Re-Writing Our Story

A recent Typology podcast with Ian Cron inspired me to do a little more forensic excavating into my own childhood story. It was Ian’s comment that we need to go back and uproot that old childhood narrative that no longer serves us well as adults that motivated me to do so.

The striking difference in my approach to this unearthing project had quite a bit to do with gaining a deeper understanding. It wasn’t just about healing from painful events that happened to me, it was more evolved than that — it was shining light on parts of my family’s story that had remained in the dark for far too long. It was the very first time that I could go back and revisit a poignant memory and recognize the deep roots of behavioral patterns when they were merely seeds.

When I was about three or four years old, we lived in a second floor apartment of an old house in a tiny quaint rural area. There was a little square sandbox in the backyard and one large maple tree. Most mornings, my mom would put me in that sandbox all by myself and return to our apartment, cigarette in hand. A neighbor had a nasty little dog that roamed freely in this backyard and I was frightened of this yipping, biting four-legged terror. My mom would arm me with a closed child’s umbrella every time she put me in this sandbox. Then she’d leave me — alone.

In the past, when I would revisit this memory, I would be sad for that little girl. Mostly I would focus on how I would have handled things differently as a mom. I’ve even used those tools of revisiting that memory and imagining swooping that little blonde-haired girl into my arms and assuring her that she was safe.

But today I was on a quest to discover the seeds of childhood behavioral patterns – those patterns we develop to make sense of our world and navigate our little lives as safely as possible. This is the deeper exploratory work that the enneagram inspired me to do. That one little vignette from my early childhood provided many clues.

Picture a few conversation bubbles placed over that sandbox scenario that go something like this:

Why am I alone in this sandbox? My mom can’t possibly hear me or get down here fast enough if I need her.

I am scared to death of this terrifying dog. Who is going to protect me?

I’m supposed to use this umbrella to hit that dog? I can’t hurt that dog even if I am scared to death of him.

Being alone in this sandbox day after day with that scary dog is not my idea of fun. There is no way I can play while I am constantly on the alert for danger.

Why does this same scenario play out over and over, day after day, even when I have told my mom that I am unhappy and afraid? My crying and pleading never bring any changes.

As I teased apart each of these conversation bubbles, I found the seeds for which I’d been searching. I also discovered the familiar framework that I grew up in — a template for the repeated cause and effect of our rocky family dynamics. My childhood behavioral patterns were deeply engrained by unconscious and unchecked parental actions that repeated themselves for years.

I have a vast collection of vignettes similar to my sandbox story where I was either left to fend for myself or that the consequences of asking for help resulted in a punishment far worse.

What I did not intellectually comprehend through most of my childhood was that I was afraid of my mother.

I’m beginning to see one of the ongoing internal conflicts that led to blind spots in my adult relationships. As a kid, I struggled with being afraid of the one person whom I was supposed to trust and who was supposed to protect me. Was this the origin of feeling not worthy, not valued? Was it part of why I found it so hard to hold others accountable for inappropriate behaviors?

I now realize that another parental complication was also in play: I was mad at my dad for not standing up for me and protecting me while simultaneously empathic and understanding that he was in the same boat — he too was afraid of my mother. Unknowingly I may have adopted some of his ineffective coping strategies. Some of those strategies made it easy for both of us to be controlled or manipulated. My mom had “power over” us.

A few of the childhood patterns that I came to rely on were people pleasing, hyper-vigilance, trust only yourself, don’t complain or ask for your needs to be met, keep the peace at all costs. I am a Type 2 on the Enneagram — aka The Helper.

When I became a big sister, most of my early coping patterns were amplified in order to protect my younger brothers. Adding more children to the unhealthy and stressful parental dynamic only made a dysfunctional template stronger. Now I was not only protecting myself, I took on the hefty responsibility of looking out for my innocent younger siblings.

This forensic excavating that I did was so incredibly catharttic for me. I was just a little kid trying to make sense of things that did not make sense. I even gained some invaluable insight about my brothers as I looked back on our childhood. Both of my brothers also found their own ways to navigate our volatile home life which resulted in behavioral patterns and coping skills unique to each of them. For the first time, I think I understand the root causes of my youngest brother’s short and very troubled life.

When I first discovered the enneagram as a valuable tool for my self-discovery and personal growth, a sense of great relief washed over me. I felt seen, heard and even understood as I soaked in all that I was learning about my type. I laughed and I cried as I recognized lifelong behavioral patterns and began to understand why I adopted them. But at the same time, I could see where these childhood patterns had not served me well in adulthood. I let people take advantage of me. I accepted behaviors and stories about me because I believed I didn’t deserve better. It was hard to dispute the fact that I came from a pretty messed up family. That was the hard truth. Yet there was another truth that brought me so much comfort and encouragement to change — We are not our broken stories.

In the recent 3-part Sister Series of Unlocking Us, Brene Brown and her twin sisters, Ashley and Barrett, openly discuss their childhood experiences and the behavioral patterns that they developed as a result. Brene, being the oldest of four, became the “protector” and developed a super power of being able to read a room and moods. She was a hyper vigilant observer of others and always at the ready to do what was needed to protect her siblings from the fallout. This honest, heartfelt conversation between siblings underscores that we all have recognizable behavioral patterns that developed from seeds that were planted in childhood.

The enneagram is a field guide for behavioral patterns. It helps us define them and make sense of our own. With increased awareness of specific patterns, we begin to see, and feel, when they arise in our day to day lives. It is from this vantage point that we can figure out if those patterns are really serving us well in our current stage of life.

This brings me back to Ian Morgan Cron’s podcast about uprooting our childhood stories, and writing a new story. Again, the enneagram is such a helpful tool for crafting this new story — because if you use it to help you move toward the healthy end of your type’s spectrum, you will be cultivating your unique gifts, talents and strengths in a way that fosters your personal growth. Changing our outdated, outgrown behavioral patterns is the uprooting process. It opens space in our inner gardens to give the good seeds –the best parts of ourselves — room to grow. Without the heavy dark shadow of old patterns, light and fresh air fall onto the best parts of ourselves. This is how we get out of our own way! This is how we craft a better story for our evolving lives.

There is another thread to my recent excavation process that is worth noting. I don’t think we go out into the adult world openly stating “I am less than or I am not worthy.” I think those buried beliefs are wrapped up in shame. We are ashamed or embarrassed of our broken stories. At 18, I could not deny that my family history was messy. So two things happened: If someone reminded me of that truth, I relegated myself to the second-hand bin of life. The bar had been set low and I just acquiesced and kept my dreams small; or, I kept my family story hidden and fought really hard to push that bar for my own life beyond those restricting limits. In the middle of those two scenarios was a whispering self-doubt, keeping me tethered to my old story.

Are you beginning to see how old patterns, old belief systems and avoiding emotions are inter-connected?

We have such a rare and inspirational opportunity right now to combine the wisdom of the Enneagram with the body of work that Brene Brown offers on Emotions in Atlas of the Heart. These two invaluable resources have the potential to dramatically improve our self-awareness and our understanding of who we really are and what makes us tick.

