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.

The Serpent and the Butterfly: Shedding the Skin that No Longer Serves

When i was contemplating my decision to have children many moons ago, i had to ask myself some hard questions. What kind of mother did i want to be? Did i want to be a mother? Who would be part of my village as a support to me? What work did i have to do first in order to show up as a mother? Did i feel aligned with the label of Mother, and how would parenting change me?

In order to help me grapple with these questions, i looked at my models of motherhood. I reflected on these relationships to help me get a sense of this role. My own mother was very invested in her identity as a mother. She made sacrifices as a woman, a newcomer to Canada, in order to be as present and active as a mom. She took my sister and i to every dance, music and swim class. She sat in the lobbies and waited for us. She showed up and was always around. Of course, she had a life outside of us but i didn’t really see it, nor ask her. It was assumed that she was solely, or at least mainly, mom.

I looked at other mothers – my friends’ moms, my dance teacher, TV characters – all mainly showed that mothers martyred themselves for their children even when they balanced this role with other parts of their life.

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” ~ragneesh

In the end, i knew that i wanted to include children in my own life, and yet i also knew that remaining a therapist was important to me too. I further knew that keeping parts of me active was imperative in my transition into motherhood, and coming out of the other side of it. While i appreciated the sacrifices mothers made at the time, i knew we deserved better ourselves.

And yet all the good books on becoming mothers and having children were more about how to feed and clothe babies, instead of helping us with this major rite of passage we experience. Patriarchy still enforces, and not so subtly at times, that women’s role is to raise children: That it’s an inherent knowing versus a learning-as-we go imperfect model. We are told to bounce back to who we were before, or at least our bodies are supposed to.
We are not meant to bounce back. We are not the same as before. We are not yo-yos or slinky toys. We may be better or not but we are clearly changed. We all die these little deaths in our lifetime, because we are supposed to.

When it came to this massive shedding of skin and reckoning, mothers are still coming out of the goo of chrysalids on their own. While we are creating a new skin, the idea of being more than a mom is still kept in the shadows.

Now, 12 years into parenthood, i have a better sense of the mother i want to be. I also know that we cannot make this transformation alone. Luckily, there are more books, resources, and communities that speak about this openly and directly.

The death of former me is now my chance to rebirth a new version of myself. This is the snakeskin transition. And yet, we are not given time or permission to grieve the old version of us. We are supposed to jump all in and celebrate motherhood wholeheartedly. We arn’t supposed to regret it, and if you do…good luck.

We need to grieve for the person who we were or hoped to become, and also take from her what we want to continue holding. This is alchemy in human-form. Alchemists work to completely change (or devour) what was in order to become something new and stronger. It is meant to be a cyclical process.

I participated in a powerful workshop over the summer, where Kimberly Ann Johnson had Deborah Quibell as a guest. She is a Depth Psychologist who focuses on Matrilineal Reconstruction through the lens of Jungian Archetype work. I know that’s a mouthful and yet it really shows a light on this identity shift.

The pervasive and traditional paradigm of what makes a mother is based on these roles: nurturer, protector, empowerer and initiator. Phillip Moffitt speaks further about these functions in this amazing article by Bethany Webster. And yet, i also think that the Mother Archetype is deeper than that – she is the creator of life, of manifesting into being what was not there. This could be a child, but also creating art, a new job, or a garden. So much emphasis is put on the work of nurturer, protector, and empowerer that it seems to be disregarded that we also initiate, or create.

What we also create is a new version of ourself – our former version is now dead and we have been reborn as in this new archetype, identity, or role. So it’s important to ask yourself “where am I now? What is my transition now? WHO am i now?”

Jung spoke a lot about archetypes and the different processes of transformation. The process helps us contain and right us in our story. As a Cycle, it holds me with some parameters for safety. And yet, people going through this major metamorphosis of parenthood are not reminded of this shift overtly. This sea change has fallen to the shadows.

So, it’s important to revisit these archetypes, as a way of normalizing this magical identity crisis. This is where Empowerment comes – i cannot empower anyone else, that work comes from within and is embodied.

Some of us are not mothers by birth nor have children to care for. And yet, the Mother archetype is more than raising children directly. The concept of “Mother” archetype is when you are in the “full bloom phase of your life, where you step into maturity and claim your inner power. It is about losing the charge of the child (or “maiden”), answering your soul’s inner calls, tending to your own inner wounds from a place of maturity—so that you can answer the convictions and calls of the world that is in such desperate need of mature feminine, Mother energy.” If you want to learn more about this, check out Sarah Durham Wilson of Motherspirit – her work is transformative.

