There is nothing more confusing than parenting after trauma. Our complex trauma teaches us to erase ourselves. It teaches us to ignore our most basic understanding of how the world works. It tells us that our emotions are not valid. And it instills generational messages of unworthiness and mistrust. We lose our inherent intuition and instincts. And with that, we lose our understanding of how to relate to our children naturally. This makes parenting so challenging for us. We know what we want to do, but we just can’t seem to get there. When we can see what is happening, we can start to shift back to who we were meant to be. So in honor of my twins turning 13 a few days ago, I thought I would devote this blog to the habits that tend to plague us as parents with trauma.
We will project. Projection is a word that is overused and underexplained in the psychology world. But the overuse is justified because projection is everywhere. So I will explain it a bit more. In parenting, projection happens when we are taught to suppress our own behaviors. We put these behaviors away and label them as bad or unsafe. When our external children exhibit the same behaviors we are suppressing within ourselves, we use our suppression tactics on them. Projection leads to a generational impact because the only way to stop it is to deeply heal the trauma at the source of it. And unfortunately, it is unconscious and hard to reach without practicing daily awareness building.
We won’t know what to do with their emotions. Suppression can apply to many things, but it almost always applies to emotions. Children are emotional beings. And adults with complex trauma have learned that emotions are unacceptable. At the least, we view them as inconvenient and unlikely to attract positive attention. But at the worst, we see them as dangerous. While projection is a part of our suppression of emotion, there may also be the feeling that our children’s emotions will also get them in trouble with others. The fear of these emotions can make us suppress them in children for their safety and our own.
We live with guilt and regret. There are no parents who get it right all the time. That is impossible in parenting. But when we have been through complex trauma, we have been loaded down with shame. We have been taught that we are unworthy. We have been projected upon until we believe that we are just as bad as our abusers (which isn’t true by the way). We will liken our small mistakes with our children to the traumatic abuse we experienced. And we will spin and spin in our minds about how awful we are. But there is another side to this tendency. If we can keep our focus on our guilt and regret, we can stop ourselves from feeling anger at our abusers which often feels dangerous to our defenses.
We will feel jealousy toward our kids. This might sound awful, but it happens. We have inner children who wanted the life we are trying to provide for our external children. And it is normal for them to feel jealousy. It is normal for them to be angry at the lack of gratitude from our external children. It makes sense that we want to tell them, “You have no idea how good you have it.” And that’s a tribute to how hard we have worked. Don’t forget that. We have worked hard to make change happen and now we are seeing the results. Take that in.
So how do we deal with these challenges in parenting? It is so important to allow our real feelings and not to squelch them like we were forced to do in childhood. If we feel fear about our children’s behavior or emotion, we can allow that fear and express from it. If we shame at our mistakes, let that shame speak up in writing. If we are angry with our children, we can find healthy ways to express that anger and get to the real target (hint: it’s not our children). Let that expression come forward. Accept the struggles that come with being a human dealing with generational trauma. You are allowed to feel how you feel. The more compassion and care you can provide to yourself about this, the more compassion you will be able to find for your external children. And that will create a huge break in the generational cycle of trauma.
There is so much loss in this world. Human existence is wrought with change and loss around every corner. But when we have experienced complex trauma in childhood, the loss takes a new level. Instead of losing parents because they pass away, we lose parents while they are still alive. Instead of losing love through death or divorce, we lose love before we ever have a chance to have it. Instead of losing trust in a person who hurts us, we lose trust in the entire world. Trauma is loss on steroids. And our trauma responses are a combined effort to keep ourselves from feeling those overwhelming losses. But there are reminders everywhere. So we spend a lifetime running from ourselves.
There is no time when those losses become more apparent than at the holidays. Everything we try to run from comes back full force. It can be incredibly hard to wear our mask during these times. It can feel like we are wearing Teflon to restrain a ticking time bomb while hoping we can keep it from exploding. It is an extremely painful time with the reminders of our losses everywhere we look. We see the reminders of unconditional love, extended families, generational traditions and community with people. The hole within us grows deeper and deeper as we race to get through the season.
What if I told you we can exist during the holidays without all that pain? What if there was a way to feel better at the holidays without relying on others to make everything okay? What if we could exist without all the torment during this season? It’s not easy. It’s not a quick fix. But when we acknowledge our pain with compassion and acceptance, we can start to move out of the torture of the holidays a little bit at a time. To do this, we must gain a new perspective about who we are and how we have been affected by our trauma. Here are some steps to bring relief this time of year.