This post is part one of my excavation discoveries. In my next post, I will share what I’m learning from my research and my friends about how we can help prevent childhood narratives from trapping our children and grandchildren. I am very excited about all that we are unearthing in our own personal growth journeys that will help others on their own paths.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Ian Cron’s latest book on the Enneagram – and a great resource for re-writing your own new story
Listen to this episode on childhood stories
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ul0U5JLjU0Y
Beatrice Chestnut’s latest book – written as an introduction to the Enneagram . Beatrice is a renowned Enneagram expert and a friend of Ian Morgan Cron. Dr. Dan Siegel – author of MindSight and the Power of Showing Up , writes the forward for this book!

Scattering the Seeds of Change

A puffy snow white dandelion is absolutely irresistible to my six year old granddaughter as she skips across the front lawn to pluck it and blow enthusiastically, sending tiny seedlings airborne on wispy tendrils. “Where will they travel, Gigi? Where will they land?”

This timeless joyful outdoor activity is the perfect metaphor for what I am witnessing in family members and friends who are doing the same with the seeds they are sowing on their own personal growth journeys. Immersive conversations with several close friends have been so inspiring and uplifting. As these women have peeled off the layers of personal narratives that no longer fit, and shed the armor no longer needed, they have become invaluable resources for sons and daughters, for siblings and friends.

I’ve planted a few seeds within my immediate family over the past few years. I’ve nurtured and nourished those seeds with patience, shared personal experiences and even hard conversations. I can see and feel them sprouting now — and it fills my cup with joy, gratitude and hope.

While I wished for these kinds of results in the past, I am now well aware that I had a lot of personal weeding to do first so that I could discover the places where old conditioning, old triggers and outgrown behavioral patterns were stunting my growth and contentment. Now that I am tending my own personal growth in a healthier way, I am able to see more clearly and empathically where others might be entangled or stuck.

My friends are experiencing this very same thing in their immediate families. They share stories of how their adult children are embracing personal growth much as they would a new nutrition plan. They see the benefits of doing this preliminary work earlier in life (in their 30’s and 40’s) so that they don’t end up like Bob Marley chained to a lot of baggage that restricts them from evolving through life.

What are the seeds we are planting? For starters, we are showing up differently. This includes a laundry list of shifts like being curious rather than judgmental, listening to learn and understand, refraining from offering advice and asking more questions to help others solve their own problems. We honor other’s feelings, don’t take things so personally and we hold boundaries. People can feel this difference in how we are showing up for both them and ourselves. It is often described as feeling safe, building trust and fostering a sense of agency.

As those seeds take root, it becomes a lot easier to lean in to each other and share vulnerabilities. It opens gateways to ask for help when needed, or to have those really hard but necessary conversations. Deeper connections are forged in these most vulnerable spaces. A lot of misunderstanding gets cleared and a lot of healing takes place.

To be certain, none of this happens overnight. Meaningful personal growth changes take time, practice and patience. It is the consistency of these changes that become so noticeable to others.

Personal growth work is becoming more mainstream. They are so many relatable, useful and game-changing tools readily accessible to us — through books, podcasts, apps, online tools, classes and counseling. Even my doctor’s office has been highlighting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in managing stress, sleep deficits, inflammation and overall quality of good health. There is also a realistic understanding that personal growth is an on-going process throughout our entire lives, just as caring for our physical, nutritional and mental well being.

No doubt the pandemic, quarantine, and ongoing uncertainty about a new normal has also played a relevant role in awakening many to the ruts and routines that were not serving them well. The Atlantic recently featured an insightful article about why so many people are quitting their jobs, moving their families and seeking a new balance for work and family. This reset may be fertile ground for seeds of self-discovery and personal growth to take hold.

I am so elated when my friends tell me stories of the personal transformations they are witnessing with their adult children. We are all feeling so inspired that this younger generation is learning some of these big life lessons much earlier than we did. It is easy to recognize that they will have better skills, resilience and compassion for whatever life has in store for them as the years unfold for them. Some of these wise young adults also recognize that they can pass along multi-generational issues if they don’t do this inner work. They are motivated to change so that they can free their young children from debilitating family narratives and patterns. In some cases, adult children are helping their older parents heal from their past traumas through their own personal growth work. The effort and benefits can truly flow both ways.

A recent conversation with my lifelong friend Judy had us laughing about needing a “Johnny Appleseed” kind of name for those of us who extol the huge benefits of personal growth work. As I watched my little granddaughter joyfully blowing the dandelion seeds into the brisk autumn air, I realized that it was the perfect analogy. Anyone doing personal growth work and sharing their discoveries with others is scattering the seeds of positive transformation. We don’t know where they will travel and we don’t know which ones will take root — yet we will joyfully scatter nuggets of wisdom, empathy and encouragement every day.

Here’s to those who are scattering seeds of positive change — by sharing their stories, by setting examples, by recommending a book or a podcast, by being brave enough to have hard conversations, by pausing before reacting, by offering grace and kindness, by recognizing that we really don’t know each other’s full life stories and being willing to listen to gain understanding.

Recommended Resources:

Brene Brown

Yung Pueblo

Dr. Rick Hanson

Dr. Bruce Perry

Tara Brach

Dr. Dan Siegel

Beatrice Chestnut

Ian Morgan Cron

Tim Ferris

Glennon Doyle

Nuggets of Wisdom – Personal Growth Insights

I recently spent a few incredible weeks back in my hometown of Lancaster, PA, visiting family and longtime friends. The meaningful face to face conversations I had with people who have contributed to my life felt incredibly good. Our deep discussions revealed some invaluable insights about how our individual personal growth has been having positive impacts on others in our families and circles of friendship. I’m offering these inspirations in this post:

I’ve grown very close to the amazing women in my Beautiful Cheetahs Zoom Book Club over the past 18 months. Most of them are also from Lancaster. It was such a delightful treat to be with them in person.

We are amazed at how much we have evolved in the past 18 months as we took a deep dive into Untamed by Glennon Doyle and opened up our hearts and life stories to each other. We peeled quite a few layers off our onions, crying sometimes and laughing at others. We said “me too” quite often — to the stories that Glennon described in her book and to similar stories in our own lives.

Herein lies the biggest nugget of truth — so many people are entangled in the the narratives, the judgments, the unprocessed traumas and the armor of their past.

Some of our armor protected us when we were too young to be able to make sense of things. We are not forever tethered to our past and our lived experiences. We can — and should — untangle ourselves from our triggers, our insecurities and fears so that we can live unencumbered from false, limiting narratives and emotional baggage.

My friends and I notice that we are showing up differently now for our family members, especially spouses, adult children and grandchildren, because of the personal growth work we have done on ourselves. It inspires us to have deeper, more honest conversations. Our awareness about how we were bound or restricted by our past helps us shine a light onto the path of agency and self-discovery for others.

There were touching conversations that I had with two women I love and respect so much that echoed the same sentiment yet from different perspectives. It was how another can see us in a much different light — and what a gift that truly is.

My lifelong friend gazed at her daughter as she looked at herself in a floor length mirror — each reflecting on that same young woman about to be married. Through her mother’s eyes, her youngest daughter had grown into the most remarkable woman, far exceeding any dreams or expectations that her mother had for her when she cradled her all those years ago. Mom could see her daughter’s past, present and future all at once — and her heart filled with love, joy, gratitude and wonder.

We don’t know just what her daughter might have been reflecting on as she gazed at herself in her wedding dress.

