Estranged Parents' Forums vs. Estranged Adult Children's Forums
Forums for estranged parents and forums for estranged adult children have radically different forum cultures.
Estranged parents' forums include forums for parents of estranged adult children and forums for grandparents seeking visitation ("grandparents' rights"). Estranged adult children's forums include forums for children of all types of abusers, particularly narcissists, and forums for discussing in-law problems (which usually blend into discussing one's own family).
Differences in Forum Culture
|Forums for Estranged Parents||Forums for Estranged Adult Children|
|Heavily tilted toward emotional support. Assisting members with problem-solving is secondary.||Balanced between advice and emotional support, usually with a strong tendency toward problem-solving even when members post mainly for emotional support.|
|Members provide emotional support regardless of whether they approve of a fellow member's actions.||Members withdraw emotional support of members whose actions they disagree with.|
Most members have problems with adult children who are distant or completely estranged, and may also have lost contact with their grandchildren. Their problems may be compounded by mental or physical disabilities, poverty, and other conditions that could be alleviated if the adult children helped them.
A small but significant proportion of members have problems with adult children who are financially abusive, violent, addicted, etc., and who will not leave their parents alone.
Most members have problems with intrusive, overbearing, or controlling family members, and they want the family members to back off or to leave them alone entirely. Their problems may be compounded by dependency on the problem family members, whether financial, emotional, or practical. (For example, their overbearing mother-in-law may be their babysitter.)
A small proportion of members have problems with family members who are distant or neglectful.
Members are uncertain how to solve their problems. Their core problem is that they want a relationship with someone who doesn't reciprocate, which is inherently insoluble. They have an informal two-stage process for handling this.
The first stage aims to resolve the estrangement. Members repeatedly try to contact their children, sue their children for grandparent visitation, and so forth. However, they are aware that these actions are unlikely to resolve the estrangement.
The second stage aims to deal with the consequences of the estrangement. Members get hobbies, join clubs, and make new friends to fill the void left by their missing children. They may also remove the estranged children from their wills, take steps to resolve financial entanglements with their estranged children, etc.
Members believe their relationship problems can be solved through a combination of therapy, marital counseling, boundary-setting and other types of assertiveness, practical actions like getting a job and moving house, and a willingness to reduce or break off relationships with toxic people. They fully expect these methods to be effective when applied correctly.
Members expect emotional problems to be harder to solve. They handle these problems through therapy, self-help books, and mutual support, though forum posts usually discuss these issues in the context of more practical problems.
|The process of dealing with the estrangement is expected to be prolonged and cyclical. There's very little practical action a parent can take to resolve estrangement; it's primarily an emotional journey, and the journey often requires the traveler to do the same things over and over until she not only knows, but believes that the actions are useless. Members are endlessly supportive in the face of mistakes, backsliding, and unrelenting "stuckness."||
Although emotional healing is the goal, members believe it's necessary to take practical action to change one's circumstances. Members believe it's not possible to recover when they're still in contact with toxic people. They also recognize that inertia is a common result of abuse. They encourage each other to take direct, decisive action in spite of fear and inertia, and promise that emotional healing will begin once members make practical changes.
Members who drag their feet or who return to the forum repeatedly with the same problem are criticized. Some of the criticism stems from other members' frustration, but more often, members want to encourage the member to get off the stick and help themselves.
|Members never review one another's backstory, relying instead on memory and repetition. (Commenters frequently reiterate their story in each thread they participate in.) They may request more details, but never ask probing questions or challenge a member's version of events. If they become aware of inconsistencies, they write them off as the result of their own or the other person's misunderstanding. It's not that consistency is unimportant; it simply doesn't occur to members that others' stories could be inconsistent.||Consistency is prized: When a member posts, commenters may review the member's backstory before replying. In some forums, posters routinely provide links to their posts. Commenters frequently ask probing questions, request further details, and challenge inconsistencies in other members' accounts. Although commenters give leeway to posters who misspoke or explained themselves poorly, they are also quick to see patterns of evasion, denial, or chronic confusion.|
|Members take their cues from each other's reactions. If a member is enthusiastic about a course of action, the other members will be enthusiastic about it, too. If a member is dubious about a course of action, the other members will echo her doubt. Members will counsel a member to follow a course of action one week, then tell her it's a bad idea the next week, without any perceived contradiction.||Members take their cues from a body of advice that they believe to be proven effective. Members who have similar problems get similar advice, and the other members change their advice only if the member provides facts that show that her situation is different than originally thought.|
|Members do not challenge one another and soft-pedal advice that could be construed as criticism.||Members challenge one another and are frank when they believe someone is mistaken.|
Members are slow to recognize patterns of behavior, and their recognized patterns are generally undetailed and broad. (For instance, they frequently ascribe behavior to "this generation of kids," but the "generation" in question covers people from the mid-teens through the early 50's—that is, two separate generations, the oldest of which is older than many members.) They make limited use of established concepts like personality disorders. The term "narcissism" gets considerable use, as do "gaslighting" and "the silent treatment," but not associated terms like "hoovering." Members' understanding of these patterns is also undetailed, and they frequently make mistakes like confusing bipolar disorder with borderline personality disorder.
Knowledge of patterns has a short shelf life. Members are continually rediscovering psychological concepts.
Members do not invent new terms for patterns they recognize.
Members' predictions of their adult children's behavior are typically vague and based on past experience with the individual, not on wider pattern recognition.
Members recognize patterns of behavior quickly, and find it easy to apply previous patterns to new situations. Their grasp of patterns is detailed and precise. For example, they discuss the differences between narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder, learn the names of psychological defenses, and teach one another the phases of the abusive cycle. They also invent new terms (lawn tantrum, BEC) for concepts pop psychology hasn't caught up with.
Members use these patterns to predict the behavior of toxic people with considerable accuracy. New members are sometimes astonished at how much other members know about their parents without being told.
Members generally do not refer one another to any websites about estrangement or grandparents' rights, apart from other forums. They read few self-help books and don't have a collection of resources that could be considered essential reading.
The one self-help book specifically about estrangement, When Parents Hurt by Dr. Joshua Coleman, comes under frequent fire by estranged parents.
|Members refer to a large number of websites and books about dealing with toxic relatives, and have a great deal of faith in these sources. Certain sources are considered essential reading.|
Differences in Posting Style
|Members post letters and texts they send to their children, but rarely post their children's replies. It's extremely rare for a member to post an entire conversational thread.||Members post not only letters and texts they send to their toxic relatives, but their relatives' responses. They frequently post complete email or text conversations.|
|Members almost never post recreations of conversations, or even complete sentences spoken to them by their estranged children. They prefer to paraphrase.||Members frequently post recreations of complete conversations. Paraphrases are acceptable, but when discussing verbal communication, they try to repeat their own and their relative's exact wording.|
 Lawn tantrum: When your cut-off relatives come to your door and you refuse to let them in, they throw a lawn tantrum. Often ended with a call to the police.
 BEC: "Bitch eating crackers." When you're annoyed enough at someone, they can irritate you just by eating crackers. Psychologists refer to this as social allergy; forum members call it being BEC. The title comes from a picture of a woman captioned, "Look at that bitch, eating crackers like she owns the place."
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The analyses on this page are my own opinions and should not be construed as medical advice or statements of absolute fact.