The 8 Stages of Estrangement
Looking at Both Sides of a Coin
From a Parent’s Perspective
Stage 1 | Denial
Denial is not believing a situation exists. It is pretending that the estrangement is not real and hoping it will disappear. Surely, a child cannot estrange themselves from a parent. What type of child would do that? Denial is a normal response and is the path of least resistance. It is typically short-term. Denial is a defense mechanism wishing the estrangement is not absolute, and normalcy will return. It can include feelings of shock or bewilderment. Eventually, acceptance of the situation replaces denial, whether the parent likes it or not. In death, denial does not want to believe a loved one has passed on from this world onto the next. However, in estrangement, the loved one vanishes into unknown territory. Once parents understand that estrangement is part of their reality, Acceptance Part 1 begins.
From a Child’s Perspective
Stage 1| Shame & Blame
Estrangement begins when a child questions their existence within their family structure. They ask themselves, why am I here? Children feel shame. They blame themselves for their family’s struggles and hardships. They may see their parents on two different pages. In this beginning stage of estrangement, children start fantasizing about leaving the family or, at minimum, stop talking to one, if not both, of their parents. They are internalizing their emotions and not being allowed to share their feelings safely. Or they don’t have the tools necessary to think through their feelings constructively. They feel threatened. They blame their parents. They blame the school system. They blame politics. They blame science. They blame religion. Lots of blame to go around. Therefore, in their minds, leaving or blocking communication solves the immediate threat.
Author’s Note: Estrangement caused me to feel unloved, and I knew I needed to love myself before I could love others again. From my experience in participating in support groups with other estranged parents, there is a choice to make. You can choose to blame, distrust, and be bitter. Or, you can choose to love and heal yourself, from this incredibly harrowing experience, by opening up to others. It’s up to you. A special thank you to Kathryn Kollowa, EdD, MSN, RN for her feedback and added insights incorporated in this most recent update.
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