What I do know is that my dear friend wished for her daughter to be able to see herself just as her loving mother did. Is there any greater gift that reflecting to another all the goodness that we see in them?

The second conversation centered on how parents and siblings can get stuck in viewing us through the lens of our childhood – or a much younger version of ourselves. Perhaps they contribute to the narrative that a past event in our lives defines who we are today. My young friend shared how her beloved husband was instrumental in helping her family see her in a new light. Her husband saw the courageous, resilient and evolving woman she truly is. All along, she had been working through her past experiences and growing in remarkable ways — but her family just hadn’t stepped back to fully take in all the positive changes in her. They were unconsciously falling back on the much younger version of her. It was her husband who opened their eyes to the incredible woman she is today.

I’ve witnessed this in my own family. My sons are 10 and 11 years older than their sister. Even though they are all adults now, I have a feeling that my sons still view their sister as 8. This often happens in families where there is a big difference in ages of siblings. That playing field gets leveled as we age and mature. We all benefit by stepping back and reflecting on who that person is today.

This nugget of wisdom is a natural followup to the last one about seeing each other from a fresh perspective. I’ve recently read Harriet Lerner’s book, The Dance of Connection, and have discussed its relevance to hard family conversations with a few of my friends. Just like all the “me too” moments that we’ve found in common for ourselves, many of my friends have shared the fractures and misunderstandings that exist in their extended families. Ignoring these conflicts and estrangements rarely solves anything. I call this the “ostrich syndrome” — sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that we can’t see it (or feel it). Sometimes we do need boundaries if there is a log jam and we cannot make forward progress in healing old wounds. Yet, I am a firm believer that being willing to hold space and listen with the intention of learning is the equivalent of extending an olive branch in familial healing.

Lately I have been discovering that these long overdue hard conversations often shed new light and information on a misunderstanding that provides relief and release from our past. Adult kids begin to see their parents through their own lenses as 40 or 50 year olds. Older parents begin to see how their emotional reactions and patterns contributed to problems for their children. Siblings begin to see each other in a more mature light.

Dr. Dan Siegel emphasizes the value of “rupture and repair” in our relationships. We grow stronger when we make repairs. We are healthier and more resilient when we possess awareness and accept accountability for our behaviors and actions. We strengthen our relationships and deepen trust when we apologize and back it up with positive changes.

Here’s the compelling hope that Dr. Dan Siegel offers — he says that it is never too late to repair a rupture. I’ve heard the stories of adult children my age who had hard conversations with their aging parents and subsequently healed decades of trauma and unprocessed emotional baggage. Those last few years of their parent’s lives turned out to be some of the richest. This should encourage all of us to be willing to have those kinds of conversations much much earlier in our lives.

One of the things I love about my closest friendships is how we help each other stay on track with our personal growth – especially when life throws us a curve ball.

Through all the personal growth work we have done individually and together, we have become good resources for each other when we need a little help to stay on the healthy end of our emotional spectrum. We often use the enneagram as a valuable tool to recognize where we might be slipping into an old pattern.

Sometimes we need a boost of encouragement, a reframing of our perspective, or a reminder to take time to journal and process what we are feeling. Occasionally we need each other to hold space for us, allowing us to pour out our hearts and simply listen, without judgment,

We talk a lot about how we want to be “showing up” as our more enlightened and empowered “best selves”. It takes a lot of practice, a boatload of awareness and a willingness to change. Since we are all at different places in our personal growth journey, we benefit from hearing other’s experiences. We have become that relational scaffolding for each other that Dr. Bruce Perry promotes. Best of all, we are helping each other find purpose and meaning in this chapter of our lives.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

If you enjoy my Nuggets of Wisdom, I hope you’ll start to follow me on Instagram at InspiredNewHorizons. I post several times a week on Instagram…..and it is often my personalized quote about what I am learning through my evolving personal growth journey. I embellish each quote with something relevant that is touching my life in the moment. Hopefully it will be relatable, inspiring an encouraging for you too.

Ian Morgan Cron’s TYPOLOGY Podcast featuring Carey Nieuwhof (Ian has a new book coming out – The Story of You which is about the enneagram. His acronym SOAR will help with self-awareness and change. His guest, Carey Nieuwhof, is inspiring and also has a new book coming out which is entitied At Your Best. This book is the strategy to help you get your time, energy and priorities working in your favor. Listen to this podcast for an engaging conversation about both books and their application to your own personal growth and happiness.

Huffington Post Article: “I Tracked Down the Girls Who Bullied Me as a Kid. Here’s What They Had to Say” by Simon Ellin, Feb. 19, 2021 (This article is a great example of having a hard conversation and what it can reveal, and how much relief and healing can result).

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/middle-high-school-bully-depression_n_602c0800c5b65259c4e52240

Nuggets of Wisdom

I started collecting inspirational quotes in my teen years and to this day, I am still fascinated by them. One day, my friend told me that the little nuggets of wisdom I shared with her about mindfulness were like inspirational quotes for her. I laughed and said that my little homemade quotes were like daily gummy supplements for self-awareness. My daughter told me that she likes them because it the perfect way to squeeze a little mindfulness into her crazy busy day keeping up with two young children.

So, I am launching a new component to my blog posts — and aiming to share my Nuggets of Wisdom twice a month.

This first one came to me when I realized that all too often, we inadvertently interrupt others and pull their attention away from the present moment. Just taking a few moments to take stock of a present situation may be all that is needed to realize our comment or story can wait a bit. Don’t break the spell of a mom reading a book to her child, or your partner engrossed in meal prep, or a friend taking a moment to gather her thoughts.

Those moments when we pause and just observe another being focused in their own activity is an opportunity to witness another’s joy, fascination or vulnerability.

We’ve all got behavioral patterns that we unconsciously fall back on– things like avoiding conflict, being a control freak or being a consummate helper, not asking for help. Just like a good purge of clothes that no longer fit or are outdated, a purge of these old conditioned patterns free us up to fully embrace our current life and the person we are striving to be.

I’ve often described this processing as gaining a lot of real estate in our lives for new growth opportunities, richer experiences and more contentment.

Too often we ignore our intuition. Paying attention to our “gut instinct” will usually point us to the best choices. Our best friends and trust buddies will be honest with us, and help us see the blind spots we may be missing. They are good at holding space while we sort things out. Road blocks may be invaluable signs that something isn’t right for us, or that we aren’t quite ready. New beginnings are the springboard for learning, growth and resilience. Fresh starts are like a blank canvas ripe with opportunity.

Any habit that we wish to change does require commitment and daily practice. It’s fun to work on enhancing a personal quality that we want to let shine. I truly believe it is easier than breaking a bad habit too.

Replacing being judgmental with being curious was a quality I worked on. It really shifted my perspective and honed my empathy for what others were dealing with in their own lives.

What quality do you want to expand?

This might be my personal favorite — put a little gratitude in your attitude!

No matter what is going on in our lives, we often have so much to be grateful for, but we are so busy focusing on what’s going wrong that we overlook the obvious.

Take a moment to think about one or two things in your life that you are truly grateful for – and if it just happens to be a person in your life, tell them! A little note, a text, a hug or making them a cup of tea will be a blessing that goes both ways.

