Family estrangement and betrayal

There’s a “joke” about a mother who keeps calling her son, only to continually be routed to voicemail. Is her son that busy? She decides to follow him. When she sees him sitting alone in a restaurant, she calls him. She watches as he looks at the caller ID . . . and declines the call.

Unfortunately, family estrangement and betrayal is a painful reality for many parents. They chase after their children’s attention, only to be rejected or blocked out. Is her son that busy?children, teenagers, and even adult children can choose to distance themselves from their parents, claiming they are too busy to talk on the phone, or answering questions with monosyllables: “How are you?” “Fine.”

As a parent, you may feel humiliated, insulted and betrayed. The emptiness feels like a knife turning in your heart. It’s even worse if you’ve also been locked out of the lives of your grandchildren, just when you long to share your love and wisdom with them.

Why do some children distance themselves? Answers may include:

  • Excess monitoring and criticism. When parents are overly critical or overly enmeshed with a child during his formative years, a child may feel that he cannot wait to escape their clutches. He no longer wants to feel stifled by their advice and humiliated by their criticism, told how to dress, think, speak and behave, or told that his decisions are wrong. After hearing “not-good-enough” messages from his parents, he has become “allergic” to them and creates distance to avoid more pain.
  • Lack of bonding in early childhood. Many children get used to being distant from parents because there was so little interaction with them during their formative years. Babies who get lots of cuddling produce more oxytocin and vasopressin, the social-bonding hormones. Without that early bonding, a child produces fear hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. If parents are absent for many hours, the reach-out reflex shrivels up and dies. A loving bond is built by endless mini-interactions, which occur when children are touched frequently, given a hug or asked, “How did the test go? Do you need a Band-Aid for your knee? Did that bully bother you today?” If parents do not take time to show interest and listen non-judgmentally, a child feels unloved and unimportant. He may have difficulty bonding, not just to his parents but to people in general. Later, when parents seek a relationship, the foundation is missing. Many children feel, “You didn’t have time when I needed you, so how can I relate to you now? You are strangers. I don’t even know who you are, and you don’t know who I am.”How do you deal with the pain?
  • Lack of trust. Parents who have addictions or emotional illnesses are so self-absorbed that there is no emotional space for a child. If a parent is narcissistic, depressed, dysfunctional, obsessive or addicted, the child feels isolated, neglected and unwanted. Borderline parents have violent tantrums, lie, and are so unpredictable that it is impossible to build trust. Children learn to protect themselves by disengaging. For many, the “connect” button cannot be turned on again. It’s just too painful to go there.
  • Parental strife. Children cannot feel respectful towards parents who do not respect each other. Imagine a child hearing, “Your father/mother is crazy/lazy/stupid. That’s why I’m so miserable.” A child is ashamed to be connected to parents who cause him so much confusion and shame.

On the other hand, there are many parents who did their best to be loving and attentive, not expecting their family to be part of the family estrangement statistics, but often these children suffer from addictions or emotional problems which have created distance. Narcissistic types are interested only in their own looks, pleasures and accomplishments. Manipulative types make contact only when they want something. Disturbed types cannot give; they want only to take.

So, how do you deal with the pain? First, realize that nothing will take away the awful ache in your heart, that empty place where your children or grandchildren “should” be. But the following will help:

  1. Stop fighting to connect. Do not pursue, hound, threaten (“You won’t get any money from me”) or guilt-trip (“How can you be so selfish and cruel to me?”). Pressure tactics create resentment, rebelliousness and resistance. However, keep the lines of communication open so that your children know they are always welcome in your heart and home. And if a child reconnects, smile and act happy! Do not act bitter and angry, even if that is how you feel. Do not criticize, blame or scold, or he will disengage again.
  2. Get active! You have time on your hands. Put your energy into projects where your love and concern will be appreciated. There are thousands of organizations in need of devoted people like you. Or go back to school. People in their eighties are getting degrees today! Be interested and involved in the world.
  3. Take care of yourself. Make sure you exercise daily and eat right. Become a person your children would be proud to connect to—if they decide to do so.
  4. Turn it around. Give yourself whatever you’re not getting from others—appreciation, respect, understanding and forgiveness. You weren’t the perfect parent, and don’t have perfect children. Forgiveness keeps your heart open, in case they return.Strengthen the other relationships in your life
  5. Examine your relationship with God. To love God is to love whatever reality He gives us from moment to moment. So, use the “turn around” idea to examine your relationship with God. Ask yourself: “When did I last call out to God? Do I ignore Him and act like He is an intrusive bother or not part of my life? Have I become so self-pitying and embittered that I block Him out and refuse to accept His love? Do I distance Him with my anger and resentment instead of taking positive action?”
  6. Strengthen the other relationships in your life. Your children may have blocked you out, but you can focus on other family members and friends. Knowing that you can still give and receive love will strengthen your own sense of self.

None of these exercises or activities will erase the pain, but they will bring you a sense of self-respect and open your mind to new possibilities of how you can grow spiritually and contribute to the world.

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Unhealthy Codependency Relationships

The word codependency gets thrown around a lot: There are unhealthy codependency relationships, codependent companions, and codependent caretakers. But what does codependent actually mean — and is it really all that bad?

What Is unhealthy Codependency?

