Monthly Archives: May 2014

Why forgive?

parents of estranged adult childrenParents of estranged adult children wonder: Should I forgive?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In my book, Done With The Crying, I share the story of Doreen, whose son no longer wants a relationship with her.

Doreen asked, “Why should I forgive my son? He hasn’t apologized. And he’s not making any effort to reconcile.”

Another mom explained her thoughts this way: “Forgiveness comes when the person wants to make things right. My estranged daughter doesn’t.”

So, what does it mean to forgive? And if you are the parent of an estranged adult child who is or isn’t sorry, should you forgive? Or will it only open you to hurt?

Forgiveness can mean many things to many people. For some, forgiveness holds deeply spiritual roots, and perhaps implies a divine sense of the word that completely erases past errors. Therefore, forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply may seem impossible, or even wrong – – particularly if the person hasn’t apologized or changed. Some parents of estranged adult children may wonder if it’s right to pardon error when someone doesn’t repent.

For others, substituting another phrase such as “letting go,” in place of “forgiveness” more accurately expresses the idea. The intent has less to do with the person who has wronged us, and is more focused on dropping unhealthy responses that can hold us back. Whatever your thoughts on forgiveness, read on for more discussion and why forgiveness may be helpful to you.

Forgive and forget?

For many, the saying, “forgive and forget,” comes to mind, but forgiveness doesn’t always require forgetting.

If we’re lied to, stolen from, treated with indifference, subjected to angry outbursts, or in some other way hurt, forgetting the past and letting our guard down completely is probably not the wisest course. That sort of forgiveness may come across as an invitation: “I’m a doormat. Walk on me!”

Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.

Forgetting bad behavior can make us vulnerable. If a dog bites us, we’ll be wary of that dog in the future. That doesn’t mean the dog will definitely bite us again, but expecting that it won’t isn’t logical.

Forgiveness also doesn’t erase the consequences of bad behavior. A crime victim may “forgive” their assailant, but that doesn’t mean the jail sentence is automatically lessened – – even if the perpetrator admits wrongdoing and promises to change.

An excessive gambler may stop betting, but havoc wreaked on finances doesn’t disappear with a changed mind. If a person borrows money and never pays it back, their reputation suffers.

It’s similar for us and our adult children. Once relationships are damaged, even if a son or daughter wants to reconcile, our forgiveness doesn’t instantly restore trust we once shared. Our forgiveness of past behavior does not require we forget and act as if nothing ever happened.

Forgiving when there’s no apology. Why?

In a 2001 article in the Journal of Counseling & Development, the term “forgiveness” is defined as ceasing to feel angry or resentful. This meaning focuses on letting go of emotions that can cause distress. It’s the definition intended in most discussions on forgiveness today.

Letting go of deeply embedded emotions and resolving unhealthy resentment that can contribute to anger and guilt can be beneficial. That’s why the concept of forgiveness, regardless of the wrongdoer’s presence or attitude, has become so popular. Forgiveness, for your own benefit, is therapeutic.

In an earlier article, I offered accepting the need to forgive as one of the first steps to letting go of anger. While anger can be a natural response to the experience of your adult child’s rejection, and anger can be healthy and help you move beyond sadness, if the anger is troubling to you or becomes overwhelming, forgiveness can help.

Doreen was miserable about her anger toward her son. She was frustrated, hurt, and consumed by thoughts of him, their relationship, and her rage. Then she felt guilty for feeling so angry.

Forgiveness: Take back your power

What Doreen didn’t immediately see was that in refusing to forgive, she couldn’t quite let go enough to move forward in peace. By holding onto blame and anger, she gave her son power over her emotions. She’s the first to admit those emotions made her miserable.

If you believe forgiveness is impossible, unjust, or are angered the topic is even proposed here, don’t feel badly. Perhaps in the future you will feel differently. Or perhaps you can substitute another word such as “releasing.”

Doreen was able to accept the idea of releasing without pardoning her son’s error. Doreen came to believe that making the decision not to hold him accountable every day, while he was off happily living his life, freed her. “I was then able to get on with my own life.”

In the book, there are information and tools to help release resentment and release troubling emotions – – in other words, to forgive.

