And One of the Reasons I work with Mothers of Daughters
This is a very vulnerable story for me to share but I have a feeling you might relate.
I attended a personal-development retreat over the weekend. It was one of hardest things I’ve ever done and there were moments when I was sure I would pack my bags and drive home as fast as I could. Coming face to face with trauma I long hid away has a way of pulling out the runner in me. My ego was kicking and screaming and projecting and judging and pulling out all the stops. It did NOT want to go where I needed to go to heal. And I don’t blame my inner runner. She had really good reasons to want to run and hide. It wasn’t a pretty journey. It was hard and raw and full of soul drenching tears.
But it was soooo good. It brought me places I couldn’t go to alone but places I needed to go to if I wanted to remove my barriers to love…which I definitely want to do. Oh, how very important it is to me to continue to do that throughout my life.
The reason this particular journey was so hard was because I had to revisit a moment in my childhood when I was terrified. And I don’t mean a little scared or uncomfortable. I mean petrified. So scared I could barely breathe yet I was asked by these demon workshop leaders to go back there, to that horrible moment in time. Are you kidding me? No wonder I wanted to run.
I’m not going to lie. There were moments when I imagined punching everyone in the face, side-kicking them to the ground and busting myself out of there before they could catch me.
But I didn’t.
And this is what happened.
Let me preface this by explaining that I went to the retreat with the intention to feel more connected to people. I’m very shy. Groups scare me. I don’t socialize or get to know people. I walk into social situations with a thick wall. My tummy gets nervous. I become self-conscious. I avoid eye-contact and small talk. I withdraw into myself. I’m there but I’m not present. I’m either worried about what everyone else is thinking about me…and my ego helps me out here by creating a thousand assumptions about that…or I’m thinking about all the reasons other people are not worth my time.
The ego is so much fun, isn’t it?
But there it is. I’m either judging or making up how other people are judging me. All so I don’t have to connect because connecting to someone else makes me feel scared. In actuality, my ego is trying to help me. It’s trying to keep me safe. It’s trying to keep me disconnected because somewhere along the line that’s what I decided safety requires. Stay disconnected and you’ll be safe. Connect and feel love for others and you’ll be hurt.
I’ve been curious about my inability to connect with strangers or acquaintances for years. I remember being a young kid (5 and under) and how much love I felt for everyone. I was like a Care Bear. I went around shooting love beams and sharing big smiles with everyone I met. I hugged everyone. I hugged strangers all the time. Strangers didn’t feel like strangers to me. I remember this feeling so vividly. I loved everyone with a love so big it made me so happy to be alive. This memory has always perplexed me because I grew to become such a reserved and shy woman. I wondered for years why I changed. What made me go from who I was as a little girl to who I am now?
I brought this question with me to the retreat.
I wanted to know what the root of my feeling disconnected to everyone was.
And I found it.
Before I tell you the story, let me explain that I understand there are many more situations in my life that gave me plenty of evidence to support the belief that people are scary and that loving people is unwise but this one incident is where the belief was born.
This is where I decided that loving someone meant getting hurt.
It’s my scary story and it’s also a little hard to share. I know there are a million stories with far worse endings than mine. I know my scary story isn’t half as scary as many people have had to face but to my five year old self, it was the scariest thing that had ever happened so it left a scar. That’s the way it is, isn’t it? We scar from our traumas and it doesn’t matter if someone else’s trauma is bigger than ours. Trauma leaves scars. Period. And each and every one of our scars is unique to us.
Just because the story isn’t as scary, doesn’t mean the scar isn’t as real.
I haven’t spoken about this story much in my life and anytime I did, I spoke about it as if I was sharing a movie I watched. I couldn’t feel the emotions of the experience. I could just remember the plot.
The plot ran like this.
There’s a five year old girl whose parents are leaving to go out for the evening. She has two younger brothers and her parents asked the next door neighbor to babysit. The next door neighbor was a kind woman who lived humbly with her thirteen year old son. She asks if her thirteen year old son could come with her to babysit and the parents don’t see a problem with this so they agreed to invite him along.
As the little girl’s mom is getting ready for her party, the little girl watches her put on her make-up, slip on her dress and fancy shoes and she longs to be just like her mom one day. But the little girl is nervous. She doesn’t want her mom to leave. She is feeling more upset the closer her mom is to being ready. Her mother brushes off her daughter’s concerns thinking it’s just the normal feelings children have about their parents leaving.
What her mother didn’t know is the little girl has had many awkward experiences with the thirteen year old boy who lived next door. He would tell her how pretty she is. He would tell her he loved her. He would hold her hand under the blankets. He would show her his private parts when they were playing outside and he had to pee. He did a hundred little icky things that the girl didn’t understand or like…but she liked him. She loved him. So she was confused. She thought he could bring down the moon but her innocent five year old brain didn’t understand a lot of what he did. She had no frame of reference. She didn’t know if it was good or bad but she knew she didn’t like the way it made her feel. Whenever he did strange things, it made her feel scared.
Which is why that particular night all she knew was she didn’t want her parents to leave. She knew something bad was going to happen. She could feel it. Her parents leaving for the night brought terror to her five year old heart. But no one could see how she was feeling. She cried, she begged but nothing helped. She didn’t understand why no one could see how scared she was.
So the boy and his mom came over and the little girl’s parents left. The evening went along as usual. Little icky whispers here. Little secret icky touches there. Until…it was time for bed. The little girl was told to put on her nightie and go to bed. She listened. She got her nightie on and slipped under her covers. She thought she was safe now.
But the boy was downstairs asking his mom if he could be the one to go and check on the kids upstairs. The boy’s mom said yes.
