Your focus: Not “estrangement pain”

New Year wordFocus word: Don’t let it be “estrangement”

by Sheri McGregor

Right now, consider how distressed you want to be. Are you on the cusp of another cruddy year spent focusing on estrangement pain? I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Don’t get stuck thinking you can make someone change. Sure, you can reach out and let someone know you care if you must, you can even apologize if that’s the right thing to do (it sometimes isn’t, in my opinion). But for your own wellness and for the benefit of those who remain close, learn to shift your focus from estrangement pain and bounce back. If you do reconcile, you’ll be stronger for the long haul. There’s no downside.

Setting the tone for the year

In Beyond Done, I included an exercise using language to help you escape reactionary emotional storms and respond to triggers or distress from the executive functioning area of the brain. So you can think more clearly, focus, take charge, and make plans. It’s a way to shift out of estrangement pain and into thinking for your own good. Here, we’ll do something similar.

Deciding upon a word or phrase that you call up and use as to steer, can be your ticket to a calmer, happier year ahead. One year, I decided upon “kindness.” This helped me set an intention and follow through, even the toughest of spots. Thinking “kindness” helped me demonstrate patience or go the extra mile. That meant I spoke a compliment out loud rather than only thinking it, and willfully displayed the word’s meaning as often as I could. The practice might have positively touched a few others but practicing kindness brightened my own days the most, I think. It meant that I felt good about myself and my behavior toward other people.

Words focused on estrangement pain: Lose ’em

With regard to estrangement and how it has affected you, consider what word might represent your behavior and/or emotions over the last 12 months. For me, in the early daze of estrangement, I was “weepy” and “insecure.” Realizing that helped me dry my tears, straighten my shoulders, and walk forward with more strength. I was determined not to remain a weepy, insecure woman, allowing another person’s decisions to ruin my life. As time went on, and I worked at my own wellness, other words fit. Terms like “indignant,” or “at peace,” and “determined.”

Several years ago, an estranged dad called me “brave.” Just when I needed it the most, the word helped me to see myself as he saw me, and I mustered the courage to give a public speech (something I’d quit altogether after the estrangement). Soon, I was thinking of the word whenever I felt scared—and it helped me to press on.

How do you want to see yourself?

Consider what word will help you in the year ahead. A single, calming word such as “peaceful,” that relaxes you if you’re worried or upset might be one to choose as your word of the year. A signal word helps you shift focus for your own well-being. Maybe you use a word like “strong” that helps you develop emotional muscles and flex them (as discussed in Beyond Done).

You could choose a phrase instead. Something to describe or dictate how you will move through life. One mother recently used the term “gliding through.” I think this is genius! Just saying it—gliding through—conjures an image of floating along, effortlessly, feather-light and feet barely touching the ground, even in the tensest situation.

Think and tell

I hope you will ponder this idea, then come up with a word or phrase that might help you in the coming year. No hurry either. You can do it now or do it a month or even six months from now, because your New Year is not bound by the calendar year. We can start fresh anytime.

If it feels helpful, you can also choose a few words or phrases, to fit specific situations. A term like “stinky cheese” might help you stand strong when you feel like you’re all alone (you’ll understand this if you’ve read my latest book!), or words that set an intentional mindset and help you focus, float, dance, or glide through life.

As you consider potential ideas, try them on out loud. How does a particular word or phrase make you feel? Choose something that feels doable but is at least a little of a stretch. Then write the word(s) on notes you tack to your refrigerator door or around the house—but also on your heart and mind so they’re tip of tongue and top of mind when you need them. Oh, and share them here if you’d like. I’d love to know what you come up with—and your words might help another parent. Borrowing allowed!

Related reading

Abusive adult children influence parents’ self-image

Estrangement: Are you an octopus mom (or dad)?

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41 thoughts on “Your focus: Not “estrangement pain”

  1. Ms Jennifer S.

    Thank you Sheri (and others) for your kind and thoughtful words. They have spoken to my shattered heart.
    Although I’ve been estranged from my oldest daughter for nigh 4 years or so, along with my only grandchildren and her husbane, the last couple of days have been very challenging.

