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Boundaries, Family Estrangement and Disownment

Community Member


I was recently confronted by my father for the personal boundaries I had put in place to protect my children and myself from my mother, who I believe suffers from undiagnosed borderline personality disorder. While I am understanding and accept her for who she is because she had a very traumatic childhood, I am not willing to allow her to emotionally and psychologically manipulate and abuse my kids (fighting and screaming with my father in front of them, swearing in front of them and trying to play favourites between them). As a result of these boundaries, I have become emotionally distant from my parents, do not allow my children to be with their grandparents alone, and we do not visit their home as they have made it clear that we are not welcomed.

My parents see this as a grave insult for the life sacrifices they have made for me; accused me of being ungrateful, and disagreed that their behaviour is harmful. They have used their older age (50s and 60s) and their culture as reasons to ask if they deserve to be treated like strangers and criminals. Long story short, I told them that my children need to be protected and that if I had to choose, I choose my children over them. They believe I chose myself and "my way" of doing things.

At the end of the conversation, my father told me that every choice has a consequence, and that the consequences of my choice means that we are now strangers. He doesn't feel that "strangers should benefit" from the financial success that he and my mother built together, and we can now be "exes" and should only communicate on a "need-to" basis. He emphasized that he was not using money to manipulate me, but has no other choice and believes that this is the normal "human response". He also added that should he or my mother pass away, that they will not inform me and I will not need to attend their funeral. I told him that he had a right to his decisions, but my door was always open if they changed their minds and want to get help (family therapy).

Obviously this has been a very distressing event for me but I want to know, what happens now? How can I respond in a loving way when I feel so betrayed and angry? Did they HAVE to do this? Was I wrong in setting boundaries? Why can't they hear me? Is it better now that my parents have disowned me? Why bring up the fact that they wouldn't tell me if they passed away? Is this another manipulative abusive tactic? What is the best thing to do?

Thanking you in advance.

12 Replies 12

Champion Alumni
Champion Alumni

Hi spaceboots,

Relationships can be difficult to deal with. If your mother does have Borderline Personality Disorder, than her way of looking at life and how things should be may well be very different from your own.

As a person diagnosed with BPD, Depression, Anxiety and stress issues, I do know how easy it is to take matters to heart, to misconstrue what has been said and to turn everything into a catastrophe at times because my mind is so confused.

Maybe your parents do not acknowledge they have done anything wrong and their expectations are that you should act and behave as they suggest and not as you have chosen. It seems you have set boundaries and so have they.

If you do desire to have some kind of a relationship with your parents, you may need to work on finding a resolution, a happy medium, a settlement of choices somehow.

We all have a right to be heard, have our values and beliefs considered and respected. When they are so different it can cause issues.

Maybe Relationships Australia might have some options for you.

Do you have siblings or even Aunts and Uncles you could discuss this issue with?

It may be difficult to change your parent's minds now they have come up with this course of action. They obviously believe this is their only option at present.

Maybe in time, they may be open to communicating and sorting this issue out.

Wishing you all the best, from Dools

Hi Dools,

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my post. Thanks for the encouraging words too - I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what Borderline Personality Disorder is (reading books, listening to podcasts and watching videos) in order to better understand my mother. I do hope that whatever happens, that she gets the help she needs to feel peace, whether my parents choose to reconnect with me or not.

Thanks for sharing the recommendation to seek out Relationships Australia too, and I will discuss this issue with another sibling of mine who has also been disowned. Seems like a common theme in our family, as my parents have also cut off relationships with a lot of other family members... Thanks for the well wishes, I will keep striving on.

Cheers, SB.

Dear SB

Welcome to the forum and thanks for your thread. As Dools has said it is difficult for someone with BPD to see the world in the same way as others. It sounds as though your parents have become used to living in the way they do and see it as normal which of course makes it difficult to see or hear a different conversation from someone else. As you were brought up in this situation and were part of this family life it must be a huge shock to find that you do not want this life for your family. I can imagine how they will take this personally and be unaware of the implications of both their actions and yours.

BPD is difficult to understand I think. Not that any mental illness is easy to understand unless you have personal knowledge but I think this is one of the more difficult. It does rely on the person with that condition having some insight into their own behaviour and its effects on others. I think when your mom was young there was very little information available and probably few mental health professionals with skills to help so your mom has had to struggle along by herself and take the steps she thinks proper to give her some control over her life.

I do feel sad for her as she must have had a painful life always being on the defensive and wanting to be happy in the ways she has seen the happiness of others. It is cruel. However it does not give her the right to abuse others especially her grandchildren. I think she would need to see a psychiatrist to get some good help and I do not like your chances of getting her there. I think all you can do is to be as loving as possible without allowing her, or your father, to overstep the boundaries.

