.
        I know that in Poland mental illness is a big taboo and is not accepted widely.
        I do believe that that kind of politics have an influence over generations. It is a collective trauma which is not healed.
        In my family opinions differ widely about pro and con communism. Can you imagine the Christmas spirit at the dinner table?
        I think that you’re right that it would make for an interesting article to write about communism through the eyes of a child.
        When I’m ready I’ll write it but I don’t feel that that will be planned for tomorrow.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, it would be interesting to see indeed – I would love to write a few articles about it but it would require a lot of effort and research, because obviously everyone sees things from a different perspective.
        And every ex-communist country is different.
        I am sorry to read that it is still a taboo in Poland 😦
        In Hungary it obviously depends on region but Budapest is a very accepting and open-minded city. People here would never judge someone for having a mental illness (well, there are always exceptions but I never had any bad experiences myself) and it’s a topic that’s frequently talked about in the media as we have one of the highest suicide rates in the whole world and people are trying to figure out what is the reason behind it…
        Oh well, it’s never a good idea to talk about politics at the dinner table. We usually try not to bring it into discussion but when someone does – well, that’s exactly the way you imagine it would be 😀

        And yes, you definitely have to write that article one day 🙂 when you feel ready.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I feel for you Kacha because my mum tops the list of best friends, so I can’t imagine what estrangement feels like.

    Having said that (I forgot), I walked away from my own dad when I was in my twenties because I didn’t like how he criticised everything I did when he visited my home or I visited him, his second wife and 5 kids.

    He never worked since leaving the navy when I was a baby, so they never had much money. I went just before Christmas one year and took lots of gifts and Christmassy food for the kids – he moaned and yelled at me “We’re not a bloody charity case, you know!”

    That’s just one instance and the rest were way worse! But I guess being estranged from might feel far worse because we all expect mums to be loving, caring, non-judgemental ………………….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m surprised how many people are estranged from some family member. I’m sorry your dad was that critical of you. I can understand that that would be difficult to build a loving or understanding relationship.

      Being estranged from a mother is a little different, like you said, because we have an idea about how a mum must behave.

      Non-judgemental would be great but that never happened.

      I’m glad that your mum is your best friend, that must be amazing and I’m happy that there are good mother-daughter duo’s around!

      Thank you for sharing your story. My eyes are really opening a bit to see that I am not alone in my experiences. x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nail on the head there Kacha; seeing that we are not alone in our experiences and how they affect us.

        There should be lessons about all this stuff at school (delivered by professional, of course – not teachers).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m willing to tell all in the classroom!
        If they just were looking for such people, that would be great.
        Otherwise I’ll need to take some weird course to determine what I want in life in terms of work. 🙄

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Do you have Mental Health First Aid where you are? You could train as an MHFA Instructor and go into companies, schools, fire service etc and teach them Mental Health First Aid.

        You know it’s law to have First Aiders everywhere in your company, right? Now they’re trying to have have Mental Health First Aiders too.

        It’s amazing and I loved it – then I got sick. But I was going into organisations for two days each week to teach it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Wow, that’s a shame cos it’s in lots of countries now. Have a look at the MHFA Australia site which is where it started and it will tell you which countries it’s available in.

        Perhaps you can work towards having it where you are?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Hey Caz, thanks for the tip! I’ve looked into it and there is no such thing where I live.
        To set it up myself isn’t impossible (one can dream) but as for now I’m still recovering the best I can. Although I did find some volunteer work that could be of interest. I also have no idea what I can and can’t do in terms of my benefits. I’ll to find that one out first.
        Back ON topic, I think it’s great that something like First Aid in Mental Help exists and it is greatly needed. Not only for people who are struggling but also in terms of prevention and awareness.
        I agree with you that it is a good project and it is very useful work.
        Thanks for caring about me 🙂

        Like

      6. Ah well 😦 Keep your eye on it though. That’s great you’re thinking of volunteering as that would be a good start in terms of working and seeing how your mental health is – but benefits – aarrgghhh!
        Here in the UK the benefits office would see it as a positive move, someone trying out volunteer work first. Good luck, I wish you all the best. And keep us posted.
        I’m happy you see it as caring, cos of course I do 🙂 x

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it’s important to put some space between yourself and your family (at least for a while) if the relationship is dysfunctional. It’s the only way to really know who you are, to get a really sense of yourself, and to establish healthy boundaries.
    I also think there’s a lot of judgment when we’re not part of a close family. Yet, often the truth is we wish were close and could have the kind of healthy relationships that some families enjoy. Hence, that judgment and lack of understanding adds to the burden we bear.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is so true. I think that putting some space between yourself and the other person/people is critical in every dysfunctional relationship.
      You need some space to breathe and to rediscover yourself.
      The judgement and lack of understanding adds to the suffering but also strengthens me to feel what would be more ‘normal’. That is wasn’t supposed to be that way.
      Thank you for your insightful comment. I’m writing a post on stigma surrounding estrangement and the second part of your comment is the message I want to come across in that post.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t spoken to my mother in over 2 years and that was my choice. I’ve never liked her and always said if I met her as a “passerby” she wouldn’t be in my life. The book I’m reading now “complex ptsd from surviving to thriving” supports parental estrangement. I’ve always told my 4 boys they don’t have an obligation to me. They are all still in my life ❤️
    Great post, I understand!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I really thought I was alone in my predicament.
      I get the ‘passerby’ idea. I feel the same about my mum. The thing is that is pretty nice to strangers but behind people’s back … Oh well, as I’m learning here, those things happen.
      I’m glad that you have your boys in your life, that is quite telling.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Okay, I related HARD to this. I’ve felt really alone in my local friend group due to recently enstranging myself from my parents. It’s not my friends’ fault, they just tend to have far more functional Parent to Adult Child relationships than I do.

    Interesting about the differences in perception between the adult children and their parents… reminds me of this resource “Down the Rabbit Hole – The world of estranged parents’ forums”: http://www.issendai.com/psychology/estrangement/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate to feeling the odd one out but you’re not. Some people have other backgrounds. For me I don’t find it easy to share my story irl so that leaves me sometimes ‘alone’ too. Trusting it into my blog was a huge step and it helps to ‘get it out’. But maybe you feel this as well as you are a blogger too off course.
      Thanks for the link, I also found a topic on Reddit about it: https://www.reddit.com/r/EstrangedAdultChild/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hugs ❤ Yeah, I really value the WordPress community because of the connection with other people. Wow I might try that subreddit. PerpBro frequents a lot of survivor subs, but I don't think he's in that particular one!

        Like

  9. I find it strange that stigmas about estrangement persist despite how common it is in media. I have read so many novels and watched so many movies with people estranged from a family member that it almost seemed normal to me. True, most media that portrays estrangement tends to end with family members resolving their “misunderstandings,” which might strengthen stigma by making it seem like those who don’t reconnect aren’t following the expected script. But sometimes it isn’t a misunderstanding and sometimes it can’t be resolved by reconnecting. And that’s ok.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we live with a very persistent idea of how families ‘should’ be and I think that we enforce that by showing ‘happy endings’ in the media.
      It seems that the message most portrayed is that when you can’t resolve it, you didn’t try hard enough. The script – like you said – hasn’t been followed then and in my opinion this enforces the stigma surrounding it.
      But now I find that ‘it’s ok’ to have tried and when it really didn’t work out, to leave it be, to let it go.
      On the other hand, in the media, we find stories about people who are alone and are able to make meaningful connections with others, maybe not family.

      Liked by 1 person

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