We can move out of the distraction of the holidays. It is not a coincidence that the darkest time of year became the busiest time of year. We live in a world that refuses to slow down. This is a result of the collective attempts by humanity to distract from pain. A time of year that was meant for slowing down and acknowledging our inner world was transformed into a three-ring circus of distracted (and frankly useless) activities. When we take a step back from all this running, we can reconnect with ourselves and the pain that keeps tormenting us during the holiday season. Make it a point to do less this year.
We can acknowledge our anger despite how it is portrayed. If this season is infuriating, that’s okay. We are allowed to be angry with the distracted, masky, perfectionism and all its pressures. We can be angry at the constant reminders to be joyous. The more we embrace our anger, the more we will break free of its hold on us. Ignoring it won’t work. It never has. Accept your anger and take the most powerful step toward your best life.
We can stop invalidating the deep pain about our losses. Our invalidation comes from our fear of the pain that lives underneath the surface. But that invalidation escalates the pain in our system as it retraumatizes us repeatedly. Invalidation can take more forms than we can discuss, but it often claims we are overreacting, need to get over it, should put it behind us or just be grateful. The minute we consider showing ourselves some compassion, this abusive banter enters the picture and takes us down another road of goal-oriented distraction that will never make us feel like it promises. So let the invalidation go and allow the pain of loss that is so real.
We can lower our expectations, especially of the wrong people. Expectations are driven by our desire to resolve our losses with new behaviors from the same old people (or people just like them). They are created from a desire to resolve our pain without feeling it. And they perpetuate that pain indefinitely. Why? We cannot create change by doing the same thing. We will repeatedly have our hearts broken by carrying expectations of others and their behaviors at any time of the year, including the holidays. So let go of those expectations and come back to the original pain of your losses. This is where you can make real change happen.
This holiday season take a new approach. Move your focus inward and heal the pain of your losses through awareness and self-compassion. Watch yourself transform as you accept yourself as you are. And watch the season shift from a nightmare to a new experience you can tolerate, even enjoy. You deserve what others cannot give you. Give yourself the most important gift of the holiday season. Give yourself healing and transformation.
In Survivor’s Guide for Life during December, join us as we come together for support, healing and learning with the Holiday Toolkit for Trauma Survivors.
I have written before about how dissociation is everywhere. And honestly, considering the vastness of the human population, the response to it has been lackluster. Even people who acknowledge their own dissociation aren’t always ready to admit the prevalence of it in the world today. And that makes sense. One of the primary abusive strategies is to make us feel isolated and different. So our very dissociation is set up to make us feel it isn’t common. But as I have awakened to my own dissociation, I see it almost everywhere in almost everyone. I know you are thinking that is obvious because I work with clients who dissociate. But I see it throughout my daily life too.
Dissociation is a primary coping mechanism for children living in a scary world. It isn’t something that has to be taught. It is a natural response to a threatening environment. And to children, it is quite common for something to feel threatening. The event doesn’t have to be newsworthy to trigger a dissociative response. And the dissociation doesn’t have to be debilitating and obvious for it to be dissociation. Dissociation can be as simple as leaving the keys in the refrigerator or driving to work without really knowing how we got there (lost in thought). This is how it works and we are all dealing with it. So why is nobody talking about it? It is important that we understand what is happening here.
We have relied on dissociation since the day we were born. Actually, we have relied on dissociation since before we were born with the previous generations. The emotional pain that runs through humanity feels too big to conquer. It feels beyond our capacity to dig our way out of the collective muck that has accumulated through the generations of trauma before us. So we suppress it. We shove it deep into the crevices of our systems hoping to never see it again. And when a new hopeful generation is born, we do the same thing to them. We project our denial onto them. “Don’t feel. You don’t need to feel. Just get on with life. You’ll be fine.” But there’s an important understanding about dissociation. We cannot use it if we consciously know it’s there. It only exists in the shadows. So we can’t talk about it.
The prevalence of trauma and dissociation in the world feels too big. If we acknowledge our own dissociation, we will see it in others. And we will be faced with the global nature of trauma and dissociation. And I’ll be honest, it can be overwhelming to see the world in this way. But the overwhelm is outweighed by the relief of understanding why the world is in so much trouble. When we can see the parts and their survival strategies, the fear that people are operating from, and the systematic defense of our pain, things make more sense. And honestly, this may be one of the only places we can find real hope. Change can happen as we heal.
