Self Alienation: Estranged On the Inside

Man on bench

Do you prefer listening to reading? For an audio treatment of this topic, listen to Episode 153 of the Reconnection Club Podcast.

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For some parents, estrangement by an adult child is not their first experience with estrangement. They’ve become alienated over the years from another important person in their lives: Themselves.

Somewhere along the way, they fell out of touch with their hearts, and now find themselves frequently disconnected from their bodies, caught up in thought loops and unhelpful habits.

The more such self-alienation is present, the bigger the obstacle may be, to truly connecting with anyone else. And that includes estranged adult children.

Because when we’re distressed and disconnected inside, it’s hard to mend distress and disconnect on the outside. To bring wholeness and healing to any relationship, we have to be whole. And we have to be healing.

Self-alienation is incompatible with wholeness and healing. But unfortunately, it seems to be the norm in our culture.

We suppress our emotions, or else feel overwhelmed by them.

We act as though we’re separate from our physical selves, treating our bodies as vehicles that sometimes, annoyingly, give us trouble.

We stare at screens whenever we’re bored, and even when we’re not.

We disappear into never-ending lists of to-do’s.

We abuse our nervous systems by constantly assaulting them with negative thoughts and information.

In these ways, we lose touch with ourselves and our shared humanity with others.

For some parents, becoming aware of their own self-alienation is the most important step they’ll take toward reconnecting with an estranged adult child. 

Possible Signs of Self-Alienation

If you’re wondering whether you might be estranged from yourself, here are a few signs that could be suggestive….

  • Never crying. Or crying frequently but not feeling better. Crying is normal and natural. It’s Nature’s way of soothing pain. If it’s not working for you, try reading Constructive Wallowing or seek counseling with a feelings-friendly, local mental health professional.
  • Addiction. It could be to a substance such as alcohol, or to a process like shopping, sex, or gambling. Addiction keeps us alienated, while also temporarily soothing the pain of alienation.
  • Codependency. By always (instead of just sometimes) prioritizing others over ourselves, we build a habit of ignoring our feelings and needs.
  • Avoiding emotional scenes or settings. Emotions express our truth, and self-alienation keeps us from wanting to hear it.
  • Frequently pushing past physical limits. There are many ways to ignore the needs of our physical selves. Refusing to slow down when we’re sick is just one  example. When we do this consistently, we run the risk of self-alienation.
  • Living with abuse. Self-alienation may be necessary to survive in an abusive relationship. There are times when we can’t afford to know what we know, or to feel what we feel.

The biggest danger of self-alienation for parents of estranged adult children may be the loss of ability to self-soothe. Believing that only the return of the estranged adult child can ease the pain they’re in, parents may grow resentful, desperate, or hopeless.

Possible Ways Back

If you think you may be experiencing self-alienation, it’s important to address it — preferably before attempting to reconnect with your estranged adult child or children. It’s not that you’re “too broken” for them, but that you are the foundation for your relationship with your child(ren).

If you suffer from any degree of self-alienation, the following practices may help you build a more solid base for all your relationships, starting with yourself.

1. Breathing. There’s a surprising amount to learn about this most basic practice. If you do just one thing, try switching to nasal breathing. Listen to my conversation with Nick Heath, founder of the Breath Is Life Learning Center: RC Podcast Ep. 146: Breathe.

2. Listening to your body. As an experiment, imagine that every cell in your body is imbued with your essence; that you and your thoughts and feelings find expression in the physical world not just in, but through your body. Feldenkrais, The Alexander Technique, yoga, somatic therapies, various kinds of dance and other movement (and stillness) practices can all help us to reconnect with our physical selves. To come home.

3. Constructive Wallowing (similar to radical acceptance, ACT, etc.). By paying attention to our feelings, and making room for them with compassion and understanding, we become reunited with parts of ourselves that long for acceptance. Love is an action. Embracing emotions without letting them rule behavior is a way for us to love ourselves, and safely reconnect with our hearts.

4. Psychotherapy: It’s not just for people who aren’t functioning. Good therapy shows us how to befriend ourselves. In watching how the therapist responds with kindness to previously unloved aspects of ourselves, over time we integrate that gentle voice and become our own compassionate witness. In that process, we gradually draw back the estranged parts of ourselves, becoming more whole and less alienated.

There are many paths that can direct us toward healing from internal estrangement. The key is to choose the path that most speaks to you today, and take one step along it.

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