Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Adult Child's Lived Experience In a Difficult Offspring-Parent Relationship

Katty Coffron, Fielding's School of Human & Organizational Development

This study examines the experiences of 12 adult children who have a difficult relationship with their parent. To be included in the study, relationship difficulties were required to be described as long-term, substantial, and intractable. This study adds to the adult attachment literature related to respect to sub-optimal attachment between mid-life adult children and their parents.

Solidarity, ambivalence, and attachment theoretical perspectives informed this study. Participants were asked to discuss how they perceive and experience the difficulties in the adulthood relationship with their parent, the choices they have made with respect to closeness and distance in the relationship, and how at peace they are with their choices in the relationship.

The researcher used semi-structured interview techniques, and the transcript analysis was performed with a primary goal of ensuring that the findings stayed close to the participants’ words. Thematic analysis techniques were used to identify themes across participant interviews.

With respect to difficulties, participants spoke about (a) specific difficult parental behaviors (critical/overbearing, rejecting, emotionally labile, and emotionally unavailable); (b) unmet attachment needs; (c) attachment injuries; and (d) co-creation of problems. With respect to coping, participants spoke about (a) attempting to talk to the parent about difficulties; (b) using physical and emotional distance to cope; and (c) learning to accept the self and the parent.

Findings provide strong evidence that most participants remained attached to their parent in adulthood, despite the difficult relationship. Clinical implications and opportunities for future research are offered.

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