Your dad seems to have identified with your mom or at least his sense of loyalties means he should take her side. It is unfortunate. Cutting ties with you and your sibling and other family members sounds about par for the course. It is the only option left when you, and others, set boundaries and mom and dad refuse to admit you are being reasonable. Finding a middle ground can then be very hard. I must congratulate you on making your response very firm and clear and acknowledging your father's right to his own opinion. I think this is the reason he cannot see/hear what you are saying. Throwing in that you will not be informed of the death of either parent I feel is the last ditch effort to get you to see reason, his reason. On the lines of "You'll be sorry when I'm gone".

I will write more if that's OK.


Community Member

Hi Spaceboots

I'm sorry that you are experiencing this situation. It is complex. Your parents likely come from a time when family dynamics and especially mental health issues were not openly discussed - in their mind they are your parents and they command respect and are free to behave as they always have. I understand this as I have a similar situation with my father's domestic violence and abuse which my mother enabled by virtue of never confronting it and allowing it to happen. When my children came along I mistakenly thought my father may be different but he wasn't - he hit my mother in front of my daughter and swore at her and my mother told my daughter not to tell me about it - she was afraid I wouldn't let her see my daughters any more. My daughter told me and I confronted my mother and she just blew it off. I realised then I needed to protect my daughters from them both. Like yourself hard decisions and boundaries had to be set. This wasn't easy and involved periods of little contact, blow ups and then finally a status quo that myself or my husband were around when they were with my daughters - no more sleepovers or outings alone.

Your father is reacting as he likely always has done and your mother is acting as she has always done. It is you that has changed. This means that perhaps you need to alter your expectations of them as it is unlikely at their ages they are going to willingly change or see reason (as you say they have a history of estrangement with family).

Perhaps take some time and then when comfortable attempt contact and work towards supervised visits with your daughter. It is really tough but during that time at the first whiff of the behaviour you then find an excuse to exit the situation politely so that impact is minimised on you and your daughter. The intention is to find a status quo for all of you and it will likely be you that will need to manage this situation as I do not see how they can or will change when they are unable to understand and just keep behaving as they always have/do hence the remarks. You may need to speak to a professional about how you can protect yourself and manage the feelings you may experience. I know that I benefited very much from obtaining professional support at my lowest point when it all seems so manipulative, contrived and overwhelming.

Small steps. Good luck.

Hi Mary,

Thank you for your warm welcome to the forum, and for taking the time to respond so kindly. There is a huge stigma associated with mental illness in my culture, along with the experience of fear, shame and dishonour you might bring to your family should you acknowledge this defect in yourself. I remember telling my parents when I was first diagnosed with clinical depression many years ago, and their response was that I was the one who was choosing to be “depressed”, that there was no such thing, that it was a lack of my personal faith and the ‘spirit of depression’ that was affecting me instead. I guess it doesn’t help that my parents are deeply religious.

I can accept that my parents are unaware of their own abusive behaviour based on their culture and upbringing, but I cannot accept their unwillingness and complete denial of how inappropriate fighting, screaming, swearing, and emotional/psychological manipulation is for young children! Their OWN grandchildren. If they know better, why not choose to do better? Why not choose to learn and grow? Why does it need to be the way they want, just because it’s the way it’s always been? I can’t wrap my head around that.

Yes, you are absolutely right in saying that my father has identified with my mother, and that he has taken her side. He has told me that they are one – which is how it should be, but what they are asking of me, is to sacrifice my own children’s future wellbeing for their current state of happiness. Telling me that they are not happy with my boundaries because boundaries are hurtful to them. I feel so hurt that they think so little of me, that some promise of financial inheritance and using their death is the only way they will get me to bend my knee. Sorry if I am rambling. I’m just having a hard time dealing with this. Please feel free to write more.

Thanks, SB.

Hi Sad Otter,

Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my post. I am so sorry to hear you have a similar situation. It is sad for everyone involved. Like you, I set boundaries – but I have been told that my boundaries are unacceptable. My mother asked my children (in front of me) to take them on holiday by themselves with her – I said no, and her response was “I would take you, but mummy said no.” She has paraded my children when they were babies to random strangers eating in restaurants and people in parks, has lied about her whereabouts and time of return when she took my child out for a few hours, and constantly competes with me for my children’s affection saying things like “do you want me or mummy?” I always invite my parents to be a part of our family’s birthday celebrations, Christmas and special events, but their excuses were “I’m not coming if the food isn’t good” (e.g. sandwiches and fruit and dip), “it’s too hot today” and “we may or may not come, we’ll see how we feel”. My home has always been open to them and they can visit anytime we are home, they just prefer not to come because they always want to have the children alone, unsupervised.

You have revealed something that I hadn’t quite thought of – about how much I have changed. Did you ever have an open conversation with your parents? About what your expectations were, or theirs? Did they seem respectful or able to listen? My father pretty much told me that it was either I let them have what they want and how they want it or be disowned. There was no offer of a compromise, no offer of discussion or managing expectations or even coming up with a plan together. It was also the first time I heard that they were unhappy with how things were going. I feel like my parents had resolved themselves to cutting me off – which is fine as they have every right to, but it still hurts. Thank you for being a voice of reason, and for the wise advice to seek professional help. I am going to see someone as soon as possible. Thank you, thank you.

