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We Need to Talk About Joshua Coleman

Updated: Mar 26

“Some children, just by their nature, create a lot of parental error and heartache.” - Joshua Coleman

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Warning: This article includes distressing endorsements of mistreatment by a popular mental health professional and author and may be disturbing to some readers. Please check-in with yourself before continuing.

As a counselor who specializes in the mother wound, the father wound, and parent-child estrangement, people are always asking me for book recommendations that touch on these three topics.

Me: You mean I get to spend my days talking about feelings, parent-child relationships, AND books about feelings and parent-child relationships with amazing people?! Yes, please!

It’s literally my dream job. It’s also how I first came to learn about “estrangement expert” Joshua Coleman and his widely-read book Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict.

Don't Judge a Book by it's Reviews

At my first glance of the cover Rules of Estrangement seemed innocent enough. A psychologist shedding some much-needed light on the taboo of estrangement? Sign me up! As I turned the hardcover book over in my hands I even saw it was backed by some really big names in the estrangement field, which got me even more excited to dive in.

Bestselling author, relationship expert, and therapist Lori Gottlieb in her review calls it “a hopeful, comprehensive, and compassionate guide to navigating one of the most painful experiences for parents and their adult children alike.” I’ve read Gottlieb’s articles about parent-child estrangement in The Atlantic. Gottlieb wouldn’t endorse a book that harms the very people she says she wants to help, right?

Becca Bland, the founder of Stand Alone, an estrangement organization in the UK, describes Rules of Estrangement as a book that “offers excellent insights into the sociology and psychology of family relationships” and even goes so far as to say she would “recommend this book to anyone.” Bland wouldn’t sign off on a book that perpetuates abuse, right?

Lucy Blake, a well-known professor in children, young people, and families and estrangement researcher calls Rules of Estrangement “essential reading for anyone looking to gain insight and understanding on this topic.” She even says it, “explores the complexity of estrangement whilst extending kindness and compassion for all involved." Blake wouldn’t miss an author dehumanizing children of all ages, right?

After reading the book myself, I can’t help but recognize that Gottlieb, Bland, and Blake—three powerful people in the field of estrangement that I used to look up to—have all put their stamps of approval on an incredibly harmful book.

Of course the question in my mind was Why would they do this? Did Gottlieb, Bland, and Blake give glowing reviews to a book they never actually read? Or did they read the book and think the harm within its pages was somehow okay? I don’t know their answers, but what I do know is that as an estranged adult child myself and as an advocate for estranged children everywhere I’m looking forward to their answers and more importantly to their apologies.

In the meantime, I’ve pulled several problematic quotes from Rules of Estrangement to share and discuss here. It is my sincere hope that my words will bring the truth of this dangerous book up and out into the light so it can ultimately stop hurting estranged adult children and their families.

If you’re a mental health professional, there’s two ways you can help: 1) stop recommending Rules of Estrangement both on your website and in your practice, and 2) share this article with your professional network. If you aren’t a mental health professional, but you’re still looking for a way to help, please help us get the word out by sharing this article on social media and with your friends and loved ones. Thank you.

Now let’s take a look at what Coleman says in Rules of Estrangement.

1. Monstrous Mistakes

You might want to be sitting down for this first one. In Rules of Estrangement Coleman cozies right on up to child abusers when he writes, “You became an [estranged parent] because bad things happen to good people. And even if you made monstrously terrible decisions with your children, nothing makes you deserving of a life without them in it.”

Nothing makes a parent deserving of their child walking away from them, Dr. Coleman?

There’s simply no excuse for a statement like this! None whatsoever. As a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families and a therapist who says you work with estranged adult children in your therapy practice you really should know better. Maybe instead of offering CEUs you should take some yourself.

2. Physical Abuse

A parent with estrangement skeletons of his own—you guessed as much didn’t you?—it doesn’t take long for Coleman to give us a view into his personal parent psyche. In the Introduction to Rules of Estrangement he shamelessly tells us, “The first time my daughter referred to her stepfather as her other daddy, I almost smacked her across the face.” While Coleman didn’t end up hitting his daughter, he did proceed to argue back and forth with her “through clenched teeth” about who she was and was not allowed to consider her dad. Talk about being controlling. And in case you were wondering, yes, this daughter is the same daughter who eventually cut him off.

3. Verbal Abuse

Sadly, the book doesn’t get better from here. In a section of Rules of Estrangement titled “Is Estrangement Hurting Your Marriage or Romantic Relationships?” Coleman green-lights—checks notes—parents verbally abusing their children.

