Parents cut off contact

Curious if anyone has experienced parents cutting off contact entirely with the rest of the family to hide an adult child’s MI? situation is parents entirely cutting off contact with their other children/my siblings/me, as well as all other grandchildren. Also have cut off contact with their own siblings (my aunts and uncles). The cut off was abrupt - for reasons won’t go into here it appeared that some kind of “event” had happened but we don’t know what it was. Unclear where our sibling’s child lives now (there is an ex) and no one in the family hears from my sibling. Except every once in a while a distant relative will come through town that knows little of family dynamics and does see my parents, our sibling and child for an hour or two. This may happen maybe at most 1x/year. So we know they are alive. But all the closer relatives that the child knew when younger have been entirely cut out of the child’s life. Sibling has not worked for years and has been supported to an extraordinary extent both money-wise and everything else. There were MI signs in our sibling, including what we think was psychosis, when all of us were part of their lives but parental denial was extensive (I.e., mental illness doesn’t exist in our family) and level of enabling was astonishing. SZ, we found out, runs in the extended family fairly extensively (but was always kept a secret). Curious if anyone has experienced something similar? Oh, and the natural question why not check on them? We did in the beginning - many, many attempts by many family members. The message to stay away was very strong and deeply hurtful. We all learned our lesson. There is lots more to this story but hopefully this provides a picture. We worry about our parents a lot, esp in terms of the future. Maybe all is well & they just hate all of us for reasons unknown, but the cutting off is so extensive that we (siblings and extended family) all worry that something is terribly wrong in their lives. Not sure exactly why I am posting as there isn’t really anything we can do. The level of hurt is something all of us live with and it doesn’t seem like this pattern is a common one in general - but maybe it is when trying to hide something like SZ? I guess it would be nice to know that this story isn’t the only one out there (although I hope for others hearts it is, as this is a level of hurt that will live for generations—other grandchildren have been devastated at the discard of them by grandparents that at one time seemed to love them).

Welcome to the site @MtnMan and I am so sorry that this situation exists in your family. I have never experienced something like this and can’t offer anything but hope that this changes for your family some time in the future.

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The stigma of SMI is sometimes so strong that people decides to hide. I can only imagine what they are going through. Still, the total withdrawal is strange and wonder if it is happening to more than one person. Hopefully they will reach out at some point. Have you tried writing them a letter?


Yes we have all tried - many many letters, emails, texts, presents, etc. For simplicity’s sake I said “no contact” as I didn’t want to write a novel. To be clearer, our parents sometimes do respond to us (their other children) or their own siblings (my aunt and uncle) but with very distant sporadic “vanilla” responses that provide no information and clearly aren’t inviting a response/continued dialogue. It’s a lot of people they have distanced themselves from and essentially cut off - as far as we can tell it’s really everyone whose relationship goes beyond just the bare surface level. With regard to our sibling, our sibling has all but vanished—there really is no communication, once in a rare while someone will get a one sentence text or email (like maybe once every 2 years). And no contact whatsoever with my sibling’s child and anyone save for those visits I mentioned in my original post. Basically All the people our parents used to regularly communicate with they have, for all intents and purposes, disengaged from. And our sibling is even more disconnected than they are. It’s really strange and extreme. It seems like the focus is on hiding something and not wanting any questions about their lives.

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Hi @MtnMan

Your post resonates with me.

My brother had been displaying symptoms most of his life and our family thought he was a rebellious teenager experimenting with drugs. My parents didn’t tell my extended family about my brother’s diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder when he was 25. My mom’s extended family are psychiatrists who had been guiding my parents for years, so obviously they knew, but my dad’s family did not.

My parents told me that they wanted to maintain my brother’s privacy and he could tell them if he wanted to. I think there’s an additional reason. Some of my dad’s family are not good people, full stop. I think my parents were trying to prevent them from meddling in my brother’s business, i.e. take advantage of a vulnerable person and convince my brother to give them money.

Notice I didn’t say all of my dad’s family deserved this censure. Since my parents died, my aunt (my dad’s sister) has worked hard to educate herself on schizoaffective disorder. Her comprehension of MI in general is limited, however. I think it’s been overwhelming for her and I think she’s grieving her nephew in her own way at her own pace.