The Mother archetype is for anyone, including those of us who is not a physical mother —it’s one thing to be a mother and another thing to be in the Mother phase of life.

Marion Woodman was a Jungian analyst who focused on this body of research. “The woman who is a virgin, one in herself, does what she does not for power or out of the desire to please, but because what she does is true.” This article dives deep into her work, as she believed the archetypal rite of passage was maiden-mother-virgin-crone I kind of love that she tried to reclaim the word ‘virgin’ to better reflect someone who is

There’s a beautiful word called matrescence that speaks to this messy transition and change in role and identity. Only after becoming a mother of two did i see i wasn’t prepared for the grief and loss of my life beforehand. When I realized this rite of passage needs to be messy and then integrated, it allowed me more self-compassion, acceptance and autonomy with this new role. Not all of us who are maternal are mothers and not all of us identify as mothers, and yet it’s such an age-old expectation. So having time to grieve is a empowering way of holding on to our full range of feelings. Having space to share these thoughts is itself a wonderful way of finding community when we feel so invisible.

All change takes time to integrate. The transition into motherhood takes up to 2 years. It’s a messy process, not unlike a butterfly coming from the goo of a chrysalis. Jessie Harrold speaks about this a lot and i love that she also refers to this messy transition as goo. In this article, she shares more about this change of rites of the heart.

“What the caterpillar sees is the end the rest of the world has not met as the butterfly”. ~Lao Tzu

Rites of Passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation (integration), as van Gennep describes: “I propose to call the rites of separation from a previous world, preliminal rites, those executed during the transitional stage liminal (or threshold) rites, and the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world postliminal rites.”

Here is a summary of the three stages of transformation:
1) Nigredo – Separation or Death
Here, we are reminded that we need the dark soil to give us nutrients. The shadow is not a bad or dark place, but a necessary reflection of richness in the dark. It is a passage, and opening. So, similar to the chrysalid, we need to take this time to retreat inward and reflect on our journey thus far, be in the moment, and breathe

If we think of a garden, it needs the dark soil to give nutrients and the shadow to let it grow. There is Richness in the dark. That is why we now hear the phrase “dark night of the soul’ as a passage: When we recognize this as a necessity to move through, it’s easier to do so.

If you are in this Phase, take some time to 1) Meditate on softness, breathe fully 2) retreat inward or in nature, 3) be still and settle in. Drop down, just like the model of a garden dropping its roots in the underworld 4) find images that are peaceful in the darkness 5) light candles to honour the shadows

This process creates a fight within us. When we break apart, that’s when we see the light. So we need the darkness to help us and guide us where to go

2) Albedo – Liminal (neutral) Space Between
This is a time that brings some clarity. We start to wash away impurities or inconsistencies. This is a marked change in attitude and deeper meaning to the process of change. So, it’s important to not rush and declare suffering is over. There is still some fragility and vulnerability in this new version of you – again, i see a young seedling that is trying to survive an early Spring storm.

The people in your life may expect more of you than you can give. They might try to put their thoughts on you. So instead, honour the quiet moment for its simple, innocent beauty. Embody a felt sense of joy and relief to come out of darkness. Ask who has come, and what does it need? Get close to suffering and sift it to find the gold.

It is still early to explain this to others as you are still tender here. What is the conversation you want now? You haven’t truly integrated yet – this is the liminal space that is messy and tender. You may still be bracing in case you may suffer again. As Deboarah put it, “it is Daybreak but not sunrise quite yet”

A ritual here could be to light a candle and then say out loud what you want to bring out of the shadows. Bringing the Shadow into the light with curiosity, self-love or compassion. The more we can embody our feelings, we are able to bring into the forefront our shadow. Movement and dance are key. Breathwork and posture helps too.

3) Rubedo – Integration and New Beginnning
This is the time of reckoning, of integration into a fully initiated and incorporated Self. It is when we are bursting in our new bloom and bounty. There is a warmth and light of consciousness, and yet there may be still a slight inner conflict as a part still wants the old, the new is still raw. This is when the butterfly sines in the light, or a new flower blossoms in all her glory.

We need to embody this new place in order to integrate it into our other parts. Some Parts have died. Others are new and don’t feel integrated or seamless yet.

