Parents of estranged adult children: A broken heart?

parents of estranged adults broken heartby Sheri McGregor

At one point, when the loss of my son felt utterly final, the air rushed from my lungs. My vision narrowed. I couldn’t breathe. My chest was tight, my throat so dry it closed in on itself. My heart clenched into a fist of pain.

I believed I would die.

Years have passed since that fall afternoon, and I’m still here—alive and thriving.

If you’re like me, and many other parents of estranged adults who have experienced moments where they felt as if they couldn’t breathe, and suffered chest pain, you understand what it feels like to have a broken heart. The emotional upheaval can affect us physically.

I hear from parents often who describe themselves as heartbroken.

There really is such a thing as a broken heart.

“Broken heart syndrome,” or “stress cardiomyopathy,” occurs more often in women than men. It’s believed to happen because of stress hormones from a sudden shock, loss, or acute anger. Those feelings are common to parents of estranged adult children. The temporary condition disrupts normal heart functioning. Most people recover well, and don’t suffer the condition again, but it’s wise to seek medical care for any symptoms that could be indicative of heart trouble.

Listed below are a few articles to read more thoroughly about broken heart syndrome.

Frequently Asked Questions About Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken Heart Syndrome

Can You Die Of A Broken Heart

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18 thoughts on “Parents of estranged adult children: A broken heart?

  1. Thebluesky

    Sheri, thank you for providing this article and links. I knew that my physical feeling was real. I, of course did not realize that the anatomy of the heart could have very real physical changes to it. Most spiritual teachings lean towards validating these facts, that if our emotions are not balanced, our bodies will manifest those emotions in real physical ways. Our bodies are our emotions. Days after I posted “I CANT BREATHE”, I began some pranic exercises and it has helped when I begin to feel overwhelmed.

    1. rparents Post author

      I’m glad you’ve found some help with pranic breathing! There are so many things we KNOW are real and valid …. Our society is very evidenced-based, and it is helpful to have science show things (even when they’re things we already know). I wanted others who happen onto the site to know about the syndrome, so they could seriously consider their symptoms. Thanks for sharing here, and I am glad you’re feeling better and are finding positive things to turn to!
      Sheri McGregor

  2. Flowersbringjoy

    Thank you for sharing. I had the exact thing happen to me two weeks ago. At that moment I knew I needed help. I’ve suffered alone for 2 years. I’m glad I found this site and am working with a therapist to help me accept my unresolved grief.

  3. Linda

    This makes perfect sense. I have been internalizing the hurt and rejection by my adult children for four agonizing years. I started noticing that my heart was skipping beats and racing as well as very high blood pressure. i went to the heart doctor and have been diagnosed with a life threatening heart condition. I have been telling my close friends that its a broken heart. I am a nurse and i know what stress does to the cardiovascular system. I feel like life is slowly being sucked out of me. it’s not a matter of relaxing and changing the subject. It’s physical damage that cannot be repaired. It does help to know that I am not alone.

    1. Anna

      Dear Linda,
      I so identify with your “broken heart”, because it is! The late Paul Pearsal, PhD-writer of many great books about psycho-neural-immunology, especially the heart, says it can, and does, die from grief, especially prolonged grief (yours four years and mine five years). Another favorite book, Love and Survival (by Dean Ornish, MD), also supports this fact that separation/death from loved ones can kill. I believe that this rejection and betrayal-especially from our own children, who just happen to be “adults” (I question this “term” now), has to be our greatest emotional burden, and possibly even our physical death! Time just dulls the pain a bit, but it does not remove it. In fact, I feel more vulnerable, more fragile today, as if the slightest problem is a major emotional storm. I have many physical ills now, and prior to five years ago, I was healthy and happy (when I met & married my husband). I have substantially aged, too! A real bummer! My husband has also had serious heart issues lately…I believe from trying to help and comfort me! In fact a deep seated fear is losing him…which paralyzes me, because then I would be completely on my own! And a reality that I simply don’t think I would be able to tolerate, on any level. As you said, it is physical damage we’re referring to. Pearsal said that most heart attacks happen on a Monday, due to the stress of “another week”. And the heart is the only organ other than the brain, that has neurotransmitters. So stress does go to the heart first, before the brain. As Ornish said, love is survival. Take care, Linda! Our kind of sadness/loss needs support for sure!

  4. amelia

    I have been estranged ,from my two adults sons for one year now,Im falling apart and don’t know how to deal with,it is physically affecting me, I need advice.

  5. leeann

    Hi amelia,
    Just wanted to let you know that I read you post and feel you pain. This is a great place for support and understanding. I see that you posted September 2015 and it is now 2/16. Just wanted to let you know you are not alone.

