Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Post Estrangement – Wondering what she expects?

Sometimes I wonder what exactly it is that my estranging daughter expects of me.  Does she expect me to come groveling on hands and knees begging to be allowed back into her life?   Does she want me to apologize for the first honest expression I allowed myself in response to her and that significant outsider’s gas lighting strategies?

All my life I always backed down, and backed down and backed down.  Whenever there was a conflict I always was the one to put my feelings and my needs aside to honour other people’s needs and wishes.  I had somehow been given the message that this was my duty.  That to keep the peace necessitated putting myself last.  All through those years of marriage and child raising, my needs were secondary to everyone else’s.  If I was angry I had to push the anger down and not express it.  If I felt hurt or neglected, I had to rise above the occasion and not let others know the sadness or anger I was feeling.  

Child raising books compounded that false message I had received.  They told me that protecting my children’s self-esteem was the ultimate goal.  So I praised even when I felt what was really needed was correcting.  I encouraged even when I saw that there was failure down that path in the future, I did not want to be the bearer of bad news and so I supported falsely when I should have been honest and said “no you are not good enough at that skill”.  

Between those two messages I was led down the garden path.  Life experience has taught me how false those messages were.    In putting my daughter’s needs and wishes foremost, I accepted treatment by her that I should not have.  Hurtful things she said to me, I explained away in my mind as “childish behaviour”.  Instead of correcting her that it was unacceptable to treat me that way, I allowed it to continue because I was told by the child experts that preserving her self-esteem was my number one job.  

In allowing it, I taught her that it was okay to treat me that way.  I trained her that I was less than her.  Why should I be surprised that she continued and repeated this behaviour as she got older?  Is it any wonder that she integrated the message that she was more important than me into her psyche?  Is it any wonder that she continued to treat me as less than and felt a constant need to prove she was better than me?

Having grown used to this superiority she grew to believe that she was better and had the right to put me down.  After all I never stopped her from doing so.  I always backed down and gave in to her wishes and desires.  Even when I disagreed I allowed her plans and ideas to take precedence over mine.  I created this negative situation out of the erroneous messages I had internalized;

#1  My needs are less important than other people’s needs
#2  I have to be the peace keeper at all costs and
#3  Preserving my child’s self-esteem is my duty.

So what changed?

After years of backing down, of taking it, there was a pattern in our relationship.
She pushed and I gave in over and over again.
She expected me to continue as I had always done, she expected me to back down and give in because that was how I had always behaved.

However she pushed too far!   She started to send messages that I was inadequate, that I was incompetent, that I was stupid, and even that there was something wrong with me mentally.  She started spreading rumours behind my back not realizing that other people told me of the unkind and untruthful things she was saying.

Over what seems like only a few months the ultimatums started escalating and escalating to the point where I broke.
The day I broke, it was the first time ever that I stood up for myself.  I felt not only betrayal but such an intense anger that I hardly recognized myself.  Yes another erroneous message that I had internalized, I am not supposed to get angry and when I do then there is something wrong with me.

The day I broke, I realize now, was the day I had finally had enough and said to myself; “I am allowed to be angry when someone treats me badly!"   Looking back now I see this as my unconscious self finally saying enough is enough, you don’t deserve to be treated this way.  In my anger I swore and cursed for the first time ever.  Such foul language came out of my mouth, I even surprised myself.  In my anger I wrote; “No you cannot treat me this way, the mother that you knew is dead”.

I did not know at the time how true those words were. 

Since that day I have gradually changed as I reorganized my perceptions of who I was and how I deserved to be treated.  I started to expect respect and love in return.  How novel!  I used to believe that I earned love by giving in and keeping peace and allowing myself to be treated badly, by always being the giver. 

I learned that I deserve to be loved and respected for who I am!   How bold.  What a dramatic change.  The doormat awoke and said, “this is not right, I will not tolerate this anymore”

Sadly however, by now the damage had been done.

My daughter had already developed the mindset that she had more value in the love relationship than I did. 
  • In her mind it was my job to love her no matter how badly she treated me. 
  • In her mind she was better than me and she constantly had to prove in how many ways she was superior. 
  • In her mind it was okay for her to berate me, to betray me and then the ultimate put down, say that these things were done from a loving place!  

I have since learned that this is a classic narcissistic trait, to explain away bad behaviour by saying the other person (the victim) deserved it and it was done with love.  Hog wash!  No one deserves to be treated with disrespect!  NO ONE! 

