Surrendering into That Kind of Mom

I want to be that mom. That mom that is always ready to have her kids’ gaggle of friends over on a whim or moment’s notice. That mom who has her kids and their friends come to her for support or guidance.

As my kids get older, i am starting to see just why i want to be that mom. It’s because i’m a therapist and am well versed in hard vulnerable conversations. The ones that need to happen and rarely don’t. It’s also because i so needed that in my own childhood. My mom couldn’t be that for me. She tried – she got the snacks ready, she hosted the sweetest birthday parties in my younger years. And yet, i couldn’t turn to her for the big stuff as i got older.

For one reason, it’s because she was faced with her own big stuff. I know this because she turned to ME for support and guidance, for solace and to grieve.

When my youngest kid’s friend recently had a period scare, i was that mom – that mom who was not only at the right place at the right time, but also that mom who they could come to in their embarrassing need for help.

And it was a few months later that i was told i made it to the Cool Mom Club. Did you know that was a thing? It’s not really. I made it up but i know that we all claim to not care about it. That we would rather be the kind or funny mom. I don’t want to be the (insert sport here) mom, or the chauffeur mom.

I do like the sound of the cool mom though.

It means i am someone who is safe to turn to for embarrassing stories, hushed secrets, for questions that are hard to ask but important to, and to feel less alone in this thing called life.

Recently, my cool mom status was put to a further test when i let my kids go on amusement park rides on New Year’s Eve. The test really came when i agreed to go ON a ride. You know the one, it’s where we go sideways and backwards really fast and lose all sense of gravity. My first mistake was thinking i was not only cool enough but young enough. My second mistake was picking the seat for pure colour (it was PURPLE) and not logistics like it spins more.

In the end, I did get off the ride when it was over. I also needed to take care of myself by sitting on the curb for quite a few moments to gather my bearings. It also meant that my family was able to care for me while i took one for the team. My daughter also was grateful to share the experience of this ride that took me by surprise in more ways than one.

Now that my kids are not so little anymore, their pains and feelings are getting bigger. They are in fact very similar to ‘real life’ stuff like managing conflict with friends and peers, healing their own heartbreak, and figuring out who they are. Me eldest child is starting high school in the Fall, and is really thinking about who they are. My youngest kiddo is dealing with friend drama and is heartbroken with a recent full-blown conflict with people she thought were her best friends.

When i hold them in their pain at age 2 – and it’s about sharing their favourite toy – i can be there to hold them in the much bigger life lessons. I can’t stop the pain from happening but i can be there to hold them so they are less alone in the pain that has to metabolize and heal.

This is what i truly wanted and did not get as a child. I had a bully and mean girl drama in grade 6 that was very isolating and alone. I was alone in my suffering and i do not want that to be the experience for my own kids. My mom didn’t really know my friends as i got older, and my peer orientation became so separate from my life at home. I also have to track my own reactions so that i don’t transfer my scars unto my kiddos. What is mine is not theirs. Thank goddess for good books like THIS ONE that keep me on the right path.

I may not sing in key, but i also know a lot of the best and most current pop songs, even if they are sourced by Tiktok. By the way, while my status as a cool mom is valid, i am not that mom that will allow my 10-year old to be on Tiktok or have a phone. I’m still very much a cool AND feminist eyes-wide-open mom.

This recent experience also helped me anchor my word for the year, which is SURRENDER. I don’t see surrender as giving in but rather soften into trying something.
Surrender is not giving up. It is much more active than that. It is not passive, but rather permission giving. Surrender is sovereign. It is not giving my agency or power to someone else. Permission from within to myself.

It also means i do not have to do it alone. Surrender is a very intentional acceptance of softening, which allows for the gift of vulnerability of asking for help. It means reaching out at the same time as turning inward. So, it’s time for me to read the beautiful wisdom of Sil Reynolds’ book Mothering and Daughtering. She co-wrote it with her own daughter when she was a teen. I’m ready now to accept my new phase of motherhood is to teenagers – this is new terrain indeed. Just when i thought i knew what i was doing with school-age children, they are now blossoming into adolescence.

So, as all rites of passage remind me – this is the ebb and flow of life. It is the birth/death/rebirth cycle. Speaking of witch (ha ha!), this year, I plan to surrender to my witchy side, to the divine feminine in me, to the goddess. This is a part of me I have been keeping hidden and quiet. I’m ready to surrender to this calling. Surrender is spiritual and divine, it is acts of ritual and an all-in attitude of acceptance.

I’m also planning to offer something new in my work. So surrender is needed to take this next step, to stop resisting this dream. Stay tuned! Hint: I’m putting the final touches on a course for parenting after experiencing trauma!

Surrender is also needed to help guide me away from stuckness. It is about making peace with the messy parts of life. I hope it gives me space and new ways that are aligned with the me I have evolved into. Not the old me.