So, ask yourself questions: Who am I now? What came out of this change? What do I need to bring to the world? How to bring out the story into that world. This is where the warmth and glow starts to happen – the gift of my transformation.

Don’t ignore this new self who worked so hard to appear and be heard.

One activity I love to do as a way to honour this phase and completion is to make an artifact or anchor. First, do a mindfulness exercise to see where you can locate that sensation in your body now. If it had a colour what would it be, a shape, a smell or temperature? Create the item in clay, paint it, collage, or write a poem about it.

Why am i going into detail about this? For one, it’s because a big part of my work is supporting people with their transition into parenthood as well as the metamorphosis that happens as they incorporate all their Parts back together. For another reason, i see so many of us still stuck in the role of mother, and they haven’t yet crossed the threshold into a fully initiated being. So many of us get stuck in Stage 2 – the liminal space of the role of mother superseding all else. We deserve better. Patriarchy wants us to stay in this place. It needs us to still identify more as a mother or in the Mother Nurturer realm. Patriarchy is afraid of our power and wisdom, that comes with a deeper connection to feminine energy. Patriarchy needs us to be stuck in our role as mothers, and doesn’t value us as more than that.

I have been grateful to witness this Collective emergence, both from the pandemic and reclaiming sacred feminine power/energy. There has been a re-wilding of our feminine energies, our sexual root energies that connect excitement and pleasure mixed with nurturance and creativity of mother. This excites me as i know I’m not alone in this calling to be more than a mom, to be a fully initiated woman.

For too long, the Divine Feminine and Mother archetypes have been hidden by their shadow parts. They have been deemed as less than, as secondary. This has led women to internalize shame about their worthiness and sovereignty. There has been a reckoning in becoming comfortable with the unknown, be wild and be with people who are okay with this.

As Sarah of Motherspirit reminds us “until a woman descends into herself..her own worth, purpose and voice, She will be seeking these treasures outside of herself for a lifetime, and no one will be served.She will remain a child begging for permission to trust herself, to feel her feelings, to take the healthy risks to bloom.”

Recognizing those archetypes in us helps us know ourselves more fully and that can lead us to being more intimate with ourselves and authentic. Having stories like these help us see the larger story of humanity and not just our own personal experience. It allows space to play with this new capacity of being a person who creates life (or art, or gardens) as well as the one who gives it vitality and energy to thrive. This is that fine balance shedding skin that no longer fits and coming out as a more full version of you.

Highs and Lows of Healing in Real Time

This summer, i intentionally turned inward a lot and slowed down even more. This sacred pause has given me gifts of soft fascination: I have been in awe of the vast array of city flower gardens in my neighbourhoods. I admired the abundance of honey bees in my own wee garden. I have read books that honour nature and how its resilience can teach us everything about life and living.

My body experienced the benefit of rest and pause, as the foundational need that it is.

I also thought about the inner lives we all have. We all have that inner story – that quiet voice that keeps coming back to us in whispers, a lot of the time in shadows.

One part of my inner story has brought me back to my early curiousity of the Goddess. Not just the Triple Goddess of the Maiden Mother, Wise Woman, but that lush and luminous Goddess figure herself. At my most present and regulated, this is the story i’ve been re-visiting this summer.

I wore summer dresses that helped me embody the Goddess; i ate juicy fruit; i danced in lake water. I wore my long hair down and felt the sweat of summer sun on me.

Our inner story is happening all the time. Sometimes, we are the writers of the story. Other times, we are the audience of our own narrative storyline. Oftentimes, our response to day-to-day interactions comes from our inner story; and it often has nothing to do with the actual interaction. Sometimes, what i think is the story is just the overstory, the backdrop. Sometimes, i am rudely reminded that what i think is the story or point is not, but in fact it is the epilogue that provokes an old, nuanced and hidden story in my body. One that i wanted to long forget.

For instance, this summer i experienced a few revelations that have shown me that i am both further along in my own growth and also still more wounded than I realized. It has shown me that healing is a constant process, and one that is not necessarily linear.

It’s Not about the Paint Job
After living in my own house for over a decade, it was time for us to paint the exterior. The paint was beyond chipping, it was not a colour i liked, and the damage was starting to cause trouble to the integrity of the house. Plus, after being at home almost 24/7 for 18 months this past year, i wanted to be proud of the dwelling i call Home.

