Author Archives: rparents

About rparents

Sheri McGregor holds a Master's Degree in Human Behavior and is a life coach. She helps parents move beyond loss of estrangement through this website, and with her books, Done With The Crying and BEYOND Done With The Crying -- info: https://www.rejectedparents.net/sheri-mcgregors-book-for-parents-of-estranged-adult-children/ Find out more and contact Sheri about life coaching: https://www.balanceandjoy.com/home/success-stories/ Sheri has two public facebook pages. One that is narrowed to estrangement: https://www.facebook.com/SheriMcGregorRejectedParents And one that is her "author" page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSheriMcGregor/ Be sure to sign up for the newsletter--she has some projects in development you'll want to know about.

Healing from adult children’s rejection: Persevere beyond “backdraft” to freedom

Healing from adult children’s rejection:
Persevere beyond “backdraft” to freedom

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Among the parents who’ve joined my online community, or worked with me individually, or shared email or phone conversations, some hail from difficult families. They may have been raised with guilt as a motivator, been “parentified,” or served in a scapegoat role. These parents willfully rose above their circumstances and parented their own children with a determination to treat them right. Regardless, one or more children grew up to desert or otherwise abuse them, and these parents find themselves puzzling over what went wrong. Like most parents, they go to their own actions first. Where did I go wrong? What can I do now? They may also think, I’ll do anything to fix this. 

When nothing works or their continued efforts are met with increasingly stiffer demands, they long for peace. Stepping away from their children and the drama feels like taking their lives back. Frequently, once away from the chaos, they begin to feel free to make the most of their own lives. They begin in earnest to work at healing, not only from their adult children’s abuse, but from the suffering inflicted within their family of origin.

Delia was one such parent. Her son and daughter, both from an early and short-lived marriage, had nothing but ill will toward her. They were similar in personality to her mother, an icy woman, whom Delia was, nevertheless, loyal to. Delia had raised her children with affection, always praising their success, supporting their endeavors, and making sure they had good dental care, including braces, as well as stylish haircuts and clothing. This was nothing like her hand-me-down history, mouthful of crooked teeth, and her mother’s “about time” attitude at any of Delia’s accomplishments.

Delia’s kids both graduated high school early and attended college Delia and their stepfather paid for. She was proud of them and, in their successes, found some self-worth. But it came with a price. “Since the teen years, our relationships were prickly,” says Delia. “As they finished college, married, and started their families, they got closer to my mother and my siblings. I became the odd one out.” She chuckles. “I’m used to that.”

While Delia is occasionally allowed to take her grandchildren, now boys of 8 and 10, she no longer seeks meaningful relationships with her son and daughter. “I’m no longer willing to accept abuse,” says Delia, who wasn’t always this self-compassionate or assured. At one point, as she processed her emotions and identified her history as the family scapegoat, the pain of moving forward was almost worse than agreeing she was the problem. “It was crazy,” she says. “Intellectually, I knew I was deserving but I couldn’t be good to myself. I looked at my children’s rejection and the way they aligned with my mother as proof that I was no good.”

For six months, Delia turned to alcohol to quell her anger, sadness, and negative thinking around what a loser she was and how no one would ever truly love her because she wasn’t worthy of love. “Not falling down drunk,” she explains. “Having a civilized glass … or three … of good red wine with dinner.”

When Delia realized she was using alcohol to escape the pain, as her father had done, she quit drinking. “I didn’t want to die young like he did,” she says. “But I also needed to learn how to live.”

Delia’s downward emotional spiral after beginning to offer herself the love, caring and nurturing she’d been craving her whole life and had always given to others, is an example of what self-compassion proponents and researchers call “backdraft.”1,2,3,4,5 The term comes from firefighting where “backdraft” occurs when a door or window is opened and fresh oxygen rushes in, causing the fire to flare into the space. Similarly, a new practice of self-compassion opens the door to old memories and negativity, fueling painful old behaviors and aggression, negative beliefs, and feelings of shame and guilt.6

Affording oneself kindness, empathy, and understanding as you would another has been shown to increase psychological well-being, decrease anxiety and depression, enhance interpersonal connection and motivation for self-improvement, and increase overall life satisfaction.7,8,9,10,11,12,13 Awareness of the possibility of backdraft, though, is important. Thankfully, mental health clinicians and researchers are taking an increased interest in this phenomenon, which doesn’t always occur.

Once Delia became aware of what was happening, she could be mindful of when and how the old thinking reared its head, explore its birthplace in her childhood as well as where and with whom she’d re-assumed the familiar caretaking, cheerleading, and selflessness. Delia had assumed those old roles that had once kept her safe and helped her to belong. With self-compassion for the little girl who had been so smart in doing what she had to do to survive, Delia could acknowledge the old trauma and hurt inflicted upon her. This allowed her to take steps toward an identity and future she herself chose, in a new way of life and for her survival now.

