QUESTION: I have been working on myself with various therapies over the last few years. Working on old traumas, fears, pain, anger, sadness, insecurities… and letting the love and self-love surface up. I can’t change anything that happens to me, but I can change the way I respond to it. 

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. And as most situations are there “testing me” daily (parents, husband, work, a taxi driver, a misfortune, a red light, an injury, a mood, you know… life), I find that the impact I get from “making mistakes” with my kids and the amount of guilt, fear, and resistance I carry in regards to them or myself, making the same mistakes my parents made with me, is becoming unbearable. I think it has something to do with controlling leading to disappointments leading to anger leading to fear leading to hate and guilt. But I don’t know anymore. I just know I have to break the pattern (as you would say).

I am having a hard time transitioning between living as the victim of the abandoned and scared little girl inside me (the resisting part) to being the victor of my circumstance and a present parent that takes care and hears both the little girl inside me as well as my two little boys (the accepting part). Why is it such a struggle to shift into this place? 

ANSWER: One of the hallmarks of an unsafe childhood can be a need for immense control in one’s adult life. We learn to deal with the assaults and insults of our early wounding by doing our best to be on top of everything in our life. We try to be perfect. We attempt to do this by over-controlling our behavior, our environment, or our body. We can try to be too nice, keep a too clean or neat home, or over-control our body weight. Of course, this is a losing proposition and this neurosis leads to more inner rage and unhappiness. This, in turn, makes us try to over-control some more, and the neurotic vicious circle continues.

Good on you for “working on old traumas” and the demons that it has unleashed. You are correct; you can not change the past. ALL you can do is TRY to “change the way you respond to it”. It is not a give in that at every turn we can respond to it differently. Sometimes, when we are tired, angry, or what have you, we will respond exactly the way we do not want to. The old patterns creep up. This is so frustrating to the part of us that is doing hard work. We want it all to be different, but it does not work that way. Sometimes we fall back into our unpleasant behavior. It is here that we have to make room for being human. This is not easy when we have been wounded. It feels unsafe to not be in control. But it is a fact of life. We do our best to behave from a centered place. We will not always be successful at that.

My heart breaks when I read things like “being the victor of my circumstance”. I like the sentiment, but the perfectionist mind with that ideal will pummel us into oblivion. It leaves no room for our humanity. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we will act in a way that we will not be proud of. It is only with some self-reflection that we can look back and examine our behavior. This does not mean that we keep acting irresponsibly. We are human and will do many things that we will not be proud of. The only response to poor old behavior is an attempt to do better in the present moment. That is the sign of a healing heart, not perfection. Perfection, or attempts at it, is a continuation of past trauma affecting our present life.

The biggest gift we can give to a child in our care is to work on healing our own childhood. By doing this, we pass less on for that soul to carry. In many traditions, it is an accepted fact that we are not dealing only with our own wounding but our ancestral line going back seven to nine generations. That means that we have a full plate in front of us. We need to have compassion towards ourselves for even attempting to move through that. You are doing just that, so be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge the fact that you are working on “breaking the pattern”, while making room for your humanity. True healing and “shifting into this place” is a life-long process. It is not an event that happens in a duration of our liking or choosing. All we can do is to keep showing up. You are facing yourself, so take solace in the fact that you are doing your best.