Each year, I find words that act as guideposts or lights for my main word. Besides the theme for each month, these words play a role in helping me make a decision. Some are seasonal and some are more regular visitors.

Let’s see how I will surrender myself into this.

A Year of Grace and Grief

I had no idea at the start of the year just how much the word Grace was going to be the perfect word to hold me. Funny how that happens – the words i choose in December of the last year seem to be quite the serendipitous fit. This year was not exception. In fact, this year, i was even more aware and intentional of my word and its 4 guideposts.

Sitting here on my bed, i would like to pretend i’m excited to reflect on the year that was. But, to be honest, it’s hard to pretend that anything really special or big happened. Except that my mom died. That seems to be the only thing that happened. Recalling the year that was brings a big void to my heart and mind. I barely want to scroll through my hundreds of photos as there are a few i barely can glance over.

And yet, something that i’ve learned over these last few years is that closing a chapter needs to be done mindfully. Saying goodbye to a year also means finding the glimmers and gold moments. They are hiding there, and having gratitude is necessary to both learn from our experience and to embody the felt sense of having had it in the first place. This is where resilience and wisdom live.

So, this birthday weekend, i am pushing myself to honour this year in review journal. I hold rituals and traditions in high regard. This year is no exception.

I took a year-long program to enable me to really concentrate my therapy practice from a somatic lens. I am so happy to report that i have now completed it! Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Level 2 is a 120-hour deep dive in how somatic healing helps integrate trauma for developmental themes. This was a big part of my professional learning this year. I also took courses in Internal Family Systems and sex therapy for EFT therapists. Both really complement my training with somatics and the work i do.

Besides the ‘official’ training i took, i am a constant learner. I read close to 50 books – that’s 1 a week, wow! It was a mix of fiction for fun, work books, and non-fiction for my own personal growth. Here are some of my favourites:
* Motherhood: Facing and Finding Yourself by Lisa Marchiano
* The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief by Francis Weller
* Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home by Toko-Pa Turner
* The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova
* Daughters of the Deer by Danielle Daniel
* Journey through Trauma: A Trail Guide through the 5-Phase Cycle of Repeated Trauma by Gretchen Smeltzer

Another thing i did was finally take a beginner’s pottery class. It was a lesson of grace: i was humbled by the process and my beginner’s mind. I took it as a gift to myself, to play with creating something from nothing. I don’t plan on making this into a work venture, but rather to hold in reverence the creative part of who i am.

I finally met a mentor in real life. How exciting! I got to attend an intimate gathering of celebrating Kimberly Ann Johnson’s book that she co-wrote with Stephen Jenkinson. My socially awkward fan-girl Part showed up with me – i was convinced she wouldn’t know who i was and i had a deep wish she would. Guess what – she did! Grace reminded me that it’s okay to show up anyways, and to do something that requires exquisite risk because the reward is worth it. Another thing i did was finally take a beginner’s pottery class. It was a lesson of grace: i was humbled by the process and my beginner’s mind. I took it as a gift to myself, to play with creating something from nothing. I don’t plan on making this into a work venture, but rather to hold in reverence the creative part of who i am.

I loved being able to be in this shared community, as another word for me this year was Community CONNECTION. Connection was another guiding post for grace. For instance, i decided to not wait anymore to start my first Group Supervision in my private practice. I have been hoping to offer it for months. The first meeting was magical. Working as a sole practice therapist definitely has its benefits. But as a social creature who values learning and sharing with others, i am so grateful that people signed up to share space – we are not meant to do this alone!

I took a wonderful dance class called 5 Rhythms. It was lead by Layah Jane and i will definitely sign up again. She lead us through 5 very different feelings/rhythms of chaos, flow, staccato, lyrical and stillness. I loved moving by myself, intuitively responding to the music, and also other dancers’ energies. I missed this communal sensation, what is known as shared rhythm.

In the Summer, we went on our first family trip in two years. I took my family to our Florida home in the heat of July. I grew up spending summers there, and the Florida sun was just what we needed to reconnect, play and rest. We swam daily (more than once a day!), we kayaked in mangroves, we collected shells: We had an embodied experience of rest and AWE – just what the summer needs. It was a pleasure-filled trip.

I treated my family to tickets to shows and events that have not been possible before. Both because of Covid, but also because it caused too much financial strain in the past. This year, i realized i don’t want to wait anymore to live me life and a year-long study of grace is all about this. So we saw Cirque de Soleil, the Cursed Child broadway show, and just this past weekend, i saw Rupi Kaur perform her amazing poems on stage. All of these gifts, decadent treats were awe-filled, community-based and new experiences for me. Each captured that felt sense of wonder and awe for us, witnessing artists in their elements.