Perhaps you have also noticed old memories and hurts getting stirred up when you’ve begun to move forward in self-compassion and deliberative work toward your own healing. Frequently, there are many layers to healing. We revisit old wounds, clear away the emotional debris as we can, and then move on. We also return to old hurts, with or without the “help” of adult children who return to trigger the pain. In my award-winning 2021 book, Beyond Done, which was written as a follow-up to the consistently popular Done With The Crying, I discuss how these reminders, when viewed with discernment and self-compassion, can benefit our forward momentum. As you work at your own freedom in healing, it’s wise to prepare for potential setbacks and triggers, which can be a part of your progress.

Related Reading

Freedom for a new era (parents rejected by adult children)

Estrangement: Are you a firework, or still standing?

References:

  1. Germer, C. K. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion. The Guilford Press.
  2. Germer, C. (2023). Self-compassion in psychotherapy: Clinical integration, evidence base, and mechanisms of change. In A. Finlay-Jones, K. Bluth, & K. Neff (Eds.), Handbook of self-compassion (pp. 379–415). Springer Nature. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1007/ 978-3-031- 22348-8_ 22
  3. Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 856–867. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp. 22021
  4. Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2015). Cultivating self-compassion in trauma survivors. In V. M. Follette, J. Briere, D. Rozelle, J. W. Hopper, & D. I. Rome (Eds.), Mindfulness-oriented interventions for trauma: Integrating contemplative practices (pp. 43–58). The Guilford Press.
  5. Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2019). Teaching the mindful self-compassion program: A guide for professionals. The Guilford Press
  6. Neff, N., & Germer, C. (2022). The role of self-compassion in psychotherapy. World Psychiatry, 21(1), 58–59.

7 . Brown, L., Houston, E. E., Amonoo, H. L., & Bryant, C. (2021). Is self-compassion associated with sleep quality? A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 12(5), 1–10. https:// doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01498-0

  1. Cleare, S., Gumley, A., & O’Connor, R. C. (2019). Self-compassion,self-forgiveness, suicidal ideation, and self-harm: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 26(5), 511–530. https:// doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2372
  2. Ferrari, M., Hunt, C., Harrysunker, A., Abbott, M. J., Beath, A. P., & Einstein, D. A. (2019). Self-compassion interventions and psychosocial outcomes: A meta-analysis of RCTs. Mindfulness, 10(8), 1455–1473. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01134-6
  3. MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(6), 545–552. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr 2012.06.003
  4. McArthur, M., Mansfield, C., Matthew, S., Zaki, S., Brand, C., Andrews, J., & Hazel, S. (2017). Resilience in veterinary students and the predictive role of mindfulness and self-compassion. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 44(1), 106–115. https://doi.org/10.3138/jvme.0116-027R1
  5. Shattell, M., & Johnson, A. (2018). Mindful self-compassion: How it can enhance resilience. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 56(1), 15–17. https://doi. org/10.928/02793695-20171219-01
  6. Zessin, U., Dickhäuser, O., & Garbade, S. (2015). The relationship between self-compassion and well-being: A meta-analysis. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 7(3), 340–364. https://doi. org/10.1111/aphw.12051

 

Rejected fathers: Living beyond estrangement

Rejected fathers: Living beyond estrangement

rejected fathersby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Judging from the emails I receive from rejected fathers, there are a lot of good men out there suffering estrangement. Men of substance, heart, courage, and grit. Dads who sacrificed their hearts, their bank accounts, and sometimes even their beliefs to support their children …. Only to be ignored and abandoned later. Many of these men say they long to impart their wisdom to the offspring they hope will make the world a better place. Beyond the loving and fun parts, that’s the crux of fatherhood, isn’t it? Leaving a legacy of wisdom for the next generation?

Rejected fathers: You can still make a difference

I’m amazed at the fathers who tell me that, despite the sorrow of what’s happened in their families, they’re making thoughtful, strong choices, and getting on with their lives. And they’re doing great things, leaving a legacy of love and support in places and with people who appreciate their time, effort, and wisdom. Here’s a sampling.

Curtis, whose daughter was alienated from an early age by his ex-wife (I hear this frequently) updates me after nearly every newsletter. He tells about all the good he’s doing in a poverty-stricken area of the world. There, whole villages of children and adults appreciate him. He provides material help and is hands-on in restoring historic buildings alongside the people he serves. He has also remarried to a local woman who is equally community-minded, and says, “There’s joy in it all.” Curtis has decided he won’t be leaving money to his daughter. He’s too busy leaving a legacy of fresh water, food, medical supplies. “And besides,” he explains, “we spoke a few times after she graduated college. My daughter made a lot of promises about us getting together, took any cash I’d give, and mostly just blew me off.” Curtis decided he could sit around and be angry or get back to doing something useful. He chose the latter.

Another rejected dad, Mike, says that his sons look down on him. “I crawled under houses to replace old plumbing and snaked out clogged pipes my whole life just to send them to college,” he says. “They’re both in tech and snicker at my frugal lifestyle, which afforded them the education that got them the fancy living they now enjoy.” Mike and his wife are debt free. Meanwhile, he sees his sons living in “a house of cards.” Now, Mike helps people who appreciate him. He started an interfaith food pantry, distributing groceries to those in need. He sets aside cash to buy food staples for the pantry each month. “It’s being there at the site that makes my day,” he says. Mike is as generous with the food as he is the hugs he shares with struggling parents or older people whose kids often don’t make the effort to help them.

