Monday, December 12, 2016

Post estrangement: the most hurtful statement of all “if you only apologize”


I believe that parents who have been estranged are on the receiving end of a lot of criticism.  They are often blamed or scapegoated for being on the receiving end of ostracism.  More often than not the message is expressed in self-righteousness as in “you must have done something to deserve it”.   And yet I rarely had great difficulty dealing with these kinds of people, because I understood that they were ignorant, and their words, hurtful as they may be came from that ignorance. 

Of course at the same time I was also battling my own self-flagellation where I blamed myself for being inadequate.  I examined every word every action under the microscope of hindsight seeking for the mistakes that I made. (And yes I made my list of things I needed to apologize for and wrote the letters as advised.) 

However there is a kind of judge mentalism that I find hard to tolerate; that is when someone says “Well all you have to do is apologize”. 

This is in my opinion the most insensitive and discouraging of all come backs that people make toward a parent that has been estranged. And sadly enough even some parents who are estranged believe also that if only they can word the apology just right then they will be taken back. How often have I seen parents blasting other parents to “just apologize!”  This is a really low blow. 

First of all most parents that have been estranged do “do the apology thing” first and think about it later.  In the early stages of estrangement most parents are so willing to “do anything” to make it end that they will blanket apologize for everything and anything they did wrong in hopes of begging their way back into good standing. I have known parents to grovel and beg, offering themselves up to walking on eggshells in fear that any misstep will once again precipitate rejection.

I confess; I too did several apologies.  All of them were met with silence!   The message became clear to me; even your apologies are not good enough.

It has taken me a long time to figure something out.  Offspring that estrange don’t want an apology if the apology is meant as a preface to communication and dialogue. Only the ones who “want” to work on repairing the relationship respond to an apology.  It is just like any other amends program, you offer the apology, but the recipient can decline.

When an apology is declined there is a message as well.   The nonverbal message is; “I am not yet over whatever it is I am holding against you.  I want to perpetuate the grudge.  I want to continue to show my power over you so the emotional abuse can continue, because power over you makes me feel better about myself.”

You see communication requires surrendering power and control. Declining an apology is about control.  As long as they control the situation they are powerful.  Rejecting an apology they are still in control.

So the question that really ought to be asked is not “why don’t you apologize” but “why are your apologies rejected? 

The rejecting of an apology says more about the rejecter than the person offering the apology. The person offering the apology says; here I am, I am offering up my inadequacies for your judgement, I am ready to atone.  The person rejecting says; I am not ready, I have my own agenda, I have not yet finished what I set out to prove to you.

The evidence is growing steadily and daily that estrangement is an epidemic with 1 in four families now affected. With that many families sending apologies surely there would be a higher rate of reconciliations than there is if all it took was an apology to open the lines of communication. 

There are even those now in the mental health care industry that are talking about this strange turn of events; rising numbers of estrangements and very few reconciliations.  The old standard for growing up and expressing autonomy does not explain this phenomenon! 

What this tells me is that it is not about the “right apology” it is about control and power.  Those who want equal relationships want dialogue and communication.  Those are the apologies that are received and used as a starting point for reconciliation. Those are relationships of adult child becoming autonomous within their own rights. 

Those adults who ignore apologies, who do not even respond with what their grievance are, don’t want an equal relationship, they want an empowered relationship where they are in charge. 

Then there are those adult offspring, in the rare instances, where they do reply to an apology and do so with a list of “demands”.  They very clearly voice those demands in language that says I am in control, do as I demand or I withhold myself from interacting with you.  Any attempt to reconcile without acquiescing to the demands is turned down flat.  This is not an act of communication and compromise, it clearly is about control. 

If you have this many estrangements being perpetuated in spite of apologies delivered, in spite of efforts made to open lines of communication, in spite of willingness to forgive the pain experienced because of estrangement, surely the problem is going much deeper than no apology extended. 