I am by no means a seasoned or knowledgeable renovator or handyperson. Getting quotes, calling people to book things, and otherwise trying to speak their language is always something that causes me discomfort and ultimately dysregulation. While i am a child of a self-employed house framer by trade, my own father’s understanding of home repairs was foreign to me.

When it came time to go ahead with the project, we were very confused, surprised and disappointed with the whole experience. I am grateful that the colour is something i love, but the work of the “professional painting company” was a very far stretch from the word professional. They literally splatted paint on my neighbours own newly painted walls. Twice. They splattered paint on our front doors and windows, and on so many other things. We were in constant conflict, and by the last day, when we had to ask again for them to do a better job, and to actually do what they were contracted to, my body was screaming for me to listen to her.

I am conflict-adverse. My need for Flight is pretty prominent. As a woman, i was socialized to be a People Pleaser and to avoid conflict. I think most people are conflict avoidant, to some degree. And yet, conflict is inevitable.

At first i thought it was my fear of conflict and negative feedback that made me feel so nauseous. Maybe it was my people-pleasing part that struggled when my breath was shallow. My inner Nice Girl was wanting to throw up inside. Ultimately, i had to slow down and really take stock of what was happening. I realized it was a Wounded Exile Part that has been quiet and in the shadows for years: My Inner Teen who was hurt too many times and did not trust smarmy boys with false promises. Boys who are pushy and have egos that get in the way of their own vulnerability. This crew of young painters embodied that.

So, i chose to honour my body and listen to her. My partner stepped in to support me and used his own skills of conflict resolution and non-violent communication. I realized that while a part of me – my more present Manager part – was angry at myself for not being assertive and demanding better, my more compassionate parts just wanted to do what was best for me. Ultimately, we settled for less than perfect but i was happy to be done in the end, and able to address our needs. My voice was not as vocal as i wanted and yet my body was telling me all i had to hear.

I chose to listen to her and not override that she needed love, attention and care. My Manager was disappointed but my Inner Child felt seen.

The Waterfall Heals All
Immediately after this experience, i went away camping. Like that same day. For weeks, i was looking forward to this weekend away with friends. It was long-overdue time together. On one of our adventures, we went to a local watering hole that was known to have a waterfall. As this weekend was the final days of an epic heat wave, this spot was a perfect remedy to cool down. My Inner Goddess was also so excited as it has been my fantasy to swim under a waterfall for years.

When we got to the spot to climb down, my stomach went into flutters: It was a steep, slippery climb down. I told myself that i couldn’t do it. Who did i think i was, a sprite young thing? A reckless child?

The only thing to hold onto the rock wall was a sketchy looking rope. It took me a moment or two of quiet discernment to scan if i didn’t just WANT to do it but also that i was CAPABLE to.

This was a calculated moment of pendulating between a fear state versus an embodied sense of knowing i could do it.

I chose that i could do it.

Once i made that first step down, i knew i always knew i could do it. It was that fine balance of calculated and exquisite risk. It was also that perfect remedy, a counter to what my body felt only a few days prior.

That initial victim or exiled worried girl who showed up just days prior was met in the eyes and told she could do it. I held her with love. This climb down to the water was the perfect healing antidote to remind me that my body does know. She also felt vindicated. All my parts felt seen and i was actively in my most present self – she who is calm, curious, clear, and compassionate.

The water was a glorious gift at the end of the climb. I spotted my whole family as they came down and it made me even more excited for future waterfall adventures.

Tara Brach talks about “real but not true” as a beautiful resource to help us notice if the thoughts and feelings we are having are taking over us. Sometimes our mind and body play tricks on us as a way of protecting us. Yet we need to fact check how real is the feeling, how factual is the thought. Even by inserting the possibility that it may not be true, that lessens the fear that’s taking over our body.

When you are pondering if the fear you have in a given moment is real or true, ask yourself “who would you be if this fear or feeling was not real?” Remind yourself that this feeling may be true but is not real – it is based on old worries and is trying to protect you from getting hurt now.

Story Follows State – most of the time
Our body responses aren’t always about a trauma story. Sometimes it’s also just what is familiar in our bodies over time. Our body stores its own memories from repeated events, like riding a bike or rolling pizza dough. For instance, as someone who grew up swimming in oceans and lakes with a shoreline, it wasn’t common practice for me to canoe or kayak, let alone be in a boat. So as my family has access to a cottage with various types of boats now, I had this identity that I didn’t know how to paddle a kayak.