Having a mentally ill family member carries a lot of shame and unfortunately not everyone is kind and supportive. I think @hopeisahead raises an interesting possibility-- Do you think more than one family member is struggling with MI currently? I know I have avoided asking for help or reaching out to specific people when I didn’t think they would understand or I expected them to be judgmental. Was your family otherwise close with each other?

I know this situation hurts and I’m sorry you’re going through it. Please feel free to reach out any time.

Hi @amf1987 thank you for your thoughtful response. My family was extremely dysfunctional growing up. As I have educated myself on MI, I have come to understand that my sibling may (most likely did) have some very serious mental health issues. Certainly by adulthood they would talk about not wanting to go outside, for example, because they were afraid that the people on the street were all talking about them and might be following them etc. Lots & lots of things like that. I could see shame being a very strong motivator for hiding since the idea of anyone having MI, much less SMI, absolutely wouldnt be tolerated. There are many family members my parents have cut off that have dealt with MI, some very serious MI, and are open about it and definitely wouldn’t judge. BUT, I think something more dramatic must of have happened as before our parents cut off contact with everyone, they just acted like all this behavior by my sibling was totally normal and no one ever questioned it. We knew better than to raise anything - esp something like MI! And they seem to happily (??) cater to my sibling’s every demand, which included a constant barrage (e.g., think like 15+ phone calls a day and a constant stream of texts with demands), not to mention financial support, house cleaning etc. So if we were all going along with it, why suddenly cut off contact? I worry after reading posts here that some event escalated to a point of being impossible to hide. Appearing as a happy family was always very important to them, even when everything was totally falling apart. So to be disengaged with everyone means that the best appearance they can manage now necessitates keeping everyone at a great distance. Makes me really concerned for their welfare in the future. What will happen when they are no longer able to care for my sibling?

I wonder if the other family members’ MI was too much reality staring your parents in the face, so they limited their exposure by cutting those family members off. It’s painful to think about, but I wonder if it had anything to do with self-preservation.

This facade of happiness, the constant effort to keep up appearances and catering to your sibling’s every need may be the only way your parents know how to cope. I would think that as parents, they may feel a sense of extreme duty to their ill child. They can’t cure him/her, but they will manage every aspect of his/her life for as long as they can.

I agree, something profound happened-- possibly a scenario where they didn’t have control anymore. It’s possible your sibling had an episode and someone outside the family got involved. Maybe law enforcement? Maybe your sibling needed to be hospitalized? They may be isolating themselves because they’re worried about how their family will react to whatever happened. How do you feel about writing to them again and expressing that you think something is wrong, and they don’t have to face this alone? They may not respond, but you’ve expressed that you care and you’re offering help and support if they want it. No harm, no foul.

Regarding future preparations for your sibling: Are you in the States? If so, your parents can look into establishing a Special Needs Trust. My parents set up one for my brother, and it has made all the difference.

@amf1987 thank you it is so comforting to hear your thoughts. Yes, we have wondered if some involvement of an outside entity that resulted in something long term took place. We got some “clues” with hints dropped that things were never going to be the same again, maybe 6 months before they really cut everyone out. Like sort of a warning goodbye? We didn’t quite see it at the time, but looking back at some emails/cards/things said now we do. There also seems to be suggestion that something terrible happened with the ex - perhaps resulting in a need for protection or hiding? It is all so mysterious. But the scenario of trying to cover up something shameful happening that has to do with sibling’s MI seems to make some sense. Our parents would dive into a shared delusion before admitting MI was in the picture, so something profound happening fits. Re: the future. I think financially things will be ok. But it is the interpersonal I wonder about. Do individuals who rely on others so much—are they ok with just money? Does money solve it? I know it helps, but things seemed so extensive when I was around. Constant texts, calls, but far more than that was ever changing demands—a plan was made then 5 min later it had to shift. And then again, and the again. All about making people jump through higher and higher hoops. One bar was met and right after another appeared. It seemed so over the top but at the time it just seemed like our parents worshiped the ground that our sibling walked on and just felt they were above having to do what the rest of the world does - like earn a living/work, clean house, be nice to others, and so on. I didn’t see it as MI. Maybe it isn’t, but as I have educated myself and realized what psychosis is and so on…it sure seems like MI is in the mix even if that isn’t the ultimate cause of their disengagement?