Fall means RITUAL for me. Again, i didn’t know just how fitting this word would be when i picked it last year. What changed was that the rituals were more for grief work and internal ways to hold my self.

This year was about trying new things, and getting myself back out in the world. I have gone to a few sound baths. A part of me was really drawn to them because i loved the idea of being in silence, without speaking, but just taking in the ethereal sounds of the instruments. I was able to stay present with them and go deeper.

I hosted my friends with some witchy crafts. We made spell jars and did a Cutting the Cord ceremony. We shared meals together and sat together in parks. This is soul medicine – spending time with people who see me for who i am, and help me feel like i belong no matter what is the same or different between us.

I also was so humbled to attend a Living Funeral with Brooke of Length of a Candle. I spoke a bit more of my experience HERE. It was a cathartic and deep experience for me, one that allowed me soul to be fed and also a practice of grace for me like no other. It was an exercise in giving my messy, vulnerable feelings grace to be present.

I was split open by grief this year. My mom died suddenly after a short battle with cancer. It followed a long line of other health ailments, and yet it still baffles me that she died. She wasn’t supposed to die this year. We were just starting to heal our relationship to a more full place, and the threat of Covid was lightening up so we were just starting to spend quality time together. I’m so glad she got to have one last meal at my place in April. I was able to host my parents, and show them that they matter to me.

Grace has guided me through my grief. It made me more gracious to folks who haven’t experienced a loss like this. I was disappointed to not be held and cared for as i needed to be. It gave me permission to let this feeling happen and then to ask for what i needed. This grace period then enabled me to be an active student of grief work, and even more grief literate. I share about my reflections HERE. It allowed me to be humble and curious in the process. It made me more gracious to myself, by allowing me to slow down and really tune into what i needed in any given moment. It guided me to see what was present as well as where i might need to turn for support. Most of all, grace is an active practise of self-love and compassion – it taught me that when i aligned my behaviour and action with what my capacity is, then i am not overriding my nervous system. Grace is graceful, loving, and soul nourishing. It is gracious, life-giving and soul work at its best.

It is also connected to repair work, for when i make mistakes. Because i made some; we all do. When i over-reacted to my kids’ or got angry at a mistake i made, or when no one checks in me. Grace is there, letting me know that we are all human, and therefore all trying our best. Sometimes that best is at my 100% most regulated. When i’m running on fumes or my bucket is empty, my best is from a 20% capacity level. That’s okay too. That is when popcorn for dinner is perfect, when going to bed at 9PM and the kitchen is a mess. Grace shows up and reminds me that tomorrow is going to be better.

Speaking of capacity levels and soul work, i have been re-reading the transformative book Women who Run With the Wolves this year. I pulled it out as an intentional way to hold my practice of grace and re-wilding journey. One excerpt from it has stayed with me:

“When a woman is too long gone from home, she is less and less ale to propel herself forward in life. Instead of pulling in the harness of her choice, she’s dangling from one. She is so cross-eyed with tiredness she trudges right on past the place fo help and comfort. The dead litter is comprised of ideas, chores, and demands that don’t work, have no life, and bring no life to her. Such a woman becomes pale yet contentious, more and more uncompromising, yet scattered. Her fuse burns shorter and shorter. Popular culture calls this “burnout” – but is more than that. It’s hambre del alma, the starving soul. Then, there is only one recourse, finally the woman nows has to – not might, maybe, sort of but must – return to home.”

Sitting here, on this final days of 2022, the word that holds me in my year-long dance with grace is EASE. I am giving myself permission to take the easy way, not to cop out but rather to not override what i have capacity for. To honour just what i need and to not get pulled into toxic productivity. This above quote, written at least 30 years ago, is a reminder that hustle culture, burn-out and externalizing our worthiness have been pulling at us for too long.

Let us take back our life, to live it with grace, love, awe and ease. This is the lesson my mom taught me, let this be her legacy.

I’m a Feelings Wheel in Motion

I’ve been sitting with my feelings a lot these last few months. It’s been both a helpful exercise to catch me in my feeling as well as practice what i preach as a therapist.

It’s not lost on me that as a therapist, i have a bias and privilege to already know a thing or two about how to care for feelings.

One thing i’ve noticed is that feelings are fleeting, unless we make contact with them. I read somewhere that a feeling only lasts in our consciousness for about 90 seconds unless we make them linger more consciously.

Talk about a fleeting moment.

This is similar to our thoughts where we assume they are fact but most likely are not. We give them power and weight, and by doing so, we start to believe they are 100% true.

If you don’t believe me, don’t take my word for it. There is a large body of work diving into the depths of the brain, so neuroscience tells us so: Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change through growth and change. It can be rewired to function in some way that is different from how it previously functioned.

We give what we think so much time and energy, or at least the hard feelings and negative beliefs. And yet, that doesn’t serve us. Rather, it keeps us stuck in our negativity bias, or an old limiting belief.