I hope you enjoy the Nuggets of Wisdom. I’d love to hear from you with comments, ideas, and your own nuggets of inspiration and wisdom.

A Framework and a Process

When I first embarked on my self-discovery journey, I was overwhelmed with the plethora of new information and new tools. It was challenging to piece together a framework for the process. It felt like sorting through the contents of an Ikea box, a thousand parts, a complex instruction book and too many or too few nuts and bolts. It is one of the reasons that I love blogging. It is my hope that my personal stories and my experiences with various tools will be meaningful to others as they build their own framework.

I do believe in the importance of self-discovery work. We are constantly evolving each and every day and that is what makes personal growth work so dynamic. We accept this so naturally as we watch a young child reach their milestones – first step, first word, first lost tooth, first grade — all the way through to adulthood. We marvel and encourage this metamorphosis each step of the way, helping them to discover who they are, what they are passionate about, how they approach life. It seems that once we reach adulthood and especially as we hit our mid-life, we forget that we are still evolving. The changes are not so noticeably evident, but they are every bit as relevant.

The deeper I get into my own personal exploration, the more I am able to look back on the history of my own life and find something valuable that I missed in those moments. I ask myself a lot of really big questions when I take this walk down memory lane. Why did you accept that? What did you really want? What was holding you back? Where did you find that courage?

The answers to these questions come from the woman that I am today, with the hindsight and wisdom of being on the other side of that history. The revisit gives me a better viewpoint to fully appreciate where others are in their adult stages of life’s metamorphosis. I am a firm believer that when we do this personal growth work, we set a good example for others. We have what it takes to break generational patterns that are not serving us well. We can flourish when we shed what is no longer needed. It starts with awareness, acceptance and embracing positive change.

It is a bit ironic that it takes us hitting a wall or rock bottom to realize the importance of personal growth work. It is super hard to try to find some solid ground for a starting point, when we are physically and emotionally drained. Yet just maybe that is where we need to be to allow for some deeper awareness to tap us on the shoulder and say “What is the real problem?”

I often share in these posts how invaluable I find the enneagram to be. However, I only discovered it a few years into the self-awareness work I’d cobbled together on my own. It dovetailed with the concept of looking for reactive behavioral patterns that weaved its way through mindfulness, meditation and neuroscience. For me, it was like having an imaging tool — like an X-ray or MRI — for emotional behavioral patterns specific to my enneagram type. I remembering thinking that I could have really benefited from these cliff notes on day 1 of my fragmented personal growth journey.

One of the key components of the enneagram that makes it such an invaluable and on-going tool is that it shows us fully our unique strengths and weaknesses — and the spectrum on which we all operate, day to day and sometimes even moment to moment. It is the spectrum from healthy to unhealthy that I find most intriguing. Again, I correlate it to the tools we use to gauge our physical health. The bathroom scale, the heart monitor, our wearable activity devices all help us to stay the course. The behavioral spectrum of the enneagram does the same for us.

So we actually get the synopsis of our specific behavioral patterns — and we get the tangible reminders of things to be on the lookout for should we find ourselves off-track. The enneagram is a dynamic tool that we can rely on throughout our own personal evolution.

I have found the discussion of our reactive behavioral patterns weaving its way into so many books, podcasts, articles and conversations regardless of the subject matter. It reminds me how relevant it is for us to be aware of how we are showing up — for ourselves, for others. Are we still clinging to those old reactive behavioral patterns that don’t fit who we are today?

One recommendation that I’ve discovered really works when it comes to identifying patterns we may not be able to see for ourselves is asking a family member or friend to help us. I hit the jackpot when it came to my personal growth buddy for several reasons. My lifelong friend Judy and I were both on a personal growth quest at the same time, we had a lot of shared outcomes though our experiences were different and we were both enneagram type 2’s. Best of all, we built a foundation of trust that enabled us to tackle really painful stuff. We celebrate each other’s progress. And we keep doing the work, always marveling at how much there is to discover.

The other day, I listened to the most recent Dare to Lead Podcast on the subject of advice giving and how disempowering it can be in work and in our personal lives. I leaned in even closer to this episode. An enneagram type 2 is often called “The Helper” and I’ve been learning all the ways that my lifelong patterns of rescuing, helping and fixing were more about me, where I was most vulnerable, and where I need to focus my attention in order to change.

This podcast revealed that many of us are prone to quickly offer advice — to fix or to rescue –regardless of our enneagram type. And once again I heard Brene talk about how old behavioral patterns will creep into those interactions. It can be something as simple as birth order and being the oldest child who just naturally assumes the “fixer” role — or it can stem from a need to be in control, to be right, or to be compliant.

The salient point of this conversation was that we disempower people and get in the way of their own self-discovery and personal growth when we do this! We aren’t helping at all. And all too often, our advice isn’t that good and we are not even solving the right problem!

It prompted me to reflect on my own couples counseling sessions in recent years that never got traction because we opted for a quick fix or resolved a surface issue and not the bigger, underlying pattern that was hiding the true problem.

This podcast episode is a Master Class on empowering others to identify and solve their own problems. Michael Bungay Stanier introduced the Karpman Drama Triangle to illuminate just how easily we all get “triggered” into a very familiar scenario when things get dysfunctional.

In the Drama Triangle, there are three roles — Rescuer, Victim and Persecutor.

Michael pointed out that we can find ourselves “bouncing around in all three roles — even in a single conversation. When we are in the drama triangle, we are in reactive mode and not showing up as our best .

He noted that if you ask people which role they tend to be in most often, they self-identify as “rescuers.” The motivations will vary, but the reactive “go to” response is to fix.

The rescue role is not helpful. In that role, rescuers create victims and persecutors — and then the rescuers get frustrated wondering “why can’t they sort this out?” Rescuers are actually driving the dynamic. As Brene observed, this reality is very hard for us to hear, especially if we believe our advice is really good.

Michael shared that the Drama Triangle is part of the human experience and we spend a majority of our lives getting sucked into it. “If you are lucky, you get wiser to it and you spend less time in the drama triangle. Just try to notice it, try to notice when you get sucked into it and see if you can get out of it faster.” Brene reinforced that there is so much reactivity in the drama triangle and the old behavioral patterns come right back up. This is where awareness is key — becoming aware that we are in, recognizing our old, reactive behavioral patterns, and stepping out of it.

The enneagram can help us self-identify our old behavioral patterns. Once we know what we are looking for, it is much easier to spot in when it shows up. Then when we do find ourselves getting sucked into the Drama Triangle, we can recognize it, we can step out of it and we can engage a healthier new dynamic.

Michael refers to this better approach as a coaching or teaching role. It’s a better framework with empowering results:

Refrain from jumping in with advice.

Stay curious…..just a little longer.

Ask thoughtful questions and most importantly, hold space for the other person to actually be able to

think about their answer.

In his book, The Coaching Habit, he offers seven key questions that will really help someone get clear about what they want, what support looks and feels like, and what their own challenges are. The significant shift that happens when we step out of the drama triangle and into the “teaching” role, is that the other person feels heard, valued and empowered to make their own decisions. After an impromptu role play, this is how Brene described that feeling:

How generous it feels to be on the receiving end of someone asking thought provoking, compelling questions that most of the world doesn’t even care about.”