    A couple of days I stumbled across my daughters facebook page. On her cover photo she wrote these words.

    ‘Pain travels through family lines until someone is ready to heal themselves.By going through the agony of healing you no longer pass the poison chalice onto generations that follow. It is incredibly important and sacred work.’ Underneath this she wrote ‘doing life with love’.

    To see this in writing for friends and acquaintances to see was heartbreaking. It revealed her thinking and about me and also about my ex husband. I must admit I am totally shattered by the cruelty of those words.

    I’ve taken today and yesterday to sit back and basically refect. So your words Sheri are very comforting, and have had a huge impact on me. I need to move past those hurtful cruel words.

    I am thinking my word for 2022 is Kindness. To show kindess to others whether they are a passerby in the street or a family member. To let kindness invade my own being.

    With lots of love from Australia.

    1. Teresa

      This is stating the obvious, but people tend to post things that represent themselves as favorably as possible vs stating that they are cruel, self centered or otherwise flawed. Whether her post was deliberately intended to hurt you or not, she’s done just that. I’m sorry for your pain. These estranged adult children remind me of the cruel adolescent girls in junior high, everyone knows who they are and they continue to degrade and humiliate for sport. May you find peace and truth as you work through your turmoil.

    2. Ms Jennifer S.

      Thank you so much for your kind words. Working through each day to again find peace, is challenging but also rewarding work.

      I hope and pray everyone is managing to create a good today, with the hope of a better tomorrow.

    3. rparents Post author


      I sense your profound kindness. I hope your kindness will be a balm to others you meet, but also that it will reflect back to you …

      Hugs to you, dear Jennifer.

      Sheri McGregor

  2. Goretti A.

    My word would be “a healing God” or Lord, heal me. I desperately don’t want to feel the hurt and pain I have felt this past year.
    I am trying. Hopefully I will get there.

  3. Beth

    Not so very long ago my words would have been ‘lost’, ‘broken’ and ‘powerless’ because that is how my son and his wife had contrived together to make me feel. I’d never been to a counsellor before and despite years of disrespectful treatment at the hands of ES and DIL I had always just taken the whole thing on my shoulders, seeking no help from anyone. But the thing that almost broke me completely was hearing that my son would no longer talk to me if I didn’t talk to his wife and his wife was the one who said she wanted nothing more to do with me! I could no longer pretend that I could make things right by taking the whole situation into myself and so to a counsellor I went. This was a revelation to me, my counsellor listened while I alternately raged and sobbed and then asked me one question – why did I think it was acceptable to be treated this way by another grown up, even if it was my own son. From that moment on a new me began to emerge. I did not deserve the treatment I received from my son and his wife. In her eyes everything I have ever done is wrong and I could never put it right. So I am ‘done with her’ as she is ‘done with me’ and if this means I no longer see my son, then so be it. I will always want to see him and be in his life but not at the expense of myself and my dignity. I’m sorry to have rambled on so long, but my new words are ‘calm’ for those times when the rage still bubbles to the surface, ‘peace’ for those times when I feel overwhelmed and ‘let go’ because I only want my son to be happy and if my letting go is what will make him happy then that’s what I will do.

    1. Grace

      Hello, My husband and I just reached out to our youngest son and DILFH, informing him that his brother is in the ICU again with liver failure, pancreatic problems and COVID. No reply at all, but they put it up the grapevine to all family. Still yet no contact from our son, he has a dark soul, no compassion nor empathy. I guess we should be glad he and his wife are no longer in our lives. God bless our two grandchildren who have them as parents, may God bless them all.

