When the adult survivor of emotional child abuse decides to take a break (whether temporary or permanent) from the birth family, that decision may come to a shock to people in their social circles. From the outside of the family circle-—and even within it, at times—everything has looked perfect, tidy, and loving. To all who gaze at the birth family, the portrait of a good and loving family is all they see.
In that light, the decision to take a break may seem out of nowhere. However, that life-changing, painful decision has not come lightly. Many adult children have agonized over the decision, discussed it with mental health professionals, and also gone back to analyze all the years of small events and large ones leading to this drastic measure.
And when the adult survivor of emotional child abuse separates themselves from the birth family, they often upset the family’s self-image, reputation, or order of business, which leads to a backlash from relatives, friends, and, at times, even spouses. (At The Invisible Scar, we’ve heard of all varieties of backlash that adult survivors have endured.)
Common Reactions From Mutual Friends and Family When an Adult Survivor Goes No Contact With Birth Family
Disbelief. The adult survivor finds mutual friends or family members not believing the adult survivor’s account of their upbringing. Typical comments include:
- “No, you were always a smiling, obedient child! You never said anything about being abused.”
(Emotionally abused children are very often difficult to detect for they are appear to be well-behaved, cheery children. Those children are often desperate for approval and love, which means they will be on their best behavior all the time in the hopes of winning their parents’ love.)
- “Your parents always gave you everything. You never went hungry, had a roof over your head…”
(Emotionally abusive parents may provide physical necessities to their children, but they starve their children of kindness, gentleness, understanding, the sense of belonging, the sense of approval, and the knowledge of being loved no matter what.)
- “Why didn’t you say anything before?”
(Emotionally abused children often do not make the realization of their abuse until they are adults. Psychologists say this is because the child must adopt a sense of denial in order to survive their childhood… For example, how could a child cope with the realization that they lack love, support, and warmth from the very people who are supposed to give them that? A child may have feelings of soul-crushing depression and loneliness, but he will bury those feelings in order to survive the day to day of their childhood.)
- “I never heard your parents say anything bad about you. Ever.”
(Abusive parents often are not abusive in the sight of others. In public, the abusive parent may seem the pillar of society, but in secret, the abusive parent unleashes the abuse on the child. In some families, even the other children may not witness the abusive. This is a form of self-protection from the abusive parent. Who will ever believe the child if no one but the child has witnessed the abuse? Plus, the abusive parent can also, through time, build up their reputations as great parents in the opinions of other people in their social circles. The abusive parent may always speak well about the child to others or cultivate the opinion that their child is a little bit mental, depressed, needy, or sensitive… All that cultivating comes in handy when the child grows up and shares the story of abuse; no one believes the adult child, for they’ve been listening to the propaganda from the parents for years.)
Guilt. The adult survivor may find friends and relatives badgering the adult survivor in continuing the relationship with the abusive parents. At The Invisible Scar, we do not quite understand why that is but we’ve theories that, in some cases, the mutual friend or relative may have their own parental issues they are working through (or are denying) or the mutual friend or relative stands to lose something by the severed relationship (they may have social connections, a place of importance in their community, etc., that they deem threatened by the family riff).
Comments may include…
- “Your parents worked so hard for you.”
Children do not owe their parents anything. Repeat: Children do not owe their parents anything. Parents, by the fact that they are parents, should provide for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of their children. Just because a parent did the bare minimum (and in some cases, not even that), the adult child does not need to continue to take any abuse from their parent. A good parent delights in being a parent and the enormous privilege of raising a child; a bad parent seeks in being consoled, comforted, nurtured, and supported unconditionally from their child.
- “You’re just abandoning them over a silly old fight!”
No. The decision to go No Contact may seem sudden, but emotional child abuse is a lifelong campaign by the abusive parent against the child. What a mutual relative or friend sees is not the complete picture. Never.
- “Your parents are old. They’re not going to be around for much longer.”
You reap what you sow. In most cases, an emotionally abused child has spent his childhood doing everything possible to win the love of the parent. We’ve heard adult survivors share stories of emotionally abused children taking on parental responsibilities. In other words, the emotionally abused child was given the role of the parent and forced to give the abusive parent unconditional love, support, understanding, etc., and the child received nothing back. Now that the adult child is grown, the adult child does not need to keep doing that. The parents have to deal with the consequences of having been abusive parents. They have to deal with the repercussions of having abused their children.
- “Your parents did the best they could.”
So? Just because an abusive parent didn’t mean to be abusive, that doesn’t mean the behavior wasn’t abusive. And it doesn’t mean the adult survivor needs to continue putting himself in the direct path of abusive. An adult survivor who goes No Contact is protecting himself from the abuse, whether the abusive parent was subconsciously or consciously acting.
