How Adults Can Get the Distance They Need from Toxic Families

Adults Can Distance Need Toxic Families

Strategies that adult children employ to find and maintain a satisfying distance from their toxic families include

  • Decreasing meaningful contact,
    reducing the amount of contact,
  • Moving and staying away,
  • Decreasing feeling for each other,
  • And increasing their negative feelings and holding onto them.
  • Others limit or curtail the effort they put into the relationship,
  • And some even take legal action to dissolve any remaining official ties between them.

Hurt and hateful feelings serve a purpose for these adult children, enabling them to resist renewed attempts at reconciliation and protecting them from reentering abusive relationships with their parents. “By speaking their parents out of the family, they speak a new family into being,” said the author of the study.

One interesting and seemingly counterintuitive finding in the research was that adult kids who didn’t talk with their parents frequently didn’t necessarily have the worst quality communication; sometimes, the distance made it easier to feel closer to them.

Read: Dealing with Toxic Family Members: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

And while ignoring role expectations and reducing relationship effort was easier after moving away, many study participants reported that moving away was easier than staying away.

Some said the most effective way to reduce the effect that parents’ actions had on their own emotional well-being was refusing to take responsibility for their parents’ actions and focusing on their own lives instead.

All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, which explains why one person’s experience of family distancing is different from someone else’s. By contextualizing estrangement as a dynamic, rather than a fixed event in family functioning, the research points the way to the possibility of reconciliation, or at least rapprochement, on both sides of the generation gap.


[1] Conti, R.P. (2015)” Family Estrangement: Establishing a prevalence rate.”Communications Research, 1-29 Journal of Psychology & Behavioral Science,3, 28-35
[2] Scharp, Kristina M.,” You’re Not Welcome Here: A Grounded Theory of Family Distancing,”. Communication Research 1-29

Written by Jane Adams
Writer, coach and social psychologist

How Adults Can Get the Distance They Need from Toxic Families
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How Adults Can Get the Distance They Need from Toxic Families
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Jane Adams

Writer,Coach & Social Psychologist.Jane Adams has been researching and reporting on how American families respond to social change for over three decades. A graduate of Smith College, she studied at the Seattle Psychoanalytic Association and the Washington (DC) Psychoanalytic Foundation and has published 13 books and over 100 essays, articles and columns in  national magazines and newspapers including the New York Times.View Author posts