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. Lynne

    I have tried over and over again to figure out what I did wrong to cause my sons estrangement. I know my divorce from his dad contributed to it ; even though his dad left me. His wife didn’t like sharing him and was constantly putting me down. I know I wasn’t the perfect mom but he had a normal childhood and nothing traumatic in his life.
    It helps to talk about it and read other comments. I feel less of a failure and find compassion and understanding from what I read. Each topic has key elements of what I have experienced.

  2. Jane

    Lynne – I’ve only just found this site, only just found out there’s a book. I didnt know that ‘rejected parents’ were a thing = I thought it was just me … i’m glad you’ve felt supported. i’m staggered that there are so many people that experience this = but i feel better knowing its not just me. x

    1. Susan

      Dear Jane,

      I too was beginning to think I was the only parent who is going through ( probably the saddest stage of my life)!

      It has been almost a year since I and my youngest son have been experiencing the estrangement of my third born, and to say the least, It has put me “on’my’knees”.

      I hope you find resolve with your own situation!

      Best wishes to you, Sue.

  3. Sonya

    I too feel broken. So much hurt, disrespect and betrayal. I’m an only child also estranged from family. I chose a better life, sacrificed and devoted myself unconditionally to my husband and our family of 3 children. One turned 18 this year and I am devestated at her plan an the lengths (Yrs) of pain caused by her behavior and the lack of parental support of me by my husband, her dad. She has no respect for me, our home, or rules. She used me up and cast me aside long ago. It hurts to finally accept the fact that my daughter, whom I gave life and my all all of her life is not my friend nor has any compassion for or loyalty to. I’ve chosen to let go. A paradigm shift.,I pray I endure and survive.I cry and cry. My soul is raw. I beg for mercy and pray this burden is lessened. I’m choosing to move about an hour away. Praying I’m blessed with a new beginning, out of this environment of pain and sadness. Please pray for all of us. ,Our son is 12 and older daughter is 22 and both are respectful loving, well adjusted and happy in their lives as much as they can be. Both are very supportive of everyone. They are good children who deserve so much better. I’m striving to be healthy and remain loving, nurturing and keep us together. Thank you for your blog… it has helped me to feel kindred spirits who understand what I am going to endure for the rest of my life…. it’s true, the heart never fully mends as it once was.

    1. LM

      Please be kind to yourself. I am in the same situation with a 21 year old. When you wrote that you feel
      Betrayed, it was like you were speaking my language. It is so raw it follows you around all the time. I appreciate you sharing your story, it has helped me

  4. Connie

    This is a wonderful site. I have a gay son who is married. His husband is very controlling and keeps my son isolated. They both have started using drugs which explains why we are not welcomed into their life. This pain hurts so much. I can only pray

    1. jennifer m.

      Connie, I wish you all the best for the future. It is truly heart breaking to be estranged from your child. No matter how old they are, you are still at the end of the day, the mother (or father) and will love your child no matter what. I am so sorry your son is into drugs, keep an eye on things, not necessarily stalking or spying on him, but for his personal safety. Sometimes wounds like this heal, not very often sadly. But, try to be strong and remember, you are a good person. You will survive, that is what we mothers do best. If there is a drug support group where you live, maybe ask them advice, they might be able to help without breaching confidentiality. I am estranged from one of my children and two grandchildren. One of whom I have not yet met. I live in hope, but as time goes on, the chances of reconciliation are getting less and less. All that keeps me going is the knowledge that I AM a good person, that I love my daughter and grandchildren and one day those little ones will be old enough to be able to come and see me independently. I just hope I will live long enough to see that day as I am already in my dotage. Sending you love and good wishes. To everyone out there who is going through an estranged relationship with anyone, child, parent or who ever, keep your hopes alive and have a truly wonderful New Year. Sent with love and positive thoughts.