Other dads write memoirs to impart their knowledge, or they volunteer at everything from train and aerospace museums to wildlife and conservation efforts. Some have launched late-life businesses, are involved in political activism, have started churches, or serve on their local community boards. Many are content to spend time with sons and daughters who remain loyal. These dads enjoy their grandchildren, putter in the yard, or help neighbors who are less able. While they miss the grandchildren they aren’t allowed to see, and wish they’d have known then what they know now, these men still strive to be good, giving human beings. They care about the world and the people in it.

Rejected fathers: In their own words

There are plenty of rejected fathers doing wonderful things with their lives. In this blog post, I’d like to honor some of these fathers by allowing them a public voice to share what they have learned from estrangement to help other rejected fathers and mothers.

To that end, I’ve combed through more than 21,000 emails looking for notes from estranged dads and have chosen those representative of the most common themes and messages. So, without names, with unique details changed to protect their privacy, here are their heartfelt thoughts.

“In my estranged son’s eyes, I’m only useful for one thing. I don’t learn all that fast but I’m in my seventies now and have come back to an old Beatles truth. Money can’t buy me love.”

“Two years ago, I set up an agreed upon meeting with a family counselor for myself and my daughter. She cancelled at the last minute. I have left the door open and tried to connect via voicemails, emails, and texts…. My thought going forward is to stop any such attempts since it is falling on deaf ears. My daughter will have to make some indication that she has some interest in moving in a different direction. If this were anyone else, I would have stopped trying much earlier.”

“I pray for them every day. And also for myself, for help to focus on where I can best be of service.”

“I’ve done all I can. I plan to write a final letter, asking for us to talk. If nothing comes out of it, I will wish her a happy life, say good-bye, and get on with living. She may talk badly about me and blame me for this rift, but better a horrible end than an endless horror.”

“Yeah, this hurts worse than anything, but I’ve had lots of other disappointments and heartaches in life before this happened. I’m down but not for the count.”  

“At 74 and with heart trouble, I know my days ahead are fewer than those behind me. I’m done torturing myself, trying to convince them I’m worthy of their time or love. Fact is, I’ve tried it all. I will always remember the way they came running to me, calling me ‘daddy.’ I gave most of my life up for those kids, years beyond the end of mutual caring. Now, I’m keeping good company with myself. I’m thinking good thoughts, seeing lovely things, and enjoying my life without them. It was their choice.”

“Sheri, thank you for helping us parents see that our lives have value beyond raising children. I can’t fix these grownups who are now in their late thirties. Their lack of character isn’t my fault or my responsibility. I can still be a dad to the one son who didn’t desert me, and I can honor myself and stop chasing what amounts to wind.”

Your legacy. Your heart.

Rejected fathers and mothers sometimes respond to estrangement differently from one another. To read another post that addresses that, click through to A gift for estranged fathers. I’ve included a few past Father’s Day postings under “Related Reading” below.

To all the rejected fathers out there, do assign yourself some honor. It’s your day … Maybe even your era.

Hugs and Happy Father’s Day,

Sheri McGregor

Related Reading

Father’s Day when adult children turn away

Father’s Day 2023 and estrangement

A gift for estranged fathers

 

When adult kids show no interest: Parents, it’s time to take charge of your life

adult kids show no interestWhen adult children show no interest:
Parents, it’s time to take charge of your life

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the last 20 years, one simple question posed to clients becomes one of the most powerful:

  • What’s stopping you?

After fumbling a little for an answer, usually one of two responses occurs.

Often the person will smile and say, “Good question,” realizing immediately that they’re getting in their own way.

Others will start in with a list of reasons why they haven’t been able to change, or even can’t change. They may have ideas of how they’d like to shift focus to themselves and their future now but continually swing back to all that should be happening at this point in their lives. Often, that’s an old vision that no longer fits. Some lament the things they wished they’d had the chance to do … but won’t entertain the idea of alternatives. Others say they don’t have the energy, don’t know if they can, or don’t know how to start. Some say they’re content to give up on people entirely, yet they complain of loneliness. Frequently, they’re continuing to keep company with those who hurt them. Endless thought loops keep the past, and those relationships, alive.

I get it. In the early daze of estrangement, I worried about ending up alone, how I’d be judged by others, and whether mustering the strength to pick myself up and move forward was even worth the effort. How could I, a loving mother, just go on in life without my son? What would life even look like if a child I’d poured my heart and soul into could up and dump me? And sometimes, keeping the pain in front of us feels like a shield. If we don’t let anyone get close, they won’t disappoint or hurt us.

The reality is that all of us have grief, experience loss, and wish some things hadn’t happened or were different now. In my role here, I don’t talk much about the trauma I’ve suffered in addition to estrangement. I know what it’s like to suffer narcissistic abuse, have people I love be addicted, mentally ill, or make me their target. And I work with people every day who know these sorts of troubles as well as (or as a feature of) estrangement. Many are all alone now yet gathering the gumption to embrace each moment and carry on. People who are grieving the past, treasuring today, and still working on tomorrow.