Don’t get me wrong, i don’t necessarily want to shift from a negativity bias to toxic positivity, but i do want to find a balance of my emotions. This is what Emotion Regulation is, the ability to handle any feeling no matter how messy or hard they are, and not bypass or run from them.

I have been tracking when a feeling shows up, and what it may need. Sometimes, i am faced with two feelings that feel polarized around a decision to make. If one feeling is afraid of a new outcome and the one is excited, i ask myself what option allows me to savour the feeling i want to linger in. I don’t disregard the fear, but rather let it know its valid and then choose to go with the option that allows the excitement to be more present.

We can feel our feelings without them consuming us or self-sabotaging the pleasure and outcome we are truly wanting. This is a way to let us acknowledge the feeling and let it know it’s noticed without letting it take over. When i spend time with this, i am giving compassion to a feeling or belief that i had in older versions of me, the older parts that are stuck in a time loop that no longer serves. It doesn’t realize i am better than before, and have new resources. This interoception is the work of Parts Work practice.

“We must learn to bear the pleasures as we have borne the pains.” ~ Nikki Giovanni

art of alchemy

Alchemy is the science experiment of creating anew from something else, with a hint of magic. It is kind of like helping us move through a hard feeling to get to the other side of it. It is a practice, a belief, and an art. Here are three ingredients it requires: Acceptance, Ritual, Time. I like to think of finding a new place with a feeling to be like the steps of creating gold from goo.

If you are stuck on how to do this, here are some simple steps to process challenging emotions instead of bypassing them or numbing out from feeling too much. When we don’t let ourselves feel the big and messy feelings, we also then turn off feeling the big good feelings.

1) Acceptance: Accept the feeling you are having and what it is trying to tell you. Acknowledging it helps it be cared for instead of bypassing it. Ask yourself “What am i feeling right now? Have i felt this way before, what did i do to help me then, how does my body feel now with this feeling…investigate if the feeling is new or has visited you before.
2) Ritual: What are things you can do to care for it – what do you need to Resource yourself? Don’t just do this as a reaction, do it repeatedly and often. What tools helped you before, what might help you right now? Trial and error is a process of alchemy. When we resources ourself in this way we validate the feeling: It’s ok to feel this way right now. Don’t run from it – nourish it.
3) Time: Be patient rather than resilient; don’t bypass the feeling or it will flood you later; take time to heal- slow down and rest; Titration is key just like when making gold in alchemy. We need to have time to shift from it.

I like to think of this process like an emotional vampire who has not been allowed in. Vampires cannot enter a home unless invited in to cross the threshold. So, unless i say, “sure Sadness, come on in,” it may just give me a gentle wave and go on her not-so-merry way.

I appreciate that not all feelings are primary, but rather a reaction to my original emotion. A secondary feeling is how i feel about the primary feeling. For instance, have you ever felt happy after being surprised with a special gift? That feels easy – what about becoming angry that i was scared. It is a judgment about ourselves because of old procedural learnings we have not just about the feeling itself but also what to do for it. If we weren’t held, seen or cared for as children when in this feeling state, it is hard for us to know what to do for them now as adults. So we alchemize that fear response to being angry at ourselves for being scared.

Have you heard of a Feelings Wheel? It’s a gorgeous visual depiction of the multitude of feelings we may have over our lifetime, day, year. I especially love Lindsay Braman’s model. She took it a step further and included somatic sensations that typically go with feelings. A movie that i adore about feelings is the animated story of Inside Out – Joy and Sadness are the stars and their journey to co-exist is a stunning portrayal of mixed feelings and our full range of emotions.

We live in a world that prioritizes how we think over what we feel. Our capitalist masculine-oriented system dictates that we are successful when we think well and feel less. Emotions are a sign of feminine energy and seen as weak. This lack of permission to be okay with any feeling we have (or complain if we are not happy) is also seen as insubordinate or negative. So, most messy feelings get put in the individual and collective shadow, only to be seen in extreme volcanic eruptions. We internalize that we are ‘too much’ for other people because we have feelings: For the record, we are NOT TOO MUCH. Rather, this is a reflection of our people’s lack of capacity to handle more feelings. We are walking feeling wheels, all of us. A good way to reclaim this is to honour the feminine AND masculine in all of us.

“Emotion is rarely convenient and quite often intolerable but I find at the moment it’s quite all right. Anne with an E show
One way to help us get a better sense of our relationship to feelings now is to do a bit of a memory walk down our childhood experience lane. What is your early experience of emotions? As an adult how are you expressing emotion now? Is it the same or different? Have you possibly developed an unhealthy relationship with your feelings?

