Emotional well-being series: Be kind to yourself

self-compassion be kind to yourself emotional well being estranged from adult childrenBe kind to yourself: Self-compassion

Purposely tending to our emotional health can make our lives happier and healthier. Parents who are estranged from adult children can nonetheless bolster their emotional health and increase feelings of well-being, with positive effects.

Looking optimistically forward may be difficult in the face of a situation that remains unpleasant and unchanged. So, parents who are estranged from adult children may hold a less than positive outlook. But even when you can’t change a negative circumstance that is beyond your control, taking charge of your emotional well-being can help. This is one in a series of short articles on ways to bolster emotional health and increase feelings of well-being.

People who suffer rejection in a relationship may replay interactions and try to figure out what they did wrong. Parents whose adult children are estranged often react similarly. We may reflect upon every detail of how we raised our child in an attempt to explain the estrangement. In so doing, we may identify mistakes. Even well-intentioned parents don’t do everything perfect all of the time. In a state of worry, shock, and distress, parents whose adult children are estranged may be too self-critical, which can injure emotional well-being and prolong our sadness. Here’s one way to work at combating an overly critical self-examination, and feel better:

Parents of adult children who are estranged: Practice self-compassion.

In his research, Wake Forest University psychologist Mark Leary found that the ability to treat oneself kindly helps people cope in the face of negative events. Do you forgive your own imperfections and treat yourself well despite failure, defeat or rejection? Or do you berate and belittle yourself? In Leary’s studies, participants with the most forgiving attitudes toward themselves were less bothered when they imagined distressing events.

Most of us find it easy to let another human being off the hook. We might be quick to say something like, “Don’t feel bad. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. You’re only human.”

If a friend confides a failure, we might offer support by reminding our friend of their success in other areas. Providing ourselves with the same type of supportive self-talk can be healing.

In one of his studies, Leary had participants write themselves a letter, as if they were sending it to a friend. If you have a tendency to blame yourself, you might do well to pen yourself a note of support then read and re-read it whenever needed.

An exercise to practice self-compassion

In my work as a life coach, I have directed clients to ask a trusted friend to sit down and write them an email or note that describes them when they’re at their best. My clients enjoyed receiving the positive depiction, and were often surprised by the depth of a friend’s caring. The note became a tool they could pull out whenever they were feeling low. Trading notes might be even better.

A few years ago, I participated in this exercise myself by trading descriptions with a friend. Her letter describing me at my best was helpful in that it demonstrated she understood some of my most core values. And at a time when my focus was a bit fuzzy, her description reminded me of what is most important to me. Providing a description of my friend at her best was also helpful. It feels good to provide positive support to an individual you care about, and writing the description did just that.

To foster a spirit of self-compassion, consider writing out a description of yourself when you’re at your best. In the wake of an adult child’s rejection, parents whose adult children are estranged can feel powerless. In preparing for the exercise, reflecting on your life, how you’ve successfully dealt with problems in the past, and reliving satisfying moments can perhaps break a habit of self-blame, and trigger better feelings. Describing yourself at your best in writing may help reconnect you with your strengths, accomplishments, and value – – and perhaps spur you back into things you enjoy and do well.

Self-compassion, according to Leary’s studies, might also have another benefit for parents whose adult children are estranged and who look forward to the hope of reconciling. When we are self-compassionate, we are better able to admit our mistakes. Because healing family rifts may require honest, open discussion, a willingness to admit our failings as perceived by our adult children can help foster the necessary atmosphere of humility and understanding.

Even if you don’t follow through and write a letter to yourself, take a few moments to consider yourself with compassion. After all, you are your oldest friend.

Parents whose adult children are estranged: How you will be self-compassionate and treat yourself well?

In what ways will you be more self-compassionate? I’d love to hear how you’re treating yourself well. Shared kindness creates a more compassionate world.