Where do you fit?

When you think of that question—What’s stopping you?—how do you respond? If you’re like the ones in the first group, bravo. Close your eyes, imagine slipping a Team Your Name jersey over your head, and get ready to work. You realize that to move forward requires steps … and you’re willing to lace up your boots, fuel up your stores of energy and resilience, and get moving.

If you’re in the second group, use the exercise in the first chapter of Done With The Crying to get a better idea of where you stand. You may not be prepared yet to move forward for yourself. We all move at differing paces and need various levels of support. Get the assistance you need.

You could join the Done With The Crying peer community where members who have been there and understand will embrace you like a comforting shawl on a chilly day. They’ll witness your unique pain and offer their own experiences as a guide to getting unstuck. If you haven’t yet, at least sign up for my newsletter (free).

You may find therapy useful. And don’t forget your physical health. Taking care of the body also boosts mental and emotional wellness. And when we’ve been through the trauma of adult kids’ rejection, our health can suffer. Do what’s necessary. You count.

When adult kids show no interest: Go “all in” for yourself

Some of you won’t feel comfortable with that sub-heading. Going “all in” for you might sound like giving up on your kid, but it’s more like giving in to the facts. And it not selfish to stop sacrificing your own well-being when adult kids show no interest or are abusive to you. You can hold out hope that one day things will be different, but if holding out hope for them to change is all you do—then you really are giving up—on yourself.

Whether our adult kids show no interest or we’ve experienced other betrayal, trauma, or distress, it’s up to us to take charge in our lives. Otherwise, we can fritter our days away in wishful thinking, unhealthy hope, or even bitterness that does no one good.

Adult children who show no interest may never change. Even if they do, wouldn’t it be nice to have done or learned something interesting in the interim? Places you’ve seen, causes you’ve contributed to, or friends you’ve enjoyed?

There’s a great big world out there, with people and ideas at our fingertips. Even if you’re not ready or able to physically mingle, the internet becomes a lifeline. Interest groups and classes meet and converse in real time via computer (no driving needed)—and can be the start to more in-person activities (if you want and when you’re ready).

Your mission (if you choose to accept it)

Whether you’ve been estranged for one year or ten, I invite you to recognize the situation as it is. Your adult child has set you aside. For now, or, possibly, forever. Take up the torch for yourself: your care, your interests, your development and vision for your life without them. Don’t worry, you can always choose to chase after them in the future. For now, though, at least for a time, give a rest to focusing on the ones who have abandoned you.

Do what’s needed to become strong. Don’t hesitate. Go “all in” for your own well-being.

It’s your choice whether to remain torn and in turmoil, or to commit to your well-being. Imagine being in a boat alone when a leak springs at either end. You can’t reach both. You stick your finger in one hole, but water still pours in the other. Switch holes you plug and you’re still sinking. It’s like that when you plan to take care of yourself but remain in chase mode, checking social media or reaching out to crickets, and stirring up sadness, anger, and pain. Why keep hurting yourself? It’s a losing prospect.

Abandon the adult-kids-show-no-interest boat. Swim to shore instead. What’s stopping you?

Related reading

Estranged parents: Get out of the comfort zone

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Are you “stalking” your estranged adult child?

 

Minding your mental health

Mental healthby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

As parents who’ve been hurt in the drama and trauma of estrangement, it’s especially important to mind our mental wellness. Like this frog who blew in on a winter storm and is now living his best life in our front pond, we can hop on or off lily pads, rest awhile, and find new ways to mind our mental health.

This short list of items known to hold benefits for our well-being is intended as a hopping off point. You surely have activities that you know are good for you — and I hope you’re making a point to partake.

  • Reflect on leaders or mentors who brought out the best in you.
  • Reflect on people who have made you feel seen, heard, and valued. Be around them if you can.
  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Practice Yoga
  • Do Tai Chi
  • Get a massage
  • Be physically active
  • Find something hopeful in your future and focus on it. If you can’t think of anything right off, get busy and create something you can look forward to.
  • Foster loving support, and joy in your primary relationships.
  • Help someone!
  • Love on a pet.
  • Nurture playfulness.
  • Walk in nature (or sit/walk in a garden, a patio with a tree or fountain). Just hearing the sounds of nature helps.
  • Initiate inspiring conversations. You can start with something you share in common with the other person(s) that relates to a positive value, vision, or story. Not sure how? Think of someone who made YOU feel good and then emulate how they did that in your interactions with another.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Be fully present.
  • Be emotionally aware. What’s your baseline today? Think: how was my sleep? How much am I preoccupied with what must get done? Then be self-compassionate and honor your needs.
  • Prioritize sleep. A lot of us do not prioritize this very basic need. Don’t push the envelope here …  Did you know that just about every type of mental/emotional instability has poor sleep in common? Take charge of your recharge.

    We owe it to ourselves to take kind care of ourselves top to bottom, inside and out.

Related reading

Letters to estranged adult children

Does healing from estrangement mean you’re cold-hearted?