Not only are we able to get a better handle of our emotions, we are also able to heal old experiences of our feelings with new positive corrective ones. Remember how i mentioned neuroplasticity and how our brain can learn new tricks? As our living happens in real time, in the here and now, we are given lots of do-over opportunity to correct old negative experiences that have been stuck in us. One way i have been able to do that is to reclaim my right to anger or sadness. Of course i’m sad – my mom died and i was not able to heal our relationships. My sadness is proportional to the experience. My partner and own therapist reflect that my feeling is not only valid but also understood. That has been a reckoning: I was told my sadness was too much as a child, and that my anger had no place at the table.

Dosing the field with safety is when we intentionally connect with things that help our nervous system feel safe. It comes from the beautiful work of Polyvagal Theory to help us just boost just enough so we have a bit more capacity in our bodies. Think of intentional glimmer moments from Deb Dana. (I think I heard of this term specifically by Carmen Spagnola.) So, make sure you stock up on things like: Chocolate (the good stuff), tea, hot shower, candles, fresh flowers, good music. Make a point to get outside, talk to a friend, or recall a favourite memory. It doesn’t have to be sensory-based resources like this but just enough to dose yourself with safety.

When we resource ourselves in this way, it reminds our body that we do have some capacity. Even if it remembers other similar hard experiences like this, this present moment opportunity is a corrective experience that helps us stay in the here and now.This article is a great resource to learn just how this works.

There will be days like this: hard ones that feel full of sadness and disappointment, heartbreak even. Marianne Williamson reminds us that sadness is not a mental health issue. It’s okay to be sad and not have only happy days. This is living the full human experience.

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal taught that every problem comes from a person not being able to sit alone in a room with themselves (and their emotions). This may feel challenging because it is a forced pause to stay with our feelings. We typically want to run away from them and adrenaline is an addictive hormone that gets us moving away from reflecting on how we are feeling. Remember, feelings are fleeting so if we learn how to tend to ourselves for the 90 seconds they are visiting us, they will move through us faster.

Remember, it really is up to us to stay with a feeling or to disregard it. Further, we can have agency then to learn through feeling joy or pain. We don’t necessarily want to be void from feeling but rather have some psychological immunity so we don’t stay stuck in the suffering of it.

I am Not My Mother, My Daughter is Not Me

“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate” Carl Jung

I like a good podcast to keep me company. I don’t always like to listen to them when i walk home after work: I like to immerse myself in the walk and the quiet. And yet, i was pulled to have company on a few walks recently. So, podcasts were a great solution. And guess what, they gave me both company and pause.

For instance, on Glennon Doyle’s recent podcast episode on her wonderful program We Can Do Hard Things, she had Dr. Becky on a two-part episode. They talked about parenting in modern times and the struggle to be present parents. And yea! They talked about IFS.

There were some nuggets in there for sure. As an attachment-based trauma therapist, a lot of what she shared was not new to me. And yet the timing in my own life is pretty serendipitous.

Here are some quotes i got straight from the source:
– “It’s the child job to have feelings and it’s my job to guide them to be able to have a way to process through them”
– “I need to embody my authority and boundary AND honour my child feelings”
– “We can’t learn to regulate feelings you don’t allow yourself to have”
– “We react most to who and what provokes our earliest attachments”

So this felt really relevant to me. I definitely have witnessed and experienced for myself that we look to shutdown in others what was shutdown in us: It is just too much for us to bear. It’s partly because we are triggered by our children in areas that not finished in our story. What doesn’t get healed and integrated in ourself can manifest into anxiety. And as Dr. Becky reminds us “anxiety is a symptom of what you want to do right or new but it old wiring and need to update the circuits.”

Um…yup yup yup.

In my recent therapy session, my own therapist reminded me to track what is my story and what is about my daughter directly. This was not a new idea to me: I’ve been noticing that this ending and beginning interplay between us has been quite present over the years. I have learned to say to myself “what is mine and what is not mine.” It’s a way of helping me discern where my own story ends and my daughter’s may begin, especially if there is overlap.

Lately, there has been a lot of overlap.

Some of it goes further back and i am also noticing what my mom’s story was.

It’s important to have this distinction because it helps to know what is within my control and worth tending to. It also gives me some agency to know what is worth my energy or when i might be transferring my own needs and experience onto my daughter.

For instance, i shared last month how my daughter is again facing a year at school where she is separated from her friends. I know this is a common experience, and yet it angers me that it still continues to be so. I wish that more consideration went into what we know now about children’s self-esteem and attachment theory.

I know what it’s like to be alone, separated from friends and not having a felt sense of belonging. Having a community is essential to help us grow into more actualized adults. It also can help buffer us from further pain related to relationships. When we have a good foundation, it gives us a healthier perspective on relationships and life in general.

Let’s not forget we are social creatures, wired for connection.