Isn’t this just how we want others to feel in our interactions with them, especially if they are coming to us with the weight of the world on their shoulders, or to resolve an issue that is really getting in the way of living their lives without drama and anxieties? It’s such a thoughtful framework to use with our children, grandchildren, partners, parents, siblings and friends. Empowering others is the best way to contribute to their own personal metamorphosis.

As Michael so wisely pointed out, “we only get one kick of the can” and the price we pay for not working on the things that genuinely matter to us is wasting precious time. This really lands in my heart because the reality is that we can spend far too much in the drama triangle when we would rather be enjoying each other’s company and squeezing the goodness out of each and every day.

Welcome Change

Its not unusual to get a knowing chuckle from a friend or family member when I announce that I have officially retired from chief problem solver. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to solve problems. I still readily show up when someone needs my help. But now I am more of a ‘guide” helping others empower themselves to find their own solutions. I credit the Enneagram for helping me to discover a rewarding new path for my natural inclination to be a “helper”.

The Enneagram provided a good blueprint for me to better understand my approach to life, and most importantly, my motivations. As a Type 2, often referred to as the Helper, I was motivated to gain acceptance and love by “helping others”. In other words I believed that I had to “earn” love, trust and acceptance.

Looking back over the years, I can most definitely see this pattern play out over and over again. Sometimes it worked. Most times it didn’t. Diving deeper into understanding myself, I freed myself from falling into the trap of “helping too much.”

I’d been blindly operating on the principle that If those I cared about were happy, then I would be happy. Yet it was my over-involvement when problems cropped up that got in the way of others discovering for themselves what that really looked like. And it often left me feeling like a failure in my biggest hopes of making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Classic “unhealthy” Type 2 paradox.

Beatrice Chestnut, a renowned authority on the Enneagram and also a Type 2, helped me gain a deep perspective on the pitfalls of the “unhealthy” patterns that my Enneagram type can easily migrate to and why. She also came up with a new moniker for “helper” that shines a light on the best part of healthy Enneagram 2’s. She calls us the “befriender.” I liked the sound of that — the “befriender” and it become a good framework for this shift I was seeking to achieve.

I had overcome my fair share of adversities in life and always hoped to be a shining light of inspiration for others. I wanted to be a good friend, a good role model. While I was resilient, positive and always willing to help, I had a big blind spot. There was one critical missing piece to my personal puzzle — the person I need to trust, love and accept the most was — myself.

Brene Brown’s ten guideposts in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, became an invaluable aid to accepting myself fully — embracing my imperfections and becoming rooted in an unshakable belief of my own worthiness. My challenging childhood set me up for simply accepting “being less than” and “unworthy” for a very long time. Brene’s book unlocked the fallacy of this messaging and set me in a new direction.

As I took both Beatrice’s wisdom and Brene’s research to heart, I had an eye opening moment. It dawned on me that in the past when I was jumping headfirst into solving other’s problems, I actually had a very vested interest in the outcome for my own reasons. Let me share a few examples:

I was so uncomfortable in conflict situations that I’d rush to calm everyone down. Instead of letting them blow off steam and get the problem out in the open, I was focused on me achieving peace and a calm environment where I would feel safe.

I’d often feel guilt when something was left undone though it wasn’t mine to do. I’d get right to work and undertake tasks on my own without even asking if help was wanted or needed. It was me that was feeling uncomfortable about unfinished business.

I would often agree to do things that I really did not want to do, or outwardly agree with others just to keep the peace. While others were often happy with that approach, my own internal peace and values were often in conflict.

The Enneagram enabled me to understand the underlying reasons for unconsciously choosing these options. There is no doubt that many were rooted in coping mechanisms related to my childhood experiences. Being the oldest child, I grew up too fast in a volatile environment, always striving to protect my younger brothers by being one step ahead of the impending and inevitable trouble created by our parents.

I became a compliant, responsible, harmonizing peacekeeper, entrusted to care for those who couldn’t defend themselves and diligent enough to cover for irresponsible adults. A perfect recipe for a helper with no boundaries who was comfortable in co-dependent relationships and skilled at people pleasing.

Here’s the rub with this ineffective “comfort zone” I had acquired. It was not serving me well at all in my adult life and it certainly was not beneficial to those I loved and genuinely wanted to help. Once I was enlightened about my problematic “comfort zone of unconscious responses” I definitely started paying attention to them with greater awareness.

Looking at the examples I shared above, I gained a lot of clarity about how my coping mechanisms landed on others:

When I would swoosh in to calm tempers and diffuse a tense situation, I’d actually be derailing getting the real issue out in the open. Some could feel that I didn’t value them because I shut down the opportunity for them to share their perspective. Some could feel a sense of superiority because they escaped accountability. My intervention was not productive and often not welcome.

Doing unfinished tasks could feel like micro-managing to others. Or, give an impression that I viewed myself as more capable and efficient. While that was not all my intention, I can surely see that so clearly now. Not to mention the fact that some people like to have “works in progress” rather than rushing to complete a task.

My lack of boundaries and inability to say no caused a lot of confusion for others. They really did not know just how far they could push me til I’d lose my temper. Neither did I. No wonder others would often tell me I was “too sensitive” when I’d lose it over something minor (because I had stuffed a lot of bigger things for far too long). If I finally found the courage to draw a line in the sand, few people actually believed I’d actually adhere to it.

You could say that the Enneagram gave me a full 360 perspective about the way I was “showing up” in life. It made me aware of how the armor I was using to protect myself from being hurt was really getting in the way of building healthy, flexible relationships. It was also problematic for actively engaging in life in an authentic, whole-hearted way. While I had good intentions, what I also needed were grounded, healthy emotional tools. I found the Enneagram enabled me to get very clear about where I needed to focus my attention to make positive changes.

The Enneagram is often used in individual therapy and couples counseling. And just like Myers-Briggs and DiSC, it is now being used in the workplace and career counseling. It honestly takes a lot of the emotional attachment and defensiveness out of the equation when it comes to our unique personality traits. Understanding how we are naturally hard-wired and how our “motivations” move us through the range of healthy and unhealthy behaviors is a big key to acceptance. We can accept ourselves as we are. And when we can do that, we are more open to accepting others as they are too.

The heartwarming “aha moment” for me was the realization — and the affirmation — that I could “fully embrace my natural born passion of a helper” and be more in alignment with my true nature and life purpose just by moving toward the healthy spectrum of being an Enneagram Type 2. Honestly, I laughed and cried simultaneously when I made this discovery.

So let’s go back to my three examples and take a look at the work I had to do:

I had to learn to get comfortable with confrontation. I could not let it trigger me anymore. Meditation really helped with this one. It took a long time and lots of practice, but I have a mental image of “dropping my anchor” into my core of calm and I ground myself with three deep breaths. The game-changer for me is not being sucked into my own emotional vortex just because there is confrontation. It enables me to truly be “other” focused and to listen attentively to what is being said. I do have to remind myself mentally turn down the volume if there is shouting involved. Oh and the most meaningful change — if it doesn’t involve me, I stay out of it. True confession here — the more I have practiced this in real life situations, the better I have gotten at it. I keep a few gold stars tucked in my pocket for times when I realize just how far I’ve come.