    1. Michelle

      I am going to focus on “embrace”, the embrace I ought to give myself internally. I want to develop imaginary long “inside” arms that embrace me on the inside, and remind me of the dignity I deserve; It’s time to re-channel the energy from trying over a 10 years period to be liked once again by my now 26 years old only daughter; it’s time to invest this energy in what Is in my control, which is embracing myself, loving my husband, and guarding our health and dignity.
      Peace to all of you,

  4. Jennifer

    All wonderful words of wisdom. This group is full of remarkable people. Carry on and stay positive throughout your day. Kindness Matters

  5. Ann Marie

    Estrangement from my youngest son began gradually five years ago. He married a woman who proclaims love and kindness but behaves with devious hatred and manipulation. My son bought into it all, and now his behavior mirrors hers. They are both over the age of thirty and I no longer expect them to “mature”, or “come to their senses “. We live on opposite sides of the country and it’s possible that I may never see him again.
    I went to a counselor for over a year to help myself deal with what felt like the death of my child. The most valuable thing I became aware of is that change is constant in all of our lives. No matter what my situation is today, it will be different in the future. Maybe better, maybe worse, but definitely different from today. The same goes for my “feelings”. Feelings change constantly, too. Despair changes to hope, self-judgement changes to self-love, intense anger changes to resigned acceptance. And then, time goes by and all the feelings and situations change again. This awareness has made me a better person. I strive to be positive and grateful. I look for opportunities to enjoy my life. I acknowledge that I have no control over anything other than this moment I am in right now.
    Truly becoming conscious of this has changed my life for the better. It has helped me to let go of my son and allow his chosen life to unfold without me begging to be let in. I am concentrating on my family and friends and enjoying them all, always keeping in mind that their lives are constantly changing and evolving, too.
    I’ve decided that my phrase is, “Change, Change, Change “, to the tune of that wise and beautiful song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds.

    1. Jame

      Thank you, Ann Marie, for this reminder of the truth that everything is always changing. You have given me hope! Despair may be able to change to hope, and self judgement to self love for me also! Thank you Sheri, from the bottom of my heart, for all your articles and for this place to connect with others going through this torture.
      Fresh from (barely) surviving the holidays, I find myself feeling lost in a New Year. Here I’ve found hope. I’m not alone, and others are also dealing with this intense pain.
      I’ve heard losing a child is one of the most painful things a person can experience. (I mean no disrespect to any parents who have experienced the death of their child.) I learned what I’m experiencing is called partial estrangement. it helps to know what it is.
      I’ve taken three slogans for this year: Turn,Turn,Turn to remind me to change.” Power” to remind me that God has given me not fear but power. I don’t think of this power as control, no, but more as a force for good propelling me onward to change. The last is “Hug the cactus”. It means to feel the pain and not run away from it, but to lean into it when the “grief waves” hit in order to grieve well and fully.
      I miss my daughter so much. Her Mother-in-law called me last week, we have been friendly. She mentioned something about my daughter and embarrassingly, I broke down, cried and said “my daughter doesn’t love me like she loves you.” I may have been on speaker and I believe their whole family heard me sobbing. I’m now afraid I will be seen as trying to guilt trip. I am in deep grief and not trying to guilt trip anyone! I wish I hadn’t used those words but just rather said, I miss my daughter. It’s okay for me to cry and to make mistakes, using the wrong words, at a time of feeling great grief.

  6. Ann

    Love this suggestion as we approach a new year. I live my life by the words “loving kindness and compassion”.
    “May your inner light shine brightly in the darkness.
    May your spirit be peaceful.
    May your heart be filled with love.
    May your mind be clear.
    May your body be nourished. “

  7. Diane M.

    My word is “Pause.” When my mind is all over thinking about my estranged daughter and her family, I say this one word to stop my ongoing thoughts. I’ve been estranged from them for awhile now, but no contact from her for almost a year. We used to just email each other, but no contact. My grandkids are adults now, no contact from them. She sent me a Christmas card along with a gift card. I emailed her a thank-you plus asked if she would like to reconnect in 2022. I have not heard from her since. This card got me thinking about all of them again. We were out of touch for so long, that they were out of my mind. Thinking about them only occasionally. This holiday got me feeling like I went a few steps back. I just won’t be so hard on myself. I love Sheri’s idea of coming up with a word or phrase. Sheri is just full of wonderful ideas! What a Blessing she is to all of us!

  8. Rebecca S

    I’m so glad to have found this group! I don’t feel so alone and ashamed.
    I’ve found 2 songs really helpful:
    Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. “I’ve got all my life to live and I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive.” Whitney Huston’s The Greatest Love of All. “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity… Learning to love yourself Is the greatest love of all.”

