Detach From Your Parents: Some Support

If you’ve decided to detach from your parents in any way, whether at the holidays or any time of the year, you probably feel alone. Not in relation to them necessarily, but in relation to a society that more readily supports forgiveness of parental wrongdoing, no matter the harm, than it does well-considered estrangement.

Kylie Agillias, Psychology Today, further explains:

While most of us know someone who has stopped contact with a family member, estrangement tends to be hidden and minimized by ideologies or myths about family. For example, sayings such as ‘the home is where the heart is’ and ‘blood is thicker than water’ represent dominant social expectations that our emotional attachment and commitment to family members are stronger than our obligations to non-family. These ideas also instill and perpetuate embarrassment, stigma and feelings of failure when family members are absent, rejected or rejecting…

In addition, Agillias reports that although research on this subject is scarce, one study indicated that 7% of adults in the U.S. are detached from their mother, 27% from their father. “Detached relationships were characterised by infrequent or no contact or support, feeling distant from the parent, having different values to the parent and rating family as a low priority.”

Another who gets the possible need to detach from your parents is psychiatrist Carrie Barron. Whereas it’s not easy, she acknowledges, there can be important benefits (Psychology Today). “If you are compelled to exit, you will likely feel a void. It is okay. Acquire a void, but lose a depression. Toxic settings and over-compliance with oppressive expectations are bad for mental health.”

Dr. Sherrie Campbell, Huffington Post: “Most people know intuitively when it’s time to cut ties. Sadly, we may have carried this knowing for a long time before we were ever ready to make the jump.”

Unfortunately, even some therapists err on the side of family unity, however. As Dr. Richard A. Friedman stated in “When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate” (New York Times, 2009), “All too often, I think, therapists have a bias to salvage relationships, even those that might be harmful to a patient. Instead, it is crucial to be open-minded and to consider whether maintaining the relationship is really healthy and desirable.”

When advice columnist Emily Yoffe wrote a 2013 article in Slate (“The Debt: What Do Grown Children Owe Their Terrible, Abusive Parents?”) she included quotes from Friedman. The two of them eventually joined Michel Martin, NPR, to discuss this topic, in particular to offer a differing opinion from those who would push forgiveness as the solution.

“People can be re-victimized by the sense that you must forgive and move on,” stated Yoffe. “…I think people can accept things were bad; move on. It doesn’t mean they’re stuck. And what’s missing in this discussion of forgiveness is the sense of reciprocity. Where is the acknowledgement by the abusive parent? I’m sorry, I didn’t give you the childhood you deserve — that very rarely comes.”

Both Yoffe and Friedman noted the positive and plentiful reactions they’d received to their respective essays. Yoffe called the 2000-plus comments to her piece “a mass group therapy session. People said, thank you because I felt this pressure people don’t understand.” And Friedman reported an “avalanche” of interest that led to a “kind of virtual therapeutic community.”

It’s hard to find much info on this subject, but the above-cited sources lend some proof: You are definitely not alone if you need to detach from your parents.

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