Seven Keys to Dealing with Estranged adult-children with mental illness

When a parent is faced with estrangement from their adult child who is also dealing with mental illness, it can be emotionally challenging and heartbreaking. However, it is important to equip yourself with the necessary skills to navigate this difficult journey and be prepared for the possibility of the relationship resuming. This article will explore seven key strategies to help you navigate estrangement and mental illness while maintaining your well-being.

  1. Decide to Create Boundaries: One of the first and most crucial steps in dealing with an estranged adult child with mental illness is to prioritize your well-being and safety. Recognize that setting boundaries that protect yourself emotionally and physically is necessary. It is okay to prioritize your needs and create distance if necessary. This decision does not reflect your love for your child but rather a way to care for yourself and establish healthy boundaries.

Creating boundaries might involve limiting communication or contact with your adult child until they are ready to engage more healthily. It can also mean establishing clear expectations regarding behavior and mutual respect. Remember that boundaries are a means of self-preservation and a way to maintain your mental and emotional well-being.

  1. Be Informed about Mental Illness: Educate yourself about your child’s mental illness. Understanding the nature of their condition will help you empathize and realize that their behavior is not a personal attack. Mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia, can greatly impact a person’s ability to regulate emotions and maintain stable relationships.

By educating yourself about your child’s mental illness, you can gain insights into the challenges they face and the limitations they may have. This knowledge will enable you to approach the situation with compassion, patience, and a deeper understanding of their struggles. It can also help you find appropriate resources and support for yourself and your child.

  1. Set Boundaries Around Unacceptable Behavior: If your adult child’s mental illness manifests in explosive angry behaviors or threatens your safety, it is crucial to establish clear boundaries. Communicate to them what behavior you will not accept in your presence. This boundary serves as a means of self-protection and reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship.

Setting boundaries around unacceptable behavior may involve clearly defining the consequences if those boundaries are violated. This can help establish a sense of accountability while emphasizing the need for a safe and nurturing environment. Communicating these boundaries calmly and assertively is essential, ensuring that your child understands your expectations while maintaining a compassionate approach.

  1. Commit to Support: Despite the estrangement, committing to supporting your adult child in ways that do not compromise your well-being is important. This could involve encouraging them to seek professional help, connecting them with appropriate resources, or participating in family therapy sessions. Your support should focus on their well-being while maintaining your boundaries and safety.

Supporting your adult child may also include engaging with mental health organizations, support groups, or online communities where you can find guidance and learn from others who have faced similar challenges. Recognize that providing support does not mean sacrificing your well-being, and it is essential to seek a balance between helping your child and caring for yourself.

  1. Enhance Communication Skills: Effective communication skills are crucial when dealing with an estranged adult child with mental illness. Practice clear and calm communication, respectfully expressing your expectations and boundaries. Open, honest, and compassionate dialogue can lay the foundation for a healthier relationship if and when it resumes.

When communicating with your adult child, listening to their concerns and validating their feelings is important. Instead, avoid blaming or judging them for their challenges and focus on understanding their perspective. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and concerns without attacking or criticizing them. This approach can foster a more open and productive conversation.

Additionally, be mindful of your non-verbal communication cues, such as body language and tone of voice. Aim to maintain a calm and non-confrontational demeanor, even during difficult conversations. Effective communication is a two-way street, so encourage your adult child to express their thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment or rejection.

  1. Seek Support: Managing the complexities of estrangement and mental illness requires support. Remember that you do not have to navigate this journey alone. Contact professionals such as coaches, therapists, or organizations like NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) for guidance and assistance. These resources can provide valuable insights, coping strategies, and emotional support.

In addition to seeking professional help, it is crucial to surround yourself with a supportive network of family and friends who understand your situation. Connect with others who have gone through similar experiences, as they can offer empathy, advice, and a sense of community. Sharing your feelings and concerns with others who can relate can provide comfort and reassurance during challenging times.

  1. Express Love and Validate their Experience: Even amid estrangement, letting your adult child know you love them and acknowledge their struggles is crucial. Express your love and support, reinforcing that your affection is unwavering. Validate their experience by expressing understanding and empathy. They need to know that you recognize their immense challenges and that your love for them remains steadfast.

Avoid making judgments or minimizing their feelings. Instead, listen actively and validate their emotions, even if you may not fully understand their experience. Show empathy and provide reassurance that you are there for them when they are ready to reconnect or seek help. This approach can help maintain a connection and lay the groundwork for a future reconciliation.


 Dealing with an estranged adult child struggling with mental illness is incredibly challenging. By implementing these seven key strategies, you can navigate the complexities of estrangement while prioritizing your well-being and safety. Remember that every situation is unique, and adapting these strategies to your specific circumstances is important.

Maintain hope for a healthier and more fulfilling relationship in the future, but also recognize that sometimes the relationship may not be possible due to the intensity of their emotional turmoil. Focus on caring for yourself, seeking support, and understanding that your well-being matters. With patience, understanding, and a commitment to self-care, you can find strength and resilience to navigate this difficult path.

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