The issue of boundaries pervades our lives in ways that are so subtle, yet so profound, that once they are mastered, simply everything changes. I am in the process of creating a workshop to break down this fascinating subject into its basic “nuts and bolts.” Here, we will offer a forum where we can examine how emotions and boundaries work together; build and strengthen personal boundaries and learn when others are pushing and violating your boundaries. I am interested in forming a group that meets for 5-6 consecutive weeks, or a couple entire weekends. Timing will depend on preference of participants. Cost for entire event will be $180 – $250, depending on size and format of group. See some excerpts from Clinton S. Clark of The Art Department for an idea about the perspective of this offering.
v1. interrupting trauma & abuse cycles
by Trina Brunk
Can’t you make your kids behave?
Spoken or implied, this message carries the weight of society. Is it just me, or have you ever found yourself taking a more rigid stance with your kids than you otherwise would to avoid judgement of others? We lived in New Mexico when my first son was small. I lived in a small community where my from-the-inside-out style of parenting was celebrated and honored, and I felt free to allow my son to explore his ecstatic connection with life. Our connection was rich and satisfying. When he was 2 1/2 we moved to central Missouri, several hours from where I grew up. In less than a year, our connection felt tense and stressful. He was demanding and bossy, and sometimes threw big screaming fits that would go on and on. I was pregnant with our second child and in spite of frantically reading up on good things like Non-Violent Communication, trying to be a gentle parent, I found myself flipping out with him periodically. I certainly couldn’t make him ‘behave’ the way I felt pressure to. What I came to realize was that it was very difficult for me to maintain my sense of connection with myself, and therefore with my son, in the culture where I grew up. Not only were the social expectations different, I was also plunged back into family dynamics that I never resonated with, and had learned at a young age to ‘disappear’ around. But you can’t disappear with a child. You have to either 1. show up and be who you are, and connect authentically, or 2. pretend to be who you’re not and get good at role-playing and domination. Which is exhausting!! My preference is choice #1, but at first I didn’t experience being at choice. Slipping into painful roles, re-enacting old family dynamics, and finally hurting so much that I sought a way out — this was my pathway: a pathway that led me back in to my own heart; a pathway I call “conscious parenting”.
Clearly, it can be challenging to stay conscious as a parent. I think that the commitment to continue to come back to awareness has got to be a fast-track to enlightenment. It’s just that so many of us haven’t engaged it that way because to do so requires so much courage and faith, and there aren’t many examples available to us. It is much easier on Sunday to put the kids in daycare and get our enlightenment in the sanctuary with all the other polite adults.
Perfect parenting vs. conscious parenting
I’ve been interested in conscious parenting since I was a little girl. I remember listening to my mom yell at me about cleaning my room and thinking she could get a lot further with me if she would just talk respectfully. I promised myself that if I ever had kids, I would do such a better job than she. While my mom was all about being in control at all times, I was full of dreams about creating mutual wins, treating each other respectfully, and having fun together.
And now that I’m a mom, (you knew this was coming) I can understand and appreciate my mom a lot more. I haven’t given up my dreams; the eight years I’ve been engaged in the parenting process have been humbling, mystifying, thrilling and sometimes shattering. My relationships with my children help me to get clearer on my vision, and clearer with myself on what goals are attainable and which ones set me up for feeling guilty and hopeless. I’ve noticed that in the quest to be a good parent, it’s easy to get caught up in perfectionism, which, while it seems harmless, is key in keeping the painful story going.
Perfect is concerned with right and wrong.
Conscious is being aware of your connection with all that is.
Perfect is focused on behavior and appearances.
Conscious is focused on the inner experience.
Perfect is about forcing or controlling to bring about a desired outcome in the future.
As a conscious parent, my priority is connection and bringing my awareness to the present moment.
Perfect is about product.
Conscious is about process.
Perfectionism seeks approval in vain. Funny, I almost wrote “vein”, which expresses it maybe better — seeking an intravenous infusion of approval from an outside source, a drug that must constantly be sought but that never gives the deep nourishment we really need . . . its futile quest is to medicate an imagined deficit. And that’s the trap, because you’ll never be good enough when you’re judged against an illusion. That’s what perfection does: sets up an illusory, unattainable goal, and then accepts nothing less. Do we really want to hold ourselves and our children up to this unforgiving measure? Failure is guaranteed; the soul has no choice but to express through dysfunction.