It is one big purposeful cover-up. Now you may read this and think I am going all conspiracy theory on you. But think about it for a minute. Dissociation is not just a survival mechanism. It is a powerful way that people can control others, especially children. If someone tells your conscious mind to do something, you have a choice. You might say yes or you might say no. But if someone traumatizes you enough to dissociate you and they tell you to do something, you don’t have much of a choice. You now have an unconscious inner part who is programmed to do what they want. And until you discover it, they can get you to do it anytime by activating that part. People are purposefully using this concept in abusive families, cults, organizations and even governments. And they certainly don’t want you to know about it. So dissociative amnesia will be continually discredited, not because it’s fake, but because it is being used for horrible reasons. People will lose power if it is known by the mainstream population. Before you write this off as extreme, think about it. Why are you writing if off? And where did you learn that?
Waking up to dissociation isn’t just a suggestion or option. It is a significant contributing factor to solving the problems that plague humanity today. As we heal our dissociation, we will understand how to take new action to solve problems we never thought were solvable. Waking up to dissociation is the most important action we can take to change the world in a positive way. So wake up to this sleeping world. Take time to process the fear that keeps you from connecting with your unconscious. Defy the old controlling ways and learn to live with awareness. Change your life and you will be changing the world.
Over the past 12 years, I have developed compassion that I never thought I would have the capacity to hold. It was never modeled to me. I received not even one ounce of compassion. There was none available in my family because everyone was trying to stay alive. They were in survival mode and my pain was of no interest to them. In some ways, my pain made them feel better about their pain. But since it was never modeled to me and I have somehow developed it, I have come to understand compassion as an innately human characteristic. We are all born with it. We all have the capacity for it. And as we heal our trauma, no matter how horrific it was, that compassion rises up from the depths where we hid our true self. It is innate. And that gives me hope.
But lately, I have been struggling with how broken everything seems to be. The world is broken. The collective human psyche is broken. Our priorities are broken. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see “broken” as a permanent state. But if we don’t want it to be a permanent state, we have to start waking up. We have to see the brainwashing we are all living under. I don’t know when it started. Maybe it was always there. But for thousands of years and so many generations, we have been perpetuating a brainwashing that is supposed to keep us alive. The by-product of that survival-mode is a mess. Survival-mode stops us from living our best life. It stops us from helping others to live their best lives. It keeps us driving toward some kind of fake power instead of developing compassion for others. And it destroys the world.
From an inner parts perspective, the collective brainwashing is something we store with our controllers and karma kids. It exists in every person on this planet no matter what their trauma story is. In fact, the people who are the most adamant that they don’t have it are likely to have more of it. So what does the collective brainwashing tell us? Here are what I have found through my own work and helping others.
The brainwashing says we aren’t innately worthy. That’s one of the biggest lies there is. We are born worthy. And we are born knowing that. We prioritize human connection and self-expression above all the worldly crap that doesn’t matter. But then the world asks us what we have done. They ask what we have achieved. They ask about milestones, intelligence, points in the game, grades in school, chair in the orchestra, extra-curricular activities. Nobody ever says, “I’m glad you are you.”
The brainwashing says we cannot trust others. We talk about trust all day long, but in the end, we don’t trust. We learned that people are imperfect and that is a reasonable truth to hold. But the more our needs aren’t met, the more others seem to prioritize their own self-interest, the more we learn to cover ourselves from the pain. We put up our walls. And a lack of trust brings a life full of untrustworthy people proving us right.
The brainwashing says we deserve the pain we feel. It is such a horrible feeling to believe we are deserving of our pain. We are taught that we deserve horrible things because if we believe that, the people doing horrible things are off the hook. So we don’t seek real ways to end our pain because we believe we must have it. We believe it is ours. We might even believe our identity is based in it, that there is no “us” without it. And we hold onto it.
The brainwashing says our humanness is the problem. This problem might come in the form of emotional expression or intuitive drive toward purpose. But it is inevitable when we are children. Our innate humanity will come forward. And the world around us says that’s a problem. Robotic conformity is considered acceptable. In fact, this is the number one problem in the world today.
The good news about compassion is it doesn’t look the way our love seekers think it does. It isn’t draining. It isn’t all-consuming. Compassion is a boundaried love for humanity. It isn’t self-sacrificial. There is no guilt that drives true compassion. In fact, compassion is sometimes about doing exactly what another person doesn’t want us to do. But there is a problem with developing compassion in a non-compassionate world. It makes the heart ache. It drives a longing for a collective pain release. It is the knowledge that things could be so much better if everyone could recognize what was driving their pain. And it is hard to hold that some days. But I know this. It is so much better to hold compassion than the pain of the brainwashing.