@MtnMan I’m so glad I can support you! It helps to discuss experiences. MI is insidious. It imbues every aspect of the victim’s life, their family’s life, their true friends’ lives. It helps to listen and be listened to. I always aim to provide a safe space.
Your question about interpersonal preparedness makes me think about a friend of mine who was diagnosed with bipolar II in her 20’s. Like my brother, she was most likely experiencing symptoms for much of her childhood, but the collapse of her parents’ marriage and family unit was the traumatic event that spurred her MI. Her father coming out was the reason for the divorce. Her mother decided to leave, but she didn’t stay in the tri-state area, she flew to CA the next day and didn’t see her children for more than a year. The mother remarried and that relationship ended in about 10 years or so. My friend was quite unwell by that point. Her mother moved to New York City to be with her and be a parent to her 20 years too late. My friend engages in the exact same behavior as your sibling. She has cycles of constantly texting and/or calling her mother. I’ve seen her mother drop whatever she was doing to run to her side at her apartment a few blocks away. There’s plenty of money in my friend’s family, but to answer your question, no, financial resources don’t solve the interpersonal issues and lack of social development. Finances don’t teach a MI person how to make friendships and keep them, why it feels good to clean your own room or how to find a hobby they truly love and develop a work ethic. I think the mother feels horribly guilty and she’s trying to make up for abandoning her child. However, her coddling of my friend, catering to her every need, solving all her problems, etc doesn’t encourage my friend to seek out her full potential, whatever that is, and it does her no favors when the mother is gone because my friend hasn’t been forced to grow up as much as she can. I’ve had to step back from our friendship for my own well-being. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a conversation we had about work, I believe. I don’t remember the exact exchange, but I remember her response to me was, “I don’t have to, I’m rich!” At that moment, I wondered if that attitude is part of her personality and something she can work on, or is it part of her illness? Either way, I made the difficult decision to distance myself because I had moved back to the States recently, was flat out broke (living with her mother temporarily) and was starting a job I didn’t exactly love but desperately needed. She couldn’t be the type of friend I needed, and I didn’t have the bandwidth to be patient with her. In a previous example, we had gone on a beach trip together one summer. Her coping mechanisms were non-existent, thus making her difficult to be on vacation with. She didn’t want to sit on the beach or go in the ocean. She didn’t want to go shopping, she didn’t want ice cream and barely ate because of her body dysmorphia, etc. I lost control and snapped at her, which I shouldn’t have done and apologized for. However, her behavior on that trip showed me where she is in her recovery. She sulked the entire train ride home. I don’t think my friend is allowed to feel consequence. She uses her illness to manipulate (in this case its especially easy because her mother is already guilty for having left her,) and hasn’t taken ownership of it. Rudderless and with her aging mother to use as a crutch, I worry about her inability to function if support isn’t available.

I would say yes, I think MI is definitely involved with your sibling. You mentioned your sibling’s paranoia about going outside in an earlier post, and now this observation of similar behavior from my friend regarding a lack of boundaries with communication and asking others of too much. It seemed as though my friends’ mother worked very hard to keep her daughter as emotionally balanced as possible, but that could easily be interrupted by basically anything that would send my friend rapid-cycling. It may be that I’m misunderstanding and that your parents and my friends’ mother are aware that they take on too much, but it’s all they can do to prevent a complete meltdown or catastrophe from occurring?

@amf1987 I don’t know if our parents feel guilty. They have a lot to feel guilty about but it’s hard to imagine their actions are out of guilt or remorse etc as those aren’t typical emotions for them. And they certainly seem to be able to discard their other children and grandchildren, not to mention other relatives etc, with great ease. It is helpful to know that those descriptions of our sibling’s behavior seem consistent with MI. We have wondered for a long time. Hopefully this won’t end up in disaster but it’s hard to imagine it won’t. And I worry a lot about my sibling’s child. That is the saddest part of all of this, a child who has been totally cut off from cousins and other family. Maybe everything will be fine, but there are days where I’ve really wondered if one day I’m going to get a call that someone has been seriously hurt or has been killed. Which is probably ridiculously overly dramatic, but the level of secrecy feels ominous and I get these terrible gut feelings sometimes about the whole situation. "