 

My adult child is a narcissist: Is it my fault?

adult child is a narcissist

My adult child is a narcissist: Is it my fault?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Parents sometimes tell me their adult child is a narcissist. They describe sons and daughters who feel superior, lack empathy, and have fragile egos that crumble behind a defensive wall of rage. Frequently, the parents go on to say that everything they read says it’s all their fault.

I’m quick to assure them that the causes for narcissism are not that simple, but years spent in an increasingly demeaning relationship with a narcissistic adult child can leave parents confused, isolated, and vulnerable to these seemingly definitive opinions. A parent’s view of themselves, as reflected through an abusive, narcissistic adult child’s mirror, may be warped. The related shame can be debilitating. If you’re one of these parents, take heart. There’s more breadth to narcissism’s etiology and development including how the behavior can be acquired.

Your adult child is a narcissist: Do the theories keep you stuck?

A zillion blogs assert that narcissists are created by either overindulgent or neglectful parents. That these are opposites has always made me suspect, but like so many loud opinions, they’re repeated so often they’re accepted as absolute. The reality is that these are theories. And why not? Framing parents is convenient and absolves adults of responsibility for their own actions. These days, some therapists even encourage adults to blame parents for all their problems—like this one’s billboard.

Simplistic reasoning that heaps guilt on the parents enables adult children who turn on the charm then drop emotional bombs whenever it suits. Parents can become trapped in hurtful, subservient relationships with self-indulgent, ego-inflated sons or daughters who are intermittently loving. It’s a cycle of hurt and hope. Outsiders might see a carefully constructed public façade, sing the child’s praises, and tell the parent they must be so very proud. This then triggers a mix of pride and confusion, which provokes the parent’s shame and silence—just how abusers like to keep their targets.

Frequently, parents who have hung on for years find themselves discarded for good, maybe because they’ve begun to stand up for themselves and are less easily manipulated. Perhaps the parent’s health is failing so they’re no longer a reliable emotional fuel source for the narcissistic adult child. Or the parent unwittingly magnifies a narcissistic “injury,” that triggers the adult child’s counterattack.(1)

It’s also possible that the son or daughter has settled into the role of what’s known as a flying monkey, which is someone who supports and defends the narcissist, often, but not always, by way of manipulation. A flying monkey may do the bidding for another narcissist in the family. Yes, a flying monkey can also be a narcissist, and chooses or goes along with the role because there’s something in it for them.

Is narcissism in the genes?

Often, when parents identify their son or daughter as a narcissist they’ll spot a few others in the family tree. Whether these people are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or simply show a lot of the traits, is up for debate but the harm is real and the family patterns sometimes uncanny.

In one example, a life coaching client who was the father of two sons said his younger brother, whom he’d never been close to and who stopped coming around entirely when their mother got sick, was a narcissist. He later realized the younger of his own two sons was like his brother. A narcissist who only cared about himself and disengaged from his family when they were on to him. Subservient roles can get old (and intolerable) when people recognize what’s going on and how much they’ve been hurt. And a narcissist will often discard someone who no longer serves them and is difficult to control.

One grandmother talked about her older sister, a narcissist, who bragged about cozying up with a sickly, well-to-do elderly man and inheriting the spoils. Of the grandmother’s daughters, the elder one was a lot like her scheming sister. She even took advantage of a sickly older man. In both cases, the younger sisters stopped associating with their narcissistic sibling … and were cautious of their other family members who continued to associate with the narcissistic one. The ongoing connection, they believed, put them at risk. Subjects of past narcissistic abuse feel safer making sure the narcissist has no way of finding out anything about their lives.

Some may say these scenarios point to the upbringing as the culprit, but twin studies show otherwise. Environment, meaning not only the parents but society at large, surely do play a role in all personality disorders, but research indicates that narcissism is heritable. Depending upon the individual study, and how the research is conducted, the degree of heritability runs from around 24 to nearly 80 percent.(2) It’s a wide swing but a genetic connection exists.

Genes and what else?

NPD frequently occurs with other brain and personality disorders.(1) So, whether your child is diagnosed or simply showing many narcissistic traits, comorbidity can create all sorts of relational and occupational dysfunctions. These problematic scenarios can cause a variety of related consequences. These then influence and shape the course of a person’s life in ways that may contribute to narcissistic behavior and NPD. To name every potential contributor is impossible. The prevalent, yet simplistic opinions, don’t begin to scratch the surface. What’s clear is that narcissism’s basis is more than a cut-and-dried scenario where parents are to blame.

It’s fair to say, though, that parents may contribute. A variety of circumstances influence parents’ lives. Also, individual children affect their parents’ behavior. If your child was sickly at a young age, you probably interacted differently with that child than you did with those of robust health. A sensitive, lonely child might prompt loving parents to work harder at building the kid’s self-esteem. If your child was emotionally volatile, you did your best to calm outbursts, teach them how to use their words, and to soothe themselves.

