But My Kids Are All Grown – Now What?Nov 17, 2021
As I indicated in my previous two articles in this series (“Voyage through Chaos to Equanimity” and “Do What I Say, Not What I Did”), your personal path to equanimity can have positive effects on you and those around you.
Irrespective of all the research I have done on the damage my negative behavior has had on my children, my personal experience agrees with Dr. Young’s statement, “Then there is repair." Even after seeing the results of their rocky beginnings, and even after having spent 20+ years with the most wonderful and enduring daughters, I can claim that there is still plenty of hope. When we mothers show a willingness to look at and heal our own traumas, much of our children’s resilience and chance for a life in heaven on earth can be restored.
Here is the important variable: If we blew it while our babies were developing in utero, and even if we continued our destructive behaviors during our children’s first couple of years, we can have a second chance to minimize the damage done…if we heal ourselves.
We mothers try to fix our children, keeping the focus on them and forgetting that our children must live with us. We are part of their environment, and unless we are willing to look at ourselves first, no amount of taking our kids to psychologists and asking what’s wrong will help them. In fact, by focusing on them instead of ourselves, we will likely reinforce the damage. We must be willing to do the hard work of personal change, and, then, a life of well-being is available to all of us.
Dr. Bruce Lipton in his book, The Biology of Belief, as well as Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book, Mindsight, offers hope-filled information to help us understand the benefit of healing and personal growth. They both point to the significance of a positive environment and the possibility of repair. The journey to equanimity and a life worth living can be painful, is most likely exhausting, and requires willingness, open-mindedness, and plenty of hope. Nevertheless, it’s possible.
The battle for equanimity happens between our ears. All the doctors mentioned in this series of blog articles tell us that we need a constant flow of energy and information between our mind and body to maneuver skillfully through the terrain called life. If the messages from our bodies are creating discomfort or pain, we tend to ignore them and can, at times, shut off the origin of the signals. And when we habitually resist any signs of “dis-ease,” we lose access to the wonderful wisdom our bodies hold.
Furthermore, if we are not connected to ourselves and our bodies, we tend to feel less connected to others. People are not that excited about us when we live in an insulated, self-absorbed bubble, plagued by “little traumas” from our past.
If we didn’t have safe surroundings in which we were able to develop our awareness and ability to tune into others, a void can develop in us, which gets filled up with uncertainty and paranoia over time. Through countless mental wars of comparison and competition for air space, our minds desperately try to find cues for communication.
Dr. Scaer explains that trauma victims lose the ability to learn “even rudimentary new adaptive behaviors” because we have become “frozen in the past.” Not only do we over-react when exposed to minor stresses, we also tend not to attain any new “adaptive social skills beyond the age of the trauma.” (70)
If the trauma happened at an early age, we can become stuck in the self-centered mind of a young child at great risk of developing the “illness of narcissism” (sometimes nicknamed “loners’ disease”).
Narcissism is classified as a disease because the actions of those who exhibit it create ill feelings in others and leave them with a sense of dis-ease. Through countless desperate attempts to connect and form lasting relationships, narcissists blast a trail of failure, oblivious to the reason for that failure.
We narcissists don’t get it! The pilot light needed to keep the passion for life going…flickers. Sensations arise reflective of Dr. Siegel’s observation that, “a living organism links its differentiated parts—and without integration, it suffers and dies.” (259)
I didn’t necessarily want to live…I just did.
As disconnected, narcissistic loners, we are clumsy in our attempts to manifest attunement with other humans, including our children. The journey from hell to heaven can then become an all-consuming obsession that has the potential of holding people hostage and creating plenty of casualties in our search for connection and friendship. We are painfully aware that something is wrong with us, something inherently wrong.
Where did we take a wrong turn? According to Scaer, it could have started early. He says that infants who are at the mercy of a traumatized caregiver will most likely develop high levels of internal stress and have severe deficiencies in maneuvering life’s demands. (118)
Luckily for us, the attempts by science to describe the perfect copy of a “normal person” have so far been futile, and according to Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book, The Developing Mind, there “are no definitions of absolutely ‘normal’ ways of relating that some ‘objective’ therapist can push onto others.” (287) In agreement with Siegel, Dr. Scaer also points to the fact that we humans are “social beings,” and positive interactions with social peers lead us to gain strength and health. (168) A possible interpretation of Dr. Scaer’s words could be that, with the right support, the “broken” among us can have hope that there are social groups for us, too.