Related reading:

Rejected by an adult child, why do I feel guilt?

Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

When your adult child rejects you: First steps to getting past anger

 

When your adult child rejects you: First steps to getting past anger

First Steps to Getting Past Anger
When Your Adult Child Rejects You

by Sheri McGregor

when your adult child rejects youDevastated parents who have been estranged by adult children experience a multitude of emotions. Particularly for moms, anger is one of the most difficult feelings to understand, accept, and move beyond.

As occurs in many of the situations parents have related to me, one mother, Doreen*, recently told me that her estranged adult son refuses to explain why he has rejected her. He won’t work toward reconciliation either. Doreen is normally a calm, pragmatic individual. She says other people often turn to her for advice. Suddenly, she feels powerless.

“I can accept that I’m sad,” Doreen said. “When your adult child rejects you, sadness is normal. But I’m angry, too. And that feeling took me by surprise.” She expressed what she called “rage,” toward her adult son who has treated her with indifference for several years. Over the last six months, he completely estranged himself. Doreen is hurting, and experiencing anger she doesn’t know how to handle.

“I want revenge,” Doreen admitted. “And I hate myself for feeling that way.”

Doreen’s emotions are similar to those of other parents’ who express their anger then harshly judge themselves. We often associate feelings like rage and revenge with violence, so experiencing those feelings can be scary, and may seem as if we’re losing control. Doreen put it this way: “What kind of person have I become?”

Obviously, anger is an important topic. In some situations, anger leads to violence. Displaced anger can cause people to act in ways that damage other relationships, or are unhealthy to themselves. We might find ourselves yelling at the dog, slamming a door, drinking more alcohol, or snapping at somebody close to us. While the many aspects of anger are important to be aware of and examine, this article speaks only to better understanding our feelings about our anger, and looks at first steps to dealing with the emotion.

When your adult child rejects you: Why is anger so troubling?

For most of us, expressing anger was never encouraged. In childhood, an angry outburst may have resulted in a time-out. We may have been sent to our room, asked to sit in a corner, or told to control ourselves. Rather than being taught ways to channel anger, and express it safely and productively, we may have been taught to repress anger. As a result, in adulthood, feeling anger can be uncomfortable – – particularly toward our own child. This may be especially true for women, who may have been told to “be nice,” or that expressions of anger weren’t “ladylike.”

When your adult child rejects you: Understanding your anger

If you’re angry over your estranged adult child’s rejection, recognize that you’re not alone. When your adult child rejects you, one reason for your anger may be a sense of powerlessness. Many of us have tried to understand our grown sons’ or daughters’ actions. We repeatedly reach out, attempt to reconcile, and get nowhere. Years may pass. We get tired. We’re still hurting. And we’re weary of lying awake at night, our minds running an endless loop: What was it I did? What can I do now? How can I make this right? With no real answers, no satisfaction for our efforts, and no end to the emotional torture in sight, anger builds.

How we perceive the reason for the rejection can influence our feelings, too. Research reported on in the July, 2013 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people who blamed a rejection on their incompetence became angry. Those viewing rejection as less personal and based on a lack of warmth experienced more sadness.

Linda*, another estranged mom, told me she knew she was a good parent. She is like so many of the parents who contact me, recounting school involvement, a stable home environment, time spent with their children cooking, cheering their sports events, and so on throughout the years. Even so, Linda insisted she must have done something to cause the estrangement. “It’s always the mom’s fault,” Linda said, insisting this is true even though her estranged daughter won’t explain, and her other adult children feel their sister is wrong. Linda is angry.

While raising our children, moms and dads routinely accept children’s foibles, and move forward with the patience and understanding characteristic of loving parents. We view our children as inexperienced, so rise above the situation.

Later, when our children grow up, desert us, and leave us powerless to change a situation we don’t understand, we’re confused, and we become frustrated. Many of us come to realize that despite our efforts, the state of affairs isn’t changing. This takes the focus off us and our actions, and places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of our estranged sons and daughters. We now realize that they are in control. And they choose actions that hurt us. This realization can make us angry.