- “Your parents love you so much.”
Whether an abusive parent loves his child is debatable. (Myriad heated arguments have arisen on psychology blogs, survivor blogs, and conversations regarding whether abusers can love, but we won’t take up that point here.) However, just because someone claims to love you that doesn’t mean you have to be in their lives. The claim to love an adult child does not guarantee the parent a right to see that adult child or have that adult child in his life. Newspapers are filled with articles of people who allegedly loved their victims.
Silence. The adult survivor may find mutual friends and relatives choosing a side—and they will choose the parent. That’s fine. Let them go. They deserve each other and can get entangled in their own web of lies, deceit, and secrets. But you, adult survivor, live in the light, live in the truth. Being in the truth alone is better than being in the deceit together.
How You Can Find Help
If you’re an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you may find yourself feeling alone once you decide to stop taking the abuse. However, know you are not alone. Help is available via a mental health professional or even a phone call (check out the sidebar for counseling services).
Stay strong. Stay in the light.
Just waking up to the fact you had an emotionally abusive childhood? My 92-page PDF offers insights and suggestions for this difficult time… and beyond. For just $7.99, you receive What Really Happened: Finding Out You Had an Emotionally Abusive Childhood (and Tips for Healing).
Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.
144 thoughts on “Prepare Yourself for Backlash When Going No Contact [Advice for Adult Children]”
Thanks for that article (actually, for all of them), I think I had it in mind when thinking a lot about going no contact the past weeks.
My mother and I had had a conflict and I told her unless she was willing to acknoweldge what she does wrong and to work on not doing it again, then she neither could nor wanted to help me. Obsiously, she’ss an abusive mother so the very last time, my demand was silent treated.
I left thtings like that, accepting that it was more thant she could give. I starded writing what I had to say to her, my need for no contact among other things but I didn’t sent it. I was waiting for adive becaause I wasn’t 100% sure my letter didn’t contain something she could use to hurt me.
Then my birthday came so she did as she always does. Broke the silence treatment for one text, pretending she’s meeting me halfway so that when I refuse, I appear to be a crazy ungrateful child always rejecting her. She said.
Tommorow is your birthday’s day (yeah, it also sounds horrible in french. Translating faithfully).
Take care of yourself.
The door is open.
And that pissed me off at incredible extents. She wasn’t even wishing me a happy birthday, She told me to take care of myself knowing I was isolated and facing financial issues. She said the door was open in some sort of upside-down situation where I refuse her love for no reason when she is such a caring, loving mother who always has a picture of me in her wallet (that’s seriously how she “proves” her love for me).
So I went no contact on my birthday. She didn’t answer and I fear it is more about silence-treating me than respecting my choice.
My grandmother called me crying that day, left a whining voicemail saying “I just wanted to whish you a happy birthday” before she hung up in precipitation. My family is so efficient, they don’t have to say a word about what they think. They are able to “wish me an happy birthday” and send me the message that I am a mean, ungrateful child, hurting the entire family. I seriously hope it’s the worst reaction I will face, but something tells me it’s just the beginning. Hopefully, I’m able to drive that guilt feeling away. I’m not responsible for the way they feel, especially when nothing was done especially to them. As Alice Miller says, the truth won’t kill them.
And even if it does, I think they’ve been dead all along.
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Funnycat, I can empathise. I see so many similarities. 🙂
Only You know your story, only You can speak your truth. I found keeping a journal to be extremely beneficial, because all the lies in the world can’t erase the facts.
It is a shame that you have to watch out when writing a letter to Your Own Mother!! You’re walking on egg shells, worrying that your words will be used against you. A mother’s love should be unconditional-not toxic.
But you are right -when these people wish you a ‘Happy Birthday’, it sounds just as fake as them. It is because if they really wished you ‘Happiness’, they would show you compassion & treat you with respect, all year round.:) This is why any wish from them can be a trigger- it’s because You know the wish is not sincere.
The guilt feelings will go. Write them out. Put your case forward-both in your head & on paper. When you have rationalised over & over with those feelings, you will find them getting weaker.
Surround yourself with positive messages & people -these will in time get stronger than those critical voices.
I send you strength & comfort- you can do this.