I am an anal organizer and have a hard time sitting still. If there is laundry or dishes to do, I’ll be on it. But just because I run my household that way does not mean that everyone else wants to. I’m also aware that it was my own undoing as a young mother that taught me how to get more organized and prioritize things. So now, when I find myself itching to becoming the cleaning Tasmanian devil in someone else’s space, I pause and take those three deep breaths again. And I do nothing. And oh my gosh it is hard, but only for a few minutes. My discomfort with unfinished tasks has waned. I’m growing to like this new feeling of respecting others space, the way they like to do things and the control they have over their own life. If I sense that they could use a little help, I ask before jumping in. “How can I best help you?” is my new “go-to” question. I have learned that some people thrive in the most creative ways in an environment that might feel out of control to me. I’m learning so much about consequences and accountability since I stopped doing things no one asked me to do.

This brings me to boundaries. If you read my last blog post, Growth Spurts, you will know that I came to a deep understanding of the value of boundaries and how they actually supported me in becoming a better version of myself. Boundaries are a form of self-care for me. Most importantly, they really clarify for others what is acceptable and not acceptable for our relationships. As Brene Brown has stated, “Clear is Kind” — and my boundaries make perfectly clear what my values are. Here’s the surprising twist — personal boundaries actually give me improved agency to be more flexible with others. I credit Dr. Rick Hanson and Nedra Tawwab or teaching me this.

A big gift of the Enneagram was a deeper understanding of all nine types — what motivates each type, their unique attributes and the places they feel less comfortable. Having some basic knowledge of how others show up in life and why, it becomes a lot clearer to see what their hot buttons might be. Truthfully, it takes a lot of unnecessary emotion and drama out of the equation when you have greater awareness of others basic needs. As I shared above, this is a great opening for “acceptance” of our differences and a bridge to finding creative solutions to recurring disagreements and misunderstandings.

As I have reframed my helping proclivity to that of a “befriender”, I rely more heavily on curiosity, acceptance and non-judgment when interacting with others. The better I get to know myself, the more I want to discover about others. We are all complex human beings with so many stratifications of emotions and experiences accumulated over our lifetimes.

While empathy and compassion come naturally to me, I am keenly aware not to dismiss another’s feelings by reminding them of their blessings. I know I did that in the past and while well-intentioned, it was not helpful. We all feel how we feel. Our feelings are legitimate and neither right nor wrong. We respond differently because we are uniquely different and our life experiences are not the same. We have no idea what another’s history might be and why they are sensitive to things that may never hit our radar screen. I’m learning to listen carefully and talk less. I’m learning to ask questions to gain understanding. I’m also learning to ask questions for which I don’t need the answer, but my friend may want to sit with for a while.

Little did I know when I started my personal growth journey six years ago, I would become better skilled and more effective at the very things I loved so much but that once got me into a lot of trouble and some very dark spaces.

I wish I had learned much earlier in life to look inward first and to remove the obstacles that were no longer needed as I did in fact “come through” an adversity, a setback, a painful loss. I wish I had given myself grace when I was just being vulnerable and healing. I wish I had learned to trust myself and my worthiness. If I had loved myself as I was loving others, I think I would have reached this peaceful, joyful, grateful, grounded space much sooner. The learning and the growing never stops which I find delightful. I feel more in alignment with my gifts and I genuinely feel I am making a meaningful difference in a much healthier way than I ever did.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut

The Enneagram Institute https://www.enneagraminstitute.com Great resource for an introduction to the Enneagram and a free test to determine your type

If you enjoy a daily dose of inspiration, sign up for your Enneagram number’s Daily EnneaThought email. I love getting this daily encouragement to stay on my healthy path in my inbox every day.

Typology Podcasts with Ian Morgan Cron, author of The Road Back to You, An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

https://www.typologypodcast.com

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

Yung Puelbo’s Book Inward and his new one being released in mid-April, Clarity & Connection

Growth Spurts

One of the things I have thoroughly enjoyed over these past six years, is recognizing when I have had a growth spurt. Not the kind that shows up on the number of candles on my birthday cake, or the way a favorite dress fits differently.   It’s the growth spurt that I feel — about who I am and about how I am showing up in my life — for myself and others.  

It has been quite the journey and I could not have done it without some remarkable support from my family and my most trusted long-time friend, Judy. I’ve recently come to the realization that there has indeed been a big transformation in me.  By turning my attention inward and pulling back all the layers that I have carried with me over my lifetime, I have shed old behavioral patterns like unwanted pounds and I do feel lighter, yet more grounded than I have ever been.

I can tell you what that actually feels like in the midst of most any situation now. 

It feels like I am being the person I always longed to be — calm, respectful, helpful and understanding.  I am untethered from old triggers, of feeling overwhelmed by others emotions or actions, of feeling helpless or hopeless.   I am finally really understanding what Brene Brown has been teaching for so long about how my “armor” got in the way of living my most authentic life.

If you haven’t been around me for a long time, you may not be able to discern this subtle but significant shift. It is true that in the past I put up a pretty effective “front”in the midst of crisis or conflict, but the truth was that I was just very skilled — and far too comfortable — with stuffing my emotions or powering through them.  It resulted in me being numb to my own feelings and needs or becoming a powder keg down the road.  

It has been a few years now since I have experienced either one of those former, very familiar uncomfortable outcomes.    What a relief it is to no longer find myself getting “pulled” into a situation and reacting from a place of bottled up old emotions because my “reservoir” was so low. To come away from a present day tense situation and recognize this positive change in myself is both a reward and an affirmation for a doing the “inside job” of self-awareness work. Awareness is the real key to my growth spurts which I will unravel for you now.

A counselor once told me that I was “too patient.”  At the time, I had no clue what she meant.  I thought being patient was a strength of mine.  However I have slowly come to understand what she meant — I accepted a lot of behaviors from others that I should not have.  She was encouraging me to discover and voice my personal boundaries.  I surely wish I had learned this lesson ten or twenty years ago. I did eventually get there though it was at a turtle’s pace.

Here’s the thing about boundaries that I had to understand. I often showed respect to others even when they didn’t necessarily deserve it, but I rarely respected myself enough to call someone out or to simply say no. I wanted to be sure I was operating from a place of my own integrity so I’d be generous with my respect of others. Somehow I had forgotten that my integrity also served me — as an anchor for self-respect. I had to learn to respect myself enough to pause when I would get that internal nudge and then choose to state my boundary. This is where Brene’s words “clear is kind” really came to life for me. Calmly stating my boundary clearly is the kindest thing I can offer to someone else. There is no mystery or guess work about what is important to me. I free myself to stand firmly in my ground without drama or long explanations. It puts the onus of respecting my boundary back on the other person.

This brings me to anger. Just typing that word can send shivers down my spine. For far too many years, I did not do “anger” well. Like most of us when we are pushed to the limit and anger flares, I’d raise my voice, say things I would quickly regret and be prone to slam a door on my way to anywhere other than where I was. Honestly I have been afraid of anger since I was a child. It seemed that nothing good ever came of it and that was the lesson I took to heart based on a lifetime of personal experiences. Anger might as well have been a lit stick of dynamite in my hands — I was terrified of it and instinctively reacted on that fear rather than what anger was actually trying to tell me.