Trying to absolve the blame for doing the wrong thing by claiming the other person was to blame, the classic “she made me do it” is also a narcissistic trait.  For example I now know that she expects me to apologize for finally having had enough and not backing down anymore.  I broke the pattern that she was comfortable with.  I refused to give in to her demand peacefully. 

She did not realize that her demands had escalated and escalated to the point where I could no longer give in without destroying my self-respect.   My self-respect was already damaged and frail.  It was like a safety short circuit went off in my sub conscious mind that said, “Enough, you can’t continue allowing this kind of disrespect.  It is time to say NO.”

I can see the humour now, and I realize now that this radical change in me, this abrupt NO was interpreted by her as me having a “mental break down”, when in reality it was a “mental break through”.  A break through in realizing, that all my so called expected behaviour patterns, were based upon a lie.  The lie was that it was my responsibility to please others, to put myself second, to build others up at the expense of my own needs.   Once I was backed into the corner of loss of self-respect, I realized the lie for what it was.

Gradually since then I have worked on my healing to the point where there is no way that I can ever go back to living that lie. My relationships must now be more balanced.

  • I demand as much respect as I give.
  • I demand to be respected by those who would have me respect them.
  • I expect to be treated to the same kind of love that I am willing to give.
  • I no longer will tolerate being manipulated into doing things that I don’t wish to do. 
  • I recognize a manipulative and controlling tactic for what it is, a put down.

I have changed so much.

So back to my initial question, what does my daughter expect of me?  She expects me to be the old me, the one that is dead and buried.  She expects me to continue to support her while she treats me with disdain, as less than, as undeserving of respect, a lesser being to her superior being.  

The fact that she feels she is entitled to punish me shows clearly that she wants to be the “parent” in our relationship and that I have to “behave” or the punishment will continue.

But I am not her child, nor am I a criminal.

She does not have the right to punish me or to control my behaviour by the abusive punishment of estrangement. 

She does not have the right to be judge jury and executioner of my actions based on the fact that she did not get out of me what she desired. 

That is not how relationships between equals is conducted.  And so, as long as I refuse to return to my old role of “door mat”; as long as I refuse to back down and accept responsibility and blame for her choice of actions, as long as I stand firm in my need to be loved and respected for who I am, I see no end to this stalemate.

Does this sadden me?
Yes it does.  However in coming to understand the dynamics of our past relationship, I also have a kind of closure.   She is who she is partly because of how I allowed her to treat me in the past.  There is my responsibility and for that I am sorry.  (and for this I am more than willing to apologize)

If I knew then, what I know now, I would not make those same parenting mistakes.  Alas there is no redo button. All I can do is acknowledge how I contributed to her character flaws.  Accept her for who she is and as a consequence accept the type of person she has become and the actions that she is capable of.

What can I do now?  
  • I can hope that she comes to realize that her behaviour is distorted and unnatural. 
  • I can wish that she seeks the help that she needs to learn which of her behaviour patterns are destructive to a healthy relationship with me. 
  • I can be compassionate towards her, for her mistakes and her wrongful actions.
  • I can open my heart to a willingness to forgive in response to a respectful desire to atone.
  • I can imagine the possibility of a new beginning based on equality not control.

But more importantly,
  • I can continue to build up my own personal boundaries for the type of treatment I will endure or not endure.
  • I can build up my self-esteem and self-confidence that no matter what any future outcome might be, I will be alright.
  • I can continue to free myself of the negative thoughts and concepts that used to plague me and created within me a feeling of inferiority.
  • I can continue to be the kind and good hearted person that I always was without being a “push over” or “door mat”.
  • And finally and most importantly, I can love and respect myself as much as I used to only love and respect others.

As I reflect on all these thoughts, I realize that I am no longer who my daughter expects.  I have changed so much and this new me can't give her what she expects unless she too learns and grows and changes to be the kind of person that can treat  me the way I deserve to be treated.

Renate Dundys Marrello
2015 - 09 - 22

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Post Estrangement - Today I am angry

Yes I an angry!

Read the following newspaper clipping for the reply posted to the paper by a grieving parent and see if you feel the anger I feel.

I get angry when someone spouts off without forethought or compassion or understanding about something they don't have a clue about. 

Some people are so glib!  They rattle off comments and thoughts as if estrangement is a simple fixable thing.  They have no clue the devastation estrangement causes. 

This grieving parent who made such a callus reply to the newspaper, aches as she grieves the loss of her child I am sure.  I, even in my own sorrow and hurting can feel compassion for her grief.

But it annoys me that she can so easily, without thought or compassion, discount the suffering of how I and all other estranged parents feel.  She feels that by saying that the possibility exists that I might one day be reunited with my child and my grandchildren somehow makes my grief negligible compared to hers.  That is presumptuous to say the least and wrong on so many levels.