I have always found it interesting (translates to spooky) how my external world mirrors my memory recovery. The universe is definitely committed to waking me up. I am reminded of that often. This past week has been no different. It might come as no surprise that I have been struggling to allow an intimate relationship in my life. I am not consciously struggling with this. I really do want a partner in my life. Single motherhood is not always fun. I would love someone to bounce ideas off and have adult conversations with. And of course, I would love to have the love I have not found because my childhood patterns kept manifesting in my relationships. But I made a choice not to go there because I didn’t want a revolving door of abusive men coming in and out of my children’s lives. And I knew my unconscious was at war about it. So nothing good would be coming my way.
So I have kept myself busy with other endeavors as you well know. I parented my children. I got a degree and started a business. And I delved into all this trauma that was stopping me from having the best life possible. It hasn’t been wasted time although my love seeker would try to say that. It has actually been the most powerful time in my life. But I have watched my neighbor do exactly what I didn’t want to do. There was clearly trauma there, but she wasn’t willing to look at it. And the revolving door was pretty active. I watched the impact it was having on her kids who I really loved, and I did what I could. I tried to help as I watched her current relationship destroy her relationship with her kids and leave her whole family homeless. I tried to stop myself from doing too much, but it was hard to set boundaries, and I didn’t know exactly why. I wasn’t having problems with boundaries in other areas of my life by this point. But deep down, I knew I was triggered. I was furious with her. I hated him. I just didn’t understand exactly why. And I have learned in this work that there is always an exact “why”. If we don’t know it yet, there’s a repressed memory.
On an apparently different note, I recently went to see a Tarot card reader. The first words out of her mouth were, “Wow. You are really creative.” I tried to dismiss it and she said, “No really … like … off the charts.” So I knew she knew something. During the reading, she did mention that someone would come along and it would be a great relationship. That made me and my love seeker happy. But she also said something about the kids. She said they were standing in the way of it. She didn’t say it judgmentally. She just said it. And I could not deny it. I went on and on about the logistics of dating and parenting. And she nodded in agreement. But something deep inside said that wasn’t the entire story.
Cue this crazy weekend. After three pet deaths in a year (all old age), I knew it was time for some new energy. The kids had been begging for a kitten. I had secretly decided on two because I always wanted to have cats that were snuggle buddies. And I also wanted them to be siblings. Of course, as things go, the kittens they wanted came in a set of three. They picked out two and there was NO WAY I was leaving that third one alone. So we have new kitten energy times three. And snuggle buddies they are … when they are not tearing through the house at 60 miles per hour or falling in the toilet. The kids are ecstatic. So are my inner children. But I heard something deep in the unconscious that caught my attention. It was completely contradictory to what I know to be true. But it said I was not allowed to have these kittens. They were in danger. They would die. I wasn’t good enough for them.
But I have taken many animals to ripe old ages in my adult life. This has never been a problem for me. I would mortgage my house to pay the vet bills if one was sick. It’s just how I do things. This was about something else. It was about a core memory, a memory I already remembered. One of my most core memories which caused the split of my mean kid and karma kid was about a cat, my childhood cat named Misty. I came home from school one day to find out that she had snuck out of the house and fought with a raccoon. There was a written note that said she was in the laundry room and not to go in there until my mother could take her to the vet. Of course, I didn’t listen. I walked in the laundry room and she looked okay. She had been sleeping but did not look injured. My furious mother walked in behind me and screamed at me. She said the injuries were internal and she might have rabies. She took her to the vet and I never saw her again. I kept waiting for her to come home until my mother finally told me she wasn’t ever coming home in a very condescending way. She acted like I should have figured that out on my own. Cue core memory and the split of my inner defenders.
I knew this was heartbreaking for my inner children. But I never understood the status this memory had in my system of memories. I mean really. I had been through it all. But this weekend, it hit me like a ton of bricks. There was no raccoon. My cat never got in a fight. My cat never went to the vet. My cat was removed from my house because it was no longer convenient for my cat to be around. Why? There was a new guy. And he was controlling every move she made. He was driving a wedge in between my mother and me. In this moment, it worked. I never sided with her again on anything. As a matter of a fact, I ran to my psychopathic father and told him about this guy and his controlling tactics. My father never liked competition. He rained his wrath down upon my mother and her boyfriend and the guy ran for his life. This was one of those moments when my father’s anger was of benefit. He was scary as shit. But that didn’t bring my cat back. And my mother’s guilt trips were never ending until she found another pedophile to marry. But I didn’t let her pick the guy who wanted to erase me and everything I loved. And for that, I am proud of my 10-year-old self.
I will have to watch for the beliefs that a new man would erase my children (and now my cats) from my life. I am well aware I would never let something like that happen. I am aware that no man would stand a chance in my life if he indicated he would not respect what I loved. But my inner parts are wary. And I get it. I can respect it. At the same time, I’m not going to let some asshole from my past determine what I do with my future. I will process this. And I will find a kid-loving, cat-loving man who is nothing like the monsters I have known. That is my promise to all five of them. And I don’t break a promise.
