Wondering how to handle gas lighting and deflection from your adult child via email? Your adult child is living over 1,000 miles away. It is your impression that your offspring has a full time job in a profession for which additional licenses and certification remain goals towards which there is (you believe) an active investment of time, energy and money. Intellectually, you trust your adult child is self-sufficient. Emotionally, something else tugs at your heart.
Intuitively connected, you feel uneasy about the journey. Choices along questionable paths selected over the past several years have been somewhat frightening, from your perspective. Recognition that we each travel a sacred journey provides solace - at times. More often than not, you lean on the love you share with your significant other to maintain emotional sanity, and pray each night in hopes of neutralizing anxiety enough to fall into a somewhat restful slumber.
After reaching out by phone, text, email and/or other social media venues, the final request is made: "Please don't call me unless there is a death in the family. I need space. I'm going to therapy to try to heal from the traumatic childhood that you forced upon me."
As a caring, loving parent, you review where you went wrong, what you said or did over the past two decades, where you might have erred; perhaps you even seek therapy yourself to see where you failed. Perhaps that therapist reassures you that you aren't losing your mind, and/or refers you to the "BPD.org" page to read about the Borderline Personality Disorder family. You begin to notice patterns of behavior in the description of 'bpd' that fit your situation. Then you realize something else: you missed the allergic shiners under your child's eyes. There were food allergies throughout the childhood that went unaddressed. Could the strange behavior be related to heavy metal toxicity or food allergies? Things may or may not begin to make sense - but your adult child resists the outreach, so you have not way to share your ideas.
Soon you learn that family members with whom your nuclear family shared almost every holiday, friends who know and love you and your children, and even the cousins and your other children (siblings of) - are all being avoided by your adult child. You feel increasingly uneasy. Despite reassurance that the imagination of that adult child must be wild, your self-tormenting continues. You try to accept the reality that your children are seeds that blew into your meadow of life and all travel a sacred journey, but soon the anxiety returns. You fear for your child.
You must learn to embrace that this piece of life's journey is out of your control.
You begin to entertain the thought: maybe my child is a caterpillar and I'm a butterfly. Maybe this metamorphosis will just take time. Suddenly you think: but what if I'm a fish and my child is a tadpole, accidentally raised 'as if' . . . but destined to climb the bank to live a life of fresh air while I'm left here to swim and breathe water - which can't sustain the life of a frog? Your imagination runs away with your sanity . . . until you take a deep breath - because that's what the therapist taught you to do when you had thousands of simultaneous thoughts like these. You calm down, for the moment, until the next email.
Initially delighted your adult child is reaching out, you become aware that there is distance maintained - by your adult child, from you as well as other family members and lifelong friends.
In the present email, it occurs to you that you are being roped in by your adult child, by an inappropriate request for your intervention as a third party - a role identified (in the past) by this adult child as dysfunctional; behavior you have been working to dissolve. Instinctively, you want to help; however, in addition to the aforementioned, the present email makes clear it is a request that you become involved in forwarding a gift - promised to this adult child, by a family member your adult child currently avoids. Note: the 'third party' with whom the adult child no longer communicates, but from whom the gift is desired, happens to love that adult child unconditionally - and also awaits appropriate responses to partially addressed, then totally ignored emails sent by that person to your adult child
"What?" you wonder. "How can this be? My adult child used to take pride in never accepting a gift from anyone unless there was a shared positive vibration." You wonder, "What's going on?"
Thoughts of 'borderline personality disorder' repeat - and you wonder how to handle it. You decide to respond with an email response to inquire - mindful that you need to leave no room for the familiar deflection and gas lighting, mixed messages and contradictions of the most recent communication. Your words are carefully chosen to remind your adult child of the true spirit from which dysfunctional communication seems to be distracting.