Consciousness experiences connection and being in the moment. There is no lack, no right & wrong way to show up and behave: instead, a deeper awareness of the love that we are guides our decisions.
Using triggers to track down and transform cycles of trauma and abuse
It’s cliche’ to talk about parenting as being the most difficult job in the world. But I think it’s a mistake to blame that on children. I think it’s challenging to engage parenting consciously specifically because of all the trauma we carry from generations and lives past. Unless we can find ways that work for us to heal and release the cycles of trauma and abuse, we’ll pass them on.
Toni A. Rahman, LCSW is a counselor and therapist in Columbia, Missouri. She sees clients every day who are grappling with the various manifestations of trauma, and she supports individuals and families in releasing painful patterns and claiming renewed lives. According to Toni, “Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and tends to plague us all to varying degrees at one time or another, whether it’s the Big-T Trauma of an automobile accident or the loss of a loved one, or the smaller-t trauma a child experiences when encountering emotions that he or she can’t yet put into words.”
In my journey in moving from perfectionism to conscious parenting, I have found triggers to be a powerful opportunity for healing and growth. Even while it may feel awful at the time, a trigger always points directly to something that I’ve hidden from myself due to past trauma, but that will hinder my growth and healing until it is revealed.
My personal practice has been that when I feel deeply triggered, to “be like a log” — do nothing, and just observe myself, and pay attention to my breath.
One big trigger for me is when my two eldest sons, ages seven and four, fight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told them to stop fighting with each other. I’ve told them to make up and be friends and the battle intensifies. I’ve screamed at them and threatened them and been big scary monster mommy. No luck. “Being Like A Log” can sometimes be excruciating because it calls to my present awareness some old long-forgotten pain, that had invariably been too much for me to handle at the time and which I had stashed away for such a moment as this.
What first becomes evident to me when I stop and be still while I’m triggered, are the beliefs flying around in my head about the situation. “He’s evil.” “He must be punished.” “I have to put a stop to this.” When I go deeper, the next thing that comes to my awareness is the intensity of my feelings — often grief, rage, terror. And when I look at it, the feelings I have are way out of context with what is actually happening between the boys. Any actions I take while in this state will be similarly out of context, and I’m at risk of being abusive myself.
I sit and be still, and watch my breath. One tool that I’ve found extremely powerful in these moments, and which I encourage you to experiment with, is applied kinesiology. It’s a way of asking your body for the information it holds, using yes/no questions. You can use it to get valuable — although sometimes subjective — information about the source of the trauma, sometimes through generations and sometimes through past lives, if you believe in that sort of thing. I’ve also found it very helpful in ascertaining what I need to do to release the trauma. And I could go on and on about this subject, but that would be a different article. Bottom line, use what tools you have available to you and feel comfortable — whether applied kinesiology, EMDR, counseling, to get conscious of what you’ve hidden from yourself, so you can release what is keeping you from being present and available to yourself and your children. The rewards are massive!
In my process, a recurrent theme that came up for a time was the pain and frustration I felt as a small girl in my relationship with my older brother. There was boundary confusion, bullying, teasing, harassing — some of which reminds me precisely of what I see going on with my sons. Sometimes, I find myself going deeper and further back through previous generations or past lives. I get a big ‘a-ha!’ that shows me that my feelings weren’t about the boys fighting at all — they were merely out-picturing my inner landscape (which I’ve found children do for the adults in their life all the time). And I see that my relationship with my brother was a setup to come into a deeper level of awareness about these issues, so I can bless and thank him for his role too. I focus on taking care of myself, doing what is necessary to understand and appropriately address whatever inner battle I’m having.
At this point, I find prayer to be very powerful. I ask for help in healing and releasing the trauma, as necessary — sometimes, the trigger is so great and my mind is mush, and asking for help is all I can think of to do. And I feel myself coming more into the present moment.
