Estrangement is a depressing affair. Chronic stress, grief, uncertainty, and negative thoughts are involved in this widespread condition. 27 percent of estranged individuals, emotionally or physically separated from one or more family members, will attest to the gamut of emotions estrangement brings.
Often, the estranged struggle with the chatter in their heads, thoughts that keep them from living again. This article will discuss the trap of unchecked problematic thinking when you are 60, estranged, and stuck in negative thinking.
Thankfully, there is more awareness and excellent books on the topic. Yet, the most needed is the support that moves one forward towards “a new normal.” Often, even well-meaning friends are ill-equipped to offer support to assist the estranged in moving forward. We need to be active and socially engaged to feel better.
Maybe you’re noticing you need more. It is likely you may believe no one understands what you’re going through. You may be on to something.
It is true that absolute understanding is unnecessary to feel supported. Trained professionals are skilled in best guiding someone through their hardship. Getting through the condition of estrangement requires both support and awareness of your perspective.
How does one move forward from the heartache of estrangement?
No doubt, one’s emotional experience needs careful attention. Our emotions and thoughts impact one another. Emotion is how we respond to an event or occasion. Your feeling is your experience of the emotion and your perspective. Thoughts are how you translate your feelings using words that make sense to you. When we are in the thick of our estranged condition, we tend to create narratives steeped in the way we view adversity.
How we are inclined to think about the events, the estranged loved one, our condition, and ourselves can keep us estranged in a stuck state. Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, explored how people deal with setbacks. In his book, Learned Optimism, he discusses three ways that people explain their condition: personalization, permanence, and pervasive.
The way we describe our hardship impacts our process of getting out of stuck and becoming resilient. Resilience is adjusting and acclimating when faced with trauma, danger, tragedy, threats, and significant stressors like chronic illness, financial difficulties, and estrangement.
Resilience is the method of how we protect ourselves from devastating experiences. Being flexible and strong moves you towards mental balance during your most stressful periods.
The realist sees reality as concrete. The optimist sees reality as clay.— Robert Brault
As a therapist and wellness coach, I often cringe at the notion that all one needs to do is magically arrive at positive thinking. It takes a conscious effort to combat negative thinking. It is a mental attitude that some are more inclined to have, while others can cultivate optimism through practicing.
Our thoughts about our circumstances predict outcomes. The optimist favors the notion that a favorable outcome exists with expectations for a positive future. Pessimists land in predicting unfavorable outcomes.
The state of our lives won’t improve unless we reconcile or other expectations we cannot control impede our ability to be resilient. To expand your resilience, consider focusing on predicting a favorable outcome about how you will find peace, joy, and balance again.
The ambiguous and uncertain state of family estrangement often has tentacles in other decisions and is beyond your control. Create a narrative that honors your well-being independent of the outcome you desire.
Are you more optimistic or pessimistic? Building resilience and overcoming the deep dark areas of estrangement requires cultivating positive thinking. How do you make sense of your estrangement condition?
Dr. Seligman found that how we explain our condition impacts how we adapt. The three explanatory styles are personalization, pervasive, and permanence.
If you are personalizing, it is likely you typically place an overabundance of the blame on yourself about your circumstances. When there is personalization, there is a focus on just you. Thinking that your condition lands on your shoulders alone will lead to poor self-image and depression.
Indeed, taking responsibility for one’s actions is critical; however, when one is inclined to personalize, there is a shutting out of what happened externally.
Let’s look at some scenarios with a pessimistic and optimistic explanation.
Thought (internal): This is all my fault.
External: Yes, I am responsible for my poor behaviors. However, the estrangement with my loved one also involved their difficult spouse, their father’s alienating behaviors, their sibling’s addiction, and their job loss.
In essence, we open our thinking to include other elements to move outside of personal failures, blaming and shaming ourselves, and viewing our situation with a broader lens. We combat this type of narration by generating more accurate explanations.
Pervasiveness is the penchant for seeing your estrangement condition impacting your entire life. Nothing can be good again. There is no relief in anything I do.
Pervasive: My family is a mess like every other area in my life. My whole life is a mess.
Specific: My relationship with my daughter is messed up and not what I ever wanted. But I still have my friends who love and value me. I have an excellent relationship with my other child. I have my adoring pets.
Combatting the negative narrative of pervasiveness requires one to imagine differently. Not all areas of your life impact you the same. Find the accuracy of your situation and remind yourself of it.
Permanence is the belief that our estranged condition and the causes are permanent even in the face of evidence. Remember that what is in your control is not your loved one’s behaviors but how you will live despite your situation.
If you are stuck believing that you can never have a life filled with moments of joy, happiness, and fulfillment, you can find a more optimistic narrative. You have experienced loss and hardship and overcome enormous obstacles. That same strength is within you.
Combat the negative thought of permanence by reminding yourself not to catastrophize. The mental work is to counter the tendency to assume the worst-case scenario or outcome. In other words, if you tend to see your result about yourself very negatively because of being estranged, then dispute the thoughts with a more compassionate perspective.
Estrangement is horrific, but it need not define who you are unless you choose not to do the work of finding accuracy and building resilience.
I haven’t spoken to one parent with an estranged adult child or sibling – or an adult child estranged from their parent – who does not want resolution. It looks different for the one cut off and the one who chooses to cut off. Resolution can mean reconciling or wanting nothing to do with the person forever.
The common thread is internal suffering. People deserve to have solid, loving families, but most families fall short. Much of the angst originates from neglecting to care for oneself during the continuing upheaval of estrangement. Committing to a daily self-care practice is how we begin to heal and get out of stuck.
Essential self-care includes getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking enough water, and regular physical exercise. To build your internal reservoir and foster resilience, you need to regularly practice skills that bring you calm.
Self-compassion is not a dive into self-pity. Being compassionate with oneself is about treating yourself as you would your dearest friend.
Dr. Joshua Coleman, in his book, Rules of Estrangement, notes that compassion is the way through the misery of being cut off from your family. Practicing daily compassion can be a frequent reminder that you are doing the best you can and did the best you could. What does it take to put back the pieces when you are heartbroken?
When we feel like we are in pieces, compassion is the glue that puts us back together again. The ancient Japanese art form of Kintsugi is repairing broken pottery by mending it with gold and other metals. Putting shattered pottery back together results in an altered vessel. The pot will never look the same.
However, this “golden repair” is how these artisans transformed their pottery patiently, compassionately, and with tender care, piece by piece. Remarkably, the repaired pot is more desirable and lovely. For the estranged, we can do the intricate process of putting ourselves back together again.
Your compassion is the gold dust of resilience. If you honor yourself with patience and kindness while remembering that you are more than your brokenness, you will find healing.
What has been most helpful in this article? Which of the three negative thinking patterns do you recognize in yourself? Which self-care practice will you find to enhance your well-being?