Codependency is typically discussed in the context of substance use, where one person is abusing the substance, and he or she depends on the other person to supply money, food, or shelter. But codependency is much broader than that,” says Jonathan Becker, DO, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore,” Dr. Becker says. “Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person. In a codependent relationship, there is usually one person who is more passive and can’t make decisions for themselves, and a more dominant personality who gets some reward and satisfaction from controlling the other person and making decisions about how they will live.”

Jose Rojos, now 36, was in such a relationship for close to three years. Seven years ago, the professional dog groomer was living with a boyfriend in the South with whom he was madly in love. There was one problem: His partner was insanely jealous, clingy, and prone to dramatic mood swings.

“He would hide my driver’s license so I would stay put,” Rojos recalls. “He would also buy me all sorts of gifts, including a pet schnauzer, to keep me around. I was in love with him and couldn’t leave, but his mood swings grew so severe that I became afraid and knew I had to get out.”

And get out, he did. Rojos relocated to New York City and severed all ties with his ex. “He was not a bad person, but he was bad for me,” says Rojos, who is now in a healthy long-term relationship.

While the jealous and controlling behavior in Rojos’s former relationship was definitely an issue, “Codependency [also] becomes problematic when one person is taking advantage of the other financially or emotionally,” Becker says.

Enabling is another sign of an unhealthy codependence. Mary-Catherine Segota, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Counseling Resource Services in Winter Garden, Florida, describes enabling as a behavior that’s used to ease relationship tension caused by one partner’s problematic habits. Enabling behavior, which is rarely seen in healthy relationships, includes bailing your partner out, repeatedly giving him or her another chance, ignoring the problem, accepting excuses, always being the one trying to fix the problem, or constantly coming to the rescue. 

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What is being co-dependent and how do I know if I am?

“What is being co-dependent and how do I know if I am?” The definitions of co-dependency seem countless and the characteristics can be blurred and unclear. Most would certainly not see the term as a positive one and though we don’t know exactly what it is, we know we don’t want to be co-dependent. In the 70’s the word was used to describe a person living with an alcoholic and later included being in relationship to those abusing other substances as well. It became the word that described the dysfunctional actions of those trying to adjust and adapt to destructive behaviors of the substance abuser; their lives becoming unmanageable as a result. Today we generally use the term for someone who is dependent on another person to the point of being controlled or manipulated by that person.

Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

“Co-dependency is a relationship addiction. Just as the alcoholic is dependent on alcohol, the co-dependent is dependent on being needed by the alcoholic… or on being needed by someone who is dependent. The “enabler” is a co-dependent person who enables the alcoholic (or other dependent person) to continue with the addiction without drawing and maintaining boundaries. Co-dependency involves being too dependent on someone or something that cannot meet your needs.”1 What’s wrong with being dependent? Dependency is when we rely on someone for support or some need to be met. When this support or need is distorted and unhealthy, the person relies solely on another person to get all of their needs met; there is no mutual give and take or inter-dependency where both love and value the other and work toward the health of the relationship. This dependency looks like: “I have to have this person meet this need in my life; they must do this in order for me to be happy.” Enabling is where a person maintains, and can be responsible for, another person’s destructive behavior by keeping them from painful consequences that could help them change for the good. Many times the co-dependent person allows dysfunctional patterns by not setting boundaries, protecting the other person or even lying for them in order to cover up unhealthy behaviors.

Characteristics of Co-dependency

In a co-dependent relationship one person is generally obsessive and controlling and emotionally weak though they may appear strong, capable and self sufficient. But they are insecure, have self doubt and have an excessive sense of helping and pleasing. They need approval and feel responsible. They generally have low self- esteem, carry guilt and shame, feel anxious and worry over even the slightest details, get frustrated and angry as they attempt to control people and situations, lie to themselves and others in order to protect, have a hard time saying ‘no.

Healing Solutions

In a healthy marriage the relationship is interdependent where each values and encourages the other to overcome difficulties and utilize their strengths while being responsive and accessible emotionally to each other. They help each other feel safe; safe to explore their thoughts and feelings, safe to be themselves knowing they will be loved and valued. They don’t obsess and worry.

There is freedom from co-dependency. Instead of taking things into our own hands in our relationships, we can start by realizing emotional addiction and over-attachment leads us to destructive and damaging behaviors. We can be honest and admit the truth to ourselves and to others. We can also take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and actions in order to make the changes that will lead us to healthy relationships and a healthy understanding of our own pain and our own emotions. We can stop trying so hard to make things, and people, happen the way we feel they should.

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Damaged children – Family breakdowns

Damaged children – Children are suffering an epidemic of mental health problems due to family breakdown, body image worries and too many school tests, a report warns today. Under far greater pressure than youngsters a generation ago, they are increasingly falling victim to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and severe anti-social behaviour, it claims. The report, based on an inquiry by the Children’s Society, reveals 10 per cent of boys aged 11 to 15 and 13 per cent of girls have mental health problems  –  a some of 300,000 damaged children in total.


300,000 damage children are suffering from mental health problems (picture posed by model) Official estimates suggest more than a million youngsters between five and 16 have a ‘clinically recognisable’ mental disorder.  Today’s report  –  compiled from the evidence of hundreds of parents, children and experts  –  paints a worrying picture of a generation forced to grow up too quickly, with mental health problems ‘on the increase’. Causes of mental health problems include poor family relationships, rampant marketing leading to pressure to look attractive, binge-drinking and over-testing at school, the report says.

It also singles out poor parenting, either by a lack of affection or the failure to show authority and set boundaries.

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