Your first draft may look something like this:
"Dear [ Adult Child's Name ],
This email is very long. [This prepares the reader for what is yet to come]
First, I continue to
Now, I will address your email & respectfully request that you fully address mine (past, present & future). I would appreciate you bringing to my attention when/if I fail to do the same. [The above clarifies your position; that is, you seek honest, clear communication]
In my last email, I asked a few questions. It seems to me I received only partial answers. (Perhaps this is just another example of how you & I each feel unheard by the other. If this is so, my offer stands: I will make time to speak with you & your choice of a well-educated, licensed, certified, impartial mental health professional as a third party to facilitate our communication & your healing). [This opens up lines of communication]
- Please understand my need to address all your points as thoroughly as I can.
- I will do my best to organize it and I completely understand if you can't get to it right away because of your busy schedule. [This reflects consideration of your adult child's priorities; specifically, there may be a full plate & you realize you are likely not on it]
Your last email states [ (1) directly quote your adult child from that communication; then ask clear, direct questions without using manipulation i.e. shame or guilt, to seek clarification regarding disconnects between those statements and later statements and/or actions. (2) avoid becoming the 'go-between by gently redirecting the adult child back to the other person. This can be accomplished by the following statement (below) ]:
I find it helpful to maintain a 1:1 communication rule with the exception of involving an impartial, licensed, certified mental health professional as a third party to facilitate communication and healing. [This restates your goal & sets healthy boundaries for communication]
As you may recall, remaining OUT of other people's relationships has been a goal of mine for quite some time. I felt you ignored it in your initial request by asking me to become involved with [state name of person] and the gift you request. (Again, this may be misinterpretation/ inaccurate hearing on my part - which suggests we might benefit from inviting a qualified, impartial mental health provider to facilitate). [This seeks clarification, shows you accept & own responsibility, and offers guidelines for next steps]
My actions to honor your request: [ Here you list whatever you did to honor that request - if you did anything at all)].
I'm VERY interested in your thoughts about the points above. [ This indicates your interest in sharing & understanding; opening communication. This counters the possible feelings of abandonment that your adult child might feel].
So, here is where it seems we have arrived:
(1) Ball is in your court to arrange any gift from [. . . name the second party with whom your adult child requested you become third party in communication] you are willing to accept/ she/he is willing to give
(2) Regarding the [ name the gift items/ dollar amount, etc.] this is my last email. The topic is now between you and [ name the second party. This sets a healthy boundary going forward]
(3) I remain eager to reestablish the love & respect you & I once mutually shared; I still and always will feel unconditional love for & acceptance of you & your true spirit. [Reassurance to counter any feeling of abandonment the adult child might use to distract from self-reflection]
(4) I love you & hope you stay true to your spirit (i.e. avoiding enablers, not permitting disrespect of self or others, not permitting others to take advantage of you; embracing wisdom & continuing to heal & grow, dissolving distractions so you can fully embrace your truth) [This clearly states your expectations; clarifies that 'villain/victim/savior' scenarios are not acceptable; encourages self-reflection rather than self-distraction]
As your parent I feel when you, my flesh & blood, truly deeply dissolve distractions. [State this only if it is true] I pray for the day you dissolve ALL distractions. I will know once you do not permit fear, shame, guilt and/or blame of self &/or others - past/ present/ future to distract from YOUR centered peace & joy. [Discuss this with your therapist before including it]
Disrespect of self or others is not welcome; that in mind, you are invited to continue to test my growth whenever you wish. I am eager for the day, should the Universe grant this gift, you share with me the healthy coping & healing skills that help you to honestly embrace the centering peace & joy nourished by self-love & self-respect.
Self-love and respect are different from 'entitlement'. The first nourishes inner-peace, maturity, 'the next level' joy and growth; the latter (entitlement) breeds envy, anger, resentment, bitterness, & seeks to blame.
I wish you healing, all the gifts that healing brings, and all the beauty life has to offer.
Hugs, love and blessings,
(your position: mom/ dad/ aunt/ uncle . . . )
Once you send the email, take a deep breath, try to embrace the blessings you do have, recognize you are not alone, and consider making an appointment to discuss this entire encounter with your trusted mental health provider. Wishing you gratitude and joy. ~ Dr. Iankowitz
(this is a 15-minute read)