My mom did not have a big community when i was growing up. She had a few friends and spoke to our neighbours. My parents came to Canada during a mass immigration, but before the diaspora due to the war in what was Yugoslavia. She didn’t belong to a community, even though she supported family to come after her. I saw her try – with exercise classes, Spanish lessons, and talking to other dance moms. She was shy and quiet, mainly due to feeling insecure about her strong accent and a deep distrust of sharing herself with others. So that meant that i didn’t really see her socialize and have friends. It was rare for her go out in the evenings with a friend. More rare, or in fact never happened, was a weekend event outside the home.

Now, as an adult, i am catching myself comparing myself to my mom. I see one of the hardest struggles she endured was loneliness and a deep aloneness in her experience. She turned to me to be her confidant and emotional support. Even at 15 years old, i knew my place was to hold other people’s needs. It’s no surprise that i chose to be a psychotherapist, holding space for other’s feelings and narratives.

In my personal life, I make an intentional point to make plans with friends. This is important modeling for my kids. I want them to see not just that i value community but that having a felt sense of belonging establishes a healthy self regard for ourselves. It is also tied to feeling joy and pleasure in our life. I am grateful for a dinner out with friends or being able to start hosting them again in my home.

And yet, these past few months have been more lonely and alone than i ever would have expected. And that comes on the heels of a pandemic, rather than at its peak most isolating period.

So, when my daughter learned that she was not in the same class as her friends, i couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes. We are the same size so i actually worry i put her in my shoes.

My trauma is not my daughter’s trauma
My mom’s needs are not mine

Relational and attachment wounds start in childhood, mainly due to an insecure attachment to a primary caregiver. They can also arise later in life, due to an unhealthy relationship with an intimate partner or toxic friendship. They are a type of trauma. Being separated from friends in school can be a “small t” trauma itself. We feel so alone in the classroom, it feels like noone has our back and it is us against the world.

Here is the distinction though: not all events lead to trauma. What may be impacted by one person as trauma, another person who experiences the same thing may not be traumatized. In The Body Keeps the Score, countless stories remind us of this truth. It is not just that they are more resilient, but rather they were not alone in their experience and had a space to unpack their feelings. Peter Levine shares that one reason that trauma gets stored in the body is because we are alone in experiencing it and no one was there to help hold the story for us.

In the book What Happened to You, the authors shared their concept of the Three E’s of Trauma: Event Experience Effect. All three need to be reviewed to get a sense if the person is experiencing trauma as a response to an event.

This knowledge of trauma healing work gives a better backdrop to a family’s trauma cycle: the generational experience and patterns that may lead to intergenerational trauma.

Did you know that the egg that made you was first embedded in your grandmother? So her life experience can carry into your own cells. This includes legacy burdens.

“Only with heightened coping skills will we be able to rise above our shell shock and be who we want to be. All of us have the capacity to do this, and when we do, we will increase our own happiness and be of greater service to those around us.” Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia
Break the Cycle
I’ve been thinking a lot about epigenetics and the impact of intergenerational trauma. I have been tracking what ages of my children have been harder for me, not just as their mom but also as it brings up triggers of my own experience. At times, it shows me the scars of my unresolved traumas are being cut open again.

There are some things are definitely mine: The pandemic, my own birth trauma, i left home at 16 and i am the only mother in my extended family who also works outside the home (to name a few examples). And there are other things that are in my mom’s backpack baggage: Driving is hard, dating as a wife and romance was not visible, she left home country at 20 and had no family support.

How do these very different experiences impact us? One way we are impacted by intergenerational trauma and attachment wounds is our self-esteem. We witness our mothers and how they care for and see themselves. That modelling gets passed down to us and we internalize how we think we need to think about ourselves.

Self-esteem is the internal understanding of our self-regard. It gets mixed in with confidence, but that is an externally based reflection, due to a focus on attributes, success and sought-after items. Take for example, my parents got me a car in high school. It helped me get to dance class and yet it was a hot commodity with my friends. My confidence was boosted by the popularity i received by owning my own car.

Our self-esteem is a lifelong journey. At times, it is tumultuous. Many of us were raised in an era where our self-esteem and worth were not at the forefront of parenting or child-related systems (i.e. school). Now we know better.

Girls’ self-esteem peaks at age 8. In an era of social media and technology, i can’t help but wonder if the age is even younger now. According to Richard Schwartz, who created Internal Family Systems, we are born with all our Parts. What changes their role is how our life is shaped between the ages of 0-11 years old.

My kids are 13 and 10. No pressure, mama.

