Monthly Archives: August 2016

Emotional Triggers: Set yourself free

estrangement from adult childrenby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

On a pleasant day late in summer, my husband and I sat on the sofa together in comfortable silence. Outside the window, our massive fig tree was alive with birds, feasting on the fruity spoils. My husband’s mobile phone rang, startling us from our reverie.

Brian glanced at the screen, and then he answered, his voice immediately strained. . . .

Some of you may recognize this passage from my book. If you do, then you know the caller was my estranged son. He asked to speak with me, and my husband held out the phone. But I hesitated.

Panic flared, the wreckage of our last few exchanges coursing through me.

That call on a summer afternoon came close to a year after the estrangement began. I had worked hard to move beyond my sadness and pain because I knew my adult son’s estrangement was out of my control. Yet there he was on the phone, opening the wound.

It’s like that for many who are estranged from adult children. We hear some bit of news, and the pain comes slamming back. Maybe there’s soaring hope, muddied by distrust and fear.

Emotional triggers can occur for many reasons: memories surrounding a certain time of year, specific events, holidays, or even when we least expect them and don’t immediately recognize a cause.

As I’m writing this, the birds are again in the fig tree outside my window, but I’m not thinking of my estranged son and feeling sad. Those memories no longer have a hold on me.

Triggered emotions when estranged from adult children:
Are we controlled like Pavlov’s dogs?

Some parents who are estranged from adult children have likened this triggering of old hurt, and the anger, fear, worry, or sadness that follow, to Pavlov’s dogs.

Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, did experiments in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, which paved the way toward what’s now known as classical conditioning. In short, Pavlov rang a bell when he fed the dogs. Therefore, the bell became a sort of cue. The dogs became conditioned to the sound. So, when they heard the bell, they salivated, expecting to be fed (even when no food was present).

When it comes to triggered emotions, we can recognize what’s happening. We can observe our feelings. We can take them out and examine them, put leashes on and feed them positive input that nourishes and makes them better. To exhaust the Pavlov analogy, we can make them heel.

And we can recondition ourselves. We can view our feelings in a new and helpful light, and then respond wisely to them.

On the other hand, we can choose to let our feelings rule us, run wild, and lead us into despair. When we do, the agony of estrangement smothers joy, strains other relationships, and can even cause physical illness.

Some people do make a choice not to move beyond the bad things that happen to them. Some even feed the pain, and keep it thriving. Others don’t intend to remain victims, but slip into defeatist thinking, and even convince themselves (and others) that they can’t get over the pain.

And there are others to whom this article doesn’t yet apply. Their estrangement is very new, and they can’t imagine “moving on.” Even these parents can benefit from some emotional pain management.

Emotional triggers: Must they have a hold on us?

Let’s face it. Some of us require more time to heal than others. Some of us may even need to work harder at it once we’ve made the choice to reclaim our self-worth and move on with our own lives. But with determination, the right tools, and support, I believe that most of us can.

There are parents who, in their stress and grief, might be suffering from clinical depression. Or for other reasons might be best supported by a licensed clinician in their locale. In time, and with the right support, I’m hopeful that even these people can develop happiness and meaning in their lives, despite estrangement from adult children.

Getting free from emotional triggers: How long does it take?

Some are able to move on quickly. One mother recently said she had gotten on with her happy life in just a few months. She made a choice and followed through—and is an amazing testimony to the strength of intelligent will.

I’m really happy for her, and for all the others who have sent me emails, Facebook messages, or posted reviews about how my book has helped them to move on with their lives—sometimes after many years of walking on eggshells, and/or allowing hurtful drama to cloud their lives. I’m rejoicing right alongside you!

Even so, the fact is that just as each estrangement is different, so is our progress forward. A parent’s ability to move joyfully on doesn’t necessarily mean that they will never ever feel hurt again. We are human after all. At some point, even those who have successfully moved beyond the shock and sorrow, and are happy, might one day have a reminder, and perhaps feel sad. You might be like the mother in my book who happily went to get a kitten who needed a home, and was reminded instead that she was orphaned herself!

