There are multiple reasons adult children might resent or have anger toward their parents. Adult children having strained relationships with their parents is a common issue. Parents and adult children often have problems relating, often due to unresolved childhood conflicts, such as a parent favoring or disfavoring one child over another, or clashes in values and beliefs.
Other childhood issues that lead to anger in adulthood include abuse, neglect, and abandonment. The result of these traumas is emotional and psychological distress. Having the support of a mental health professional is often the most strategic and productive way to meet unmet needs and resolve this inner burden.
How Does Harboring Anger Toward a Parent Affect Mental Health?
A life of emotional imbalance and disharmony with oneself are the outcomes of holding onto anger toward a parent. In the context of child development and parental relationships, not having a proper view of self can lead to unrealistic expectations in interpersonal relationships and other aspects of life.
Underlying memories and attitudes that aren’t dealt with often trigger anger and resentment, reinforcing strained relationships with parents. In the face of crisis or trauma-related incidents, people can become less resilient due to lack of proper sense of self, leading to confusion and further resentment in parent-child relationships.
People living with anger are less resilient in the face of life stressors and daily living. For adult children living with anger, clear indications of these deep-seated sentiments are repeated failed relationships, fear of taking healthy risks for development and growth, and poor parent-child engagement with their own children.
Issues That Can Lead to Anger at Parents in Adulthood
There are several circumstances that could lead to anger at your parents as an adult, including being neglected or abandoned; estrangement from parents; experiencing a loss (including more disenfranchised losses, like when a family moves multiple times during childhood); or boundary issues, such as too many rules, or too few.
Neglect & Abandonment
Research indicates that women having difficulty with their spouse or partner can be linked to unresolved issues with their father, stemming from abandonment or neglect.1
Neglect is associated with decreased well-being from childhood to adulthood. Neglect results in feelings of unimportance or disregard. Operating from this place tends to lead to “people pleasing” or overachieving. When objectives are not met in these contexts, this seeming lack triggers anger and resentment leading to inner conflict and disharmony.
Loss varies for each person much like the experience of grief. Adult children who experienced loss of friendships in early years due to family disruption or loss of relatives tend to have anger and resentment towards their parents if the loss is not properly addressed—particularly in families with many siblings.
This results in adult children not knowing how to validate their own needs or how to express their needs in a healthy way. Experiencing losses such as employment, intimate relationships, or repeated patterns of loss of friendships, such as from moving a lot growing up, triggers and reinforces this anger and resentment.
“Just how many times must I keep apologizing?” is the sentiment of many parents with adult children. Adult children tend to have more conflicts with their mothers compared with their fathers.2 This can produce extreme emotional distance, physical avoidance, and ambivalence toward the mother. Estrangement is the name of the game—a game in which no one wins.
Primary reasons for estrangement are when adult children no longer subscribe to cultural or societal norms as established by their parents. Adult children tend to experience harsh criticism or withdrawal of support from parents, particularly mothers with their daughters.3
This is an attempt to bring adult children back into “compliance” of family norms. Cultural norms include issues ranging from an adult child’s career choice, to if or when they should have children, to what type of curtain they should hang in their living room.
Religion is also a frequent point of tension for families. Adult children may be chided or estranged for not continuing the practice of the religion or spiritual expressions that were taught in their home.
Enmeshment & Boundary Issues
Families that have enmeshed boundaries can impact adult children as they seek to break cultural norms and customs. One of the main issues is the perceived closeness or disconnectedness of a maternal figure which affects adult children’s psychological well-being, especially those in mid-life. Many adult children experience higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms if one is perceived to be either the closest to the mother or the one the mother is most disappointed with.3
3 Ways to Let Go of Anger
Rather than allowing a resentful mindset to rob you of a fulfilled life, here’s how to move on from being resentful and angry at your parents and learn to control your anger:
1. Find a Safe Space to Process
Start with getting in a quiet and safe place, slowing down long enough to notice the thoughts and emotions that overwhelm you. This may be challenging for some; however, identifying what you’re thinking and feeling allows you to expose and release the weight of your inner experiences.
