So, despite my recent case of the winter blues, I have continued to read my latest self-help book, Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, by Peg Streep.
Chapter 6 is a chapter I had been eagerly anticipating–it discusses the hidden obstacles within the unloved daughter–those unconscious patterns of behaviors…that hidden “script” that our bodies–our emotions–automatically flip to when we react.
I have been fighting this unconscious script since I started therapy two years ago–I’ve gotten really good at identifying the patterns and the behaviors, but I have continually asked myself: HOW? How do I STOP hearing the mean voice? Or panicking at the thought of messing up and losing someone? Or ____?
Thankfully, just like everything else that felt so unique to me, Peg Streep also knew unloved daughters needed to address these patterns of behaviors. (As an aside, I am continually shocked/impressed with how universal and predictable these patterns seem to be, despite the fact that so many of us feel like we are the only ones living this life!)
The first step in making the unconscious, conscious? It is understanding and ending the dance of denial–that dance that the unloved daughters do…you know, the one where we know our mothers do not love us the way we deserve…yet, we still continue to hope and wish and believe that maybe, just maybe, it will change?
This section of the book struck a cord with me. I have always been a self-blamer. If my mom was angry, or didn’t show affection…well, this was my fault. I was to blame. Even today, despite knowing how my mother is, and knowing that it ISN”T ABOUT ME, I still find myself, at times, wondering what I could do to make my mother love me. What can I change? I tried to do what she wanted…why didn’t it work?
And always, that shame. That fear. What if everything she has made me believe about myself is actually correct?
This, my friends, is the dance of denial.
If you are like me, you might get stuck here, waiting for a reason. But WHY did she act this way? Will she ever admit it? Would she ever take responsibility?
Denial is easier.
It is easier to hope and to rationalize. It is easier to remain fixed in the status quo and the unconscious patterns of behavior.
It is easier than realizing she will never change.
Ending the dance, however, is a necessary first step in the long journey of reclaiming our lives. It is hard. It is hard to admit to oneself, My mother wasn’t nice to me. She didn’t show me the love I deserved as a young girl. She didn’t protect me. I don’t trust her. Her love isn’t safe.
By admitting it, however, I am suddenly free to define myself. Maybe I am not what she says I am. Maybe I can learn to see myself differently.
That is the goal.
Streep goes on to discuss the brain’s automatic thinking and its processes. Primes are a person’s (or body’s) response to a cue. A trigger. A reaction.
The key here is recognize both the prime and your own reactivity to a situation. As I read through this section, I learned that I am a very state-oriented person. I allow my current “state” to take over–if I am stressed, the stress overwhelms. If I am sad, the sadness overwhelms. You get the idea.
The important take away? My state makes makes me feel even more. If I am stressed, a negative prime makes me feel worse about myself.
So…what can I do? One of the best ideas that Streep recommends is visualizing.
Visualize a supportive person. One who accepts you and loves you. Do this even more if you are stressed and worried. It will help you manage the situation!
I can relate to this. I have a few people in my life–my therapist, a few friends–who have helped me begin to understand what a healthy connection looks like. And, surprise! It looks nothing like what I have been raised to think it looks like.
And that is both amazing and confusing all at once.
Apart from visualizing, what else can I do to help recognize and lessen my triggers?
STOP>LOOK>LISTEN: This is all about reactivity. When I notice that I am starting to spiral, I need to take a timeout. I need to STOP. I need to LOOK. Am I reacting to what is happening right now, or has the present made me react to something in my past? And I need to LISTEN. Am I listening to the intention behind the words and not just the words?
Answering these questions can be pretty enlightening.
PAY ATTENTION TO SITUATIONAL CUES: How does my situation, the physical or social space that I am in, affect my emotions? Learning these things can help me learn to cool process the trigger and predict my reactivity before it blows up.
LISTEN TO MY BODY: Why am I shaking my leg? Or sweating? Or getting a stomachache? What is it about a particular situation that is making me revert back to stress and worry? If someone criticizes me, it is like I am a young girl all over again…but, again, my reaction does not need to be as high as it might be because I am triggered by my own childhood. And that? That makes sense.
Another super helpful section for me was Streep’s conversation on tackling self-criticism. So MANY people have said to me, You are way too hard on yourself!!!
My response? No shit.
But, it is what it is.
It my mind, I always hear what I’ve called the “mean voice.” That bitchy woman that tells me I am never enough. I am never lovable. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda.
Guess what? I can start talking back to that voice. I can, in fact, tell her to fuck off if I want to.
Who knew? 🙂
Next up…Reclaiming Your Power.
You know you don’t want to miss that. 🙂