In those sorts of moments, you might even catch your thoughts turning a sad or self-pitying corner. Maybe you wish things were different. It’s okay to allow yourself that honest thought. But then, you can remind yourself that you’re resilient. You can recognize that your power lies beyond wishes. And you can reaffirm your path.

There’s no set time to be done with the crying—but the sooner you convince yourself (and others) that you can, the sooner that day will come.

Reclaiming our own lives doesn’t mean we won’t ever experience bad feelings. But when sadness, anger, guilt or fear barks at the door, or claws at our hearts, we have a choice. We can let our emotions take over. We can react—similar to the way Pavlov’s dogs reacted to a cue—or we can choose to recognize the feelings for what they are: proof that we’re human. Our emotions are normal. Our feelings are a product of the vast stores of love, time, and energy we invested in people we at one time thought would be in our lives forever.

And then we can take ourselves by the hand. We can lead ourselves on. All any of us can do in the face of loss that we cannot change or control is to adapt. In the book, there are examples, questions, and tools to help.

Estranged from adult children? Get Ready, Get Set, and Prepare

To expect that you’ll never have residual feelings is unrealistic. That’s why a chapter in my book is devoted to managing the ambiguity, uncertainty, and ongoing nature of estrangement, and the emotions that can accompany it.  As some parents have shared on this site and in reviews, they plan to refer to those pages as needed. They’re interacting with the book and its tools as was intended. Learning to recognize and understand your feelings, and accept and manage them for your own health and happiness, can take practice. Some people are quicker studies. Others are more equipped, or perhaps more committed to work at it.

Estranged from adult children and moving on: Invest in yourself

If you like the idea of moving forward in your own life, perhaps even while holding out hope for an eventual reconciliation, make the choice. Invest in yourself. Choose to get educated, and get the tools you need to plan ahead, and prevail over pain. It may take commitment, and even some work. It may require facing uncomfortable feelings, finding new and helpful ways to see your feelings in a new light (per Chapter 5), and the desire and discipline to retrain your thinking and how you respond.

Will you remain bound by pain, forever reacting to the “bell” of estrangement’s hurt and uncertainty? Will you feed the pain, and continue as a victim? Or, as one estranged parent said in an Amazon review, will you wish your beloved children well, and get on with your life? We can remain forever caged, “imprisoned” as this parent says in her review, or we can choose, as she did, to give ourselves “the gift of freedom.”

estrangement from adult childrenCan you be free?

You may feel a strong desire to move on, and to look forward to your life. But maybe the cutting pain you’ve experienced makes you doubt the possibility.

I believe you can. Take a step. Even the tiniest steps can move you forward.

In my book, I share about Meg, an estranged mother with one friend she felt she could fully trust. That friend allowed Meg to wallow a little in her sorrow. Her son chose to estrange himself, and it hurt. Meg’s friend empathized and cared—and then she did what the best sorts of friends do. She reminded Meg of her previous life struggles, and that she’d gotten through those and gone on to live a successful life. She reminded Meg of her strength.

If you’re estranged from adult children and have a friend like that, thank her for her help. And even if you don’t, be that friend for yourself.

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page on this website where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice. You can always contact me with any quesions.

Related reading:
Handle your emotional triggers

A thank you

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

I’d like to express my gratitude to:

  • Members of my forum to help parents of estranged adult children
  • Parents who have written to me
  • Facebook page members
  • People who comment here at RejectedParents.NET
  • Reader reviewers
  • Fellow writers and industry reviewers
  • Estranged parents who helped in my research

mother with estranged adult child
Thank you to online support forum members who encourage others. You lend a broad shoulder to those in need of understanding and care. Your heartfelt posts in our judgment-free zone inspire.

Estranged from adult children, and moving on: a sampling from the forum

Recently, many forum members have moved beyond the anguish of estrangement from adult children, and publicly declared your independence. Thank you. You have inspired others as you courageously stepped forward to—as I say in Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Childrenenjoy your lives!