“Of course you’re always free to yell at your kid if you want to,” Coleman writes, “but it may not feel very good if it only results in the door slamming shut again.” In other words, think twice about verbally abusing your kids not because it’s abusive and therefore wrong to do but because you as the parent might find yourself estranged again. Hard pass, Dr. Coleman.

4. Us vs. Them Mentality

In Chapter 11 of Rules of Estrangement Coleman fosters an us vs. them mentality when he tells estranged parents, “We need community because we’re not powerful enough to go up against our children alone.” A licensed psychologist is telling parents to band together in order to “go up against” their adult children? Come again?!?

5. Playing the Victim

Coleman also uses Rules of Estrangement to play heavily into the stereotype that adult children who go no-contact with abusive parents are the real abusers. In Chapter 12 he tells estranged parents that if their adult child’s estrangement was “fair” they would 1) “get to make demands about how much time you could spend visiting with your children or grandchildren,” 2) “get credit for all the money you spent on your child,” and 3) get to “talk about all the ways that your child themselves might have made parenting difficult.” Obviously it’s not “fairness” Coleman wants for parents of adult children. It’s control.

I also can’t help but wonder if Coleman would be cool with someone guilt-tripping him in the same way he thinks it’s okay to guilt-trip adult children. Someone thinks they have the right to emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, religiously, sexually or verbally abuse you, Dr. Coleman? Better play “fair” by upholding your abuser’s demands for time spent with you, by giving your abuser credit for spending their money to love bomb you, and by hearing them out about how you acted in ways that made it hard for them to treat you with basic human decency.

6. Get Over It, Kids

Hurt your adult child? According to Coleman, you don’t need to be accountable for hurting the,. All you need to do is give your “triggered” kid a bit of time to “calm the fuck down” about it. And this guy trains other therapists?!?

In a section of Rules of Estrangement called “Parenting at a Distance” Coleman writes, “We [estranged parents] accept that being out of contact allows [our children] time to work on feeling separate, more independent, less triggered by whatever ways we annoy them, hurt them, or frustrate them; it allows them time to calm the fuck down about whatever it is they’re so upset about.” As for the many valid reasons for children choosing to cut ties with parents? Coleman makes no mention of these.

I’m not sure how Coleman thinks his words here qualify as anything close to good parenting advice, but since he’s a parent who was cut off by his own adult daughter I’m ultimately not all that surprised to see he’s so off-track.

7. Tone-Policing

At one point in Rules of Estrangement Coleman counsels estranged parents to tone-police their adult children. “Ask for different behavior: “Do you think you could try to tell that to me in a calmer way so I can focus on what you’re telling me?” he writes. Tone-policing, surprise surprise is yet another form of emotional abuse common amongst abusers. The goal of tone-policing is to silence victims by making it seem as though how they feel about a problem—not calm enough or too angry, frustrated, hurt, etc.—is the actual problem, rather than how they were treated that brought these feelings about in the first place.

Think about it like this: Say a parent sexually abused their child from the ages of 4 to 18. The child at age 25 says to the parent, “I’m so upset that you thought it was okay to put your hands on me like that. I was a child!” Coleman would apparently see no problem with the parent responding, “Do you think you could try to tell that to me in a calmer way so I can focus on what you’re telling me?” According to Coleman’s logic (if you can call it that), the problem isn’t the sexual abuse of a minor child—the problem is how the adult child feels about it.

To learn more about tone-policing, I recommend checking out this informative article. If you were raised by emotionally abusive parents who tone-policed you, it can be hard at first to recognize tone-policing for the harm that it is.

It Doesn’t End Here

I wish i could tell you Coleman’s harm ends with Rules of Estrangement. Unfortunately, I’ve since read his other books and the hard truth is that Coleman has a long and storied history of saying problematic things in books. Stayed turned for my next article!

4 comentários

20 de mar.

I think that was a needlessly harsh response, and shows that you are definitely still having issues.


19 de mar.

If this “Dr Coleman” is such a loon, why give him sooo much time here? Why not even mention him and his gibberish? He must have hit a nerve in you somewhere…….

19 de mar.
Respondendo a

I was torn about that at first as well. I want to post something and I refuse to name the book.


10 de mar.

I was just contacted and pressured by someone from Coleman’s group to talk about my parents. I guess my parents were working with them? It was invasive and I have no idea how this is considered ethical. Glad to know my gut feeling was on point. Thank you for the work you do! I will avoid this book.


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