First Steps to Getting Past Anger
by Sheri McGregor
When Your Adult Child Rejects You
Devastated 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.
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.
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.
- 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