Some move on with a flourish that’s likely reminiscent of their personalities and their lives—such as this from “Mountainview:” Goodbye-Aufwiedersein. . . .

Others make difficult, important decisions with a steady hand that demonstrates their stability and strength. Such as this mother, who came to a sensible conclusion, and shared it as part of her good-bye: “MJMom’s:” A Journey of Acceptance

Some dance on into their lives with glee. They’re free! As in “Joyful’s” cheery note.

And some move on because they reconcile. “Linwinning” has a story similar to Abbey’s in Chapter 7 of my book, and shared it in her goodbye note to offer other parents hope that they will also one day reconcile.

I’m so glad that you have found some peace, and are confidently walking forward. Your words are important, and help other people.

From Facebook, and in online reviews

mother with estranged adult childThank you also to the mothers and fathers who have sent messages, emails, or posted on the Facebook page . Your comments mean a lot to me and fellow page members. I so appreciate your likes and shares, and am grateful to be a tiny part of your journey. Thank you for your kindness and generosity. There is so much wisdom among you!

To those who share their own experiences of acceptance, hope, and wisdom in reviews at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in comments at various blogs and discussion sites, as well as here at RejectedParents.NET—a heartfelt thanks.

Your input, insight, and inroads to peace and happiness help others who experience the trauma of estrangement from adult children. Your voices of reassurance and support uplift other parents. And your thoughts enlighten a society that still knows very little about the subject of adult children who estrange themselves from loving families.

Professional help

Let me extend my gratitude to Susan Adcox, grandparenting expert at for her Review of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children. Susan’s site is a valuable resource to many readers.

Likewise, Joi of Self Help Daily offers a plethora of resources to living joyful lives. It’s an honor to have her review of my book among good company.

And thanks to the Nonfiction Authors Association, which recently spotlighted me as member of the week. Much of the posted interview focuses on what led me to write Done With The Crying to help parents experiencing estrangement from adult children, and continues with topics probably of interest mainly to other writers.

The silent majority

Not all of you write letters, or post publicly about your pain or progress. According to recent research, the ratio of those who remain in the background to those who write online for all to see is 90 to 1. I respect your privacy, and appreciate your help—you are among the thousands who have responded to my research survey without further contact, and thereby help others in the same boat (or to get out of it as is advised in the article The Boat!).

Hugs to you as you journey forward on your own unique path. All of you are part of something bigger, a network of kind souls around the globe. As I continue with this site, and potentially add other options to support parents of estranged adults, you help light the way forward for others in health and happiness.

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Is your adult child estrangedadult child estranged? Be careful.
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Around the time of my son’s estrangement, I dropped a heavy piece of equipment on my big toe. Many months later when the fracture healed, I fell, and broke that toe again.

Like many other parents of estranged children confide, I seemed accident prone. Some tell of car accidents, or falls, kitchen cuts, and other mishaps. Could an increase in accidents and injuries be related to estrangement?

Adult child estranged? Be forewarned

On a trip to San Francisco’s China Town some years ago, a steep flight of stairs led down to a basement sales floor. As shoppers descended, a soft voice on a recording repeatedly cautioned, “Watch your step. Be careful of stairs. Have a nice day. Watch your step. Be careful of stairs. Have a nice day.”

As you navigate the stress of an adult child’s estrangement, be forewarned: emotional distress can make you accident prone. So keep these cautions in mind: Watch what you’re doing.  Be careful. Keep yourself safe.

The ongoing stress and anxiety that plagues parents of estranged adults can have side effects. Are you losing sleep? Then you won’t be as alert to danger or as quick to react. Are you forever thinking of your estranged adult child? Preoccupation can put you at risk for injury. If you’re like many parents of estranged adults, feeling sad and lonely, and perhaps still in shock, you may also have dropped healthy exercise routines that aid physical coordination and balance. As a result, you may slip, trip, or fall into a series of mishaps that hurt.