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I have been going though backlash of no contact with my older sister since 2010. My sister decided at 17 she to good to live with my mom, younger sister and I. She choose to live with her boyfriend who was 35 at the time and his grandparents. For over 20 years I spent my time trying to contact her. I would call her. I would try to visit her each time her boyfriend had to be present because she was telling him her family was abusive. When she was the abusive one. Every time I called her boyfriends grandma would tell me she’s a busy bee to busy to talk to me or call me back. My sister admitted to me this was a lie. Yesterday my oldest daughter who knew how I felt about my sister gave me old pictures my sister gave to her. She is moving away and wanted to give me pictures. To not cause any drama she could have went to my husbands work and gave them to him but no she contacted my daughter instead because she’s easy prey. If she’s told something she believes it. Which is exactly what she did. She told her she tried to contact me about the pictures but I would not answer her. Their is a reason I wouldn’t answer her. Now my oldest daughter is mad at me. How can I treat family like that. No question about how she treated me for the past 20 years. No question how she treated other family members. No question as to how I got embarrassed and humiliated in front of people by my sister. She believes its all me. UGH.
Thank you for this really valuable article. Survivors of abusive childhoods rarely get such clear support for saving their own sanity and being proactive for their own peace of mind from anyone in the “real world” (excepting good mental health professionals) or even from some of the professional literature on recovering from abuse, which often points towards the abuse that generally occurred in the childhoods of the abusive parents themselves and then asks the reader to have compassion on their parents and patience with them. That kind of advice can keep survivors locked into this already lifelong role of putting their own genuine needs in second place to that of their parents. I’ve got a lovely lovely friend who has spent her life going from abusive parents to abusive marriages and finally living alone and finding some peace, but now that her elderly mother has health problems she has given up her work and her leisure to minister to her, when the mother on my friend’s own admission is behaving very badly still, and when I ask “So why are you still helping, and putting everything else on hold?” she basically says it’s her last chance to mend the relationship, as if mending what her mother broke in the first place was ever her responsibility.
This is how people can be swallowed up by the cycle of abuse, this is how many years and how much of their own self and happiness it can cost them. When people talk about breaking the cycle of abuse, they usually mean not passing on the abuse to their own children. I would suggest the logical stopping point needs to be in the awakened survivor’s life and that the survivor draws a line that says, “No more.” Breaking the cycle of abuse can be as simple as disconnecting from an abuser (although I know in practice that’s often not simple at first, and that many on the outside see that as a cheap option or as weak relationship skills on behalf of the survivor).
I also struggled until my forties before finally disconnecting emotionally from my narcissistic parents, and two websites (this one and Little Red Survivor) were actually really instrumental in encouraging and supporting that process, as was my husband and my GP. I no longer have an invisible umbilical cord on which my parents can painfully reel me back in and it’s really liberating after trying to lose that Achilles heel all of my life. This is the year I found freedom emotionally from all that, within twelve months of being diagnosed with cPTSD from long-term, multiple perpetrator childhood trauma. I stopped wondering how much of narcissism is a choice and how much is a disability, that no longer matters, because I am not responsible for fixing other people’s lives – just my own. This doesn’t mean you hold grudges or can’t have compassion, but it does mean that your own mental health is more important to you than other people’s expectations and opinions.
Another dear friend said to me, “When you find a way to stop caring what your parents think of you, it’s amazing how you suddenly stop caring what anyone else in the general public thinks of you either, and whether anyone has a bad opinion of you because of various smear campaigns. The kind of people who matter and whose good opinion is worth having don’t think like that.”
It’s also amazing how I have lately begun to automatically recognise narcissism when I see it, and go “ho hum” instead of getting distressed by it, and how I have stopped reacting to it. That used to be an unreachable Nirvana for me. It did take the right support to do it – I was not able to do that on my own. So thank you Veronica for your website and the way it contributes to the recovery and education of survivors of childhood abuse. It helps to read sense and to share our stories. It helps to know the difference between self-care and selfishness. It helps when people are clear that you are not responsible for your parents’ abusive upbringings and their own life choices. Deprogramming childhood and societal brainwash is a long process.
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Thank you for such a lovely response. It was quite uplifting and encouraging and a cause for great hope. Like many of us here, your experience is so familiar. I was (and in their minds still am) my family of origin’s scapegoat. I finally went no contact with my father in 2009 and only see my mother about once per year, even though they live only two miles away. All of us siblings suffered tremendous mental,physical and emotional torture at the hands of our mother predominantly but my father never stood up for us. For years, I was lied about and to. I have numerous scars on my legs inflicted as a toddler. I still don’t know who is responsible and who allowed it?
