Family Estrangement: The Unabomber was estranged

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangementOften, parents contact me in emotional pain. They tell me that abusive comments on social media, horrible lies that depict them as monsters, and continued baiting and meanness have been a part of the estrangement.

estrangementMany parents receive nasty letters from their estranged adult child, in which there are accusations and/or they are called names. These letters and accusations don’t happen in all estrangements (thank goodness), but in the ones they do, the shock is real, the words hurt, and parents’ self-esteem and self-image can suffer.

From the desk of an estranged adult child

At the outset of estrangement, upon reaching out to try and reconcile, long into an entrenched pattern of no-contact, or amidst a series episodic estrangements, some parents say their adult son or daughter pens pages-long correspondence that outlines just all the awful things they say the parents did. The criticisms are sometimes over things that don’t make sense or validate the estrangement in any way. Like asking a ten-year-old to comb his hair or not chew gum in bed. Others accuse ailing parents of faking a very real illness just to get attention, or assert a catalog of events that parents don’t remember ever happening. Sometimes an estranged son or daughter refers to what they see as a childhood theme. They say things like:

  • You never supported anything I ever did.
  • You never loved me.
  • You were always focused on my brother (or sister, or work, or fill-in-the-blank).

Ill-fitting shoes

estrangementIn my book, I refer to research showing that most parents try to understand a son or daughter’s views. They step into their child’s proverbial shoes, and try to see how the son or daughter they have always loved could have felt the way they say they did. Unfortunately, apologies aren’t always accepted. Sometimes, often even, an apology seems to validate the grown child’s perception, and invites more abuse. In the book, I also talk about the apology letters that are sometimes recommended,, and share some of the parents’ results.

Estrangement: More than meanness going on?

Recently, a Dr. Phil show that dealt with a “sort of” estrangement situation was brought to my attention. It’s the October 15, 2018 episode. It features a daughter in her thirties whose son was removed by protective services. He is being raised by his grandmother. The parents and step-mother are at their wits end, which is understandable, and Dr. Phil seems to think there is more going on. The parents obviously saw that, too.

I won’t link to the show here, but you can find it by doing a search online if you’re interested in watching. There is also a thread about it in the support forum for estranged adult parents. At first, I hadn’t watched the show, but I did later and posted another note in that thread. You may find the thread of interest, and can see it here.

If you watch the show, share your thoughts. Do you think there is more going on than a bratty child-woman? I think so. And it may be more than the toxicity that’s brought up in the show, too. In fact, mental issues may be at the root of many estrangements, which brings me to the title of this posting. In light of the mailed pipe bomb packages that have been on the news the last couple of days, I happened t come across an interesting fact that for some reason I hadn’t previously noted: the unabomber was estranged.

There’s an article from 2016 that, among other things, talks about a 23-page letter to his mother in which he talks about his childhood and the rules his mother enforced about dirty socks. The article, which you can find here, is an interesting read. It’s written by his brother, who also wrote a book, Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family.

What’s my point?

I don’t mean to frighten anyone. As the linked article mentions, mental illness doesn’t often result in violence. But I do hope to shed a little light on the subject as it may play a part in some estrangements. In the television episode, it was sad to see a kind, loving family who was at their wits’ end. It was an example of the powerlessness so many families feel. And thanks to the magic of television, the young woman was sent for what looked like some very good help—and of course, she was willing. As some of you well know, that’s not always the case. Families often have no choice but to disengage, and pick up the pieces to make the best of their own lives (and that’s understandable).

As I mention in one of my posts to the support group thread about the show discussed above, research is uncovering more about our brains and how they function every day. Perhaps in the future, the topic of mental health will become more mainstream, with more knowledge and help available and easy to obtain (without stigma). Maybe this will also have a positive affect in family relationships. 