In a study of more than 5,000 men reported on in the January, 2014 issue of Age & Ageing, stressful life events correlated significantly with increased falls. And the risk grew with the occurrence of additional stressful life events. In my book to help parents when an adult child is estranged, you can read about Rowena who is hit with a number of taxing life events at once (as are many of you). Using a method I call P-B-&-J, Rowena took control. She made a careful plan that prioritized tasks and got things done. Taking charge provided Rowena a sort of road map to face her challenges, and stay aware of her needs and actions. Whether you have many life stresses or estrangement alone has shaken your world, awareness of potential risk can help to protect you.

Adult child estranged? Then be careful.
Remain focused. Live one moment at a time.

adult child estrangedIn a 2010 workplace study, researchers found that ongoing emotional stress was particularly predictive of injuries.  An adult child’s estrangement, with all its uncertainties and dashed hopes, brings just that type of emotional distress.

Distraction over emotional issues leads to poor safety habits. Our minds may be divided, which means we’re less likely to notice a pool of water on the floor—and slip. As we cut carrots, or reach into the oven to retrieve a hot dish, our thoughts might be elsewhere—leading to cuts and burns. Exhausted emotionally, and perhaps even physically because of fitful sleep with vivid dreams, parents of estranged adult children may trip over a bump in the sidewalk we just don’t notice, or miss seeing the traffic light change to red.

Maybe you’re more forgetful, too, which can complicate matters, make life feel out of control, and increase stress. One mother of an estranged adult son went to the doctor to have her stitches from a careless kitchen accident removed. While there, she lost her car keys in the medical building. Distraught by the sudden mishap, she hurried back toward the doors, tripped over the curb and fell, breaking both wrists.

Mindfulness can help

The first chapter of Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children provides examples of mindfulness to help with negative thinking and move parents into a calmer, more helpful state of mind. The same principle of staying fully present in the moment, rather than letting thoughts drift into painful rumination about the past or uncertain speculation about the future can protect you from accidental injury, and help with forgetfulness too.

If you’re like many parents who confide they’re extra clumsy since the estrangement began, awareness is a good first step to taking better care of yourself. As you go about your day, remind yourself of what you’re doing, where you’re going, and to take extra care—just as that soft voice on the narrow stairway in that China Town shop reminds customers.

Remaining in the moment helps you see potential dangers. Fully absorbed in your current activity, you’re more likely to notice a rock in the hiking path or an upturned rug in the hall. You’ll be better prepared to react as well—to a car that pulls out in front of you, a stray ball that flies at you in the park, or to a kind friend’s story or joke.

Prune out extras

One of the strategies among those sprinkled throughout Done With The Crying, is something past clients have used to calm the chaos in their lives. In times of extra stress, it can help to see your life as a beautiful bouquet. You can’t keep adding flowers to an already full vase. Even the loveliest arrangement requires trimming some stems and removing some flowers as they fade. Take a look at your life bouquet. Where can you trim and simplify? By reducing your commitments, even by a little, you’ll have more time to focus. Hurrying from one commitment to the next and multitasking only make you scattered, and inhibit concentration. Do yourself a favor and prune a few non-necessities from your life. It’s a small step toward thriving in the midst of estrangement stress. You’ll have more time to pause between tasks as well. The time to take a deep breath, give yourself a pep talk, or remind yourself of any good in your life.

Support yourself physically

Earlier, I mentioned exercise for its helpful properties in terms of balance and coordination—two things that can help in preventing accidents. While it’s not wise to jump into a vigorous exercise regime that may only add stress, and increase risk of injury, gentle physical training can help. Like a gradually increasing walking routine. Or perhaps the Qui Gong title I recommend in my book.

Sleep is also important to keep you strong and alert. An upcoming article will include ideas for better rest for parents suffering distress when their adult child is estranged. Meanwhile, utilize the strategies in my book that resonate with you, and make a practice of being mindful in the moment.

In short, watch what you’re doing.  Be careful. Keep yourself safe.

Have you found yourself accident prone since the estrangement? Feel free to leave a comment.