More recently, i have fallen in love with paddle boarding (SUP), a close cousin to my love of surfing. Now, what i do know is how to stand on a paddle board and use a paddle. Being on a SUP is one of my happy places. It provides moments of peace and embodied joy for me. I also feel fearless, strong and powerful on it.

This summer, when planning to go to a local beach near the cottage, we only could get there by kayak and canoe. I had said to myself (and outloud) that I didn’t know how to kayak let alone canoe. I had that beautiful moment where I noticed what I said and checked myself. Of course i know how to kayak – it’s not that different from paddling a SUP. It was a moment of challenging my thought about myself, and realizing that my body was more capable about doing something than i gave credit. It was my inner story who said that I couldn’t do it. What an amazing moment of reckoning and reclaiming of what I can do.

Not only did i get to that beach, i showed my daughter that it was possible to do something we have never done before. My body felt so strong after, and the beach was even more pleasurable and empowering than getting a ride there would have been.

It’s moments like this where we notice that our thoughts are always true and that the facts live with the body as it knows better.

The sweet reward is a waterfall waiting for you at the end of a rope.

The Journey to Me: Shadow Work and the Many Moons of the Self

I recently completed a course called Shadow Work, offered by Amy Wright Glenn at the Institute for Birth, Breath and Death. In honour of this darkening time of the year, I’m sharing a version of my final paper with you here.

Each of us are made up of parts that make us complex and unique individuals. For most of us, some of these layers are hidden in shadow, not unlike a Russian Nesting Doll or that dark corner in our basement. While they are always present, it can be hard to know when they show up and become revealed, and for what purpose.

As humans, each of us also has the experience of living through some type of trauma or pain. Depending on the support we are given at the time, it can become a deeper wound or shadow that then presents itself when triggered later on in life. Shadows are embedded in us. Carl Jung shared that the shadow is a part of a person’s psyche that stores the parts of the Self that are seen as unacceptable or uncomfortable. They then move into our shadows and become unconsciously unaware. Shadow Parts show up later in life by trying to keep you safe and not get hurt, but sometimes it’s overdoing its job.

We do not have just one Shadow, but several, built over time. One type of Shadow is our Inner Child – raw, immature emotions that get stuck in us during an especially hard or unfulfilled time in our life.

Shadows start to form in childhood, especially after age 8 or 9 when human development connects to autonomy, self-esteem and a sense of self. As my own children are 11 and 8 years old, I am seeing in real time how this starts to happen. Their full personalities are forming, as are the parts of themselves that they are self-critical about or struggling with. They also mirror the parts of myself as their parent who is modeling for them how I cope with the big emotions in my life. As Amy Wright Glenn shares in her book Holding Space: On Loving, Dying and Letting Go, children need to see our smaller grief and ways that we heal it, so that we create scaffolding for our children against the bigger losses that happen later in life.

The Shadow side may compare yourself to others, or even other times in our life. It wants to preserve connection with others, so may fawn or appease to get that connection, even if it means that the Self is being martyred or self-sacrificed. That is usually from a history of not having secure attachment or healthy bonds in childhood. As humans, we thrive on social engagement, not unlike other animals like wolves or elephants.

Many family dynamics include intergenerational trauma as well as learning. We inherit our ancestors’ shadows, and they can become active or remain dormant in us. Trapped emotions become shadows as they are like hungry ghosts in us that cause disharmony; we also taught that only easy and good emotions are valid to be seen or shared so many more get hidden in shadows of Self.

The concept of the ‘dark night of the soul’ is when a Shadow part is triggered and brought to feel sadness, confusion, despair or a crisis. When we recognize this work, it is a deep awakening to the healing, growth and transformation we can go through. The Shadow is fuel for the fire that doesn’t want to get to the light.

A word of caution: While the terms shadow and light were historically neutral, we need to be mindful of the covert nature of claiming darkness as bad, wrong or ugly. In today’s world, we need to reclaim the term so that it doesn’t get tied down to white supremacy and internalized power. The dark is not inherently bad. Good grows in the dark too. Think of the seed planted in dark soil, or the beautiful butterfly that is born out of a dark chrysalis state. We can be transformed because of the dark too.

When we befriend our Shadow, we not only heal and accept it, but we accept our true Selves by not cutting off any of the pieces that live with pain.