Often after doing this, almost like magic, I notice that the children are playing delightedly with each other. Doing and saying things together that are so beautiful to me that they bring tears to my eyes.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I am NOT saying that I think it’s a bad idea when kids are fighting with each other or bullying to set firm limits and re-direct and give information about how to get needs met in a positive way. I most certainly do think that these are important parenting skills. What I’m talking about is in recurring situations where you’re feeling really triggered, where you feel the pressure rising and it feels all too familiar — you are concerned that you might flip out and act in a way that damages your relationship with your child.
Take the test
Do you see yourself as being someone who’s relatively free from trauma? I think a great test for that is this — play with your child. Let them take the lead. Do what they choose. Do it for 15 minutes — set a timer and don’t look at your watch for the duration. Notice how you feel. Do you feel refreshed and invigorated and in love with the young person you’re with? Or are you feeling drained, frustrated, bored, antsy? Can’t wait for it to be over? Sometimes I struggle with staying awake while playing with my four-year-old, but have a very easy time hanging out with my seven-year-old, which tells me that there’s material ripe for healing my inner four-year-old, and that I’m pretty clear at the inner seven-year-old level.
If you find yourself experiencing some stuck places, do yourself and your family a favor and get help! You didn’t deserve what happened to you and you, and your family deserve to be free of painful patterns. Don’t isolate. Whether through reaching out to a friend you trust, finding a counseling professional you trust and committing to a course of therapy, spending time in nature, praying and asking for prayers of others, there is help available. Yes, it takes courage! But when we engage the process of becoming more conscious, we can begin to release the wounds of countless generations, and set into motion a new way of being that will bless countless generations to come.
The conversation I had with my pie crust this morning was one that I will not soon forget. I’ve been working on perfecting my crust for a couple months now. It’s a very exciting process. I love to take the food surplus I have around the house and make it into a pie. Not that I love making pie crust, please don’t misunderstand, but I definitely like eating pie, and I’d certainly like to enjoy the crust creation part more. This morning the process was even more juicy than usual. Sometime well before I began rolling the dough, it occurred to me that what the crust really wants is to have a lightly floured surface underneath. If it’s not smooth and floury under there, it’s physically impossible for it to slide and grow to the shape and thickness I want. The cookbook gently reminds me, moreover, that this process cannot be rushed. It takes time. Going into the process this morning, I remembered the dough’s simple request. It was not unreasonable. The dough doesn’t request much; just one small thing so that we can both be happy. But besides being the dough’s request, it’s simple physics – nature’s law. Smooth surface, ease in expansion. Less friction, more movement.
Oh, and here’s the other thing: I’ve watched myself, making pies, as time goes along. I make a pie, then I make another, each time learning, adjusting, experimenting. Each time I make a pie, it’s a little different, but each time I learn a little something, and with each attempt I at least end up with a semi-edible pie, and my family is happy with me. But each time, there’s this place in the process where I’m grimacing and cursing under my breath, my entire body tense and full of uncertainty. It’s that part that I’d like to examine a little here, so indulge me. As a moderately conscious person, I am aware of the power of thought. I can accept that I have negative thoughts, and my goal is not to eliminate them, but to use them to heal and grow. If I do not bring these thoughts into conscious awareness, they continue to go unnoticed. Noticed or unnoticed, they have a tremendous impact on my life. Bringing awareness to my thoughts in a difficult moment, I am almost always surprised at what I hear. This morning, if I’d turned up the volume of this radio frequency, here’s what you would have heard: This is never gonna turn out. What did I do wrong? I’m not gonna be able to salvage this. I’m wasting my time. How is this stupid recipe supposed to work? This doesn’t make any sense. Why do I do this? This is not fun. Maybe I’m just crazy – a glutton for punishment. I suck.
I promise you, those were the words that fluttered through my mind along with feelings of angst, anxiety, dread, fear, uncertainty, doubt, annoyance, powerlessness, anger, blah!
