Experts Reveal 3 Reasons A Parent Would Dismiss An Adult Child's Feelings

Here's why it feels like your parents are living a different shared history than you.

disbelieving older woman sits behind frustrated younger woman who has turned her back on the older woman fizkes / Shuttterstock

Imperfection is a part of humanity, show me a perfect person and I'll show you a scripted character who has no basis in reality.

As children, we often see parents as perfect heroes. Yet, in adulthood, the perfect veneers of our parents become worn away by the recognition of their mistakes, limitations, and the negative impact their choices had on our growth and development.

Like any other imperfect human, parents usually don't want to be confronted about their past poor choices, one way this can manifest is by the parent becoming dismissive of their adult children's emotions.


A parent can push their adult children away in different ways, from simply shrugging off your emotions to a complete revision of family history. Either way, their dismissiveness can cause you to pull away from communication with them.

The adult child shuts down communication out of frustration trying to confront the avoidant parent, and the heartbroken parent struggles to understand why their child is so hurt and angry when the parent remembers a very different story. Somewhere between the stonewalling and the gaslighting lies understanding and compassion, but it can be so difficult to find.

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We asked three YourTango experts to explain why a parent would become dismissive of their adult children's feelings:

1. Shame, remorse, and rewriting shared history

"Parents may have a hard time hearing their adult child express less than happy emotions about their upbringing. Negative emotions expressed by their adult children may trigger feelings of shame and remorse in the parent. It's difficult for a parent to hear that some childhood experiences were hurtful or traumatic for their children. Many parents have "rewritten" family history to make it fit the narrative of success and to reduce any perceivable dysfunction. If a parent has done this, they might seek to suppress or dismiss their adult child's emotions".

— Mary Kay Cocharo, licensed marriage and family therapist

2. Criticism, shadows, and guilt

"Parents can feel extremely sensitive to their adult child's emotions and take them as criticism of their parenting style. The parent may also have difficulty expressing or receiving expressions of strong emotions. They may withdraw, or try to bring the conversation to a quick close because they cannot personally deal with strong emotions. Elder parents are often unwilling or unable to tolerate any shadows over their lives and instead may want interactions to remain polite and predictable.

The more fragile they feel, the less prepared they are for heavy conversations. Parents carry the burden of guilt about how they raised their children. Sometimes, they cannot accept being held accountable for their past choices and actions. or the dreadful mistakes they made (such as not protecting the child from predators or bullies, engaging in alcohol/drug abuse, and other terrible mistakes). "


Dr. Gloria Brame Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, Sexologist, Board certified by the American College of Sexologists

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3. Accountability, avoidance, and acknowledgment

"As a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, I have observed parents dismissing their adult children’s emotions because they feel responsible for causing those emotions. The emotions dismissed are most often negative, or difficult emotions to process. Parents often have difficulties admitting their actions, words, or parenting style may have not been effective or even worse, caused harm.

"I encourage the adult child to approach the topic by acknowledging their parent’s limitations. Sometimes, parents do not have the strength to hear they have caused their child pain or triggered negative emotions. The parent feels they can't help, fix or nurture the child so they dismiss or minimize the emotion. If that is the situation, the adult child needs to work through and release the emotions on their own and not by seeking what their parent is unable to give. Being aware of the triggers moving forward will empower the adult child to learn emotional regulation and not need parental acknowledgment.


"Forgiveness, compassion, giving the benefit of the doubt, and focusing on what you like about your parent will be the keys to maintaining a relationship with a parent who dismisses and is uncomfortable with expressing emotions. Finding non-triggering neutral topics to talk about is effective to not aggravate, become estranged from, or end the relationship entirely. Seeking help can be very beneficial as well."

Dr. Susan Pazak, Clinical Psychologist & Relationship Expert

Unraveling the emotional knots of parental dismissiveness can be an exercise in futility leading to estrangement, or it might open the door to a closer more compassionate relationship. Often, the choice of which path forward to take is left to the adult child who must compare the painful memories of the past the value of future connection with their parent.


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Will Curtis is an associate editor for Yourtango.