Stages of Estrangement: Transformation

The most productive phase requires brutal honesty with oneself.

Posted Jan 12, 2019

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This is the fourth in my five-part series on Stages of EstrangementIt's best to read this series in order from the beginning.

After the difficult but necessary step of Acceptance, parents estranged from adult children may now enter the fruitful stage of Transformation.

This stage represents the calm after the storm. At last, rejected parents have gained sufficient self-possession to consider their power to achieve clarity and make changes in what might have seemed before like a chaotic, hopeless situation.

Focus shifts from the child, others, and/or society toward the self and the true boundaries of one’s influence.

This transfer of focus from outward to inward allows the parent to claim responsibility for some of their quality of life, including the quality of their relationships. For the first time since the estrangement began, the parent no longer feels helpless.

Taking Power Back

In this stage, a new imperative emerges for parents: To improve the relationship they have with themselves, not just their child(ren) or anyone else.

Energy that was spent batting away negative feelings is now turned to actively making choices.

Some parents decide their quality of life is better without the estranged child in it. They consciously let go of attempts to reconcile and set about the task of reshaping their lives to suit the new reality.

Others decide to continue trying to make the repairs necessary to re-engage their estranging child.

In both cases, whether they decide to let go or to keep working toward reconciliation, parents develop a sense of their own boundaries and cultivate methods for protecting them.

Decisions made in the Transformation stage are made with integrity. They’re governed not by emotional impulses, but by values.

Whether continuing a quest for reunion or deciding to close the door, parents in this stage take full responsibility for what they want from the relationship.

The overall emotional tone of the Transformation stage is calm and positive. Reclaiming one’s power feels good. But there may also be periods of darkness as parents process and integrate painful truths.

Understanding the “Why”

Transformation can be a time of massive personal growth — for some, more than at any other time of their lives. The task set before those in this stage is a hard one: To tolerate the pain of knowing things you’d rather not know.

Like why your child doesn’t want to be close.

Transformation requires brutal honesty, at least with oneself. I'm in awe of courageous parents who tell me things like, "I leaned on my kids for emotional support after the divorce; I've been needy with them, instead of being their mom." 

It takes tremendous courage to face painful truths and not back away from them. What can't be faced generally can't be resolved. 

Understanding the “Why” of your child’s decision to cut ties is the only way to not only end the estrangement but heal the damage that caused it in the first place.

But it’s excruciating.

Hence, understanding the reasons behind an estrangement is not a task that all parents who enter this stage will necessarily take on or complete. Some will decide they’re done with trying.

For others, the growth inherent in this stage lends them the strength they need to persevere. With appropriate boundaries, patience and self-care, they embark on a thoughtful, measured and responsive campaign for a new relationship with their child.

Many who make responsible repair attempts during this stage will be successful.

At some point, they’ll experience the fifth and final stage of estrangement: Maintenance. We’ll look at that stage next month.