When your adult child rejects you: Anger and guilt

For many of us, anger doesn’t feel good. Anger can bring on guilt. These are our children after all. People we have loved and nurtured. Does our anger mean we no longer have unconditional love for them? Are we failing at the vital basics of being a decent parent and human being? Not necessarily, but anger toward our adult children may be difficult to express in a healthy, open way. We may fear judgment, or judge ourselves. Seething anger may even bleed into our other relationships, bringing more hurt and pain.

Healthy anger will be discussed more fully in an upcoming article. Here are a couple of ideas: Find a place where you can openly discuss your feelings, such as the online support forum for parents of estranged adult children hosted here. Join the forum.

You could also join the facebook page, help & healing for parents of estranged adult children.

Overcoming anger: Acceptance can help

When your adult child rejects you, coming to a place of acceptance in several areas is crucial to leaving anger behind and channeling it wisely as you move forward. Reflect upon and expand the areas outlined below to apply them in your own life.

  1. Accept that you’ve done your best. You deserve a happy life. To successfully move on, we must accept that despite doing our best, at least for now, we can’t change the situation. We can reach out, but until an estranged adult child wants to reconcile, we can’t make it happen. Accepting that our efforts are fruitless allows us to shift focus, put our efforts in people who reciprocate, in activities that bring us joy, and in a future we can affect and play a part in. Beyond our role as parents, we’re people, deserving of happy, satisfying lives.

2. Accept that you can only control yourself. Take charge where you can. As mature adults, we’ve likely had lots of experience at finding immediate solutions. We learned to shut the door on our teenager’s messy room. When our spouse was always late, we may have adjusted our schedule, or incorporated earlier start times to accommodate the bad habit. By accepting that we can only control ourselves, we free up energy for solutions that help us feel better now. We can take down family photos that remind us of an estranged son. We can box up for storage, or even dispose of items left behind by an estranged daughter. We can then put up artwork that inspires us. Making new and productive use of the space is liberating.

3. Accept the need to forgive. Do it for your own happiness. You may instantly react with anger at the thought of forgiving. If that’s you, perhaps you’re one of those people who can call forgiveness something else. Perhaps you don’t feel a need to forgive, or perhaps you don’t want to. If forgiving doesn’t feel right, let this tip go and don’t worry about it. But if you’re open to the idea of how forgiveness may help you, read on. Forgiveness can be complex. We may be angry or blame people who are involved with our adult children. Forgiving someone who has wrongly hurt us can feel unjust. But forgiveness isn’t about guilt. We can blame someone but still forgive them. To read more about this, see my article: Why forgive? Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. In a study published by the National Institute of Health in 2011, researchers found that forgiving freely, particularly without requiring an apology or admission of wrongdoing, resulted in high levels of life satisfaction. Holding forgiveness hostage to some act or condition was associated with psychological distress and depression.

For some more concrete ways to deal with your emotions and move toward forgiveness, see my article that discusses ways to move on when your adult child rejects you.

When your adult child rejects you, anger is normal. Acceptance, and a take-charge attitude placed where your efforts can make a difference will help you take steps to leave anger behind, and move confidently forward in a new and happy life.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Related Reading:

Anger: A positive energizer? Or an easy fix?

Why forgive?

Rejected by an adult child, why do I feel guilt?

Five ways to move on after an adult child’s rejection

Books to help with anger

 

Why do I feel guilt?

rejected by an adult childEmotional well-being series.
Innocent Guilt: normal after conflict

by Sheri McGregor

One mother rejected by an adult child recently wrote that she felt “guilty.” She also said she had wondered what she did wrong but couldn’t identify much. So, was her “guilt” valid? Let’s take a look at guilt, a common feeling associated with the loss of an important relationship – – and when there’s conflict.

Guilt when rejected by an adult child: Should I have…?

Many of us are familiar with the guilt that can accompany the loss of someone we love in death. It’s common to wonder if we spent enough time, wish we’d have said how important they were to us, or even feel responsible in some way. When rejected by an adult child, we feel a similar loss, with many of the same questions.

Did I spend enough time with my son? Did I give my daughter too much freedom? Did I show him enough affection? Provide her enough structure? Cook the right foods? Tell him I loved him enough? For moms whose children have rejected them, the list of questions can go on and on.