With any children, supportive parents do their best to show justice, kindness, and what it means to empathize and care for others. However, in the workaday chaos of a busy life, you may, at times, have fallen prey to a child’s insecurities and whims. Perhaps you were indulgent on a day when you needed a modicum of peace. Maybe you even assured them they were extra beautiful, uniquely talented, or even special when they felt insecure. That stuff happens in just about every family. Yet, with a burgeoning narcissist, the times of give-ins and ego boosts may have inadvertently contributed to an insidious and growing problem.

That’s not to blame you, of course. Since the early 1990s, experts have preached the importance of self-esteem. Parents followed suit. And most of us dealt with life in the best ways we could at the time. If your child already carried a propensity for narcissism, they probably learned how to play you, too.

Earlier, I mentioned the father of two sons who says the younger one is a narcissist, as is his own older brother (the boys’ uncle). Upon reflection, this father was distressed to realize that, to a degree, he treated the younger of his two sons differently than the first. He came to recognize that his narcissistic younger son’s behavior had triggered responses that derived from the father’s boyhood days. His interactions with his younger son were shaped by relational patterns developed in his family of origin as an older brother, interacting with a narcissistic younger one whom the rest of the family doted on.

Does this mean the father is to blame? If given the chance, his narcissistic adult son might claim so. The dad, though, now sees a younger son who was different from the start. “He was always more demanding,” he says. “As he got older, he could suck all the air from a room. It was always about him all the time.” The boy’s attention-seeking, the father says, changed the family dynamics from early on.

“I’m sharing my story because maybe I can make a difference for another father,” he says. “Maybe one who can identify how his kid’s behavior triggers his own people-pleasing and over-tolerance from the past, and then circumvent.”

Acquired narcissism

Society at large also plays a role in narcissism’s development. The onset of social media, which can be addicting, coincides with increasing narcissism.(3,4,5) This ties in with a 2019 letter “from the editor,” Henry Nasrallah, M.D., in the journal Current Psychiatry, wherein he brings up fame as a trigger for “acquired narissim.” (6)

Nasrallah speaks of superstar athletes and actors who “acquire” narcissism from their suddenly revered position, which is enhanced and magnified by thousands of adoring fans. Social media has enlarged their audiences, too. This “acquired situational narcissism” (ASN) is the old saw, “It went to his head,” in action.

I tend to think two things about ASN: 1) that it can happen to lesser stars, standouts in their career or social settings; and 2) that no matter the level of narcissistic traits, those who “acquire” narcissism probably already had tendencies (even if only somewhere in the genes).

Could medications factor in?

Lately, quite a few parents have told me about narcissistic adult children who are taking prescription medications. These parents speculate that the medications have caused the personality changes they see, with a lack of empathy chief among them. Could it be these prescribed drugs cause deleterious side effects that affect their ability to care about other people’s feelings and pain? Perhaps.

Even the widely used painkiller, acetaminophen, (the main ingredient in Tylenol), has been associated with a reduction in empathy.(7,8) The same goes for some antidepressants.(9) In fact, many medications can cause changes in mood, behavior, and thinking. That’s not to say that a prescribed medication is not beneficial or safe. Many medical treatments involve a risk vs. benefit measure to determine the best treatment.

Adderall (made of mixed amphetamine salts) is one medication that has come up repeatedly in discussions with parents who say their adult child is a narcissist. Considered effective for treating ADHD, one known side effect is feeling emotionally detached (10), yet some people so like the increased focus of this stimulant that they take it in higher than prescribed dosages. Misuse can lead to addiction with one side effect being a sense of grandiosity.(11) Add that to the side effect of emotional detachment, toss in the irritability and self-centeredness that’s typical of addicts, and a parent might very well say their adult child is a narcissist.

Other symptoms of addiction, whether to Adderall, marijuana, alcohol or some other substance, include issues with anger, manipulative behavior, mood swings, and a shift in what they care about (meaning they care less about people because they just want the drug). The sum of these can certainly make an addict look and sound like a narcissist whether they clinically fit the label or not.

One dad of a celebrity estranged adult child says, “If it walks like a duck, quack likes a duck, then it’s a duck.”

A longer story

There are other circumstances that may also contribute to a narcissistic way of being. For example, some medical conditions include emotional and personality changes that might fit some of the traits. Hopefully this article demonstrates that narcissism is more complex than some might have you believe.

It has long been my opinion that even people with narcissistic ways can alter their behavior to do good and be kind—if they want to. Plenty of parents who will say their adult child is a narcissist and acts horrendously with them … but gets along well where they must.

The truth is, we all need a useful dose of healthy narcissism if we’re to take pride in our accomplishments and maintain a healthy sense of self-worth. That’s different from someone who feels they’re superior and uses others to prop up their fragile ego or for selfish gain. Read more about NPD here.

Related reading

Parents of estranged adult children: Pack your emotional toolkit

Negatively stereotyping parents of estranged adults: It hurts

References

(1) American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

(2) Reichborn-Kjennerud T. The genetic epidemiology of personality disorders. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2010;12(1):103-14. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2010.12.1/trkjennerud. PMID: 20373672; PMCID: PMC3181941.