It is said that humans need humans to survive and thrive; we need to belong…somewhere! To become successful in life, humans depend on interpersonal relationships and support from other humans. Dr. Siegel emphasizes in his CD collection, The Neurobiology of “WE”, that our brains need to feel “attuned” to other brains to develop and thrive. Attunement with others provides a sense of belonging, and if our social community can muster some acceptance of our awkwardness, and direct us toward appropriate behaviors, we can learn to live in the light of human connection instead of in isolation.
Remember that definition of attunement from my previous article in this series? (do what I say) “…a two-person experience of unbroken feeling connectedness by providing a reciprocal affect and / or resonating response.”
In my own book (Beyond Recovery: Getting Unstuck from Life-Limiting Habits), I have described a simple practice you can use to help you attune yourself to anyone – your infant, a person with whom you want to connect (or re-connect), your spouse or significant other. I offer the practice here as a simple, effective way to use your personal tuning fork:
Attitude-Attunement, a Self-Awareness Practice:
So, here you are with your tuning fork. Drop into your body and open your chest and heart. Notice any resistance and just let it be there. Don’t plow through it or try to force anything; just notice. You will recognize your ability, and inability, to “tune in” to others, to feel into the space you share and to open up for connection.
Step 1. In a morning sitting practice, think about a person you would like to get a little closer to. Notice what happens in your body. Think about looking this person in the eyes. We are talking about 10 seconds here. How does it feel? Allow your emotions to reverberate through your body. Open your chest a little more and let that person in.
Pay attention to your face. How would your face feel and what would it look like if you were to communicate what you feel without words? Realize that more than 80 percent of our communication consists of non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body postures. Really feel into your body’s reactions and thoughts.
Think about an opportunity for connection. For example, if it’s a family member, you may have a chance when you say “good morning” at the breakfast table, when you pick the person up from school or work, or other such opportunities. If you want to branch out further and practice with someone at work, you may give the person a little more attention when you regularly communicate with him or her.
Step 2. A few minutes before making a connection, remember your morning sitting practice and drop into that feeling. Decide that you will carry this feeling with you and project it through your eyes as an attempt to communicate your appreciation of or love for this person. Open your chest; tighten your skin to become extra sensitive to that person’s response. This is not a staring contest – this is an attempt to let someone into your space. Remember: No big deal. 10 seconds only. If it feels comfortable to do so, stretch the time.
Step 3. At the time you make the connection, make sure you stay in your body, notice your face, and as you listen to the words, exhale and drop into your body. Gaze at the person in an inviting manner and listen to him or her with your whole body.
Think of your body as memory foam that fully retains the imprint the other person is leaving on you. What is happening for you? What is the impression that person leaves on you? What are you picking up from the other person? Pay close attention to the other’s body language. Are there signs of attunement? Is he or she relaxing into your shared space? Are you relaxing?
Step 4. Write down your experience in your journal. Do this practice for a week with the same person. Try to keep your experience to yourself and notice if you have any need to tell the other person about it. As in, “Well, I am trying to change and give you more attention; now I want you to do the same.” Or, “If this is going to work ‘right,’ you have to do this, too.”
Avoid coercing others into doing things your way. This is your chance to recognize how much you are willing to give of yourself, truly, before you expect others to interact with you according to your “rules”.
References for This Four-Part Blog Series
Erksine, R. G. “Attunement and involvement: therapeutic responses to relational needs”. International Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 3, No. 3. (1998). Available online at: https://counselling-vancouver.com/attunement/
Kornfield, Jack. A Path with Heart: A Guide through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. New York: Bantam Books. 1993. Print.
Lipton, Bruce H. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. Santa Rosa: Mountain of Love, 2005. Print.
Oakley, Doug. An article published in the Daily Review, February 22, 2010. Hayward, CA. First page. (Note: Daily Review is no longer published, as of November 1, 2011.)
Scaer, Robert. Trauma Spectrum: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. Print.
Siegel, Daniel. Mindsight. New York: Bantam Books, 2010. Print.
Siegel, Daniel. The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. New York: The Guilford Press, 1999. Print.
Siegel, Daniel. The Neurobiology of “WE”. Sounds True, 2008. Audio Series.
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