I have been thinking on this for a long time.  Trying to define why is estrangement so hard on us? Why it goes beyond grieving, and why in many ways it is so soul destroying.

Here are some of the reasons (I am sure my readers will remind me of any that I might have missed) that we estranged parents go beyond grieving for our lost child:

#1 Estrangement is an act of rejection and being rejected hurts us deeply.  Rejection reminds us of all the times we have been rejected in life starting from when we were little. We even re-live abandonment issues that linger from our childhood.

#2 Estrangement builds doubt within us, raising questions such as "what did I do wrong" or "how can my child act this way"?  These go way beyond the loss of the child and the relationship. These affect our self-confidence, our belief in our ability to do and be good.  It reflects into all our other relationships as we wonder if there is really something fundamentally wrong with us and if our own child can reject us then maybe others will do the same.

#3 Estrangement is used as punishment.  We feel punished, and often we don't even know why we are being punished.

#4 Estrangement is bullying.  It is used to control and manipulate us.  We feel bullied, why? Because we are being bullied.  We are being cornered by the bully into feeling less than or inferior.

#5 Estrangement brings out in us the fear of "not being good enough".  This is a primal fear, a fear that if we don't perform to the tribe’s standard we will be cast out of the tribe, and in those early days, being cast out of the tribe meant death.  How we deal with this primal fear adds to our distress.

#6 Estrangement isolates us.  Grieving for a death rallies the whole community around you.  Everyone is supportive and giving condolences and sympathy.  Being estranged, people look at you sideways and talk behind your back and sometime even to your face that you must have done something wrong to be estranged.  Beyond grief you are ostracized as well.

#7 Estrangement destroys your dreams. Dreams of what you thought your family was like.  Everything you believed to be true is turned false.  Your dreams are not ended, they are destroyed and there is a huge difference.  With a death the dreams end because time ran out, with estrangement they are destroyed by a willful act carried out by your offspring.

#8 Estrangement robs us of time.  Time cannot be regained even if in the very unlikely chance that there is a reconciliation, the time that has been lost is lost forever.  You can’t go back and relive those years.  You can’t go back and hold a baby grandchild when they are no longer a baby.  You can’t get back all the holidays and special days that were lost.  They are gone. This time is gone not because of fate, but through an act of violence against us.

#9 Estrangement is an act of violation.  It is a deliberate act undertaken with intent to harm.  We feel violated because we have been violated.

#10  Estrangement grief is ambiguous.  It leaves us dangling, uncertain, and fearful.  We are never sure if there may be an ending or not. And even as we contemplate an ending we realize that the relationship is broken.  There will always be long term repercussions.

#11 Estrangement destroys our ability to trust.  This is something that can’t be easily regained.  For most of us we never fully trust again.  There is always the thought in the back of our mind that this can happen again, with any one at any time. 

#12 In estrangment we not only loose our child, we lose a huge part of ourselves.  Sometimes with great effort we can heal some of those parts but even in healing we remain aware of the scars.  Even as we heal our emotional wounds we know them intimately and our wounds are now a part of who we are.

#13 In estrangement we are told by our own child that we are unlovable.  This is an enormous burden to carry with you every single day.  That child that you cared for, nurtured, encouraged and loved thinks you are not worthy of being loved in return.  This is emotional abuse and we live with it day in and day out. 

So yes we grieve just as any other parent that loses a child to death grieves. 
And yes I feel great compassion for all parents that lose a child to death.

But we estranged parents lose so much more, we lose a part of ourselves and we do it in secret, in anonymity isolated and alone.

Renate Dundys Marrello 
2015 - 09 - 12 

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

post estrangement: Living with a Broken Heart

I always follow support groups for parents that have been estranged. One reason is that only a parent who has suffered the agonies of being abandoned understands what I feel and to know that someone understands makes me feel less alone.

Secondly, I like the questions that get posted because they remind me to stay strong and focus on my quest to struggle towards healing.

The question that caught my attention recently was: "Can you live with a broken heart?"

All of us that have been estranged do in fact live with a broken heart. The deeper question is does the suffering get any easier?  

In the process of healing I have taken to doing lots of reading. Reading for me is a source of solace, and inspiration and thoughts and ideas that I can apply to my life as I strive to regroup and rebuild my life.  In the process I have come to the conclusion that;  "Yes you can live with a broken heart" but you have to work very hard to live "well" with a broken heart.