Eventually, I went no contact with my father as he was always possessive of me and eventually wanted to leave my mother and move in with me. How horrendous is that?? Many of my friends expressed concern regarding this but I was in so much denial at the time, that I didn’t see what they saw all along. When I told my father ‘no’ he got into a rage and stamped his foot in temper at me. At the time, I was 32 years old, single parent to a 12 year old son. My son’s father always hated my father as he said that it was like my father was competing with and jealous of him. This was a definite case of emotional incest. I turned to Our Lord Jesus, who became my strength. I prayed for the courage to stand up to my father, which I eventually did, thank God. Years later, I am now a happily married woman and have lost over five stone in weight!
When I got married last year, my family of origin went absolutely berserk. The pressure to ‘put the past behind us and move on’ was almost unbearable but I did not give in. My parents and family of origin have not changed and blame me for everything. At my hen party, my sister went to all my friends saying disgusting things about me and went on about how I had ‘abandoned’ them, after all my parents had done for me. Well, my matron of honour went for her as we’ve been friends since we were 9 years old and told her to shut up or get out and if that is the way she felt, that she would be better off not attending the wedding. Needless to say, my sister shut up. Roll on to today and my younger brother is getting married next year and the usual behaviour is starting again. The reason that I am upset is that this time, my son is being targeted. A relative went to him recently saying that for my brother’s sake, would I not just shake hands with my parents and forget about everything!!! Really!!! These people have no idea what they are talking about! I can and have forgiven the past but I am not going to allow that evil, destructive behaviour into my life again. If I did, my father would do everything to destroy my marriage as he would see my husband as a rival and competitor that needed to be ‘gotten rid of’. My mother would start the abusive phonecalls and visits and try to destroy me once again. I will not do that. I can’t comprehend my siblings attitude however, as they both left the country to get away from my parents’ dysfunctional abuse. My older brother once said that there is no way his wife and sons will be exposed to that behaviour but he condemns me for doing the same. Absolute madness!!
Thanks again Sophie for your advice and sharing what your friends said to you. It is a real comfort to me when there are attempts to have a go at me again. Thank God that I have a wonderful, supportive husband and loving son. I took the decision for my son also, that he wouldn’t be affected by this destructive behaviour as my parents and siblings were starting to do to him what they did to me. Thank Jesus for saving us!
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It’s great when things people share end up being helpful for others. This is a super website. You hang in there and do what feels right to you. All the best for your new family, it’s lovely when you discover things don’t have to be how they were when you were growing up. And what a cool friend you had there, standing up for you at your hen party.
Ah yes, emotional incest, that’s an interesting thing to grow up with, isn’t it? I read back in my 20s that the “emotional spouse” thing is quite common in dysfunctional families – if the marriage is unhappy, frequently the mother will pick a son for an emotional spouse, and the father a daughter, and the kids are played off against the other marriage partner’s affections. This happened in our family – and it messes with your concept of self and love when you are growing up. Kids are supposed to be loved by both parents, yet I had one parent who often loathed me (my mother) and one whose “love” was both twisted and conditional (my father). And since anything resembling positive emotions towards me by my father automatically made me “the other woman” as far as my mother was concerned, it felt as if *I* was somehow wrong and culpable if I ever got anything good from someone else. That piece of invisible conditioning took a long time to overcome. But, no little girl deserves to carry a load like that on her shoulders. These days I look at a three-year-old, a six-year-old, a nine-year-old and I think how horrific it is that some kids that age are being put in that position by the people who are supposed to love and protect them. I think, these are such little people and they need nurturing not dysfunction and grief. I noticed Veronica wrote about the difference a trusted adult could make to children in such situations (in the “To Help” section) and people like that made a big difference to me, and I’ve tried to be that kind of person for others.
When my brother finally found a girlfriend in his 30s, my mother was rabid – literally foaming at the mouth. She had a nice little demure church-going girl just out of school picked out for him – and I still can’t understand how anybody can have the hubris to think it is their role to pick out a romantic partner for their child, or how it is appropriate to try to entangle a teenage girl with a man fast approaching midlife. (People who think misogyny is perpetrated exclusively by men should have a good look at the kind of family I grew up in, where the misogyny was foisted hard and fast by both parents.)
Anyway, when my brother got involved, via his own choosing, with a woman the same age as him, my mother went berserk. Immediately she was “the scarlet woman” and “a Valkyrie” and “like a fat opera singer” (the girlfriend carried maybe 5kg extra, my mother about 40kg extra…and from her own experience one would have expected her to not pick on others over their weight…). My mother foamed and gasped that she was “not a virgin” and had “clearly entrapped dear son with sex and lured him into her clutches” – and painted her basically as a prostitute-cum-gold digger (never mind that this woman had an independent income that equalled my brother’s). She never actually made an effort to even get to know this person (but then I don’t think she often makes such efforts, she certainly didn’t do it with her own children – they were what she painted them to be, not what they actually were and are).