    1. Abundance

      Hello everyone and thank you for sharing your feelings and advice. For me, knowing you’re all out there, finding your way through the heartache of estrangement is enlightening and encouraging. It turns out life isn’t always as we may have envisioned it to be so I guess we need to accept it is going to be different. By reading Done With the Crying, doing my own research, talking and listening with friends and family I have gradually come to accept things as they are. I miss my son and my grandson immensely but I can’t allow it to ruin my life or that of my wonderful husband. Yes my life is different to how I had envisioned it to be but I am surrounded in abundance, with beautiful people and all that nature has to offer, it’s out for us all. So my word for 2022 to ABUNDANCE. I’m going to add POSITIVE as my second word as there can be so much negativity around us that it drags us down a slippery slope into a depressive and cynical mindset. Finding positives is becoming a strength I adopt every day and this helps me to focus on all that abundance. Enjoy enjoy enjoy xxxx

  9. Joanne E.

    First of all, my love to all of you for your courage in putting one foot in front of the other, even when it feels like you are moving backwards. You are all rock stars.
    I have chosen a few words to help me. My first is resilience. Through everything, I always manage to be strong and resilient. My second is kindness – like Sheri I always find that being kind to others gives me such joy.
    I think the thing that made me most sad about the situation was knowing how kind and full of love I am and having no outlet for these gifts with my children, so now I look for other deserving places for those gifts to go. There are other people in my life that I can focus on to bring me joy, like my sisters’ children, who love and appreciate me. And they actually deserve my attention and kindness.

  10. Hopeishere

    What an excellent exercise to start off the new year! Thank you so much for the suggestion and I’ve so appreciated everyone sharing! I have been stuck emotionally in anger and not just because of the estrangement. As I move through the pain and find healing, I want to radiate the peace, joy and love I’ve felt I’ve been given to overcome all of what I’ve been through. I know God will show me ways I can walk these things out to people who hurt like I have. Someone mentioned “so far as it depends on me” and that’s the way I view my participation in this world. There’s enough hate out there. We need more peace, joy and love!

  11. Michelle M.

    Grace, this is what I want to bestow tomorrow when my daughter drops off her car and picks up her stuff. I am tired of the eggshells, the drama, and I too want peace and calm. All is bright as I believe God will help me get through the day. I pray for detachment tomorrow as it has been sad in anticipation but I know that I don’t have to endure the exhaustive blame game anymore. I have to trust that God has a purpose in all of this going forward.

    1. dianem

      Stand firm with grace, my friend! Don’t react, don’t get involved. Be calm, direct and remember, your daughter will be in your home, as a guest. You are a woman of grace and substance. Don’t allow your child belittle you. May God be with you.

    2. Mary R.

      Sheri – May I ask you a question. The two other experts in estrangement recommend you *always* write your adult child an amends letter. At the beginning of this article you mention you don’t always think it’s a good idea….could you explain this a little?
      Also is your new book going to be released as an audio book?
      My heart has been broken by my son and I am reading these comments in shock that other people are being doled out this cruelty and hurt by their adult children. The lack of empathy for parents, mothers especially, is deeply shocking and I send all my love and empathy to all the people commenting.
      Thank you, Mary x

  12. Kate

    After going through this estrangement with my ED, my only child, for SO MANY YEARS, I just want “peace of mind.” Being “at peace” is all I want from now on because I can’t change anyone but myself & I’ve wasted enough of my life trying to cling to someone who couldn’t care less about me. Sheri–I thank you so very much, God bless you & all these parents going through this right now!

    1. Jennifer

      I agree. Being a parent of a only son, because my daughter passed at a young age. Bi feel so undone. He’s off with his family and I feel like I’m dangling by a tread all of the time. Want to be the best mom ever, but it’s not working. Especially at the holidays. Want to feel better in life.

    2. Elizabeth L

      Oh, Kate, you hit the nail on the head. ‘ I’ve wasted enough of my life trying to cling on to someone who couldn’t care less about me.’

      That’s my mantra from now on.

