Overcoming Emotional Pain From Unwanted Estrangement

Do you prefer listening to reading? There’s a Reconnection Club Podcast on this same topic. Click here to listen after March 25, 2024:

RC Podcast Episode 168: Emotional Pain: A Field Guide

 *   *   * 

Emotional pain hurts on multiple levels.

First, there is the emotion itself. Many emotions are excruciating.

But on top of emotional pain, there’s also suffering caused when 1) our feelings don’t make sense to us, 2) we’re terrified we’ll feel this way forever, and/or 3) we have an intense need to get away from our experience.

Confusion, despair and feeling trapped all lead to suffering and stress on top of emotional pain

So the first thing we can do about feelings we don’t want is to remove the extra suffering. Recognize that emotional pain is temporary, and usually alternates with periodic relief. Accept the reality of current experience, not yesterday’s or tomorrow’s.

And label the pain. 

Give Pain a Name

Labelling emotional pain is a simple but crucial exercise in self-care.

As much as we may try to ignore unwanted feelings, or choose different ones, they don’t go away just because we want them gone. We have to fully feel our emotions before we can let go of them. Emotions we push away become stronger, seeking our attention and making us sick and tired.

The practice of naming emotional pain helps feelings move through us in a healing way. In labelling and making sense of them, we allow ourselves to safely experience all our emotions, and truly let them go.

Let’s label five types of emotional pain you might experience if you’re unwillingly estranged from your adult child(ren). These are not the only possibilities, of course. But they’re very common…

1. Missing your child

This could feel like loneliness, emptiness, or nostalgia for earlier times. Estrangement may have left a hole in your social network and a dent in  your emotional well-being. If your adult child used to be a big part of your life and you feel their absence acutely, put words to missing them: Do you feel lonely? Abandoned? Do you ache for connection? The need for companionship is basic; it’s perfectly okay to have these feelings. It’s also okay not to miss your child(ren) if you don’t; many parents find separation easier, especially when the relationship has been painful.

2. Concern for their safety / well-being

No matter how old they are, every parent feels better knowing their children are safe. Whether it’s separation anxiety or well-founded worries based on circumstances (e.g., a medical condition or known drug use), estrangement destroys the comforting illusion of safety that regular contact bestows.  So put a word to what you’re feeling: Are you worried? Anxious? Afraid? What is your feeling based on? It’s safe for you to know what you’re feeling, even if it’s based on something you’d rather not dwell on. 

3. Social embarrassment

When your adult child isn’t speaking to you, you might be self-conscious. Especially if it seems like every parent you know is in contact with their kids. You may feel the need to keep up a pretense in public. Do you feel mentally exhausted at times? Are you embarrassed about the estrangement? Awkward? Humiliated? If you have feelings on the embarrassment spectrum, anywhere from slight discomfort to abject shame, just give that experience a name. Let yourself know what’s true for you. What does embarrassment say about you? Only that you’re being honest with yourself.

4. Identity crisis

The more you’ve been identifying as “So-and-So’s parent,” the more your identity could be shaken by an adult child’s estrangement. You might wonder what the estrangement says about you as a parent. You might ask yourself, ‘Who am I if I’m not actively parenting them?’ What are you feeling when you’re thinking about this: Do you feel confused? Lost? Without purpose? Is there resentment that this is even happening, given the efforts and sacrifices you made as a parent? Pay attention to any loss of identity, and see what you can learn about your deepest, truest, most lovable self. 

5. Rejection

Do you feel replaced by someone else? Or possibly betrayed by someone close to you? When rejection includes those “extra” injuries — and even when it doesn’t — it’s one of the most painful emotions we humans can experience. Try to distinguish between rejection, feeling abandoned and shame/unworthiness; sometimes they clump together like a gang of lawless bullies, pushing their way through defenses and reopening old wounds. Rest assured that your feelings, whatever they are, make perfect sense given your experience in life thus far. For more about rejection, listen to Reconnection Club Podcast Episode 95: The Deep Pain of the Rejected Parent.

A False Solution?

If your adult child’s behavior triggers any of the feelings above, or other painful feelings, it might seem that ending estrangement is the only solution to your pain.

But what if your adult child isn’t ready to reconnect? Does that mean you’re stuck with the feelings you have? Not necessarily.

Paradoxically, in order for you to reconnect with your adult child(ren) and begin to feel better, some of this pain may need to start resolving now, before you reconnect. There are two main reasons for this…

First, until emotional pain is less acute, it’s extremely difficult not to approach relationships from a place of need, rather than abundance. If you end up trying to put your adult child’s needs first during the reconciliation phase, it will be nearly impossible to do without a full-ish emotional bucket. Even if you try to hide your pain, it has a way of making itself known. And for better or worse, children of all ages prefer their parent(s) to be happy and whole.

Second, many reconnected parents report that emotional pain does not resolve with reconnection. They continue to feel bruised and vulnerable after the relationship resumes. For these parents, the reconciliation phase is challenging. The need for personal emotional healing remains.

So don’t wait for reconciliation; give all of your current emotional pain an accurate and compassionate label. Write it down if you wish. Give your feelings and yourself as much self-compassion as you can muster. Feel your feelings.

Always remember that feelings themselves can’t do any lasting harm. It’s what we do because of unwanted feelings that can potentially cause damage.

For step-by-step guidance in talking yourself through (not out of) emotional pain, pick up a copy of my first book, Constructive Wallowing.

*   *   *

This article was featured in our monthly newsletter. If you’re a Reconnection Club member, feel free to leave a comment in our General Discussion forum.

Not a member? You can still receive our monthly newsletter and get articles like this one in your inbox. Click here to join the mailing list.

Members have access to helpful courses, workshops, and expert interviews to help them create and follow a heart-based strategy for reconnection. They also gain support and ideas from our friendly, private discussion forums. Learn more about the Reconnection Club.

*This page may contain affiliate links. If you follow one and make a purchase, the Reconnection Club will receive a small consideration. There’s no cost to you, and we only share links to resources we believe in.