Over these last few years, I have been doing some soul work, and diving deeper into myself. As a trauma-focused therapist myself, this work is integral. As I have been learning more about Shadow work, Inner Child Healing and somatic bottom-up work that connects the body to healing the mind, I see more fully how my own Shadow lives in me.

For instance, I see how shadows may be in charge when we are triggered by someone else as a quality of them is activating us. For instance, it used to be really hidden in shadows when a certain tone of voice or energy scared me. Now I help people connect it to their own childhood. Maybe your parents grew up in difficult family structures, homes where some feelings were not welcome, or anger and stress overruled affectionate touch. While they tried their best to raise you, they brought their shadows with them when they became parents themselves. Just like Peter Pan’s shadow, they were quite tethered to the parts of their life they were trying to leave behind.

There are shadow sides of the feminine as well as masculine. As a girl growing up in the big world of 1980s (or pick your decade!), I learned quite early to have a strong emphasis on being good, pretty, or embody positive vibes. I had to cast out negativity in order to feel safe, which meant I also couldn’t show the harder feelings like sadness or anger, let alone fear. This led me to be stuck in a rut of sameness as I was conditioned to be the good girl to a fault. Good girls don’t complain or disagree. They don’t have strong feelings. Like many people, I learned to say “I’m fine” even when I’m not. This too is a shadow part trying to protect us: Instead of being honest, these words cover up my true feelings as they are seen as too sensitive or vulnerable. Even though girls are conditioned to be more sensitive than people in male bodies, it is still quite unacceptable to show the fuller range of emotions and vulnerability.

I got my period at quite a young age and so my body was also sexualized by men. A shadow side that was brought forth was the part of me that should know more about toying with men or flirting with them, and yet the innocent side of me didn’t align or allow for my sexual self to be accessed as I got older. I hated my sexual body for a long time. It has been a wonderful journey to reclaim it.

I shy away from conflict. And when in conflict, our shadows tend to show up because they were not taken care of before. They are trying to protect us and instead we complain and our pride gets in the way of healing and repair work. I used to want to flee but now as an adult, a part of me goes into fight mode. I used to fawn more, and have been working on this people-pleasing part. Shadows live in the murky boundaries that don’t get enforced. They rely on our loyalty. As Pixie Lighthorse shares though, “comfort is not a companion to change.” We need discomfort in order to create the shift that is needed.

Based on our survival response, when in conflict our shadows show up and say:
Fight – “No I’m not, you are!”
Flee – “I’m out of here”
Fawn – “oh my goodness I’m so sorry. What can I do?”
Freeze – “I can’t do anything so why try…”

In order to see the gold in us, we need to practice alchemy to bring out the shadow parts and integrate them. Yet we hang it in self-doubt, negative self-talk and worthlessness too long. We judge ourselves and are critical of others when we are scared. My Inner Critic keeps my Imposter Syndrome alive and active so I don’t take those esquisite risks. I see this in myself, especially as I continue to be a perpetual student instead of embracing my own expertise and knowledge to be a leader. What else am I training for?

Our own amazingness also lives in our shadow Self, as doubt and shame are a shadow. We tend to hang out in worthlessness too long. Ironically the stems from being told having pride or a positive self regard is also a negative aspect of self or ego. We need to feel in connection with others in order to lessen the impact of shame or doubt. When we are in community and share stories, we see the mirrors of our soul reflected in others experiences that are so similar.

Imposter Syndrome sets us up to fail as it’s in bed with our Inner Critic voice. While technically trying to save us from getting hurt, it is in fact what is hurting me. We need to embrace a collective change to be inclusive and supportive of each other instead of competitive and comparative in suffering, productive and successful to a fault.

There is Work to Do
Shadow Work has been brought to light in many ways, especially these last few months during a global pandemic as well as with anti-black racism in the States. Generally, shadow work is a personal process, one that is about the individual facing, confronting, and then integrating their shadows. As we live in community and thrive when in connection others, we cannot negate the relational aspect of also needing to heal our collective shadows that live in our external worlds with others. Hence, shadow work needs to be both internal and community-based intentions.

We have been called to unlearn inherited stories, and instead focus on collective healing. This work is the calling to bring what was before unconscious and subconscious to the forefront. Shadow work is the evolution to heal our primal Nervous System response as our shadow always wants to be revealed and integrated with love.

“Rituals are created to serve humanity and help us awaken from slumbers of ignorance” shares Amy Wright. One key part of this work is to intentionally connect individual repair work to the more collective reparations that are needed. It may be hard to say sorry and own our mistakes and yet this is crucial to repair and integrate our Shadows into our true Selves.

