How to Process Your Social Prodigal, Estrangement in Relationships

Estrangement in Relationships

Estrangement in relationships has reached such a crisis level in our society as to evoke the terms “epidemic, pandemic, phenomenon” to describe this new cultural development.

Rules of Estrangement
Rules of Estrangement

Rules of Estrangement

In his book, Rules of Estrangement – Why Adult Children Cut Ties & How to Heal the Conflict, Dr. Joshua Coleman speaks of the estrangement crisis affecting families. Coleman mainly addresses the relationship between parents and their estranged child, but he also grapples with how this estrangement affects siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren interactions.

Dr. Coleman brings a wealth of knowledge and experience based on his decades of practice as a psychologist. His own experience of estrangement with his daughter after divorce keeps this book from being another therapist speaking from head knowledge. Dr. Coleman adds a heart perspective to the estrangement conversation.

Dr. Coleman is not a Christian, so he does not offer a hope based on biblical principles, but his psychological perspective coupled with his personal experience does bring clarity and understanding to the cultural aspect of estrangement, opportunities for personal growth, and potential avenues for reconciliation with those estranged.

“People commonly think of estrangement: adult children with reasonable complaints who end contact because the relationship is too hurtful and disruptive.” ~Dr. Joshua Coleman

Love One Another

Estrangement by Children

Nowadays, “estrangement is often an attempt to reduce the hold that the parent continues to have over the adult child. However painful the separation, many adult children report that ending the relationship with the parent was the only way they could find to take control over their own lives.”

From this perspective, children are not ending their relationship with their parents because of abuse, neglect, or hurt, but because of the closeness of the parent-to-adult-child relationship.

The closeness leads the child to “wean” himself from the parents for a season to “find their individuality” separate from their parents. Sometimes this is done with healthy communication, but usually, it is done with criticisms and rejection as a way to distance themselves from a parent or both parents. This leads to self-reflection for all individuals involved in the estrangement.

While most estrangement centers on the children rejecting their parents, there are cases of the parents severing ties with their children.

Servant-Leadership Loves Others
Love People

Estrangement by Parents

I found it rather disconcerting to find parents seeking to sever their children financially from their wills because of “perceived slights” from their children when in reality their children were walking a normal route of growth and maturity.

“His loving distance seemed more like a normal and predictable lessening of availability: he had transitioned from being an available son to a loving and available husband and father.” ~Dr. Joshua Coleman

Parents cutting their children from their will because their child’s less availability hurt them seems controlling, manipulative, and abusive.

“Most people judge their situation not in light of what others had but in terms of what they once had with [their child].” ~Dr. Joshua Coleman


Pathways to Estrangement

Dr. Coleman lists the many pathways of estrangement:

  • Divorce
  • Toxic Daughter-in-Law or Son-in-Law
  • Mental Illness or Addictions in the Child
  • Therapist
  • Feeling Too Close to the Parent
  • Disagreements about Choices, Values, and Lifestyles

World Map

Estrangement in the Culture

Cultural perspective does affect our individual and family points of view. Our culture was once centered on God, the Bible, the Church, and the family as a unit of support. Today, our culture emphasizes self or self plus one. Our culture supports the breakup of the family.

“Emphasis on loyalty to the family unit has been replaced with the pursuit of individual fulfillment. Honor your father and mother has been replaced by the idea that family is who you make it.” ~Dr. Joshua Coleman

The positive aspect of this perspective brings forth personal growth and development and can rescue us from toxic family relationships. The negative aspect is this perspective can lead to anemic personal development and into the toxic arms of a significant other due to a skewed perspective or blind spots.

“Values that once prioritized the family – these include obligation, responsibility, loyalty – have been radically reconfigured to emphasize the happiness and well-being of the individual.” ~Dr. Joshua Coleman


Estrangement – Therapists Redefine Trauma

I do appreciate Dr. Coleman’s honesty in addressing the shift in modern therapists’ perspective on how they counsel the adult child, “the estrangement of a relationship with a family member as an expression of personal growth and achievement is almost certainly new.”

Our culture has “become so preoccupied with parents as the causal focus of life’s outcomes – and what is diagnosable, pathological, and traumatizing now encompasses so much of what should be considered normal, expectable parenting – that adult children may feel that they have a much bigger complaint than is fair to the parent regardless of the seriousness of the parental behaviors.”

“If I say that you abused, neglected, bullied, or traumatized me, then you did. As Haslam writes, evaluations about whether emotional abuse, trauma, or neglect occurred are today based on the child’s perception of that behavior, even if that behavior would look benign to an outside observer or exist independently of the parent’s intentions or emotions. It’s what I feel that matters.” ~Dr. Joshua Coleman

Because of Dr. Coleman’s experience of estrangement with his daughter after his divorce and remarriage, he brings the perspective of the injustice of estrangement and its incomprehensible demands on the soul.