Hugs to all the hurting,

Sheri McGregor

Related reading:

Intervene for Yourself

Beyond the Shadow of estrangement

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4 thoughts on “Family Estrangement: The Unabomber was estranged

  1. peaceful2367peaceful2367

    My husband and I are more than three years deep in our estrangement journey. We absolutely know that our eldest child suffers from mental illness. He has been hospitalized, inpatient, on several occasions. Not sure if he is not being correctly diagnosed or if he does not want to take ownership of his mental illness. My therapist had put it very bluntly: Mental illness is not a license to be an a$$*&)e. On one particular occasion about three years ago, upon my son being admitted, the hospital phoned us. Our son was looking for our insurance information (he was still covered by our benefits at that time but was not living at home). The intake person was very kind. When I communicated that this would be the last time I would provide insurance information without having his mental health diagnosis information, the intake representative said: “I can’t share information with you but please feel free to share information with me”. Well, the floodgates opened and I poured my heart out about the hostile hell that we had been previously living: At age 19, our oldest child informed us that she was transgender, our daughter was now our son. We loved our child and supported him 100%. Not to say that it wasn’t a shock, it was but we were learning as we went along. As our family was educating ourselves with this information, attending support groups etc., our child’s personality was suddenly changing. His personality was now constantly argumentative, confrontational and combative. We would hear from other families in the LGBT support groups that their children were so relieved when finally identifying with their correct gender. That was so not the case with my son. The constant help my husband and I provided, including all of the financial assistance, anything to make our son happy was not welcomed but rather was treated as what we were expected to do. This of course was before we entered family therapy. I explained to the intake rep that we were no longer enabling this horrific abuse. Our financial involvement stopped and, after a physical attack on my husband, my son was finally and permanently removed from our home. Our situation is a unique one. Our oldest child had started to experience what I consider depression around the age of 12. We sent him to many therapists trying to find answers. At the time our son came out as transgender, that was around the same time that the mental illness began to really rear its head. It was a very bad coincidence as we were dealing with two separate issues and trying to reconcile it all. The bottom line: we loved our child but hated his behavior and it was tearing our family apart. As I shared all of this with my son’s hospital intake rep, she simply said, “keep doing what you are doing, you are great parents and with the help of your family therapy, are on the road to recovery”. She said, “keep looking forward”. That is exactly what we have done. We heal more and more every day. I can honestly say that although I miss my child, I do not miss the constant fights, rule breaking, and complete disrespect. I would never go back to that again. My husband and I have grown closer than ever. We have an amazing relationship with our youngest son. I truly feel that in many cases of estrangement, there is an undiagnosed or untreated mental health issue at the root. I have shared this story with just a handful of very close family and friends. I hope it can help someone going through the same hell that we did.

    Reply
    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Peaceful, thanks for sharing your story here. You sound strong and sensible. I’m so glad you are moving forward in happiness, and treasuring your good relationships. Hugs to you and your family!!!

      Sheri McGregor

    2. lmr

      Thank you, Peaceful. My son is 32 years old and also mentally ill. He doesn’t think he is ill so he won’t get help. He Just thinks we were terrible parents and abused him. We have been estranged for at least a year. He thinks I stole his disability money when I was his payee. He only contacts us when he wants something, We do not give in anymore so his contact with us is getting less and less. We miss him terribly because the person he used to be was so kind and loving. Mental illness is a terrible thing but does not mean you can treat people with so much disrespect. The hard part is that this illness has changed him so much that now people take advantage of him. He has been beaten up and stolen from. He acts and looks like a teenager instead of a man. The estrangement is hard in that I worry about him constantly. I just pray that he gets better someday.

  2. swallowtail

    holidays are so hard my two oldest daughters began this shunning about 5 years ago the youngest is the only one who calls and visits me
    the oldest have this thing going where I cannot come to their homes the youngest plays along with this shunning I tell her it is dysfunctional but she will say I do not get along with them
    the middle one started this and her dad was also an emotional abuser she will FaceTime her two children once a month and not even say hello to me
    the youngest says I can pick one holiday I am so tired of this but I do not want to lose her is there any way to contact you

    Reply

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