People pleasing is one of the most debilitating survival skills that comes from a traumatic childhood. You might be thinking this is an exaggeration. Wouldn’t addictions have a greater impact on our quality of life? But here’s where we get confused. There are many types of addictions. And our need to please others IS an addiction. It could be called an approval addiction or a love addiction, but it feels desperate and life threatening to step away from. The courage it takes to stop people pleasing is definitely as significant as what it takes to stop drinking or taking drugs. And that is why we have to approach it like the addiction it is. We have to take it seriously. And we need to be motivated, the kind of motivation one who have if failing was no longer an option.
I am not suggesting we have to tackle people pleasing with one huge all-or-nothing swoop of massive action. That is what I call swinging the pendulum to the other extreme. It will usually manifest as extreme isolation. And the misery will stay. The only way to work with a people pleasing tendency is by taking small steps toward balance between rigid isolation and boundaryless exhaustion. But no matter how small the step, it is going to feel like moving a mountain. So we have to do our best to make sense of it. Here are some steps we can take to understand our people pleasing in new and empowering ways.
We can bring awareness to our need for perfection. The controller within all of us will stand in the way of dropping this addiction to approval. This inner part operates from an all-or-nothing perspective. And they will stop you from making any progress by telling you it is not enough progress. But they are actually terrified of setting boundaries with others. They are deeply committed to approval and acceptance as a survival strategy. When you can bring awareness to how they operate, you can start to take steps out of people pleasing without having to get it perfect from the start.
We can see our patterns as a reflection of our trauma. It can be “easy” to get caught up in the hype that our life patterns are bad luck or a result of us not being a good enough person. We may even believe that karma is punishing us. But our relationship patterns in adulthood are reflecting the trauma that is unresolved. It can be hard to see this especially if we are struggling with denial and memory repression. These patterns often result from our relationship contracts held by the karma kid. But they are breakable. And the more we wake up to this, the more empowered we are to make changes.
We can recognize the resistance to setting boundaries as a traumatized inner part. When we consider setting boundaries for our own benefit, the inner response is often overwhelming. It can immediately cast doubt on our decision and leave us confused about the right way forward. But this intense resistance is coming from our inner parts. They are messages from the past. This is the brainwashing. That is not an exaggeration. This is brainwashing. And the more we can see these thoughts as confused and traumatized parts, the more we can allow them to express (in writing) and detach from the messages. Then we can take the most grounded step forward.
We can start failing the tests. When we meet up with people who LOVE our people pleasing tendencies, they will latch on. They may even start to love-bomb us with tons of affection to connect with our love seeker. But they will also start to test our boundaries. They will want to see how much invasion we can take. These early stages of our relationships are the most important times to stay aware of how we are being tested. We need to watch how our love seeker will explain away these invasions. We need to watch how we allow our boundaries to be invaded. We need to stop passing their tests. That means they will probably lose interest and that terrifies the love seeker. But these are the tests we want to fail. These are the moments of rejection that will define our lives for the better. So start failing these tests.
People pleasing is one of the hardest habits to break. But you can build your awareness of what is driving it and stop these patterns, one step at a time. You do not have to live with the constant exhaustion of a moving finish line. You do not have to be consumed with the approval of everyone around you. You can let go and free yourself from the pain of being trapped in a people pleasing pattern. You can bring your attention to yourself and your happiness. You are worthy of freedom. You deserve a life free of your past.
Join us in November as we explore people pleasing in Survivor’s Guide for Life.
If there is one thing I have learned about recovery, I have confirmed it is the loneliest experience one can have in adult life. If you disagree, that’s fine. This is quite the subjective statement. But I’m sticking to it. And I have my reasons for believing it. Over the years of working on my own healing and helping others to heal, it has become painfully obvious that loneliness is our constant companion. Part of the reason is our own struggle with trusting other humans. I don’t say this to victim-blame. Of course, we don’t trust other humans. When the hell have we ever been given a reason to trust anyone? Vulnerability only came with horrible consequences. And when we continually meet people who do and say the same things as our abusers, we can’t find any safe relationships to break our cycles. So we end up isolated in recovery until we can release enough of our trauma to end our relationship patterns. When we combine that real isolation with the emotional flashbacks of being lonely in childhood, it quickly becomes the loneliest experience.