(3) Malik S, Khan M. Impact of facebook addiction on narcissistic behavior and self-esteem among students. J Pak Med Assoc. 2015 Mar;65(3):260-3. PMID: 25933557.

(4) Andreassen CS, Pallesen S, Griffiths MD. The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addict Behav. 2017 Jan;64:287-293. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.03.006. Epub 2016 Mar 19. PMID: 27072491.

(5) Daniel Halpern, Sebastián Valenzuela, James E. Katz. “Selfie-ists” or “Narci-selfiers”?: A cross-lagged panel analysis of selfie taking and narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 97, 2016, Pages 98-101

(6) Nasrallah, Henry A. “Beyond selfies: An epidemic of acquired narcissism.”  Current Psychiatry; 18(8).

(7) Mischkowski D, Crocker J, Way BM. From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Sep;11(9):1345-53. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw057. Epub 2016 May 5. PMID: 27217114; PMCID: PMC5015806.

(8) Mischkowski D, Crocker J, Way BM. A Social Analgesic? Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Positive Empathy. Front Psychol. 2019 Mar 29;10:538. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00538. PMID: 31001155; PMCID: PMC6455058.

(9) Rütgen, M., Pletti, C., Tik, M. et al. Antidepressant treatment, not depression, leads to reductions in behavioral and neural responses to pain empathy. Transl Psychiatry 9, 164 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0496-4

(10) Sheppard, S. (2023) Adderall and emotional detachment: Why it happens and how to cope. https://www.verywellmind.com/adderall-and-emotional-detachment-why-it-happens-and-how-to-cope-6831140

(11) Adderall addiction: Signs and symptoms of misuse. 2024. American Addiction Centers. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adderall/symptoms-of-abuse

 

My adult kids don’t like me: Now what?

my adult kids don't like meMy adult kids don’t like me: Now what?

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Whether consciously thought of or not, most of you had a vision that held you together when you had a family. That vision of home, happiness, and love all around kept you going whenever times got tough. It’s what sustained your continued output of time, energy, and other resources even when your children misbehaved or struggled. You were heading somewhere. So, as if on a road trip to a beautiful destination, you changed your flat tire after hitting a pothole, washed your windshield after a sandstorm, and kept on driving.

If you’re like most parents, you believed in your vision even when your children turned on you. There had to be something you could say or do to bring them to their senses, make them see reality, and steer them back around. Surely your vision for family connection was also theirs.

Well….. The truth is that, for many of us anyway, while we were busy working at our vision, the world was actively tearing it apart.

More parents are writing to me about attitudes they’re noticing toward the decreasing importance put on family these days. I see this as well. Perhaps especially toward parents. Honoring your parents, whether in keeping a godly command or just because they brought you up, isn’t echoed in society the way it once was. Instead, parents are put on trial.

Some online influencers trash whole generations, belief systems, and typical lifestyles some now call “vanilla.”  Not to mention the prioritization of feelings over the facts. I’ve lost track of how many parents I’ve met who entered family therapy expecting a give-and-take and found a one-sided pursuit toward validating an adult child’s emotions, with the practice of “reflective listening” expected only of parents.

I could go on here about how the convenience of texting has replaced face-to-face or even telephonic communication. We could all add our specific examples of how the world has changed. For example, my kids were using instant messenger before I even understood what it was. Technology crept in under the radar and, before we realized it, became a necessity and then the norm. Many believe that an internet “family” of social media friends has replaced the need for a real, flesh and blood family.

In this new parenting era, it is what it is. Estrangement, semi-estrangement, disregard, or downright disdain. The reasons run the gamut. Persistent immaturity, emotional volatility, addiction, or absolute abuse. You fill in the blank—or don’t. Once you realize that, at least for now, your adult children aren’t budging, the task at hand is to learn to live without them.

My adult kids don’t like me: Adjusting to a new vision

I wouldn’t blame you for choosing to hold close a vision so beautiful and worthwhile as a loving family. If you have other family members around, show them how much they’re loved. Appreciate and honor them as you’d like to also be valued. Do the same for good friends who can become like family.

But with regard to the estranged one, face the truth. No matter what you wish will happen, aside from blurry hope still dancing on the horizon, their part in your vision has changed.

Ask yourself:

For me, this meant understanding that my family didn’t look the same anymore, but it was still good. As well as recognizing that, even without a huge rupture, families do change over time. People die, partners join, and children are born. Life in general is apt to change—family included. This meant I had to change, too.

To shift required reevaluating who and what I put first. No more chasing after someone who didn’t want to be caught. No more pretending an ideal that didn’t exist. If people wanted to judge me for something my adult child chose, so be it. At some point, we have to stop lamenting that “our own flesh and blood” children have betrayed us, and remind ourselves that our offspring are their own flesh and blood.

Seeing your way forward

In the years since my own experience with estrangement began, I’ve come up with a few sayings and practices, short-form visions, to keep me on track. Some were day-at-a-time tenets: Get through the next 24 hours. Others were about goals, remembering the good, or staying focused on what would count and arranging my environment to support that focus. And then there are overarching ideas: Be kind. Stay Calm. Remember who you are.