Related articles:

Looking forward

Self-Compassion and Reactions to Self-Relevant Events: The Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly

Psychologist finds self-compassion helps people cope with failure

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13 thoughts on “Emotional well-being series: Be kind to yourself

  1. emily38

    This series of columns will focus, for me, on what is and has been foundational in my own journey through this quicksand of estrangement. It is a vital tool for pulling ourselves out of a situation that will otherwise kill a piece of ourselves, if not us. Thank you, Sheri, thank you.

    There comes a point when we parents must grab what will save us from the crushing, soul-suffocating, pain-surge of rejection by our own children. Sheri is offering one such rescue-tool here.

    Energy, and time, are precious resources wasted too easily when in that pit, That sucking sound heard as we fall more deeply into the darkness of self-blame and self-questioning is a warning. The emotional turmoil, the quicksand, isn’t about the person or persons who pushed us in. It’s about ourselves. Only ourselves.

    This may sound harsh, but issues of life and death are stark too. You can’t truly love another if you don’t love yourself. Loving means letting the other be themselves. Our “others” don’t love us, whatever it is inside of themselves that gave them ‘permission’ to push us into the quicksand.

    Again, Sheri has opened her tool-bag here. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself your own mistakes and your humanity. Keep being kind. You will grow, change and free yourself from the pit of trying to change another, of rehashing histories, of revisiting every little thing that happened or didn’t, of looking for answers you can’t find. Will never find unless the ‘other’ gives them to you. In the meantime, you’re sinking………

    Who knew that pulling yourself out of quicksand could be accomplished in baby steps! Practice what Sheri has provided and keep practicing until self-compassion is a part of yourself. It will change the way you see the world. Easy to say? And hard to do? Think about quicksand and it’s power…..

    How do I know? From experience of course. Almost 20 years wasted, yes wasted, over 2 E sons, destructive DILs and wasted tears over missing grandchildren. To use another analogy, we parents are in the same boat, regardless the specific reasons we got there. Or if we ever really know why. But we’re there. Some will make it to shore. Find Sheri’s story about the boat and read it as often as you must.

    If one mother, or father, is helped to help themselves, perhaps that is where all healing begins. Start before this experience kills something, or something more, in yourselves.

    Thank you, Sheri, as always.Your generosity is a gift without measure.

    1. Diana D.

      I really enjoyed your writing on the subject of taking care of your own health. That’s all we can do, even though estrangement hurts like hell.

    2. Roberta H.

      That was beautifully written, thank you. What keeps coming to my mind is that the “cruelty” by which our children treat us by their rejection and unkindness, at first I ignored, yet later in the years, I see more fully the reality of that cruelty, and accepting to see them for who they really are. Done deal. It makes me afraid of them and has taken away the desire to want to see them anymore. Really. The grandchildren I have missed sorely, and would welcome them into my life at anytime of course, but the parents, my two daughters, well, I have given up on them now. I am age 63, had my two daughters when I was 17 and 19…after my mother told me to go live with my boyfriend after an argument when I was 16. What else is 16 year old going to do? Live with her boyfriend, and two months later started my family. I chose not to abort both times, even when the father wanted me to on the second child, but I knew the life of the child was a miracle and belonged to God. So, I chose life, and gave my life to them. What blew me away now in these later years, is that even though I chose not to abort them, they in their adult years have decided to abort me. I ask God, where is the justice in that? But we have to go beyond what seems normal or what should be, and find comfort and understanding somehow through God’s eyes and will for our lives. I hope that I should find a good life after death, or some compensation for giving life and love and service to my girls, who were much loved, and they know it. Yet, the unhappiness that befalls me is knowing that the love of family is so cherished in our society and world, yet many of us do not get to have that experience, and that is when we need to remember that God still has a purpose for us, and accept that that family plan was not on our agenda, we have to let go even after holding on for so long. Love to all parents who know the heartache of our children’s mean rejections, and I hope we all can still find joy and love in this life as we still live out our days on this beautiful earth.