I have not always caught what triggers me until after the fact. Case in point: my daughter’s room. I thought i’d be that mom that didn’t care about how messy a kid’s bedroom got. For a while, i would just brush off the impact. At other times, i would go in and clean it up. Now, i barely go in there – and let’s be clear, it’s almost impossible to step foot on the actual floor. But i have to be mindful of what i say here – i am not a fan public shaming. Rather, my point is noticing with surprise, the impact my daughter’s room has on me. I have learned it’s a trauma response for me that is still unhealed, that makes it hard for me to accept the state of her room. I was never allowed to have a messy room. I internalized that in order for me to feel safe and calm, i needed a tidy space with everything where it belongs. For the sake of my nervous system, this helped me feel safe when i felt like i walked on eggshells at home.

Does that make me a permissive mom? Maybe. It also makes me a conscious, respectful and regulated mom who accepts what i cannot change.

Gretchen Smeltzer wrote in her book, Journey Through Trauma “the feeling of safety is an outcome, not an input, and trauma work. You create a safe environment in mind body spirit emotions and relationships and then you practice taking safety in.”

We become our patterns especially when we are not aware of them. That is what gets repeated.

I had an out of body experience recently, looking at my life from the outside in. Going through my mom’s things had real hon me how similar I have become to her. I have been so dreading becoming my mother for years. Her unhappiness, her endless craft works in progress, her lack of community. And lately I feel like I became her subconsciously, without realizing it. I noted that I don’t have to repeat what had been broken.

Coming out of the woods and back on our path is like healing from trauma. It is a hero’s journey – what we do with our life after healing trauma. Judith Herman’s theory of the 3 stages of trauma therapy really unpacks this process well. They mirror the journey of the hero, finally getting to integration.

Trauma is not just what happens to us, it’s what was taken from us because the trauma got in the way of our development. It’s also not having the support and resources we need to heal.

Trauma is a nervous system wound, and it is also a heart wound. “The ways it shapes and takes and changes us could be nothing less than heartbreak.” Syanna Wand. So it is also grief work – grief of what could have been, and was taken from us and can never be.

Trauma resolution is moving from a trauma vortex that’s designed to protect us from further harm to a more embodied place of pleasure and living life with full expression

Healing takes time and new wounds can happen, as new traumas can be had. What shifts is the dual awareness of what we need now, and what no longer is stored in us as a trauma vortex, but a more healed one.

So this is where I sit now – being able to notice where my story ends and my kids’ begin. It’s a way of stopping the intergenerational trauma from continuing on.

No pressure, mama.

I Have a Team in Me – just in time for a new school year

My kids are on the brink of starting a new school year. This has always been a bittersweet time for me – the mix of excitement of the year ahead mixed with the anticipatory worry that comes with what they will face that is still unknown.

Some of it stems from visceral memories of my own childhood, that was mixed with some of my best years and some of my hardest. As a therapist now, who specializes in trauma and attachment wounds, this wisdom is hard to overlook now that i am a parent.

Our core memories still show up in the present – sometimes in the form of wounds or if we are lucky, as wisdom to guide us. They show up in our internal parts and the goal they have to inform or protect us. I have been able to heal the more exiled parts and give my strong inner guides a more healthy and wanted role. And yet, it’s times like a new school year that still bring up the old defaults of my Parts. My various parts show up to help me out when faced with new experiences, and can be a bit polarized.

For instance, the Good Mom in me wants to shelter my kids from disappointment and sadness. The wounded adult in me is still grappling with her own scars from school. The fully formed self is appreciating this interplay that at times feels paradoxical.

These parts of me have come to guide me in a more deeper way than ever before – i can witness in my children what they need as well as know what my strengths and limits are.

Take for example, the special kind of hell of finding out that your kid isn’t in the same class as her best friends. Again.

The Good Mom Part of me knows that my kid is resilient, social and thrives in community. The Wounded Child Part of me knows my own mom never showed up for me when i needed her advocacy or voice at school. The Young Teen Part is so scared that this happening, as it was close to this age that i also experienced some of my hardest years at school. The Trauma Therapist Part knows that being separated from peers is a small t trauma that can build over time. The Attachment Theory Geek Part in me is worried about how this will impact her at school and life, when she has to keep working at fitting in and adapting, instead of feeling safe and belonging in a community that considers her needs. The Grieving Daughter Part knows my mom tried her best, and faced a lot of her own Wounded Parts. The Skeptical Part is not trusting of a system that totes the company line and is focused on the best for the greater good, rather than individual mental health – all very masculine energy based focus.

These are just some of the parts that show up in my head as i try to grapple what is best for my child. Coming to centre allows each voice to be heard and considered, in a way that values their input. This is not easy work and yet it is transformative.

When i am faced with a decision that seems hard and i feel pulled in different directions, that is a cue to me that i have polarized Parts that are trying to guide me, albeit in different directions. I am starting to listen to them, track them like animal tracks in the snow. Then i use a more centred Self to guide me back to a voice of reason instead of being pulled into catastrophizing.