What comes to mind as I’m lifting the crust off the counter with a spatula and pasting in pieces to cover the holes, is the way I flounder about when I’m not sure what it’s supposed to look like, and I haven’t yet had enough successes to feel confident that this thing is actually going to survive. So it’s at this point in time, somewhere just short of something completely acceptable – maybe even magnificent – where I’m floundering, believing the bad things I’m telling myself, even though I am well on the way to what I have been creating all along. This hump just happens to bring out the very most ungraceful parts me, and I thrash and curse and wail. Still, looking back, I have made it through this highly dramatic process a good number of times. Mental note to self: If I can just make it through this difficult part without giving in to all those thoughts and emotions, I arrive at a new level of beauty and accomplishment, somewhere in the vicinity of my goal. I will actually reach the place I was headed not so long ago when I set out with my recipe and my ingredients, and my idea.
Another thought occurred to me while I was making my pies this morning. What I need is to watch someone who’s already mastered this process, making pie. Just once or twice. How nice it would be at this stage of my pie-making development to see it done by somebody who’s really got it down. All my senses would be attuned at that moment when the water gets sprinkled in, and everything begins to congeal. I bet I would consciously or unconsciously pick up the information I needed to make a few very minor adjustments that would take some of the angst out of my process. Just knowing how it looks when someone else reaches this stage would bolster my confidence. A big part of what makes me thrash and curse is the vulnerability and hopelessness I feel in that moment when I’m really not so sure that I can pull it off. Maybe it’s the not having seen it done well by someone else that makes me feel so angry and frustrated. Maybe having such an opportunity to see it modeled by someone who has already learned would transform that dreadful stage of the process so that it is not so dreadful anymore.
Damn. That’s not just pies we’re talking now. That’s life. Maybe we didn’t have stuff modeled as we would have liked when we were young, and maybe we’re still mad about it. But we don’t have to stay mad. There are those around us who have the skills we want, the resources we need. I could even go buy a pie crust from the grocery store if I wanted, and I probably will, but not today. In mastering the skill of making pie, I get to enter a learning process as a child does, starting without skills or confidence, yet steadily approaching mastery with each attempt. I know that continued practice will eventually bring the experience and confidence I seek. And when I send out a request for help, I can get what I want and need. With this learning comes the grace and faith that those who are watching can benefit from. I’m still looking for someone who’s willing to let me watch her make a pie, but in the meantime, it’s coming to me, piece by buttery piece. The information and support I need are available all around me. And they come from the most unexpected places when I listen. Today my pie crust helped me understand what it needed, and it turned out to be the flakiest pie I’ve made yet.
I’m so happy you’re here!
Feel free to come in and look around.
Visit Clinical Practice to read about what I do most from nine to five.
Check out my novel at Written Works.
Up and coming pages will include an Affirmations Page.
I also plan to expand Written Works to include
Essays and Shorter Pieces written to
capture and share my experiences in Bangladesh.
Also up and coming is a project in process – Adorsho Morshid – a work I am translating from Bengali about the life and times of the beloved Sufi saint,
So stay tuned for more
- Reading at Orr Street Studios on Tuesday, May 25, 7:00 pm
2010 American Library Association Annual Book Fair
Washington, DC June 25-June 28
Listen to interview about Tahole from Evening Edition on 3/09/10
Brad Blanton in Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life By Telling the Truth Pg 122: Unless a person experiences anger in the body and acknowledges the experience, the anger does not complete itself — does not discharge, subside, and go away. When anger is expressed indirectly, in ways that are calculated to avoid the experience of anger, anger gets stored up rather than dissipating. The experience of anger is converted to thoughts about the resented person, judgments, complaints, conclusions, and imaginary conversations. Pg 123: So this is what happens with anger: as children grow, constantly overpowered, cared for, and controlled, childhood expressions of anger against stronger adults are punished, either overtly or covertly, or worse, condescendingly moralized about. As children, we do the best we can to copy approved ways of dealing with anger to avoid getting punished for it. The result, at least in our culture, is that most people don’t express anger directly. It’s not that they don’t know they’re angry or that they won’t talk about their anger; they do and they will. Most people, however, won’t express their resentment in person to the person at whom they are angry. Instead, they gossip, complain, criticize, fantasize about telling the person off, and let it out in other indirect ways.