Parents of estranged adult children: Pack your emotional toolkit
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
On a recent walk, nature distracted me. Beautiful deer peeked from between oaks, turkeys meandered across the road, and squirrels chattered as they leapt from branch to branch Happy and on alert for the next sighting, I stepped into a rough spot and tumbled, face-first, to the ground. After pausing to see stars, check that nothing was broken, and regain my wits, I limped home feeling sorry for myself—and then reached for my emotional toolkit.
“Crack some jokes,” I told my husband. “Make me laugh, or I’ll cry.” Glad to oblige, he compared my fat-lipped profile to Donald Duck and told me I had kissed the ground. Humor is a go-to tool, and I surround myself with those who can apply it (at times too liberally!). The social support is also relevant. Find someone to laugh with. It helps.
What’s in your emotional toolkit? We all need one and have been learning to “self-soothe” since babyhood when our hurts weren’t always immediately tended to. Think about what works for you, consider why, and how you might adapt so that it becomes a habit or is within reach when you need it most—like during the holidays, after an important but trying event, or on one of those shaky emotional days. Stressors can hit those who have suffered estrangement trauma (and connected narcissistic abuse, borderline rage, delusional rants, or shocking revisionist history) with quite an impact.
I’ve listed a few emotional toolkit ideas below. Borrow those you like and add your own ideas for a list you can keep handy and get ready for in advance.
- Calming herbal tea (keep varieties or a favorite on hand)
- Upbeat or inspirational music (handy CDs, or a music app already loaded)
- Old movies (on video, or know what channel features them)
- Talking (a supportive person to text, call, or email; a local “warmline,” versus “hotline,” to call; or join the membership community here)
- Positive self-talk (have upbeat words on sticky notes; be your own cheerleader)
- A sweet pet to cuddle, train, or treat
- Nature (watch birds at a feeder, visit a refuge—or create one even on a patio)
- Exercise (get things ready: weights, a treadmill, videos, yoga mat, gym membership)
- Meditate (have a quiet space prepared)
- A hobby (keep supplies on hand)
- Comfort foods (on occasion)
- Helping (volunteer, pick up neighborhood trash, pray for other people)
- Journal (keep a special notebook or computer file)
Right now, reflect on what you need to put in an emotional toolkit you create just for you. And then get prepared. There’s no time like the present.
(Excerpted and edited from my 2021 book, BEYOND DONE, a Benjamin Franklin psychology award winner)
March and sing into… (Be sure and watch the cat video on this page)
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