P.S. I think otters are such adorable and happy critters. Definitely one of my favs! Hugs.

Hello SB

It is a very sad and difficult situation for you and the whole family I suspect. Of course you are hurt by their behaviour just as you were hurt as a child witnessing the same behaviour. You could not protest then and I wonder if in some way this has caused some confusion in your parents. "Why are you choosing to act differently now? You were happy as a child." Logically, when you were a child there was not much you could do. That is of course why parents need to be vigilant about their and others behaviour. But this is not about logic or common sense. It's all about your parents expectation of life continuing in the way it always has compounded by a mental illness or at the very least by cultural expectations of gratitude, keeping a united front, preserving the status quo. Nothing logical in that.

Please check out with a mental health professional if your mom has BPD and in the meantime act on the presented behaviours. It may be a different problem and it may be something you can affect. I don't know. Can you focus on the those things you do not want for your children. I have seen other situations where one (untrained) person makes an incorrect diagnosis and starts a chain reaction which can be disastrous.

I see you are going to talk to a professional person and I think that's great. You are hurt and angry and I feel I would be the same. Can you try to keep the conversation factual? Not easy. Your hurts want recognition which is fair enough. Try to not let the hurts take over the conversation although I would expect any mental health professional will be able to guide you through what is bound to be a minefield. What do you want to get out of this conversation? It's useful to have an idea of what you want before you start. The psych may well ask you that.

You are struggling to understand why your parents cannot change their behaviour. They cannot see their behaviour is wrong or harmful. I think it is as simple as that, though perhaps simple is not the right word. Amazingly someone can go through life hurting others and themselves in the process and yet not see how they have contributed to the whole mess. I think the only security your parents have is being blind to the situation because to admit their faults would be far too devastating. Ask the psych for help with managing this very volatile situation. At the very least for you to understand what is happening. Changing your parents ingrained habits I feel will be a step too far.


Hi Mary,

You are right in saying that it isn't about logic or common sense, it is about preserving the status quo, and when it is a parent - child relationship, that is possible. Not so much now that I'm grown and have a family of my own. It is also really difficult for my parents to respect me as an adult, especially when their culture is hierarchical and there are no exceptions at any given time. Age is the overriding factor, and they will always be older than me.

I have spoken with a few mental health professionals about whether or not my mother might have BPD - and they have all said that while they cannot diagnose her without seeing her personally, she exhibits many of the characteristics someone with BPD has. Either way, she says and does many damaging things, which is why it is so difficult to be around her.

Thanks for writing back, I was reeling for a few days - but I think I have found peace in this situation. I am now focusing on what is best for my children, and doing what I can for them. I know that I can not change my parents, and I don't want to. I love them, and I respect them for who they are, I am just unable to accept their abusive behaviour in my children's lives. They are too vulnerable and too precious for this cycle to continue any longer.


Community Member

Hi Mary

I think you have done the right thing to reach out and get support with this. So well done for that positive.

I grew up in a household where people often shouted and it was normal for a working class family. I live abroad in China for 6 months at a time and often people shout at each other. I can understand you are trying to protect your kids, but there is a danger of overreacting as well and I find this can happen in our society these days. People will lose their jobs over a bit of verbal anger. I'm not defending your father, just giving you a different perspective. One has to get the balance right.

Of course, it would all depend on the level of shouting or general aggression you are facing. But your father is indicating he feels hurt, by hurting you back. So either A. You are willing to carry this wound in order to set the boundaries you think are right for you, and clearly your relationship with your parents ends there forever. Or B. Want a relationship with your parents and are prepared to move to conflict resolution with them. B option requires professional assistance or a professional strategy.

But if you take option B, the first thing is to realise that conflict is normal and natural in a family. Then identify positive aspects of your relations with your father. Acknowledge that and then be very specific about what you don't like. If it is the shouting or raising of voices, then with a conflict resolution strategy, a professional counsellor or other assistance you can hone in on that issue. The problem in families is that issues get really layered and stacked. One problem has to be solved at a time but that can often be tricky.

But by cutting off the kids from your parents it ups the game and in retaliation, your father has upped the game. If you are going to have a relationship with them it will have to be boundaries that both sides are satisfied with. Clearly your father feels he is not being listened to and has taken a drastic step. That's pretty full on.

You have done the right thing reaching out to others and I hope it has been useful. There are some really useful conflict resolution strategies around. But when children get involved it can get very emotional and complex; competition for who knows best etc.

But, wouldn't it be in the kids best interests to have loving grand parents, and a mum who is at peace with her parents? If kids come first, then I think you will all come out ok.