This is how i start to embody RESILIENCE – feeling like i have capacity to handle things because i am resourced. This comes from starting to really listen to my self and all my parts.

I love the word ‘resilience,’ even though it has become a buzz word these days. I love that it shows we can come back after experiencing adversity, that we have strength in us all along. Resilience is not independence or self-sufficiency, but rather a felt sense of confidence of our own capacity. It is a reflection of having an embodied knowing we have the resources we need to handle something. It also is a reflection of knowing we belong to a community that will be there for us.

Independence can be more of a trauma response or attachment wound from not being able to trust others when we need to be held or soften. We feel like we can only trust ourselves.

I love how both my kids share about their days, their life, their worries with me. That they know i will listen (even when it’s sometimes not fully because i’m not perfect and can only take some much Roblox or anime info load). This is not something that i had as a child when i was their age. I was alone in my misery and worries, as well as my interests and wins.

This is huge reparative work, both for my inner wounded parts as well as our generational cycle. No matter what the outcome may bring, i want my kids to know i have their back and their pain is no smaller than mine just because they are young. Their worries are not trivial, they are age-appropriate.

What truly makes us feel a sense of resilience, capacity and confidence is knowing that we belong because others will hold us when we soften. When i consider what is best for my kids’ mental health and well-being, this is what i come back to. When adults show that their students’ wellbeing is paramount, that means knowing what students are friends and feel both confident and safe together. That shows students that teachers can be trusted to have their best interests in mind, and are a safe harbour.

After these last 2 years, we should all know that community is what helps us get through hard times. Isolation and being separated by our loved ones can be detrimental to our health. We are social creatures, not unlike elephants and wolves. We need connection to be safe.

“The difference between fitting in and belonging is that fitting in, by its very definition, is to parcel off our wholeness in exchange for acceptance.”Excerpt from “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” by Toko-pa Turner
In the work of attachment theory, the focus is on adult-child attachment. While i don’t disagree with this, because schools do not typically follow the pedagogy of one teacher for a student’s lifetime (unless you are in a Waldorf setting), it is peers that build that felt sense of belonging. For better or worse, it is peers that shape us and guide us, who we compare ourselves to and find our way with. As my daughter has entered puberty, this is a huge focus of her self-identity and sense of worth right now. She needs to be with her peers so she can embody this confidence of what is felt inside and reflected in her peers.

We also now know that it is the ages of 9-12 that are pivotal for personal growth and self-worth, especially for children who are female identified. This transition of puberty is messy and a major rite of passage. I shared more about it in my previous journal article HERE.

But i digressed…

I guess a part of me really wanted to focus on the science of Attachment Theory!

Coming back to my Parts and how they can guide me, one thing that is key to note is that we don’t’ want to get rid of our parts but rather update them to the most current edition, the best version of me. Not all of my Parts are wounded, some have always been helpful. It’s the Protective ones that get blended and take over when i am deeply triggered, upset or dysregulated.

As i continue my journey into Motherhood, i am updating my Parts to know that a new one is present – my Inner Mother. She is the one that is nurturing the me of now, and all my Parts, in ways i needed all along. She is my most self-like Part so i am still working on ways to hold space for her.

One way i have done that in these last two years is recognize that Motherhood is a type of a Hero’s Journey. Similar to Inanna, the mother archetype in Jung’s body of work experiences this journey as we descend to the underworld. This is the process of Matrescense – when we come out whole and individualized, yet with a felt sense of belonging in a larger community.

In the classic guide, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes speaks about the transition from being a Child Mother (a new parent) to being more of a self-identified Goddess Mother or Strong Mother. It is a shift that comes from experience and integrating the knowledge that comes from it:

“Rather than disengaging from The Mother, We are seeking a wild and wise mother. We are not, cannot be, separate from her. Our relationship to the soulful Mother is meant to turn and turn, and to change and change and it is a paradox. This mother is a school we are born into, a school we are students in, school we are teachers at, all at the same time, and for the rest of our lives.”
We are the sum of our Parts.

Here are a few things i have done to recognize and welcome my Parts:

1) Map out your Parts – get a sense where they live in your body and when they come up to help you, warranted or not.
2) Find the role models you admire most – both real or fictional. See if you can create a composite of them to bring together the best version of your Parts roles.
3) Self-Mothering – find a way to nurture the Part with love and compassion.
4) Find your Wise and Wild Woman inside – that voice of reason who can hold space for the polarized and scared Parts.

If you are interested in finding our what Parts make you whole, Richard Schwartz’ new book No Bad Parts offers a great map to help you start. I also really like to ask myself if i am feeling something deeply now, where does it live in my body and what does it need right now? I don’t bypass or override it. I listen to the soft voice inside. I give her space to be seen.

Parenting is hard because your child is reflecting back a part of you that hasn’t yet healed in yourself.

It doesn’t have to be.