And yet still the most often heard critique an estranged parent continues to receive is; “why don’t you just apologize”.  The most hurtful, condescending sentiment of them all because it comes from the unfounded assumption that the estranged parent hasn’t tried hard enough, done enough, worked diligently enough to resolve a situation they wish fervently they were not experiencing in the first place.

Renate Dundys Marrello

2016 – 12 – 12  



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13 comments:

  1. “I am not yet over whatever it is I am holding against you.  I want to perpetuate the grudge.  I want to continue to show my power over you so the emotional abuse can continue, because power over you makes me feel better about myself.”

    This exactly describes the attitude of my ED. After all my apologies and groveling had no effect, I suggested counseling. I was told that she had talked to her "friends" about it, and they all agreed that counseling would only become a "He said, she said" session, and not worth her time.

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  2. I have not apologized. I have no idea what my son's beef with me, his sister, or the extended family members on my side. I think he is fucked-up up in the head and while I have compassion for him, I have no empathy. I have let it go. Purposefully let go. While I still occasionally feel a deep sadness when triggered with a memory, I purposely allow myself to feel grateful to have that past and reaffirm to myself that it is PAST. I really don't care that others have no understanding of estrangement. After 11 years, I've come to the season of life in which I don't want to waste energy on should have, could have, or maybe. I am living in now.

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    1. Sue that is exactly where i am. Hell i could have written that myself. Im so sorry that its been 11 years for you though. Mone is just starting and may be too premature to assume estrangment...although 6 monhs of silence seems like a lifetime for me. I hope that a) i dont have this problem as long as you have and b) if i do that i am able to do as you and move forward with your life.

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  3. wow thank you. I've just reached this point in my jouney. No more "sorry", met with more "But, you...."
    It's so heart wrenching to spend my days wondering what did I do wrong. One thing I did find while reading is the control thing. So I question myself. Did I raise my boys to be so strong, independent, self sufficient that I actually made them this way? I tried to give them an all around education for everything the world could throw at them. From where the public school system ended, I took over. Nature. Theater. Restaurants. Hunting. Cooking. Preserving. Bear Grilis, they could likely teach him a few things.
    When they left the nest, they could order a wine, knew what fork to use, watch a ballet or opera and appreciate it. They can walk out into the wilderness and survive.
    Did I make them so self sufficient that they have no need for us? Was that not what I as a parent was suppose to do? Prepare them for that day when we no longer are here? But what about now? There are still things to learn from us. Up to the day my parents each died, I was learning from them, about them. They taught me how to die, how to watch and hold someone who is dying. Though my children were there too. They were learning how to be a grandchild through this. So they could teach their children. But they have not learned how to be the children of older parents yet. You see, I feel this lesson I am failing to teach them. They are failing to learn. Is it the way I am teaching it? By the article, yes.
    Well I hope walking away will work to teach the 2 older ones. The 18 yr old, still at home. Has been learning a way different lesson than I wish I could have taught. He has been learning that brothers are not always there for him, and that they can cause great anguish and hurt to their parents.

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    1. You're right. You raised your kids to be so self-sufficient that they don't need you. That is exactly what you were supposed to do.

      The next part is that you have to learn to give them space. Your relationship isn't one of instruction and obedience, but friendship and advice.

      If you wouldn't volunteer the advice or opinion to a friend, then you shouldn't volunteer it to your adult kids, with their own families.

      Additionally, never attribute to malice what can be attributed to forgetfulness. The phone works both ways. You probably have a less busy life than your kids now, so be conscious of that when you contact them. Don't be angry if they neglect to reach out for a while. Send them a text or leave them a voicemail, and wait a reasonable amount of time for them to return it. Give them a week, at least.

      Walking away entirely probably isn't what they're going for either. Just give them a little space. Give them the opportunity to miss you, and the experience to call you for advice. Don't give it unasked.