It isn’t fair. Those of us who are willing to take on this journey deserve support. And it seems impossible to find. Not surprisingly, many of us turn to the animal kingdom. I am no exception. I grew up with cats. They got me through the darkest of times. I didn’t have cats consistently, but there were two cats around for enough of my childhood years that I found support with them. I never got to see a cat to a natural end of life in childhood. There was a horrible raccoon fight and a move to England that shortened my time with them. But in adulthood, I have had the privilege of living with two more cats for 15 and 14 years. Cats have been there for me.
But I was never a dog person. In childhood, we had one dog for a very short time before my mother gave up on him. He was highly energetic and she didn’t want to deal with that. Of course, she blamed me for not taking care of him. I was 11. It was just another example of how everything was my fault. So when I met my husband, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having a dog. But he wanted a dog. I decided to find him one that I could tolerate. It would have to be a small dog. We settled on a Yorkshire terrier. He wasn’t one of those tea-cup things you see in celebrity purses. He was a normal size yorkie weighing in at 12-13 pounds fully grown. When I picked him up from the breeder, I didn’t have a name for him. We brainstormed for three days before my creative husband said the perfect name. We lived in a neighborhood called Church Hill. It is my favorite place in the world. And when my husband said “Winston”, I knew that was the right name with a little adjustment. Our pup became Sir Winston of Church Hill in that moment. And he lived up to the name.
It wasn’t long before my husband let me know that the dog was mine. The dog had completely attached to me. He would not leave my side. But I didn’t want a dog. I knew nothing about dogs. I didn’t know how to train a dog. (He was never really trained.) But I had a dog. And that was that. Winston was stubborn. He never took no for an answer. In a way, he was there to trigger me. But he was there for so much more. Less than two years later, the twins were born. I was scared about how he would accept them. Would he include them in his circle of protection? It isn’t always a sure thing with little dogs. But he did. He loved them just as unconditionally as he loved me. He definitely loved them more unconditionally than I did at first. And he was MUCH more accepting of them than the cats who stayed as far away as possible until the twins were about 8 years old.
But the twins brought something with them. They brought an opening of all my suppressed trauma. They brought panic attacks. They brought flashbacks. And as I healed, they brought a mass exodus of everyone who was a danger to them and me. That was a lot of people. As a matter of a fact, that was practically everyone. The twins were there. Where else would they go? (My parts used to tell me they would leave if they could.) I had a couple limited friendships. The cats were hiding or outside. And there was Winston, wagging his tail, looking at me with those eyes, telling me I wasn’t completely alone. He tried to stay low maintenance with the single mother who had no support, but he had some health problems. And he was there on all those very dark days as I processed the horrible things that happened to me. And as I recovered memories, I realized there had been a dog just like him (literally the same type of dog) who had been a part of a pivotal abandonment trauma in my childhood. I adopted this dog to resolve my trauma without even knowing it.
But Winston knew it. He knew exactly why he was here all along. He was the one who would bring me through the worst of my adult years. He would bring me through the loneliest time. He would get me past the suicide risk and the lack of support from the human world. He would make this time bearable and help give me the strength to raise my kids. And he did his job well. He did his job until two days ago when he finally succumbed to kidney disease. (That’s not true. He would have held on forever. I had to make the hardest decision of my life because he was too stubborn to go.) I won’t be getting another dog. The universe orchestrated this dog and I appreciate it. But I’m still not a dog-person. I’m a Winston-person. To be honest, he was like a cat-dog with his attitude and untrainable nature. Winston will always be mine. But my dog season is finished. He came. He did his job. He went. And I am grateful and heartbroken. I had the only support I would have accepted. And he did it perfectly.
Good boy, Winston.
I was inspired this weekend. When you hear what I was doing, it won’t be surprising. This weekend was my favorite weekend of the year in Richmond, Virginia. We hold a festival which is truly spectacular. The Richmond Folk Festival is not your average folk festival. It doesn’t define folk music in the most traditional American way. It has expanded the understanding of folk music to an international musical experience. And if you know me at all, you know I am all about bringing the world together. So I attend the folk festival every year with no exception. I cancel all plans. Nobody has a chance of scheduling something on this one October weekend. I am busy. End of story.
There have been my own inner obstacles to process along the way. Like many folks with C-PTSD, I am not a huge fan of crowds. If someone is standing directly behind me, my system goes on high alert. And if there happens to be a group of people imbibing a bit too much and getting a little too close to my space, I am not super excited. I do have to watch my stress level for sure. But even with 220,000 people in attendance, the festival is outdoors and spread out across many stages. In some cases, the audience sits on massive hills, so there is always a way to escape those triggers. The claustrophobia that comes with big crowds is more manageable here. And I’ll be honest, the hypervigilance is worth it for me.
