Detachment from Parents

Detachment from Parents
Sunday December 02, 2007

Dear Alice Miller and Barbara Rogers,

This is the fourth time I am writing to you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate and value your responses to my and everyone else’s letters on your website! I visit your site almost daily because it shows me that I am not alone in the struggle of overcoming the consequences of childhood abuse.

My wife and I have had a few discussions recently about the importance of detachment from our parents, triggered by conversations with her therapist. I started reading about Attachment Discorder (AD) caused by the absence of an atmosphere of security, comfort, reliabililty, predictability that primary caregivers SHOULD provide to their infants. Overall, this wasn’t really any different from your arguments in “The Drama of the Gifted Child”, except for the fact that this author used the term AD. My wife’s and my childhood experiences were obviously different, but we both had at least one extremely insecure, unpredictable, unresponsive, unreliable, and power-seeking parent that deprived us from developing a healthy attachment early in life. If my understanding is correct then healthy attachment in early childhood will lead to healthy detachment from the caregivers.

A quote in one of the articles I read ( really struck me. The author said: A faltering attachment will block the child from perceiving any sameness between herself and her family. This precludes experiencing any sense of belonging to the family (or anywhere else for that matter), leaving the child an “alien in an alien land”.

It struck me for it applies literally to my circumstances. I have been living on a different continent for almost 7 years now, and I know that this is not an accident. And, living in a foreign land, once again, makes me a stranger. I haven’t spoken to my divorced parents for 2 1/2 years now, and I don’t see that from ever changing. I know that distancing myself physically and emotionally from my parents was necessary to protect myself from them. But this fact also saddens me and sometimes it makes me feel depressed, because I am longing for a family that cares for me, supports me, encourages me, and loves me the way I am. I feel that I am longing for belonging, or better yet, the child in me feels this way. But the adult in me is realist enough to know that reconnecting with my parents will only hurt me more. My sister has taken my mum’s side which has negatively impacted my relationship with my sister (she has blamed my father for all the problems in our family and she cut ties only with him about 12 years ago), and my brother is dead (he died of lymphoma cancer at the age of 29), which, given all I know about my parents today, doesn’t surprise me anymore.

I guess, my question to you is what you think about the importance of detaching from abusive parents. What does it even mean to emotionally detach from them? And, if attachment has gone wrong early on, what does the process of detachment look like later in life?

Sincerely, M.

AM: It is correct and logical that if you didn’t have a good attachment as a child you will look for it your whole life in the hope that once you will get what you so painfully missed when you needed it most. Thus you can’t easily detach yourself and are waiting that your parents CHANGE, unless you have felt in your therapy how much you suffered because of your lack of attachment, and overcome this loss. Waiting for their change will only increase your dependency on your parents because usually they don’t change. And even if they did, you still need to feel and understand the pain of the SMALL, abandoned and hurt child you once were so that you can understand and resolve your plight of today. As an adult you don’t need abusive parents, not at all. Only in childhood there was no other choice.