“It’s absurd to blame your parent for not using parenting standards that didn’t exist when they were raising you. And hurting your feelings is not the same as abusing you.” ~Dr. Joshua Coleman

In my research, I have discovered the default of today’s therapist is to label the parents as narcissistic, advise complete estrangement, and install the therapist as the new authority figure in the child’s life. It is hard for me not to conclude that it is the therapist who is the narcissist!

Mr. & Mrs.
Mr. & Mrs.

Estrangement – Narcissism in Marriage

Many young people find themselves married to someone who demands complete allegiance to them. Any love or expressed commitment to their former families is experienced as treachery in their fragile ego of identity. This leads to cult-like demands, “Choose them or me.”

The former loving child leaves a loving home to embrace a fragile-ego person who demands full devotion to them. Unfortunately, this usually leads to estrangement from their family as the fragile-ego person must keep their new spouse under their complete control and isolated from differing viewpoints.

Ideological Estrangement
Ideological Estrangement

Ideological Estrangement

Dr. Dennis Prager is an author who writes intending to be a moral compass who inspires others to bring positive change in their society. He has earned a reputation as a moral critic of secularism.

In his 5-minute video, Prager addresses the pandemic of children’s refusal to speak to their parents. Prager states there are three primary reasons:

  1. The Rise of the Therapeutic Mentality
  2. Parental Alienation
  3. Ideological

In the Therapeutic Mentality, parental toxicity has given grounds for reciprocal child toxicity. And non-toxicity is still grounds for permission for toxicity by the therapist, especially if the therapist replaces the parent as the “new guide” in the child’s life.

In Parental Alienation, we see one parent alienating the children from the other parent, especially after a divorce.

In Ideological Alienation, we see a complete breakdown of common courtesy by agreeing to disagree about a subject – whether that subject is education, politics, relationships, or religion. The new toxic mentality in our culture encourages the termination of the relationship over any disagreement.


Intentional Love
Intentional Love

Estrangement Free – Healthy Relationships Agree to Disagree

Dr. Coleman and Dr. Prager both agree that the new estrangement advice is injurious to the mental health of individuals and detrimental to our families and our culture.

The truth is, no two human beings agree on everything. We must all agree [spouses, parents, children, friends, colleagues, neighbors] to disagree on some things as this gives room for individuality, creativity, and room for growth and development. To pass judgment on someone for their religious beliefs, political beliefs or educational beliefs is just asinine.

We must find common ground and at a minimum communicate in the area of our shared agreement to keep our families and our society from completely disintegrating.

“Our culture supports the breakup of the family.” ~Lisa Blair

It takes authenticity coupled with intentionality to maintain healthy relationships in our marriages, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our communities, and ultimately in our culture. Just as society has trickled down to affect us individually, what we choose does ripple outward from our hearts into society. Let us choose a life-giving perspective in our relationships.

Forgiveness through Christ
Forgiveness through Christ

Estrangement from a Life-Giving Perspective

Since the beginning of time, mankind has experienced estrangement. In His great mercy, God has extended to us the opportunity of reconciliation.

Opportunities for Reconciliation

  • God offers us reconciliation – let us choose to be reconciled to Him
  • We can extend grace to others – let us believe the best and give grace to others in their journey of growth and development
  • We can extend forgiveness to others – let us choose God’s path of forgiveness and reconciliation
  • We can refuse bitterness, resentment, and offense – even if others are holding grudges and refusing reconciliation
  • We can choose to bless and not curse – even if others are cursing, and falsely accusing us

Renew our Minds in His Words of Life

If it is possible, we are to choose reconciliation.

“So if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something [such as a grievance or legitimate complaint] against you, leave your offering there at the altar and go. First make peace with your brother, and then come and present your offering.” ~Matthew 5:23-24 AMP

“Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men.” ~Romans 12:17-18 WEB

If the offended party refuses reconciliation.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” ~Ephesians 4:29-32 NASB

Choose daily transformation in His Presence.

“Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:12 WEB

“And [Jesus] was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].” ~Luke 9:23 AMP

Let us choose to live the Jesus Way.


Offense – To Be or Not to Be is the Ultimate Choice – Strength with Dignity

How to Find God – Strength with Dignity


Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved.

Coleman, Joshua (PhD). Rules of Estrangement – Why Adult Children Cut Ties & How to Heal the Conflict. Harmony Books, eBook, 2020.

New American Standard Bible 1995 (NASB1995), copyright 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

World English Bible (WEB) by Public Domain. The name “World English Bible” is trademarked.

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8 thoughts on “How to Process Your Social Prodigal, Estrangement in Relationships”

  1. Thank you, Lisa for this comprehensive look at estrangement in relationships. As the mother of two prodigal adult children, this speaks deeply to me.

    1. Estrangement is such a heart wrenching experience, Donna! May the Lord comfort you and draw your two prodigals’ home. May you have a grace-filled Thanksgiving.

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