So I was inspired this weekend by the amazing variety of incredible artists from all over the world. It was a beautiful experience as always. There was singing, dancing and art from around the world. And I had not heard of most of these artists before it started. While the schedule does list the genre of music, I had almost nothing else to go on when I chose the acts to watch each hour. I would always choose the groups playing salsa music because I could dance (and dance and dance). But otherwise, I would pick musicians based on their names. The weirder, the better. Of course, I had to see Plunky and Oneness of Juju. And they were as amazing as their name. But when I saw a delta blues group called Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks, I knew where I had to be.
I showed up with bells on. And I had expectations. I was sure it would be 4 or 5 of the most awesome African-American male musicians from Mississippi. I have always loved blues music. And that’s what I was used to. But that is not what I got. The lead singer and guitarist met my expectations and he is truly one of the most underrated guitarists I have ever seen. How does everyone NOT know about this guy? But his band was the most shocking. The bass guitarist looked like me (not totally but a little). And the keyboardist looked like someone who could knit the perfect sweater for my kids for Christmas. I know. This is making me look bad. I am supposed to be completely open-minded. And in many ways, I am. But I am taking a moment to be vulnerable about my shortcomings. No lectures please. And honestly, the rest of the audience was just as dumbfounded as me, especially when they heard them play. And I am inviting you to look at your expectations because these women taught me something. What did they teach me?
There is no such thing as “too late”. As I mentioned last week, any restrictions on time are a defense against taking risks. In many cases, time is exactly what we need to prepare for our biggest, “awesomest” performance. Healing isn’t an obstacle to our purpose. It is preparation for it.
Live out loud. I know you want to punch me right now. You are definitely rolling your eyes. But I could not help to think about how many people told these women they would never do what they wanted to do. How many times did they hear they had to tone down their dreams, their personalities, their clothing, their stereotype-breaking plans? They clearly didn’t listen. Thank God!
Stop trying to please everyone. You can’t. You never will. Some people just aren’t going to like it when things and people don’t meet their highly limited expectations. They aren’t going to be inspired. They are going to be confused. They are going to have to tell themselves a story about why they couldn’t do the same. And it is inconvenient. And if they don’t like what you are doing now, they are never going to like what you are doing. So do what you want. Deep down, you know what it is. If you haven’t found it yet, keep processing the trauma. You will reach it.
It is time to get rid of the restrictions. It is time to stop listening to the limits. We are better than what they said. We can do things that we don’t even know we can do. Do it for you. But also do it because it infuriates everyone who is stuck in their limited thinking. Shake things up and make change happen. Your recovery is an act of defiance. Your purpose is an act of defiance. Defy the odds, the expectations, the limits, the restrictions and the stereotypes. And you will be on the leading edge of a major human transformation.
*Here is a video from several years ago of Super Chikan in action.
They say time heals all wounds. I hate that phrase. I hate it because it is a lie and it messes with our heads. It was created by the collective controller to give us false hope that doing nothing but living out the years will somehow miraculously heal us. Nope. It won’t work. Time does one thing for us when we have unhealed trauma. It increases our hopelessness because we can’t escape our patterns. And it hones our defenses against the hopelessness … at least until the defenses start to fail. Eventually, we become isolated and jaded and exhausted from the constant cycle of shit being thrown at us. That’s what time does.
I know that sounded really depressing. You may be thinking I am not in a good place today, but that was more of a soapbox than a reflection of my current state. I am angry that this distorted understanding of time has messed with so many good people who really want to heal. So I am being really blunt about how time is used against us in our recovery and journey towards purpose. We have to allow a new perspective when it comes to time. And we have to question the constant barrage of statements from our defenders who attempt to keep us stuck with their understanding of time.
So I am going to give you some phrases to look out for in your healing journey. If you hear one of these phrases, know that your defenses are committed to stopping you in your tracks. The defenders don’t do this to be mean. They do this to be safe. But in the end, it stops us from the life we are meant to have. Watch out for these phrases.
I am too old for this. Nope. Nope. And nope. Never ever listen to this one. There is no such thing as “too old”. I know you are thinking that is the biggest cliché out there. And it is. But all clichés are based in the truth (somewhere deep down). I don’t care what society says about when you are supposed to get a college degree, start a career, get married, have children or anything else. If your purpose is calling you in a direction and you don’t do it because of your age, it will be the biggest regret of your life. Even if it takes forever or you don’t succeed until you are 85, what else were you going to do with that time? You weren’t going to be at peace because your system would be at war over not taking these steps. So go do it.
