Self-Care for Parents of Estranged Adult Children

Autumn is my favorite time of year. Maybe it’s my Scandinavian heritage, but I tend to wilt in the heat and spend most summers “pining for the fjords,” like the Norwegian Blue parrot of Monty Python fame.

But for many people, fall is also a time of getting back to work or school and filling shorter days with more to-do’s.

For parents of estranged adult children, this is a good time to review your self-care strategy and make sure it’s well established by the time the holidays roll around. Here are six tips to help you take good care of yourself.

1. It takes a village.

Self-care can be lonely. People experiencing rejection sometimes unwittingly reject themselves by ignoring their own needs. If you don’t have the energy or will toward self-care, recruit someone to support you.

It may be a friend, your spouse or partner, or an actual support group. Whoever it is, tell them you’re trying to prioritize self-care, and you need their help.

If you’re not sure what other people can help with, print out this article and get together to discuss it.  There’s likely some way you can support each other.

2. Pay attention to your  heart.

Self-care is more than engaging in activities with others — even though that’s a wonderful thing to do. In quiet moments, are you listening to your heart?

Emotions connect us with ourselves. Pay attention, with compassion, to everything you feel. Yes, even the feelings you’d rather not have.

Paying attention to “negative” feelings like sadness is not the same as “focusing on the negative.” Feelings are not thoughts. They must be consciously experienced in order to be released. To let them go, we need to first embrace them.

You may have a large backlog of feelings attached to painful events in your life. If so, they’ll come to you in waves. Each time you meet your feelings with acceptance and compassion, you’re chipping away at the pile.

For much more on how to do that, see my book, Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them.

3. Revisit chronic pain.

Pain science is evolving. Studies like the Boulder Back Pain Study are finding out exciting things about how our brains process pain, leading to new possibilities for many who suffer. (For a link to the study and discussion, click here.)

Physical pain is unavoidable; it’s part of life. But chronic pain may be more treatable than previously thought.

Feel free to reserve judgment; this is all quite new. But if you’ve been suffering with chronic physical pain — especially if traditional treatments haven’t helped — keep Pain Reprocessing Therapy, or one of the other new approaches, in your pocket.

4. Wiggle your fingers and toes.

Physical activity is an integral part of good self-care. Moving your body offers both physical and emotional benefits, especially for those of us of a certain age. Movement and socializing go together nicely, so why not start or join a walking group?

If you’ve been fairly sedentary, signing up for a season of pickleball or going to a gym might seem daunting. I’m convinced that any physical movement, including lying on the couch and stretching, is better than none. Start as small as you like, and see if you feel like doing more over time.

When you just can’t seem to get motivated to move, make yourself search online for the term “benefits of exercise.” Just reading about those will probably inspire you to do a little bit more.

5. Define your B-words.

“Boundaries.” The very word fills many people with fear and loathing — especially rejected parents, who find themselves outside the hard lines drawn by estranged adult children. Yet even if you don’t like the idea of boundaries, you can’t get away from them.

There are limits to your comfort zone. There are things you will not do, no matter what. There are words and behaviors that always make you feel disrespected. These are indications of your personal boundaries.

Caring for yourself, like caring for your property, includes defining and maintaining good boundaries. Is it okay for every dog in the neighborhood to use your front yard as a bathroom? If not, you must protect your space.

There are many helpful articles on boundaries out there. This is just one.

6. Prioritize trauma treatment

If you carry the unwanted burden of trauma, you can do everything above for years, and never achieve the well-being and sense of freedom you deserve. Even if you’ve had talk therapy from which you learned and grew and partly healed, you might still benefit from trauma-focused therapy with a qualified professional.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. In fact, older people are more likely to be able to make room in their lives to focus on trauma treatment.

Psychotherapy of any kind isn’t something that’s done to you, or even for you. It’s done with you. Effective treatment, especially for trauma, is deeply relational in both theory and practice.

Finding the right therapist is rarely easy. Often, you have to meet with more than one before encountering someone with whom you can form a deeply healing relationship. Enlist the help of supportive friends to research your options. Here are a few directories where you can search for mental health professionals by zip or postal code:

https://traumatherapistnetwork.com/

https://www.psychologytoday.com

https://www.goodtherapy.org/

Reconnection Club members can listen to my conversation with Pat Patrick, and download the ACE questionnaire that Pat walks listeners through during that interview.

Self-care is not easy for those who haven’t received enough care from others during their lives. But I hope you’re not going to wait for anyone else to do it for you. Plan to give yourself what you need today, and every day.

– Tina Gilbertson

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