    3. Susan C.

      Your words mirror my thoughts exactly, and it is comforting to see mine validated so succinctly. I seek peace, so that is also my word. I also remind myself to refocus on gratitude whenever thoughts of my daughter’s indifference threaten to cloud my existence. There is more good in my life than bad, and I’ve learned I can enjoy other aspects of my life, even with a hole in my heart.

      Peace be with you.

  13. Shawn K.

    Thank you, Sheri, for your very helpful insight and suggested exercises. I needed reminding of how powerful our own messaging through language is; how we may become the emotion felt, like your example of not wanting to “be” a “weepy, insecure woman.” I was even a little shocked to realize how many words of pain came to my mind … YIKES! And that is despite my intentional work all year long in 2021, and years past, but this past year has been the most difficult by far.
    The best news here is that light was shone on all of my work thus far, as words of peace, acceptance and the phrase “strength of heart & mind” immediately were apparent as replacement language for help and healing, and to reclaim my life of choice to live fully – with openness to the natural flow of joy and love given and received.

  14. Karen

    I was influenced by a book by Lysa Terkhurst and she says we must all practice, “living loved.” Although I have lost my children and worse my grandchildren and my husband is dying from alzheimer’s, I can choose to claim – living loved – because of friends and God. We are all able to live loved because we are.
    Thank you Sheri

  15. Looby

    Like most parents, I have gone through every emotion available on this journey of heartbreak. What has helped me in the past is singing the words, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” while focusing on my own inner peace.
    I have climbed to the top of the mountain and sometimes still feel myself free-falling down the other side but I’m learning to hit the brakes.
    My phrase will be, “From shattered to shining!” Like a fragile
    Christmas bauble, I was in pieces…now I’m willing to be whole!
    Good luck everyone and a million thanks to Sheri.

  16. Lisa C.

    I chose dignity and centre Sheri. I will try to maintain my dignity so I can remain centred on my truth. This means no matter what maelstrom is whirling about me, no matter what anyone else says or does – I will not react in a manner that will cause me pain later. I’ve had enough of pain. I will whisper these words to myself, take a moment and be true to myself. Thank you for the advice.

    1. Lorraine M

      I really like your idea of dignity Lisa. Just thinking the word makes me feel like standing tall and calmly. I think I’ve found my word for this year. Thank you Lisa!

  17. Barbara G.

    Peaceful Heart ❤️ is my go to phrase in every situation
    The storm my be raging but my heart will be at peace

    Another one I use for my twice daily meditation is the” Jesus Prayer “ I repeat it slowly in my head over and over ( in german though my mother language )
    Works like a charm for all kinds of tough situations!!
    Here it is
    “ Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on Us all !!”
    Of course people of other religions or none can find their own mantra !!
    Peaceful ❤️

  18. Betsy S

    Thank you Sheri for more helpful suggestions.

    To those who are still in the painful early stages–overtime the pain and shame and embarrassment will subside enough to make it possible for Sheri’s suggestions above to be helpful. I know I tread this path for 4 years with one son and was shocked at how my daughter could have significant things in her life happen and not feel a desire to share them with her Mom.

    I like both suggestions: “All is calm” and “gliding through”. There really isn’t much else to do. And then we go forward doing the things we enjoy most with old and new friends. I’m going to work at building those relationships.

  19. Cris

    Borrowing from, “Silent Night” ( which seems fitting this time of year!) , I shall borrow , “ all is calm” as my go to words. Singing the hymn, my throat always closes a bit, as if preparing to cry, but the words carry through. Hopefully, they will now, as well. You are a blessing, dear Lady.

    1. Carrie-Ann

      I Love your idea on the “Silent Night” words, “All Is Calm.”…As I said these words this morning, the next 3 words to the song flowed out, “All Is Bright.” Somehow the energy of both phrases uplifted me…Thank You for sharing…

      Calm, Bright, Peace To All…

  20. Gracie2021

    Sheri, you are so right…. genius “gliding through”. Just the imagery that I saw was so peaceful. OK ….. now, first word is still “detach”, followed by “gliding through”. Great way to start the day.


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