I think that typical literature on the "broken hearted" is about romantic love.  Romantic love is between two people who meet and feel a connection. They feel sorrow when that connection does not work out and they need to heal from their heart break to be ready to try again for that romantic someone special in their lives. 

This does not translate very well into the feelings of parental love.  First of all, you can't have a falling out with your child and then heal and go on to another relationship.  When a parent child bond is broken there is no replacement. 

Secondly parental love goes so much deeper and our heart strings are attached in mysterious ways to our offspring. There is a biological bond that nature created in us to nurture and love our offspring.  This biology is what ensures the survival of the species.  This is a primal love, that when we first experience it overwhelms our senses.  I will never forget the glow of love I first felt at the birth of each of my children. The intensity of that feeling took my breathe away and even now remembering that first bonding moment I can reconnect to the powerful emotion of love and desire to care for and protect and nurture.  One does not forget that feeling ever!

As our children grow up this love moves beyond simple caring for and nurturing and beyond all our fears it allows us to let them spread their wings, to learn and explore. It helps us to encourage them to become independent adults.  We go from seeing them at their most vulnerable as infants, to staunchly protecting their own points of view and rights. 

And through it all our love expands to include all of their characteristics, their flaws as well as all their good points. We love unconditionally all that our children are and everything they are not.

Estrangement changes something vital in our relationship with our adult child.  Their actions speak loudly that we are not loved in return. We are told about all of our imperfections and these become the reason for our being abandoned.  We, who accepted all their shortcomings as a testament of our love for our children, learn that their love has conditions attached. 

This hurts us unbearably and yet we want to love them in spite of the pain they cause us.  We grieve the loss of them in our lives and at the same time would gladly forgive them and take them back because they are our children. 

The early stages of grieving involve all the usual steps of dealing with grief but we become stuck sooner or later in the knowing that there is no resolution to a grief that is in essence ongoing.  You don't stop grieving for someone who is still alive.  You move through grief into acceptance and you work your way through healing and living again but that which was broken remains broken.  That connection that we thought of as enduring through all time remains enduring for us because we don't stop being parents.

We can reclaim our lives but we can't erase that being a parent has changed us. We can fill our lives with new meanings but we can't shut out all those years of loving. 

Healing from our broken heart is a very different journey than recovering from a romantic broken heart because the nature of our connection to our offspring is so different in its origin and our heartstrings will most likely always be attached to some degree to our adult children even when they treat us poorly.

So how do you heal your broken heart?  You accept that most likely you never will.  What you learn to do instead is how to live with a heart that has been broken.

The first step is making a decision that you will.
  That you choose to live.

For many of us there are days when we would just as soon not live. When you go to bed at night and pray "Lord let me not wake up in the morning".  Or when you wake up in the morning and you say "Lord, why did you not take me in my sleep?"

The decision comes to us at different times that this is no way to live. Those are the days you decide that maybe living in grief is no longer an option.  In the early stages this feeling comes and goes.  Then gradually over time you have more and more days when you choose to live again.  Not because the pain is any less, but because you decide that you deserve better, that you deserve a good life even though....

I think what is different for us parents surviving estrangement is that every day we must make choices that reflect our decision to move on. We do not stop grieving but we learn to not let our grief colour every moment of our lives. 

You don't wake up one morning "all better".  You work hard toward healing.  Every day is another opportunity to heal. Every day is another day to choose to live in spite of having a broken heart.

I think what many of us sometimes shy away from is that fact that living with a broken heart is hard work.  On a bad day it is so easy to say "why do I have to work so hard to create joy in my life".  But there is always the knowledge that if you don't do the work you will be right back in the pit of sorrow and despair.

For me I have just passed the 6 years estranged mark.  I have come to realize, and accept, that every day I need to start with certain thoughts and reflections just to get my day going in the right direction.  I have certain rituals that I perform each day upon awaking that set the tone for my day. And on my successful days I have an almost normal day. 

There are still trigger thoughts and certain days that trigger certain memories that easily catapult me into a downward spiral.  I have contingency plans in place now, sort of a "go to manual" to build a bridge back toward equilibrium.

photo by Christine Glade
I hold my broken heart gently and try to be understanding and loving to myself when the pain resurfaces.

So what does change over time?
The times of overwhelming sorrow happen less often and the recovery times become shorter.  There is a learning curve and as the skills you use to heal become second nature, you apply them sooner and prevent the downward spiral from escalating.

You remain aware of the ache in your heart, it is never far from your thoughts, but the choices you make allow you to live a full, active and love filled life.  The challenge is to make those choices that give you that freedom. 

