Estrangement is already an extremely delicate and challenging situation, and it becomes even more tricky to navigate with mental illness. The ups and downs of having an adult child with mental illness could create a nightmarish dynamic of confusion and sadness.
While it is essential to show your adult child compassion, it is also important to take care of yourself. Finding a support system and understanding your options when dealing with your adult child struggling with mental illness is crucial. This blog will provide information and resources to help navigate adult child estrangement and mental illness.
Mental illness may become apparent at any stage of childhood or well into early adulthood. There is no one-size-fits-all regarding mental illness. Each individual should be treated with the same concern as if it were a physical ailment.
Mental illnesses range in severity as health conditions affecting an individual’s mood, behavior, thinking, and ability to regulate emotions. These conditions can create instability and sometimes the inability to function normally at any stage of life.
The jury is still out on mental illness’s exact causes and triggers. Mental illness can be inherited through generations or result from childhood trauma. Other factors include biological factors such as prenatal injury, toxin exposure, damage to the nervous system, or substance abuse.
Having a child with mental illness creates a unique opportunity for misunderstanding and possible mistakes made by the parent. Parents will sometimes fail, and the child with mental illness will be less likely to understand a relationship’s routine ups and downs.
These ongoing misunderstandings between the child and parent may increase the risk of estrangement. Raising a child that struggles with their mental health in any capacity strains the home dynamic, which causes stress, worry, fighting, etc. It’s not uncommon for the adult child to assess the parenting they received as inadequate or even the reason they struggle so profoundly.
While parenting cannot be solely to blame for an adult child’s distress, sometimes the parent struggles with mental illness and cannot provide the necessary care a child needs. Narcissism has become very popular recently when discussing estrangement and parenting.
When a parent displays narcissistic personality traits, they behave in ways that seek control and manipulation and may be unable to care for or understand others’ feelings, including their children’s. Having a parent with narcissistic tendencies can cause the child to disengage and lose the vital trust that should come with a parent/child relationship.
Children with narcissistic parents may suffer low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and codependency. These factors create the perfect conditions for later estrangement.
Likewise, when parents struggle with anxiety, depression, substance use, and other mental disorders, their behaviors can be perceived as unstable, unloving, and inadequate. Research reports that adult children who reflect on their parents asses the relationship based on their relational evaluation value.
A low evaluation indicates if adult children feel unprotected, unsupported, or misunderstood. They perceive their welfare was overlooked. Consequently, in cases where an adult child feels so disconnected from parental nurturing, estrangement may be a necessary option. Feeling unsafe in the presence of another family member is a precursor to estrangement.
Abuse towards children, adolescents, adults, and parents is unacceptable and should never be excused. Abuse can have long-term effects on one’s sense of self and functioning. Individuals who have endured abuse are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, complex traumatic stress disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Individuals who choose to estrange do not do so lightly. When there is abuse, individuals estrange out of necessity and self-preservation.
Relationships may become strained when an adult child struggles with addiction or substance use disorder. As with many mental illnesses, the person with the addiction may become irritable, unable to function, and a risk to themselves or others. The stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction may produce discomfort in relationships.
The person with the addiction knows everyone’s eyes are on them, waiting for them to mess up or behave in ugly ways. With addiction, individuals may isolate themselves due to their condition and then randomly appear for help or connection.
When a parent deals with an adult child with substance use disorder, they may not know how to handle the rocky road of uncertainties. Conversely, adult children with parental substance abuse can involve a web of porous boundaries and codependency.
Estrangement and mental illness go hand in hand due to the instability they cause in relationships. A parent may be haunted by fear and worry about what their adult child is experiencing.
So what do you do? Understanding the intricacies of your adult child’s mental illness is critical. Remaining informed on the specifics can help you to know how hard it is for them. Create boundaries for yourself to implement when your adult child comes back around. It’s possible they will not reconnect, but if they do, you want to have a plan of action.
Giving support and having boundaries around what you will and will not accept from their behavior is essential. During this time of uncertainty, you’ll want to have steady self-care habits. Participating in self-care will instill in you that you are worthy of caring for yourself even though you might not be able to care for your adult child in the ways you wish to.
Estrangement and mental illness are rough topics to discuss and process. Individuals who are acquainted with a family member or their own experience with mental illness, disorders, or symptoms can agree it was not their choice. As we examine the complexity of estrangement, we consider how, if, and when it is best to cut off. When someone you care for deeply cuts ties, it can be heartbreaking. However, it may be all they can do to sustain a degree of mental clarity.
Undoubtedly the condition of estrangement is enormously painful, causing grief and uncertainty for all parties. For some, cutting off was the choice they did not regret because the relationship was unmanageable. Others struggle to accept and move forward as they cope with the decision of another to cut ties.
Mental illness is one contributor to estrangement that is extremely difficult to navigate. Each individual struggling with a mental illness deserves compassion without judgment; however, the foundations of relationships may waver. The unpredictability of how your adult child is faring without continuous communication can cause excess stress. It’s essential to stay informed, get support from a group or therapy, and prioritize self-care.
What self-care steps have you started that support you in your estrangement condition? Has mental illness impacted your estrangement condition?