Shadow Work is uncovering what is hidden in the layers of the sub- or unconscious so that we can integrate them and also heal our lineages. We need to see it for what it is and give it self-care and nourishment, just like we would a physical wound or ailment. We need to like and appreciate all our parts.

Pixie Lighthorse wisely shares that a return to liberation as “shadow work is an act of liberation” as it is a collective healing and anti-oppression work in its full essence. She further shares in her book Goldmining the Shadows, “composting fear and pain in order to grow self-compassion and overall wellness is alchemy which needs fuel and functionality.”

Shadow Work is very similar to Richard Schwartz’ work with Internal Family Systems, where he talks about the 8 C’s of Self – compassion, calm, connectedness, creativity, curiosity, clarity, confident, and courage. My Self needs to be in charge, so I know it is there if any of these “C’s” are present. When we get stalled, it’s because something in us is not yet seen and hides in shadow. When we show empathy for the parts of our Self that weren’t loved before, this new wholeness helps interrupt Parts that are so wounded and exiled that they can’t see a way out.

Another layer of Shadow Work is spending time in mindful contemplation of our body: Somatic work like this helps us notice where the shadow lives in my body. For me, it lives in my stomach or gut (our second brain) as well as my racing heart. When I feed my shadow love, compassion and attention, it feels more calm and cared for.

We also need to re-parenting ourselves, which accesses hope for a secure attachment, possibly for the first time. It is not indulgence but rather self-preservation to do this work. Amy Wright shares how “love weaves meaning between the 2 thresholds…as the work of holding space for our fears and the hungry ghosts is ultimately one of love.” One way to do this is to practice the art of re-parenting ourselves. Reparenting isn’t denial of the parent we had, but rather what our inner child still needs. That young brain needs to heal what it needed back then and didn’t receive.

Shadow work is the evolution to heal our primal Nervous System response, unbeknownst to us our shadow does always want to be revealed. This work is self-compassionate work for our body mind and soul.

We need to feel your feelings or stay with them in order to get through them. Otherwise they keep showing up, coming out of the shadows to test us. Nothing is permanent, even our feelings. We can’t rush this work, nor is it a quick lesson. Working with our shadows needs a personalized healing balm to care for Mind Body Spirit in intentional ways. There are some great ingredients like knowing self-regulation AND co-regulation exercises and learning more about Polyvagal Theory and Vagus/Soul Nerve. As humans, we need a sense of belonging and collective. Our Shadows rely on being alone in order to stay alive in the darkness. Nature can also heal me like a tree or lake needs Mother Earth. Self-compassion is a practice of building trust in myself and what I need in the here-and-now moment.

This is a crucial time in history. The elections in the States have shown the dark side of the moon, and yet there is hope moving forward. “In becoming intimate with your injuries, you are befriending your innermost self.” This trust will help you develop deeper relationships with others as well. This is the reward of shadow work – being seen for my shadows as well as valuing yours. I hold space for us both and we step towards the light.

When we get stalled it is because something in us is not yet seen and hides in shadow. It is time to slow down and notice what is hidden then. You can do it alone, or ask a trusted friend what part of you needs to be tended to with self-compassion. Sit with your Shadow and welcome it with open arms.

What lives in your shadows?

Parts of a Mother

My kids have been wanting to paint the walls. And not just figuratively, which they surely have been doing during this pandemic. They have been admiring the graffiti and street art in our city, and need to look no further than our own alleyway. Some artwork merits a smile and blush, others are thought-provoking, and some are eye-rolling.

We had the opportunity to fulfill this summer bucket wish last week. Our neighbour wanted to put her own tag on the wall and cover up some questionable artwork. So, luckily i was able to share with her that my daughter’s wish all summer was to use spray paint. What a good mom i am, right?

We were at the right place at the right time – paint in hand and ready to be accomplices, or rather apprentices, depending on your stance on graffiti art. I supervised the endeavour. I was happy to oblige my kids and a part of me was excited about the opportunity. And then i noticed the various parts of me that showed up alongside this joyful moment. Some were invited like the Good Mom. Others were a surprise like the Enforcer. And one happy surprise was the Inner Child who happily and tentatively held a bottle and made her mark.