So I had to change my understanding of anger and my relationship to it. Anger often showed up when I failed to set a boundary. So it served as my warning light to feel the anger and redirect my attention to the real issue — which often was boundaries. Did I make my boundaries clear? Were my boundaries ignored or dismissed? The answers to these questions quelled the anger and gave me footing for a better response.

Anger would also show up when I was overdoing the “helping” I can be prone to do. My exhaustion would be accompanied by my disappointment from the lack of positive results for all my well-intentioned efforts. Anger was telling me I was resentful of working so hard doing things that no one actually asked me to do. It would be the equivalent of showing up with six bags of groceries and two casseroles when a friend needs a plumber for a clogged drain. Yep, that is just how far off base things can get for us consummate “helpers.” Again, understanding that my feelings of anger were actually my own doing became a huge catalyst for meaningful change.

Once I began to understand that anger can be very healthy and that it does have a place in a well-rounded life, I relaxed a bit and even ventured so fas as to invite it in….just for coffee though. My safest place to explore anger these days is on these coffee dates, just the two of us. I find myself saying “tell me more” quite often. Turns out that anger is pretty wise and not nearly as volatile as I once believed. Anger reminds me that I am a woman who values fairness and accountability. Anger makes its case that many a good cause has a been fueled by a healthy dose of outrage. (Consider MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers for starters).

I now have a very deep awareness that I cannot and should not attempt to fix everything that goes wrong in life, especially for others.   Where I once rushed in to clean up a mess, solve a problem or take someone else’s consequence on as my own, I have learned that my most meaningful response is to “hold space”  for others.   Others may need a shoulder to cry on or a safe, soft place to land when they are broken. They do not need or want me to fix things. I respect that now.

The Enneagram has been such a helpful resource for me by shining a big spotlight on how I often “rescue” others in an effort to feel valued and needed. I am learning the distinction between “I need help” and “I am needy”. When someone needs help and they ask for it, I am all in….but in a healthier way now. When someone is needy and just wants someone else to fix the problems they are creating, I am able to recognize it and back away.

The next logical step in this process of self-awareness is an invaluable one — it is simply “letting go”. Yet there is nothing simple about actually doing that. At least not when I was first striving to do it. But with a lot of practice over a few years, I have actually gotten so much better at this.

Early on in my mindfulness journey I learned about “not being attached to the outcome.” While I liked the sound of it in theory, I quickly discovered that I was quite often not only attached to an outcome but I was working pretty hard to get my own desired outcome. While I never considered myself a manipulating or controlling person, I began to see how my comments or actions felt like that to others. Letting go of expectations, letting go of wishful thinking, letting go of control — these are all incredibly hard to part with — and yet, it is so freeing to do so. It is quite simply accepting reality. It is accepting that other people may make choices that might be hard to swallow. Letting go often involves forgiveness, offering grace to others and trusting that they are doing the best they can, and embracing space for reflection and healing.

Letting go and not being attached to the outcome did require a lot of practice. Fortunately life never fails to provide ample opportunities for this needed practice. So I dipped my toes into this concept with minor matters, making the best decision I could in that moment with the information I had at hand, and letting go of any preconceived ideas I might have about the outcome. I found out that no matter what transpired, I could handle it. Often times the result was even better than I might have imagined. When it came to relationships and what I was hoping for, I found that letting out a little kite string was all that was really needed. If the relationship was genuinely mutual, our kite would soar. If the relationship was more one-sided, it was bound to hit the ground. Inspirational life quotes that have long resonated with me began to take on a much deeper meaning:

I began my focused personal growth journey by learning about, and embracing, mindfulness. Mindfulness led me to meditation. Meditation reignited my keen interest in neuroscience. Over these past six years, there has been growing overlap of personal growth tools and the teachers who guide us. And all of it is rooted in awareness.

Becoming skilled in awareness is the best practice of all. It provides a broad and fresh perspective to reframe things that literally are right in front of our eyes, but are often obscured by racing thoughts, rumination about the past, magical thinking, and dreaming of greener pastures.

Awareness of all the places where I was triggered by my past.

Awareness of my weariness or resentment growing to a boiling point.

Awareness of own value and strengths and not allowing others comments to diminish them.

Awareness of how others showed their love and respect for me. (hot tip — sometimes we are actually getting the love and respect we want but we fail to realize it because we want it in a certain way)

Awareness to offer myself grace and acknowledging I will always be a work in progress.

These are just a few of the many insights I gained from awareness. The self discovery journey has allowed me to get untangled and unstuck from experiences and emotions that clouded my vision, muffled what I was able to hear, and it opened my heart in ways I would have never thought possible. I found peace. A peace that I carry with me everywhere and one that I trust I can ground myself in when life gets turbulent.

I also found a deeper capacity for being aware of how others are feeling and reacting. Judgment has been replaced with a genuine interest and curiosity about what is beneath all of that. All of us have stratifications of the anxieties and vulnerabilities that we’ve accumulated over the years. I find myself understanding that about others and it serves me well as I hold space for them and listen fully. So often clues are embedded in those deep conversations. I now focus more on the other person. Its so much easier to do this now that I have cleared my own emotional landmines. My mind, my body and my heart isn’t competing for my attention. Instead, I can lean into what I have learned about myself and find greater compassion and encouragement for others.

My dear friend Judy and I have done a lot of this work together over the past few years, acting as confidantes and cheerleaders for each other. We were so fortunate to be able to compare similar life experiences and learned behavioral patterns we developed as coping mechanisms. We also shared a deep love of helping others and offering encouragement to those who are on a similar journey. What we have noticed in our improved energy levels, our discernment, and the people we are attracting into our lives is nothing short of miraculous.

Our family members and our friends have noticed our transformation and freely tell us all the positive attributes they are witnessing. They are experiencing how we show up differently in our own lives and in their lives too. This concrete evidence of the work we have been doing has become a guiding light for others in a much healthier way than our old approaches ever did.

When my daughter tells her friends that I am the most mindful person she knows, that goes straight to my heart. Who knows me better than her after all these years and who sees the consistency and continuity of all my positive changes?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Chopra Meditation Center – Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life (How limitless awareness can help you overcome all obstacles — 21 Day Meditation Program offered for free)

http://www.choprameditationcenter.com

Typology Podcasts with Ian Cron (available for free on YouTube) I’m sharing this episode with renowned Enneagram authority Beatrice Chestnut who is like me, an Enneagram 2.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T-fP4WMHIQ

Yung Pueblo – check out this youthful wisdom influencer on Facebook and Instagram: https://www.facebook.com/yungpueblo

Greater Good Magazine – The Right Way to Get Angry https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_right_way_to_get_angry

I am a longtime collector and affectionate of StoryPeople — and I bought this one over two decades ago. No matter how much I tried to maintain some sense of control over my busy complex life, balancing parenthood, career and marriage, there were more than a few times that I just enjoyed letting go of the “to do”list and the human “doing” and trust fall into a strong wind like a carefree child. I had no idea just how insightful these words would be to me later in life when I learned the liberating feeling of “letting go” of outcomes and expectations.