The little girl had fallen asleep. When the boy walked in, he woke her up by touching her bum. She was startled. He sat on the edge of the bed. He told her how pretty she was. He told her how special she was. He told her how much he loved her. He touched her. He kissed her even though she didn’t want him to. He told her that people who loved each other let themselves be kissed. He wanted to kiss her down there.
The little girl was beyond scared now. She was in a dark and lonely place where only terror lives. But she didn’t say a word. She stayed quiet. She didn’t say no. She didn’t say get out. She was frozen.
This little girl happened to see angels. She talked to her angel all the time. Her angel was in the corner of the room as all this was happening and the girl just prayed and prayed. She didn’t know what else to do.
Then the phone rang downstairs. The boy’s mom yelled and told him to come downstairs immediately. She needed him to go next door and fetch something.
The little girl was alone again. She cried.
This was the course of events that changed my life.
It wasn’t half as traumatic as other people have had to endure but it was traumatic to me.
My five year old brain drew some pretty significant conclusions from that experience. The first one was that my feelings don’t matter. It didn’t matter to anyone what I felt or what I said, my parents left and the boy stayed. What I need or want mustn’t be important. Fast forward through life and imagine how damaging drawing that conclusion was.
The second conclusion I came to was it wasn’t safe to be pretty. Pretty was dangerous. Instead, throughout my adolescence I opted for being invisible. That was much safer.
The third conclusion I drew was that loving people wasn’t safe. I loved that boy and he ended up doing unkind things to me which, to my five year old reasoning meant that loving people makes them want to do unkind things to me. Better to stay disconnected. Better to stay closed off and withdraw then be open and loving.
But here’s how the weekend retreat with those demon workshop leaders changed my fate. Okay, they weren’t demons. I’m being overly dramatic. But they were intent on making me visit my own personal hell so forgive me for being a little facetious here. With sincerity though, their loving guidance allowed me to go back to my five year old self and make another choice. I re-enacted the whole scenario and this time I used my voice. I said no. I pushed the boy away. I told him to get out of my room.
It sounds so simple when I write it but it wasn’t. It wasn’t simple at all. It was terrifying and hard. I hated every second of it so much.
But this is what it showed me.
It showed me that bad things happen but if I stay connected to my feelings and emotions and try to take care of those as best as I can, life doesn’t have to feel so scary. And I can trust being with groups of people again because I can trust me. It was never about trusting ‘them’. It was always about trusting that my feelings and emotions are important to me. Then it doesn’t matter what happens to me. I get to choose what I do with the experience. I get to choose what I make it mean. I get to choose whether or not to take care of myself. I get to choose how to treat myself.
That makes me feel whole again and heals a scar that I’ve carried around for longer than I needed to.
It’s also why I do the work I do. Every character in my story carried scars that allowed the entire thing to unfold in the first place.
The boy’s mom couldn’t see what was happening right before her very eyes. Whatever scars she carried prevented her from being present enough to tune into what was happening right in front of her. Her boy didn’t always do secret things to the little girl right in front of her but he often did. She remained clueless and withdrawn. There but not really there. So she couldn’t see what someone more present and less scarred could have seen in an instant.
The thirteen year old boy obviously had some big scars of his own. You don’t play that role unless you’ve been modeled it. He was being exactly who his scars taught him to be.
And my mother had huge scars around her feelings and opinion not mattering.
How in the world could she give me, her daughter, what she couldn’t even give herself?
How could I expect her to really listen to my five year old pleas when no one had ever really listened to her own childhood needs? She only knew what she knew and since she hadn’t went through any healing or introspection at that time in her life she couldn’t be different than her scars caused her to be.
So there you have it. Take a bunch of scarred people and throw a five year old in amongst them and what do you have? The perfect recipe for creating more scarred people in this world.
And that’s not what I want for the generations that grace this world. I want more for them. I really do.
I want children to be surrounded by people who are diligently healing their own scars.
I want children to be raised and taught by adults who may still carry scars but are brave enough to own them and heal them as best as they can. I want the next generation to feel safer than any other generation that has ever lived. Not because bad things don’t happen but because far less bad things are happening because far less scars are running the show.
I am a mother. I try my best to heal as much as I can to bring the most healed version of myself I can to my son. Sometimes I succeeded to change generations of scars carried in my family line. Sometimes I don’t catch them soon enough. But just like my mom did before me, I try and I continue to make healing a priority. And my son will have it a little easier because of it and if he chooses to continue to heal his own scars, his children will have it better than any of us did. And that’s emotional evolution.
That’s letting the light shine in to create new family histories.
In this particular story, the thing that most affected me as a mother wasn’t the scar around any sexual molestation that happened. The scar that most affected me as a parent was my mother’s inability to hear me or validate me or make my fear important. My mother was the main caregiver in our family so I looked to her to hear me and save me. She was the one who, due to her own scars, couldn’t validate and honor her own thoughts and feelings therefore couldn’t possibly validate or honor mine. It was an innocent mistake but had she done the kind of healing back then that she has done now, I know her response would have been different. She would have handled my fear, before and after the event, differently than she did back then. That doesn’t mean she is to blame. It means her scars were given more power in our story then she would have liked. Her scars robbed her of the chance to be the kind of mother she would have wanted to be in that moment.
Unhealed wounds cause damage.
The more we invite introspection and self-awareness into our lives as parents before we have kids and while they are young, the less our own scars will affect our children and future generations. Then we get to be the kind of mothers we want to be not the kind of mothers our wounds or our scars cause us to be.
If you suspect you have wounds or scars that may be affecting your mothering, and you have a daughter or daughters that you want to mother with as much of a healed heart as you can, take a look at my Intuitive Therapy for Mindful Parenting program. In six sessions, I’ll show you how your wounds are affecting your relationships and your parenting and what you can do to heal them.
With love as bright as a Care Bear stare,