  6. Cindy

    I, too, feel physically weaker and have an increase in fibromyalgia symptoms. I hate to say this, but I am being brutally honest. I’ve been betrayed so much by family and those who are supposed to love me, that I no longer really care whether my life goes on or ends. I will not take my own life, but I have simply had enough pain and the joy has been sucked out of my soul.

    1. Kimberly

      I also have fibromyalgia. I feel the same way you do I just want to not be here on earth any longer. I’m afraid to take my life but have decided not to get my skin cancer checked or have mammograms any more. I never have any feeling of well being anymore. I dream of my young grandchildren every night and cry day and night. I look at my Facebook page and see all my friends with there kids and Grandchildren and I grieve every moment. I only have the one child and I have no idea what the heck i could have ever done to be treated this cruel. I send you my condolences .

    2. stephen g.

      hi cindy ,please ask yourself this question,are your children feeling the same way as you do ?no they dont ,once you accept that be strong and start to live your life again !if you dont they will have finally beaten you! you, just like them , you are a human being, a being with deep feelings, love, affection ,careing ,giving ,what are they in this jigsaw other than blood !exactly none of those things you are !if they were they would not treat you this way! ,this i have learned, always painful but not the over riding one !be in charge of your life and live it to the full ! you only have one chance in this life so dont throw it all away !

  7. Donna P.

    Hi, I also know what it is like to have a broken heart and when numbness takes over your body! My estrangement from my adult daughter (30 years old) is relatively new (during the last year), however it is unique from most other estrangements ( as confirmed by my psychologist whom I see due to the loss) because not only has she refused to have anything to do with me and her father, she is also of the belief that she is not our child and that she has been either abducted/adopted. I also must mention here that she had abused drugs on and off for the past 5 years or so, became bankrupt and owes thousands of dollars for rent and utilities. She also became paranoid and started making wild accusations which had nothing to do with reality. This is where her obsession with the idea that we her parents must have abducted her from her “real” parents surfaced. Questioned about this, she stated that “someone in the know” told her that and that she believes them. Her personality also changed, she became aggressive, confrontative and generally verbally abusive to the point that I am scared of her. Currently I do not know where she is, and have no way of contacting her. I ask myself “what went wrong, when and why did I not see it coming”??? Almost first time in my life I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO!! How do I reach her????

    1. Lynne

      Hi Donna, I am sitting here this early morning reading new postings. I want to say to you that I feel and know your pain. I know the horrible pain of seeing your child have mental illness. My now grown child has had mental illness for many years. There have been the times where he was in my life and then out of my life for months . I can’t really give you advice except to say….do what you are able to do to help her and if you aren’t able to it is ok. Many times in my life I just could not help in any way. This is one of the Most horrible of emotions…to not be able to help your child. I am praying for your daughter today that she is safe and that God will send people into her life to help her. Take good care of yourself. You are in my prayers today. I know, Love, Lynne

  8. MarysLamb

    I dont know where to start. I dont know why my daughter has left me. It started 1 and a half years ago,when she was involved in a druck driving accident where she was the driver and was alone in the vehicle and hit a tree at 4 in the morning. During the ICU days i was only allowed to visit. On the other hand her boss stayed and never left. It started slow at first she would call and text a few times a week but she left the hospital with the boss and has never returned home. I was recently enformed that she nows call her boss and her husband mom and dad! She no long calls or texts and no longer comes to her nieces and nephews birthday parties or family get togethers. sometimes i want to yell at the top of my lungs WHY but my lungs are paralized with pain. I cry alot…… I was never on any medication and sense this all happened my dr has put me on high blood pressure medicine because my pressure was staying at 176/154 and i take antidepressants and medicine to help me sleep. the pain hits me so hard some days that i cry all day and night. I miss her so much. And i just dont know what i did..

    1. Needothers

      I am so sorry, that is such a nightmare, that I wish did not happen to you.
      I am not sure at all that you did ANYTHING to warrant that result. Life takes so many strange and unexpected twists and turns. This one hurts so badly, I know, that it is difficult to bear at all.
      We don’t know why this decision was made, and not even explained to you. I don’t know the reason my daughter cut off complete contact either. We cannot find out, if they don’t tell us. And even if they did, the reason might make no sense.
      I am so sorry. I do understand how terrible it feels and how much you miss her. I miss mine so much, too.
      It makes me feel so abandoned and sad, that I finally realized that I need others who understand. So I came here, found this place, a few nights ago, when I had been crying all night. SO I am glad to meet you. This seems like a good, caring place, and I know I do care about you. Try to take care of yourself, like you would if you were taking care of her. You deserve the loving care, now.