Rejected by an adult child and left to puzzle

In interviewing mothers rejected by an adult child, it has become clear that very often there is no open conflict over a tangible act, omission or offense. Many mothers rejected by an adult child tell me they don’t get it. They did their best. They nurtured their child’s interests, cared for their physical needs, read the bedtime stories, sponsored the sports teams and memberships, helped them learn to drive, apply for a first job. . . .

These parents of estranged adults thought all was well. Everything seemed fine, and then one day, something changed. They received a note or phone call requesting no further contact, or were given a cursory explanation such as, “I need my space.” And then silence.

Some mothers say they first noticed a sort of cooling off. But busy caring for younger children and/or working full-time, they didn’t immediately react. After all, their adult children had lives of their own, and were often busy with their own work and even with their own growing families.

In some cases, the cutting off itself is what leads to conflict. When moms question what’s wrong, the adult child lashes out with accusations, or says things like, “You were never there for me!” When pressed for specifics, the adult child refuses to talk, strings together curse words, or simply walks away.

Situations are unique, but often parents are left to puzzle. Despite repeated attempts, there’s no explanation given. Without a chance to hash things out, there’s no chance to make amends if necessary, and move forward with a clear understanding what went wrong for a better future relationship.

In trying to no avail, parents get tired. We look back on our parenting, many times with other adult children who tell us we did fine, and conclude the problem doesn’t lie with us.

Why guilt?

Most parents rejected by an adult child initially react with a feeling of guilt because we’re so floored at our adult child’s cold behavior that we believe we must have done something wrong. Then, even when we critically self-examine and see that we did our best, other people accuse or dismiss us.

An uncle raises his brow. “What happened to make her so mad at you?” The questions carries judgment.

A co-worker avoids eye contact. “I can’t imagine that happening,” she says. The statement seems to carry accusatory conclusions.

A friend says, “It’s just a phase.” His words show that he lacks an understanding about the tenacity of the problem.

We can feel all alone. We may continue to question our parenting skills. And a vague sense of undefined guilt may edge our thoughts.

Unresolved conflict and guilt

Part of the problem may be the conflict we don’t understand. Left without solid answers, the conflict is unresolved.

A recent article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Philosophy examines the concept of “innocent guilt,” which occurs after conflicts. This guilt without cause is experienced by people who are not responsible for wrongdoing. The article explores philosophers’ writings that connect feelings of guilt to people who aren’t guilty. When they’re still suffering, victims of wrongdoing experience guilt as part of the aftermath of the conflict. Ethical persons suffer “innocent guilt.”

Parents of estranged adults know all too well the ongoing nature of their suffering. The grief, sadness, anger and other emotions common to the situation can persist. Part of what we experience as “guilt,” may be an ethical response, a completely natural emotional reaction to the conflict itself.

Our values and the outcome

Another reason why a sense of guilt may be common to parents rejected by an adult child is because, for many of us, a twinge of guilt serves as a reminder of our core values. Many say that twinge spurs them to do the right thing in any number of situations.

Loving parents, like the mom who said she felt “guilty,” have values that made them conscientious parents who did the right things. But if they did the right things, then what went wrong? It’s a paradox.

One mom spoke with a sense of pride when she recounted the way she raised her children (now estranged). The outcome dismays her. “You don’t expect to fail at motherhood.”

Relieving the suffering

The Journal of Applied Philosophy article highlights a need to work at relieving suffering that’s related to innocent guilt. For me, helping others via life coaching, creating this website, hearing other moms’ stories, and writing about the subject to help other parents rejected by an adult child has been a big part of my own healing process.

In a future article, we’ll explore more about feelings of guilt that aren’t justified, and ways to overcome those feelings. For now, know that by seeking information, you’ve taken a positive step. Youre moving toward recovery from loss, and moving past the pain of this isolating experience. You don’t have to endure this all by yourself. Leave a comment below – – I’d like to hear from you.Or reach out by taking the survey to help parents of estranged adults. You can also share your story, or join the community forum. Be sure to sign up for the email updates so you’ll never miss an article (scroll up to find the sign up form, at the top of the right-hand column).

An abstract of the article about innocent guilt can be found here.

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