  2. Louanne B.

    My husband and I have decided to change our will. Upon death of us we want our house sold and divide it equally to the grand children that lost the chance to know us. I don’t feel my 2 estranged boys deserve anything.
    I feel better to be able to help my grand children rather than my boys

    1. Roberta H.

      I think that is a great idea, good for you. I don’t have any money or assets to leave my grandchildren, but I would do the same.

  3. Margo S

    Hi Deborah
    My experience with my son and DIL has been similar. Last year at Christmas I requested a list of ideas of what they would appreciate as gifts. I carefully chose items from their lists and the list for the grandson. This year was a process of my son berating me, advising me that they no longer want to bother with special occasions. They don’t want anything, I never get it right. It went further recently with my son telling me my DIL hates me, she can barely stand to be around me- yet she showed up every night during harvest for a free meal, didn’t have any problems with that. For 6?weeks . It’s bizarre .
    The conclusion I have come to is that its a game to screw with my life. To see what I will do if they do – whatever. It’s a game that I have realized I will never win because they keep changing the rules. So I’m not playing anymore. I discussed it with my husband who has just written them off as idiots – omg I need to be more like a man! Take the emotion right out of it.
    We are giving gifts to our grandchild, nothing for the parents. Toxic presents? Nope, I would not want to give her or my son the pain of me caring about them. I am having Christmas dinner to accommodate my husbands parents, in their 90’s but that’s that. It’s going to be a cheap Christmas . I have started keeping track of the money I have saved by not giving gifts to show we care, it’s enlightening. I feel better seeing the results in our savings account that we can use elsewhere in our lives . I also feel more gratitude from a stranger who received donations from us at a shelter.

    1. Danielle

      Oh my!!! Can I ever relate. My gifts are never good enough either. I am not good enough for my son and his wife and never will be.. I stopped trying 2 years ago and I went no contact for many reasons. It hurts to be away from my grand-children but I just could not take the disrespect, abuse and cruelty my son and his wife inflicted upon me every chance they got. I have no more room for mean people in my life. The last part of my life will not be one of being used and abused by anyone. God bless you and be good to yourself!

    2. Dorothy D.

      Good for you. I don’t blame you two one bit. Fortunately for me I don’t have anything to leave for my son. Thank god he got divorced after 15 year’s due to her always cheating and they have no children.
      I’m so happy she’s gone! My husband of 46 year’s saw two different men dropping her off down the block as he was cutting their lawn and got video.

    3. Roberta H.

      Wow, that was good, and even funny in parts. We are not alone with this, and it is good to read each other’s comments. Take Care, as always.

  4. Deborah L.

    Your article about leaving an inheritance to our estranged child reminded me of a more immediate question. I’ve been told that my estranged daughter didn’t appreciate her Christmas or birthday gifts last year. So far I have bought like-new items at a thrift store. Besides being what I can afford, I feel better not spending a lot knowing she won’t appreciate it. I give her gifts hoping she will know I care, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the message she’s getting. Should I quit giving her gifts or continue? If nothing else, she can’t accuse me of leaving her out when I send gifts to my grandsons.

    1. rparents Post author

      Oh, Deborah. It sounds like she’d be unhappy with anything you gave so do what makes sense for you. I wonder, is she so hard for everyone to please? Or are you just the lucky one?

      HUGS to you,
      Sheri McGregor

    2. Claudia P

      Last Christmas I brought gifts to my son, my two grandkids and my DIL to their house. I was outside ringing the bell, showing myself to the many cameras they keep around the house. They were home I saw they were at the back yard, all cars parked at the driveway and the door bell goes directly to their cell phones, Alexa and many security devices. They know it was me. They never opened the door. I left the gifts by their door, that is open to the street. I never heard of they took it if they throw away if they liked or not. Never heard from them. Same thing happened on next February on my son’s birthday (left the gift by the door ), same on my grandson gift …
      My son is very successful. Lives in a wealthy neighborhood in a really beautiful house. I struggle to make ends meet and they used to treat me with contempt. I struggle but had always been totally independent and never needed a cent from anyone. I’m glad he is so successful, at least I have this comfort. They never told me what happened.


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