A Meaningful Gardening Metaphor

Many who know me, know that I am an avid gardener. My love of gardening started early in life and has brought me so much joy over the years. One of my greatest pleasures is taking an overgrown jungle and turning it into a lush, textured and colorful retreat. Years ago, I nicknamed one of my shaded garden paths Nature’s Chapel for it was full of majestic Jack in the Pulpits and large-leafed variegated hostas that held raindrops like sparkling jewels. That graceful garden offered both calm and wonderment. Gardening has always been therapeutic for me. It brings me joy and a deep sense of satisfaction to transform an eyesore into a treasure for the senses.

Over the past few days, I have had to sit with some heavy emotions from my past. The images of my many gardens kept intertwining with my thoughts. Suddenly I realized that there was a meaningful metaphor emerging. I recalled a piece of raw land covered in thorny brambles and thick underbrush. At first sight, it looked like a daunting task to clear it all. But my vision of a lush garden with blushing pink bleeding hearts and emerald ferns spurred me on to tackle the clearing process. It took nearly a week of manual labor, blood (in spite of thick gloves), sweat and even a few exasperated tears. Eventually I was gazing at that thick rich composted soil, eager to plunge my fingers into it and inhale the promise of a dense flourishing garden.

I used this gardening metaphor as my anchoring point to revisit an old emotional wound. It has had a profound impact on my mindset to continue on — digging deep and clearing away thorny emotional brambles. I know that it will be hard work, but in the end I will have a clear, clean healthy space in my heart and life story.

Perhaps one of the most revelational transformations that happened during this clearing is that I am able to use tools I did not possess at the time of origination of the painful emotional trauma. It could have been one of many incidents in my childhood where a parent shred any hope of trust and protection through uncontrollable abusive responses. It could have been occasions when I was pleading for help for myself or my daughter and was completely ignored, even dismissed. It could be the innumerous times a former partner stripped me of self esteem and self-worth in spite of facts that proved otherwise. In those moments, I was not strong, lacked confidence and believed I was unworthy. Too young and insecure, too mired in dysfunctional circumstances others were unconsciously creating for me, for us.

Today when I stand facing the thorny brambles of revisiting those old traumas, I am an older, wiser and more self-compassionate woman. My tools are knowing my own value and self-worth. I recognize that I have overcome some really painful, challenging life experiences and am still standing. I also know that in spite of mean, spiteful and deeply hurtful actions of others, my tender heart remains unchanged. My loving heart may be bruised, scarred and creviced, but it is capable of deep love and true warmth. In fact, I am certain that my brokenness is what allows more light and empathy into the deepest part of my very being. I have an innate understanding of the human condition precisely because of the pain I have endured.

In some ways, it is like having a crystal ball. I envision my crystal ball look as a snow globe. I can look at my young granddaughter as though she is in a delicate glass snowglobe, shake it and watch the fairy dust of snowy white sparkles drift over her. I can hear her laughter and I can wrap her in my arms when life hits her hard, offering comfort and assurance that she is loved, safe and protected. My wish for her, and all my grandchildren, is that this is their true foundation.

My improved self-awareness in my 60’s means that I am a better advocate for my innocent and vulnerable grandchildren. Of course, I will not be able to protect my grandchildren from life’s hardships, but I will hold space for them, I will honor their true feelings and I will be a source of comfort and strength. Awful things happen in life — how we show up for others in there hour of need is paramount. This is how we help our young people grow their character, their values and their resilience.

I am a crusader for my grandchildren. I will never watch silently as an adult carelessly and unconsciously strips a child of their worthiness or their need to feel safe and protected. While much of life’s challenges and heartbreaks cannot be changed, how we treat others is fully within our power. I have zero tolerance these days for adults who expect more from their young children than they do themselves. How can you expect a little one to have emotional regulation and patience if you are not role modeling that for them? Let’s face it, we are all imperfect and we will make mistakes but even then we have precious teaching moments and an opportunity to restore trust and worthiness. Our greatest tools in these moments are personal accountability and sincere apology.

These transformational tools must be used swiftly. I cannot stress this enough. We can circumvent serious emotional damage and development of unconscious protective behavioral patterns by owning our mistakes and hurtful actions and offering a sincere apology. Not just I am sorry, but a true commitment to change.

Imagine a fiesty preteen girl being told by her birth father that she’d be pregnant by the time she was 16. For three years she’d carry this in her heart like a heavy rock weighing her down. On what should be a very happy milestone 16th birthday, she bounds down the stairs and asks her mom if she should call him and tell him he was wrong — very wrong — about her on so many levels. It is caustic, toxic actions like this that plant the seeds of unworthiness in an innocent child. This young woman will carry this with her all her life – it is her emotional baggage packed and handed to her by a careless adult.

This is another example of a sliding door moment in life. That birth father could have realized what an awful thing he said to his daughter and he could have immediately apologized. Perhaps he was angry about something else and directed all that pain at his daughter. But years go by and he’s long forgotten he ever uttered those words to her. Yet she carries them buried in her heart and they will shape her through the years. She will always have a nagging inner voice telling her she is “less than” and there will be days she believes it. When people let her down, she will see it as proof of her own unworthiness. It will make recovery from life’s blows all the harder. When she becomes a mother, she will make every effort to ensure her own child feels completely loved and accepted, just as she is. It will take this woman years to undo the silent messaging that she is unworthy of love and belonging. And this is precisely why swift action is needed when we screw up.

I do believe that each generation becomes better at parenting in a healthy way by learning from our own parents what we do not want to repeat. This has been a guiding principle for me and many of my friends, and we are seeing that unfold with our adult children as they raise their own families now. I am also grateful for the work that Brene Brown has done to bring out into the wide open just how these very real life experiences impact us emotionally and psychologically throughout our lives. Which is precisely why we need to do our own “clearing and excavating” work. In my viewpoint, Brene has been a leading catalyst for making very public the critical need for all of us to dive into self-discovery and to support each other in a wholehearted way when we find the courage to do so.

It is my hope that my gardening metaphor will become a strong visual for consideration should someone ask you to help them as they are pulling weeds and emotional brambles from their own stories.

Almost a year ago, my lifelong friend, Judy Chesters, told me that we still had a lot of deep diving to do into our work of “emotional excavation”. Admittedly she caught. me by surprise because she and I have worked so hard for over 5 years supporting each other through a lot of processing of archived traumas and self-discovery. All I can say now is that she must have had a crystal ball of her own — for after a year of pandemic and unprecedented uncertainties she was so very right. Both she and I have gone much deeper into our own stories. The healing and empowerment that we have gained is almost hard to explain but how we both feel is much more grounded, expansive and light. I shared with her one day that I describe it as “rare air, deep water.”

When I am in that space of “rare air and deep water”, I let my imagination run free and wild. I envision my grandchildren traveling through their incredible lives without emotional baggage and scarred hearts — no limitations on their creativity, worthiness and ability to live authentic wholehearted, free-spirited lives. I imagine a world where we give to each other an enriching environment and nurturing support to be our best selves. Amy Davis

Helpful Resources:

RISING STRONG by Brene Brown.

Check out this overview: https://www.meaningfulhq.com/rising-strong.html

RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by Tara Brach

Read this summary by GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/173666.Radical_Acceptance

Check out this recent Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron for some personal insights on the value of doing your own “shadow work” and the rewarding personal evolvement that grows from doing that self-discovery work. https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2021/11/02/episode04-034/audreyassad