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1 in 4 adults are estranged from family and paying psychological price

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02.12.2021
By Galit Atlas

Search "toxic parents" on Instagram, and you'll find more than 38,000 posts, largely urging young adults to cut ties with their families. The idea is to protect one's mental health from abusive parents. However, as a psychoanalyst, I've seen that trend in recent years become a way to manage conflicts in the family, and I have seen the steep toll estrangement takes on both sides of the divide. This is a self-help trend that creates much harm.

Research by Karl Pillemer, a family sociologist and professor of human development at Cornell University, indicates that one in four American adults have become estranged from their families. I believe that's an undercount, because others have stopped short of completely cutting off contact but have effectively severed the ties.

"Canceling" your parent can be seen as an extension of a larger cultural trend aimed at correcting imbalances in power and systemic inequality. Certainly the family is one system in which power has never been balanced. In 1933, the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi described this dynamic, warning that any asymmetry, even the simple indication that someone has more power than we do, can potentially be traumatic.

Today's social justice values respond to this reality, calling on us to censure oppressive........

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