Having in mind an idea about who you are and how you’ll be helps when challenges present. So, whether it’s what to do about a birthday or how to respond (or not respond) to a string of unkind texts, your personal ideal helps guide your response.

Also, a vision you purposefully create provides focus or even a destination. A parent who says to themselves, “My adult kids don’t like me,” feels distressed. If your vision is inner peace and contentment then you’ll be cautious, for example, about how much negativity you consume, how much you fixate on this problem you can’t fix, or how much resistance or inner criticism you engage in.

Since launching this website in 2013 and offering help for parents of estranged adult children, I knew that I wanted to be kind and professional. I keep that thought top of mind as well as this one: Do as much good as you can while also taking care of yourself.

For me, crafting single sentences that embody how I want to be works as a vision statement. I can remember single phrases or sentences and pull them out as needed. They can also serve more than one purpose. “Be kind” might be focused on myself, on other people, or even on both. For example, if I’m exhausted and receive a trying email, to “be kind” might mean not replying. To pause and give myself time to take a breath and reflect is kinder to me (and to the other person).

You may benefit from a more formalized style. Here, we’ll discuss the basic idea. Then you can drive your own vision forward in life.

Crafting your vision

You may be more familiar with what’s called a “mission” statement. These two- to three-sentence statements are used by businesses to describe for what, how, and sometimes why a company does what it does. A vision statement is shorter, one sentence or even a phrase and, for a business, usually focuses on long-term goals—a vision.

Here, I’m using the term a little more casually. A personal vision statement may focus on an ideal or include what you’re already doing and want to do more consistently. Aim for a higher standard or more of what’s good and what you value. It’s also okay if your vision is something you know you need but haven’t yet achieved at all. You decide. Trust yourself.

One thing to keep in mind is that a vision is different from a goal. It involves meaning and maybe even transformation. So, you could start by assessing what you’d like to change.

For parents, that can mean getting to know yourself sans children you’re no longer responsible for. Without their needs coming first, you can focus on your own. That doesn’t mean your vision is all about you. Most of us enjoy connection and find value in serving in some way, in giving back. A vision can link to that.

Say you know your vision for your own happiness will probably include community involvement.  Community involvement could be about keeping your city clean.  Another person might want to focus on helping senior citizens or teaching children as part of their personal vision. Someone else might seek to preserve their area’s history, maintain its small-town atmosphere, or expand its resources.

Considering what’s important to you provides a goal and can even include a secondary vision (such as a clean city). With a goal, you can create steps to see the outcome through. Volunteer at a senior center, in the children’s library, or join your historical society. Meanwhile, you’ll be happily involved in the community, which is the original vision you know will bring human connection, provide meaning, and fill your calendar with activity.

A plus to a personal vision is that simplicity can prevail. If your vision is to be kind, you can infuse this quality in whatever you do. That widens your vision to spreading kindness and modeling it.

My adult kids don’t like me: Esther’s vision

When Esther’s two adult sons developed severe mental illness in their late-twenties, she tried to help. But just when they improved, they’d refuse treatment again, and the cycle of paranoid delusions and odd behavior would take over. Esther loved them but the verbal attacks escalated into scary episodes threatening physical harm. Over time, she changed locks, got a watchdog, and filed restraining orders. Eventually she concluded they were beyond her help and chose to save herself.  At age 67, she moved all by herself to a new area and set out to rebuild her life. Esther determined what she sought in this new life era and defined her vision: Connection, meaning, and fun.

After feeling abandoned by friends and extended family members during the strife, Esther didn’t easily trust people. She knew what she wanted though, and set out toward that future with daily, weekly, and monthly goals. A big calendar helped her list a variety of pursuits almost every day. Even the grocer became a place to try connecting. She worked on her small talk skills and began interacting wherever she could. In the community free newspaper, she found activity listings and she sampled many. “If I tried different avenues to meet people and fit in, I knew I’d reach the mountaintop,” she says.

Esther’s personal vision has kept her going. She weighed every activity and acquaintance against her desired future. “If they came up short, I walked on,” she says. “If things fit, I’d stick at it.” Three years after moving, she’s feeling pretty good about her life. Esther still thinks lovingly of her sons before they changed but views the good and bad times as seasons. Now she’s in a new season she sees as “pretty bright.”

What’s on your horizon?

Coming up with a meaningful vision for this season can serve as a roadmap. With a clear destination in mind, you can steer away from the potholes of a painful past, refuse dead-end thinking, and avoid avenues of despair or regret. Even for those who are new to estrangement and feeling stunned and sad, just considering a vision prompts forward momentum. Whether the estrangement is temporary or grows into a permanent state, it’s wise to look ahead for ourselves instead of eyeing the rear view mirror at what we can’t change.

We’ll talk more about creating a personal vision in a live meeting held in the membership community on May 29. Consider joining the membership to be a part of the event or to watch the replays or participate in this or other topic meetings with other parents of estranged adult children.

Related reading

Dreams: Help in moving forward after estrangement

Amends letter to adult children: Should parents write one?

My parents and I were estranged for years. Here’s what happened when we talked again

Prodigal child