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If you've distanced yourself from a difficult parent but miss them, here's 3 signs it's safe to reconnect

Adult daughter looking at mom
Estrangement can be used as a temporary tool for rebuilding a relationship, according to Dr. Joshua Coleman.Getty Images
  • Distancing yourself from a difficult parent can sometimes be necessary for your mental health.

  • In general, estrangement should be used as a tool for healing a relationship, a psychologist said.

  • Monitor your resilience to hurtful remarks in other situations before reconnecting with a parent, he said.

Distancing yourself from a difficult parent can be painful, but necessary. Some parents are so destructive, critical, and abusive that an adult child has no option but to choose between their own mental health and the parent.

But in general, estrangements should be thought of as something you can resurface from after a period of time to see if anything has changed, Dr. Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and parental estrangement expert, told Business Insider.

Coleman defines estrangement as going no or very little contact in a relationship, and said that more people are estranged from family members than ever. One 2022 study that looked at interviews from thousands of American adult children found that 26% were or had been estranged from their father at some point, while 6% were or previously had been cut off from their mother.

Coleman said that abuse is probably the most common reason cited for cutting off a parent, but believes that generational differences play a big role. Over the past three decades, there's been an enormous expansion of what we consider to be harmful, abusive, neglectful, traumatizing behavior, he said.

Younger generations, who have grown up with a lowered threshold for what's considered harmful, are in conversation with their parents, who have a much narrower and more severe definition of what gets labeled that way, he said.

"So often there's a great amount of misunderstanding between the generations where the adult child might say, 'well, you emotionally abused me, you harmed me, you neglected me.' And the parent is like, 'Look, I was raised with abusive parents, you did not have an abusive childhood.' And as you could imagine, those conversations don't go very well," he said.

Overall, Coleman believes repair, although not always possible, is the better option for everyone. If you're missing a cut-off parent but are worried about letting them back into your life, he shared three signs that it's safe to reconnect.

Your parents are taking responsibility

Coleman helps parents whose adult children have gone no-contact try to turn things around. He helps them write their kid a letter, which can help reestablish contact, and encourages them to take responsibility and not defend themselves.

If your parent is showing signs of self-reflection and a willingness to renegotiate your relationship, it might be time to start rebuilding, he said.

Parents need to own their part and use the adult child's language without explaining it away, he said. "They have to be able to say, look, it's clear I had blind spots that I wasn't aware of that felt emotionally abusive to you, but I'm glad you let me know. It's something I can work on."

Any indication of this is a positive step, he said.

You know what you can and can't tolerate

Estrangement can sometimes be a way for an adult child to work on their own life away from their family, Coleman said, and to eventually return feeling stronger.

If you have a parent who's negative, distant, or rejects or guilt-trips you, for example, your readiness to reengage with them will partly be linked to your own resilience, he said.

You need to assess your ability to not internalize the ways they hurt you before letting them back into your life.

"Safety has to do with your own sort of internal meter of what you can tolerate and what you can't tolerate," he said. It's important to feel confident in upholding your own boundaries.

Sometimes estrangements are on and off because people test the waters to see how they feel and realize the experience is still too disruptive for them, and that's OK, he said.

You're less triggered in other relationships

Coleman said that monitoring how you feel in other relationships can be a good way to assess whether you're ready to reconnect with a parent. These could be friendships or romantic or professional relationships.

If you're able to avoid internalizing a bad remark or criticism in these dynamics, question if this is a sign you're able to navigate the world in a more resilient and flexible way, and better equipped to navigate your parental dynamic too.

Read the original article on Business Insider