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    2. Just so you know. Many of us have been truly blocked out of their children's life's. Being told at first..."I would like some space for a bit." To having literally all phone and social media blocked. Tried to drop a simple sugar cookie off for our daughters birthday. Told by husband, "I thought we decided to give .... Some space." Several months later we learn she has moved with her husband and daughter. No forwarding address. Sometime the phone doesn't go both ways.

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  4. Today, I needed you all to let me know that there're others out there suffering the same heartbreak, with no end in sight. All with the same questions why? Still no answer. What did I do you? "Nothing".

    Yet now after one meeting last year, after 10 years of estrangement, it took just one remark--noting that she would never sign "with love" in her responses to me, despite my sending cards and money gifts--to again cut me off without explanation.

    So here I am, encouraged by my son to keep sending gifts to my granddaughters without a word from my daughter. She recently sent the children's thank you cards, without any greeting to me whatsoever, as though I don't exist. I feel I'm being used and abused at the same time. The pain makes you gasp. Thank you all for your sisterhood.

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    1. I read this article with great interest, as I also read your response. Yes, there are others who are suffering heartbreak, also with no end in sight. I am one of those people. My husband and I have been abandoned by our daughter. She will allow us "no contact" with her or her 3 daughters. We have not seen then for almost 4 years. She has accused me of abuse, and being a control witch, with no specifics. She told me I am overbearing. She told me that she will not allow her daughters to be subject to my abuse. Never did I abuse anyone. I have apologized for being overbearing and opinionated which I can be. However I was the best mother I knew how to be, providing my daughter with a great home and much emotional, verbal and physical support through her childhood as she had many, many medical issues. Both my husband and I did everything we could to support her financially, paying for college and graduate school, and taking care of our granddaughters whenever she needed us. When she suffered financial difficulties we gave her hundreds of dollars without ever asking for repayment. We supported her and her family in any way needed. We love our daughter and her daughters so much, and we are grieving at our loss of them. She will not allow her daughters to receive and correspondence or gifts. We have tried to send gifts and cards to her and our granddaughters and she returns everything. Finally, we stopped sending anything. She does have sporadic contact with her brother, however she has strongly suggested to him that he not tell us anything about her or the girls. He made no promises, so her contact with him is limited. I have specifically send her a sincere letter of apology, regarding my issues with control, and explained that I have been in therapy regarding these issues. I have never received any response. My husband and I do not exist for her. She has complete control denying us any contact. My therapist has told me that I am grieving the loss of my daughter and granddaughters as if they had died. I feel for you, and your loss. Yes, the pain does make me gasp. The grief is always present. Thank you for your sisterhood.

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  5. Silence is not abuse. Being abused by your son or daughter or whatever they identify as is terrible, them not talking to you is them not talking to you. I'm sure it hurts, especially if it isn't your fault. But it belittles actual abuse to lump simple silence in with it.

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    1. I disagree.

      No I do not in any way belittle physical abuse and verbal abuse as they are serious offences.

      However emotional abuse also needs to be addressed and there are many forms of emotional abuse that stem from verbal as well as non verbal sources.

      Therefore, silence used as punishment or to manipulate and control is in fact a form of emotional abuse.

      Research shows that ostracism (and silent treatment is a from of ostracism) is experienced by the body emotionally and physically as abuse.

      Research shows that the emotional abuse of silent treatment is a serious cause of emotional distress with patients suffering varying degrees of trauma symptoms.

      May I suggest you do further research.



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    2. I disagree with your assessment. A person, especially one that you love and had been close to treats you like you do not exist, is punishing you and is controlling you. The silence is deafening and IS abusive. It is not simply not talking to you. How dare you say that! Obviously you are grossly uninformed. Yes, please do research.

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  6. This makes so much sense. I did all of the apologizing and after almost 17 years, I stopped trying to communicate. My son doesn't want a relationship with me or his brothers because he will have to relinquish his power. I have always felt that his anger is what empowers him. I'm sad but I will enjoy the wonderful relationships I have with my other children and grandchildren. I will always hope that my youngest son will mature one day! You truly have a gift for understanding!

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