  5. Annie

    A very caring response to Connie and what she is feeling. Connie, it’s the drugs that have taken him away and my hope is that once he gets clean and sober, he’ll come to appreciate you again. I think he probably lives with a lot of shame. I almost wish I could blame the same sort of dysfunction on my ED. Not that I would wish that on anyone but it at the very least would give me some answers as to why. I truly hope Connie your son gets well. Jennifer, so sorry for your loss. I have grandchildren too. They are now young adults. My ED has kept them away, used them as pawns. We were very close. Not sure what will happen in the future but for now I must accept the loss of our relationship continuing to have hope but moving forward toward a new normal. It’s not easy but we can all do this. Here’s hoping for a very happy, healthy new year to all our very special sister and brothers by heart here on this healing site and as always to our fearless leader and mentor, Sheri and her family. Love you all! Annie

  6. Vicki

    My son has cut me out of his life and the life of my two grand daughters: 6 and 8. They live about 6 hours away. I have been sending the girls cards and at christmas each a present. I texted my daughter in law, with whom I’ve always struggled to get along with. I try to say and do all the right things around her and it is never enough. In the text message I asked her if the girls were getting the cards: halloween, thanksgiving and christmas. She did not reply (I could see that she read the text). I researched grandparent’s rights in the State of Illinois and there is a law regarding my rights. I don’t know what to do. I told her she can hurt me, but she is hurting the girls more. No reply. I cited the law and stated I would file petition, but now I don’t think I should. I’m thinking of driving to their city and just going to their house. My son became angry in the first place when i stated to my daughter in law that I was concerned about him, as all he does is play video games. I didn’t even talk to him, so his wife must have told him. I then wrote letter apologizing, stating I had no right and was sorry for my statements. I’ll do anything to be able to see my grand daughters. It has to be hard on them, thinking I have just abandoned them. I have not filed anything in court. Someone told me that would make situation worse. I am going to send cards again this week, by certified mail, so i know at least if the cards get to the house (I am sure they do, but think i need proof). I did more for my son growing up than i ever did for my daughter. I bailed him out of so many situations. He is not doing drugs. I believe he substitutes food. I can’t sleep I don’t want to push him further away. He has blocked my number. I, like the mothers whose stories I have read here, just want to do the right thing. I feel like a total failure as a parent. Oh, his father died of cancer when my son was in first year of college. I have given money, etc. I can’t think. I’ve prayed and prayed. I want to do everything I can, so the girls know that I tried and did not abandon them.

  7. Connie

    I’m having a lot of pain for my son. He sneaks to call me because his husband does not like it. It’s hard to cope when I don’t know if any of the rejection is from my son or what he has to do to be safe from his husband. I will start al anon meeting and reading the book Done with the crying. I wish I could stop crying. It’s hard since I lost my first son to death and to lose this one to drugs and abuse.

  8. Barbara

    My son is getting married to a young woman who is going to school to become a psychologist. She has convinced him that I am borderline personality disorder. He wrote a note to my grief counselor (I just lost my older son and sister 60 days apart from death) and asked her to evaluate me. He researched her on the web sending her a note sAying he thinks she is treating me. My counselor is appalled. She knows me for years and knows that I am a regular middle aged woman experiencing losses. My counselor suggested I send him a note to meet me in counseling. I haven’t heard back from him. He also sent a note to my college roommate, my dear friend of 40 years saying the same bpd! She suggested the same that he go with me to therapy. He refused her saying he can’t have a relationship with me. I have lots of loving relationships, friends and colleagues. I work at an ivy league university for 35 years working with bright young adults who I have close motherly relationships with. I am so sad about this and don’t know what to do and if I should go to their wedding, if they even invite me. My future daughter in law together with my son have shut me out, especially during such grief. . Very sad time for me

    1. rparents Post author

      I just can’t tell you how many times I have heard from parents who have someone close to them who is taking psychology classes, who then diagnoses them. It seems very similar to medical student syndrome (which I talk about in my book), except that it’s focused on other people. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the way diagnostic terminology is tossed around in our society so much too. (Narcissist in particular, but others as well.)

      I’m so sorry, Barbara (for the death of your son and sister as well as what you’ve faced with your other son and his girlfriend). I’m grateful, too (as I’m sure you are), that you have other good relationships and people who know you and know you’re a normal, kind, intelligent woman experiencing a tough time in your life.

      Please take care of yourself.

      Sheri McGregor

  9. dawn

    My son and only child cut me out of his life, about 10 months ago. He is 20 yrs old in college. I was a single mom, and gave my life for him. Did everything. Paid for everything. His father left when he was 2 yrs old and never was a part of his life. I do believe he stayed in contact with my son and told him what a terrible mom and crazy person i was. Poisoned him against me. My son really turned on me, and today at a doctors appointment was told my son has an anti social personality disorder. My son will probably never have a ” normal ” relationship with me again. It breaks my heart as I always thought he would have been there for me in my elder years. I am all alone, only child and no family. Now my son is gone.


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