Renate Dundys Marrello 
2015 - 09 - 08

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reflection on Estrangement by guest author Nina Wornham

photo by Thodoris Tzalavras

Once again I am delighted to share a wonderful article on the topic of estrangement.  Many words of wisdom here.  I especially love; 

"What will happen to our adult children in the future when they wake up and realise they have chosen to make themselves orphans 
disconnected from their roots?"

Family alienation, Estrangement & Being Cut Off
by Nina Wornham. 

Last year when I began researching the topic of estrangement, there was little out there on the internet other than a deafening silence. I may have made mistakes as a parent but I know I did my best. Being snubbed, left out of important events, discredited and cut off from both my adult children for several years, I knew I did not deserve such treatment especially after I had given money and other help along with all the sacrifices most parents make. On the occasional forum, I observed a handful of posts written by shy parents fearful of the shame of being judged if they opened up and poured their hearts out.

In only a year, how things have changed. The floodgates are open as parents who have been cut off by adult children now openly tell of the daily heartbreak and pain in which they exist. Their bonds cruelly severed after being disowned, cast out and left out in the cold by the very people they gave birth to, the ‘tribe’ to which they belong.

Greeted by only an invisible wall of silence, they are cruelly and dismally left emotionally stranded. Uninvited to all the important occasions a parent looks forward to but are made painfully aware of through social media such as Facebook, they are unable to collect their natural heritage of precious memories. 

Excluded from the essence of family life, deprived of any sense of belonging, they are denied the opportunity of being part of the family they gave birth to. 

This often includes grandchildren as the aggrieved adult children force their own children to live their grievances, deprive them of belonging to a wider family and also deprive them of knowing their own gene pool. The long term consequences of such action can only be disastrous for all concerned especially for the grandchildren who by nature will at some point want to reconnect with their own roots.

At first it’s easy to imagine that this newly emerging social ill only exists as a result of divorced families, but it’s more than apparent that estrangement affects even the most solid, nuclear married families too. Alienation and estrangement are not biased, they can arrive within seconds of any kind of dispute where the word that lands out of a loving parent’s mouth has been NO or ‘I don’t agree’.

Stories of endless sacrifice where parents often did two jobs to cover the bills, gave up careers, borrowed money to pay off their adult child’s debts, paid for them to attend university and gain degrees, free childminding service, taxi service, free banking, loans that never got paid back, undisputed accusations, character assassinations, emotional blackmail, threats, discrediting their lives and achievements when the answer was still NO and then creating a smear campaign to make the parents look wrong to cover up the adult child’s reasons for ‘unfriending’ and casting out a devoted parent or parents into an emotionally bleak existence.

After years of servitude and sacrifice, magical Christmas mornings, birthday parties, trips away, never a forgotten special moment, estranged parents in their 1,000’s now face Christmas and birthdays alone without a card or any kind of explanation.

Meanwhile, all over the internet, messages abound, ‘stay away from toxic people’, ‘walk away from negative people’, ‘don’t give a care for anyone but yourself’, ‘only YOU matter’.

It’s easy to see where the attitude of selfishness and the right to be ‘right’ lays. 

The influence to be ‘your own individual and ignore everyone who dares to offend you’ is mind blowingly clear. Yet human beings rarely succeed as individuals on their own. They always operate better when they feel connected within a group.

But things are changing. A new voice is emerging and it’s an angry voice. It’s the voice of a responsible public, many are parents who have given their best only to find themselves rejected when they can no longer live up to the expectation of their adult children. They want to know what happened to loyalty, compassion, tolerance, discussion, and most of all, they want to know why?

No longer are the experts laying the blame at the door of the parents. There are too many of us. Something else in our modern world is blatantly wrong.
Why does the word ‘rights’ not equate to responsibility? Why is the word ‘entitlement’ one sided?

Why is estrangement a secret? Who wins from being estranged? What will happen to our adult children in the future when they wake up and realise they have chosen to make themselves orphans disconnected from their roots?

The parents will and are coping by coming together in their masses to share their stories and support each other. We’ve all been through loss and chaos before, we have coping strategies. We know how to survive the curved balls life has so often thrown at us. We’re surviving now.

But we’re not even concerned with ourselves. Our hearts still look out for our children. Their behaviour is guaranteed to bring them nothing but failure in future years. Estrangement is failure. 

While they may believe their actions are justified in their 20’s and 30’s, what happens when they meet life in their 40’s and 50’s? They've trashed their family connections, blown up their bridges, burned their parents in anger and rage because of some perceived injustice that they just can’t get over and ripped the family apart till it no longer exists.

What then for our adult children?

Written by Nina Wornham. Copyright 2014.

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