By the time my brother proposed to his girlfriend, my mother was in a frenzy. She kept telling my father to “tell your son not to marry this woman” (in this case, he rightly took the view that that was his decision). At the engagement party she went around spouting all the venomous things I described in the paragraph above. Whenever people came up to her and said, “Congratulations!” she’d say, “No congratulations are in order, this is a bad thing and I don’t agree with it.” …at that stage I was still in contact with my family, I was in my 20s and so embarrassed and furious I told my mother I would lock her into the bathroom if she didn’t stop mouthing off like that, and spoiling someone else’s occasion.
In contrast of course, anything with a set of testicles was good enough for me, and my mother indeed preferred the boyfriends I had who had abusive streaks. Also if I went out with someone educated she told me I had ideas above my station. When I married a decent man with whom I have an equal, warm and supportive partnership, she was disappointed somehow – and certainly never showed any happiness for me that my husband loves me, truly and genuinely.
It took me into my 40s to realise that my father’s abuse of me actually matched my mother’s, and was probably more damaging for being more subtle. My mother beat me and verbally abused me and smeared me to the world from the time I was a pre-schooler. My father tended to protect me from that abuse when he was present, but I was his emotional spouse, just like my brother was my mother’s emotional spouse, so I never actually experienced healthy love as a child growing up in my family of origin. My father did not provide me with any support to become my own person, it was all about clipping my wings. Also, my father’s approximation of love was dependent on my being his reflection and looking up to him as a hero who knew everything – and when I started to differentiate as a teenager, and to disagree with him on many matters, the arguments began, as did a spate of beatings, intimidation and verbal abuse. I was socially isolated, both by geography and by stealth. When I experimented with my first boyfriend at age 16 (an age at which I was already at university), my father went rabid, and my mother “was so embarrassed by having such a daughter”. When I went to the university library at night to complete assignments, I was accused of partying and having rampant sex (which was so ironic, I was such a Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes) and they attempted to set a curfew on me. An university counsellor who knew what was going on explained that I could get financial independence from them and be supported by the state’s student grants for independent students, which she sent off the paperwork for and obtained for me, and that allowed me to move into a share house.
I’ll stop now before this turns into a (not very edifying) novel. But that’s the thing, so many things that we suppress and try not to think about come back so vividly when we break out of the chains our abusive families made for us.
Love and best wishes to all.
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I am dyyyyying. This post and the comments. What a relief! I totally want to rant and rave but am not sure that it helps me. Maybe I have been ranting and raving to the wrong people.
It feels devastating most of the time. I am relying heavily on a spiritual 12 step program to help me stay disengaged and safely distant. I am blogging about my journey but not getting too specific because my sister is married to a federal judge and she is nuts and I feel I have to be careful about sharing the details of my abuse though my blog does not say my name anywhere. The terror of my gas lighting, narcissist abusers who will not let me stay or ext in peace is too much. Here is one of my posts about how it affected me this holiday season. I am also new to this format and way of reaching others. blogging and reddit….but I think we need to feel community…break the cycle of isolation.
Invisible Scar is the perfect fucken name!
My problem is this, no matter what, … even if I decided to move out on my own, my parents always come to take me away. I’m not kidding here, and I’m fucking tired of people marginalizing this issue. I need something more than just a no contact for them, as they pry through my stuff, steal my stuff, and then claim I merely misplaced it.
This continues, despite being 27 years old, and going on 28.
Tell them to do one and dont tell them where your going, dont answer their calls. Your boundaries are important.
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Sarah, your parents can only come get you, if they know where you are. No contact means they do not get to know Anything about you – Nothing. If they manage to get your address from a third party, call the police. A restraining order on parents has also worked for some people.
There is a marvellous quote I came across, which I hope helps…
‘No Contact Ever Again is building a wall between you & the toxic individual for all eternity. All their successes & failures, their joys & misery- along with their eventual demise takes place on the other side of this wall and you will neither be aware of nor care that these events took place’
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@Sarah Weaver Author- if your parents show up to take you somewhere against your will, or if they steal your things – CALL THE POLICE. explain to the police that they are abusive qnd you refuse contact and refuse their “help”, that you’re an adult of legal age to make your own decisions and that they are forcing you against your will. if it’s a common occurrence, file a restraining order or a no contact order signed by a judge- if they violate it, they go to jail. show your parents that you are no longer willing to play this game with them. yes- it will create significant upheaval but so do their Non stop shenanigans.
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