  9. Sasha

    My son, 37, gets the urge to tear into me every few years. But last week was the straw that broke mom’s back. His wife is quite the instigator and thinks nothing of the end result. She likes to pick pick pick.
    After we had a lovely Easter dinner at our daughter, we were sitting around the table talking about the arrival of our first great grandchild. I mentioned maybe babysitting sometime…not that it might happen. My son’s wife piped up and said “You never babysat our kids when they were little.” This was a blatant lie because my husband and I did many times…have carted them all over for sports games, etc, to and from school and a lot of other things. Their two boys were taught to be competitive with each other and it was terrible to see them physically fight till one got hurt. She called it sibling rivalry. I have 7 younger brothers and sisters and had never seen anything like that. She couldn’t get it through her head that we are allowed to say NO. Later that week, my son came over, complaining about how the drivers downtown are. I get very tired of listening to all of the complaining on his part…never anything good and happy. So I told him. Wellll, that’s about time the sparks lit into a full blown fire . He screamed that his sister got more than him, we did more for her, I never said thank you on Facebook for whatever…I always thanked In person for everything. My husband finally got fed up and told him to leave and not come back.
    My son has has never been wrong, brags about everything, more monetary things, better vehicles. Etc, etc.
    then there were a couple of posts that pertained to us by his wife on Facebook which she lied about saying they were for someone else…not true considering the timing. She also never liked the time my son and I used to spend together years ago.
    In the end, they were both deleted from Facebook. There are so many more incidents…too many to write about here. I have been doing a journal for years and it helps somewhat. I want to get away from all of these attacks of his. I am tired of all of it. I have health issues and was, for a while, in my happy place. I want to be there again.

  10. Mallary

    Hello everyone,

    This is my first post, which I felt compelled to write because of Sheri’s article above.
    How she describes feeling is exactly what I experienced 4 days ago when my son’s ‘dirty-bomb’ email exploded in my mailbox.
    I couldn’t breathe and I felt the blood drain away from my face. I was shaking but managed to get up and go outside to find my husband, who thought I was having a stroke. It was terrifying.
    For the past few months I have also noticed palpitations at night particularly.

    My son has been estranged for the past 4 years with no word/text at all. It started over something that my brother (his uncle) did and I agreed that it was the correct thing to do in the circumstances. He hung up on me and that was that.
    He has sporadic contact with his younger brother, my other son and with my mother, who does not want to intervene or say anything in case he cuts her off too. He has cut off from my brothers.
    Prior to the start of all this, he was the most loving, attentive, sweet-natured son anyone could have asked for. He told me that he “adored” me, which makes his behaviour completely inexplicable.

    Recently I have been struggling with the situation and feeling very down. I too, like other writers, felt that I did not care too much if I lived or died.
    I had a tearful phone conversation with my younger son about it and told him that what I was going through felt like a “slow-death”……he apparently relayed my words to his brother, and that vicious, inaccurate, devastating email was his answer.
    I have no idea where it’s all come from. He said he’s spent thousands on therapy in the last few years (doesn’t seem to have done much good – he’s obviously still angry and bitter. SO angry.).
    Whatever happened to sitting down and TALKING to the person concerned before cutting off contact?

    I was a single-parent for some years and did the best I could for him – taking crummy jobs to pay his school fees and giving him as much support as I could, emotionally and also financially when he hit some low spots as an adult.
    I didn’t have a great childhood myself, but I have unreservedly forgiven my mother – She is a human being with faults and frailties who did her best for us as kids……I don’t understand why such a huge number of this younger generation feel so entitled to fairy-tale lives and have such little-to-no regard for the people they profess to love, or at least, lovED, and who they must know, love them.
    Surely they can’t ALL be narcissists? Or perhaps they are. Perhaps this is what the human race has come to now……millions of snow-flakes…..all weighed down by the chips on their shoulders (sorry, mixing up my metaphors).

    Thankfully, I found this website a few weeks ago…..I have ordered Sheri’s book because I have to move on and upwards. I cannot allow myself to wallow in the toxic pool of my son’s words. Reading other people’s stories and experiences has been helpful…I had a decent night’s sleep for the first time in ages after finding this site – receiving the email from ES was a huge blow and I had been teetering again on the edge of despair, but I know that I can and will recover from this….I just needed to find the tools and the path, which I believe I now have.

    I urge any ‘newbies’ or even the ‘old-hands’, to read and read the stories and articles on this site; to get Sheri’s book if you can; to ‘journal’ and maybe even start a local group to meet up.
    I suddenly realized that I’m going for lunch at the weekend with 2 other couples and there will be one person from each couple who is estranged from a child – There are LOADS of us out there….you are not alone.
    Light & love to all


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