Journaling can be a great way to process these feelings, as can having a safe person with which to process. This is where seeking a mental health professional can be helpful. Depending on your specific situation, you may want to find a personal therapist, couples or family therapist, or someone who is trauma-informed.
You may also consider finding a support group, where you can process with other people who have had similar experiences. These can often be found in-person or online.
2. Ask Yourself Important Questions
You may consider starting important questions with how or what rather than why.Why tends to lead to being judgmental and overly-critical of yourself and others. Questions that include how and what opens up the possibility for genuine, non-judgmental exploration.
The questions might include:
- How do I feel when ___ happens?
- What is the message I tell myself when ____ happens?
- What is important to me?
Listening to your thoughts and feeling the emotions that accompany them, and following up with respectful questions, allow you to pinpoint what your needs are. This could lead you to the following conclusions: “I need someone to listen,” “I notice I am hard on myself,” or “I need to set firm boundaries with my parents.”
3. Focus on Positive Self-Talk
The way you speak to yourself matters! The unconscious does not separate positive from negative—it simply operates on what is fed or instructed repeatedly. Writing positive statements and reading them out daily in your quiet and safe space reduces negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
This practice allows you to reframe your experiences and provides you with a better view and sense of self, giving you self-control over negative emotions when faced with adverse situations. Consider starting a gratitude journal that you write in every day to help you reframe your thoughts.
When to Get Professional Support
Living an unfulfilled or angry life takes a toll after a while and cannot be sustained. The impacts are compounded. The parents of adult children are said to face their own mental health deterioration given the emotional and physical distance as well.4 This, too, negatively impacts the overall family system, leading to a need for mental health support.
The need for support is a critical acknowledgement. Unresolved issues can be traumatic and impactful, potentially even turning into an abusive child/parent relationship. Consulting with a therapist can be helpful in moving forward, as a variety of interventions are available. Together, you and a therapist can create a plan that will be practical and measured to meet your needs.
Who Should I Consult for Help?
The type of therapist or the setting one chooses depends greatly on needs, priority of those needs, and cooperation between client and therapist. For example, people having marital or couple’s issues with unresolved trauma may need to start with individual therapy with a trauma-informed therapist before moving onto a marriage therapist, or vice versa depending on the needs and the level of personal or family disruption.
There are times when group counseling is appropriate for those who have already gone through individual therapy and perhaps need ongoing support and accountability. Types of support from group therapy include the ability to observe the stories and impacts of others, the sharing of one’s own experiences, and feedback to help support the changes one seeks.
A family therapist is another resource suggested for adult children and parents. In this setting, a family therapist joins the family and lends support to different family members to bring about functional communication in a family system. This is needed as some family systems have dysfunctional boundaries or ways of communicating, which oftentimes do not meet the needs of all the members involved. This can lead to stalled relationships, unresolved conflicts, and ongoing intergenerational dysfunction and disconnection.
There are some who prefer, still, the input of a spiritual person or connecting with a community of individuals that share in their commonality of spiritual expression. Research proves that including spirituality in psychotherapy can be beneficial. 5 Including the preferred expression of spirituality has been proven to reduce stress, increase positivity and optimism for individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, trauma, and terminal-illness. 5
How to Find a Therapist
Finding a therapist that is right for you does not need to be daunting. An easy place to start is by using an online directory where you can filter for therapists with the specialty you’re looking for. Or, it can be helpful to ask a trusted friend whom you know has sought therapy in the past, or reach out to your doctor for a referral.
It can be helpful to contact a few therapists based on your needs and interview them over the phone before scheduling an initial session; there are many therapists who offer free consultations. You may want to think about the questions you feel are important to you and have them ready to ask during the consultation so that you can determine what works for you and perhaps your family.
Living with anger and resentment takes away the opportunity of living a full and healthy life, however achieving personal harmony and stabilization is possible. Recognizing our narratives or stories help us to have proper perspectives on our daily living. This requires us to be in the present. You may not be able to make these changes on your own, but you are not weak for asking for help—you are taking responsibility to build a better future for yourself and your family.