Everyone else started before me. First, who is “everyone else”? That phrase immediately signals the presence of inner parts. They love to speak in extremes. If it sounds like a middle schooler in your head, it’s an inner part. Second, even if you go back to school with a bunch of 20-somethings, you are bringing experience that they don’t have. You are going to take this purpose in a direction that only happens with the knowledge you have accumulated and the purposeful skills you were born with. And you will be surprised how fast you can turn something into a success when you are on your path.
This will take too long. “Fast” is in the eye of the beholder. Your inner parts want immediate gratification. They want results right now. They don’t understand that success takes time. If something is quick and not likely to work, they are going to choose it over the thing that will take ten years and actually work. That is why quick fixes are so popular. Parts are looking for that quick miracle to make everything okay. And it doesn’t exist. It will take longer than your parts want to wait. But keep going. You will see results. And in ten years, you will think it was fast. It might even feel a bit too fast.
I have already done this for too long to change now. We often get stuck because it feels too overwhelming to face the time wasted not following our purpose. We don’t want to grieve the time we lost so we keep going in that same direction long after we know it is wrong for us. And we end up wasting even more time. The path of least resistance is almost never our path. Whether you get off that path now or in ten years, you are still starting from the same point. It is time to cut the losses and feel the pain of it so you can get started on something new. You won’t regret it.
When time-based phrases come up in your head, let it be a red flag, a signal that something isn’t quite right. Your grounded adult self is not obsessed with time. Your inner defenders are. If you can recognize this as a defense, you can begin to ask the right questions. Whether you are 24 or 74, it is not too late to take your life to the next level. Time is not your enemy. Time is a tool you can use to heal. Make a new relationship with time. And use it to get to know yourself.
I am processing through some serious shit today. I have an hour until my blog is supposed to be posted. I have spent the entire morning staring at the page only to write 326 words. That’s not even true. I have spent the entire morning staring at the page AND watching clips of the Graham Norton show AND answering emails (but not enough) AND watching my newly acquired Betta fish swim around his tank. I have also been making some impressive lists of things I am supposed to do today. All of these lists are in my head of course. And none of these things are actually happening at this moment.
The problem isn’t the blog. It isn’t the topic. I really like the topic. And I am one of those weird people who loves writing blogs. I love writing in general. I am a total nerd that way. The problem is the futility. It is brutal today. And it is paralyzing me. You may think that is rare in my life considering how much I post. It is rarer than it used to be. But it’s not as rare as I want it to be. I want it to be nonexistent of course. And before you ask if I have written from it (and I know you’re asking), I have written many times but this part isn’t quite ready to budge yet. And not surprisingly, my controller is freaking out. I am running out of time to keep my commitments and they won’t have it. That is unacceptable. But my controller is at a loss.
They have been at a loss for a while now. The contracts I have been releasing are so confusing to my controller and my defenders in general. I have lived my life for these contracts. I have made my life rules based on these contracts. Almost every step I have taken or not taken has come from my need to uphold these contracts. So as I break these contracts, life feels empty. It feels undefined. It feels like there is truly no reason to move forward. What happens now? If I am free to do whatever I want with my life, what does that mean? Has my life so far been for nothing? Has it all been moving down the wrong road? What am I supposed to change? Anything? I just don’t know.
I can feel my parts grasping for anything to take my mind off the empty confusion of having no real direction forward. I see them looking for the next travel experience, another house to move to, more new pets, new hobbies, even something to stress over. But I made a rule a long time ago. When I feel like this, I take no new steps and make no new commitments. I have learned from my mistakes. And my parts are pissed about it. Instead, I will sit in this house and do my work and nurse my aging dog and make sure my kids have the childhood I didn’t. And it will be hard to feel motivated on some days like today. And when the futility fog of ended contracts lifts, I will have new inspiration to do the next thing.
I am sure this is not the last time I will see this place. And I hate it. But when it lifts, I am left with more energy, new ideas and inspiration to live in a new way. I just have to hold on for the ride. And I will because I have this awareness. One day, I will be able to make all my decisions without considering the agreements I made to my family. I will be able to take steps without concern for whether or not my eventual savior will approve of it. I will be able to step out into the world in powerful ways without the fear of punishment that keeps me small. But it is definitely a process.
Freedom from contracts comes at a cost. It comes with confusion we can only end internally. It comes with the anger, futility and grief of recognizing we have lived a life without that freedom. It comes with the emptiness of having to rediscover who we are at the core. It isn’t easy to hold space for this. The defenders will have us convinced it isn’t worth it. But don’t believe what they have to say about it. There is something better than comes on the other side of contracts. And we are meant to get there.
*Join me this month in Survivor’s Guide for Life as we explore Breaking Contracts for an Authentic Life.