After a while of being sous chefs, the kids were allowed to go wild and paint to their hearts content. They wrote lovely mantras like “love yourself” and “Me cool, you cool, we cool.” They were silly and they were in the moment. They were happy. And yet, i was surprised to notice my own voice barking at them, instructing them to not take up too much space. To not hog the space or take over. To not waste the paint. To not make a mess. I was able to notice it, and i apologized to the other adults whose project it was originally, to only notice later that who i needed to say sorry to was the kids because THEY weren’t doing anything wrong (and yes i know that graffiti is technically illegal). I felt guilty for them taking up too much space on the wall; i was directive and bossy and deferred to my neighbour as a way to people please – that other Part of me that gets exiled because i want to be assertive and confident, and yet she visits because i want to be liked and included. And like most of us, i have stories to tell from my youth of not fitting in and being bullied, and being afraid of conflict. I’m a work in progress too, and it’s taken years to notice that I withdraw from conflict and fawn to that person who is holding the reigns: It’s a safety survival reflex.

Internal Family System is a therapy modality that uses our parts of our Self that have become embedded in who we are. They are formed over our years of living our life, as tools to help us during a hard or scary moment. Typically, we have Manager, Fire Fighter and Exiled parts. We then have wounded parts that have become exiled and only show up when we are being triggered or if that part thinks we need their help. As a Feminist Therapist, i like to look at all these parts of my Self as my Archetypes – the Inner Goddess, Child, Warrior, Wise Woman, Apprentice, etc. Each of these has a role to play and our hope is that they get integrated into our true full Self, the person we are becoming and is our authentic wholeness. Think of your Inner Critic voice – from what Part do you think that comes from?

Our Parts are a bit different from the roles we play – i am a woman, partner, therapist, parent. I am also embodying all of these roles in my own unique way. For instance, let me take being a parent as a reference. In a given moment, my Perfectionist, the Inner Fraud, the Nurse, or maybe the Researcher or Governess shows up. Preparing my kids for school during a pandemic is definitely activating a few Parts so my Researcher hat is helping guide me. When i feel overwhelmed by my daughter’s messy room, my Perfectionist Part is kicked in gear. She’s there to try to help make sense of things and calm my nerves that get triggered by mess. It takes some time to notice what presents for you, and it can be helpful as it gives a way in to see what may need to change. When we notice the parts of us that show up in a harder moment, we get to engage in our own infrastructure. We also get to Reparent what is needed now, as well as what i needed back then.

Re-parenting my Self is a practice of self-compassion. And it’s indulgent because it is a way of building a secure attachment for the first time. We are working on meeting our need for nurturance and attention, sometimes for the first time. When we take time to learn how this looks for us, we are able to practice meeting our needs and getting to a place of a fuller, more happy life.

What are some parts you notice in you? What are some that you intentionally bring up to support you? Do you have an angry part that helps you when you need to address someone who’s being an asshole. Do you have an artsy side that helps you when you are stuck on something to wear? Name them – give them a voice so you can also talk back to them. These parts may need the same compassion your friends need. Thank them for trying to help you, remind them that you want to do try first and you well reach out to them if you need them. Send them a Dear John letter!

My journey to inner work is both one for myself as well as for the people i support. I’ve found such insight in books so i wanted to share some resources with you that may be helpful if you also want to learn more about Inner Parts work:
Recovery of Your Inner Child by Lucia Capachhione, a renowned art therapist
– Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner life by Tom Holmes
– books by Richard Schwartz, Frank Anderson, or Bonnie J Weiss
– this lovely deck of cards that i use in sessions and for myself; sometimes i pull a card to help me reflect on how to channel or nurture that Part, or sometimes it’s a way for me to guide my day with intention.

How do you say hello to the possibly long forgotten Inner Child Part? Do you notice any glee or happy shriek in your body as you skip with a skipping rope, or catch bubbles, or play with clay? Taking a ride on “Party Island” at the cottage has always been a happy place for me, as it gets me back in tune with my Inner Pre-teen Surfer wanna-be.

During this pandemic, I’ve been intentionally saying hello to my own Inner Child. I had one mantra that guided me: Get outside, laugh and move my body every day. It has helped me get through the harder days. I’ve been doing crafts I love like macrame and drawing, dancing on my own, eating comfort food, napping, playing in water. Earlier on, we had sleepovers as a family and watched a lot of classic movie marathons. These moments are not to escape this reality but rather finding a way to slow down and notice what my body is needing to balance this scary time. It’s also a way to capture what supported me as a child when times were hard: Life goes on.