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.


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
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!

Expanding our Emotional Vocabulary

Unpacking the multitude of mysteries around our human emotions could be a daunting task — and yet the more we really understand, the more intriguing it becomes. For starters, Brene Brown’s research revealed that most of us operate under the guise of three basic emotions — happy, sad and angry.

In her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, she unearths 87 emotions and experiences that are woven into the fabric of our lives, our relationships and how we make sense of our world. From 3 to 87 — imagine that! Now imagine what it might be like if we really understood the complex and nuanced landscape of each of those 87 emotions and emotional experiences. It literally changes everything — from self talk, to relationships, to parenting, to better understanding others.

Although Brene Brown is a decade and half younger than me, her childhood experiences and learned behavioral patterns mirror many of my own and those of my friends. For far too long now, prior generations were taught not to show –or even acknowledge — their emotions. Is it any wonder that we found a lot of creative, but unhelpful, ways to navigate rocky emotional terrain? This is especially true of negative emotions because it is human nature to avoid what hurts.

As Brene recently shared on The Happiness Kit podcast, “Many of us grew up with the belief that we are “thinking, doing” people who on occasion feel — and that can get us sidelined.”

The truth is our emotions play an instrumental role in the quality of our lives. What really sidelines us is not paying attention to our emotions. We can change the old belief system that feelings are best left unacknowledged. That meaningful work starts with us.

How empowering to really get to know our full range of emotions, to understand why some are stronger for us than for others. Building a more expansive vocabulary to help us articulate clearly what we are feeling could be a bridge to better communication and deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. Most importantly, we can teach younger generations to embrace their emotions, and to learn from them. No more hiding our true emotions and our authentic selves.

What happens when our language is not as expansive as our human experience. What does it mean when we have to shove an experience of despair or disappointment into one of these 3 buckets? (sic. happy, sad, angry) It cripples our ability to own and communicate our emotions. — Brene Brown, The Happiness Lab Podcast 1/2/2022

Brene highlights how neuroscience informs and supports her research and findings especially as it relates to how our bodies instinctively respond to our emotions. It is our personal history that often snags us and amplifies an emotion even decades later. We refer to this as being “triggered”.

Having better language to name our emotions can be a catalyst for loosening the grip of our emotional triggers and help us better respond biologically. Our bodies not only react to an emotion, if we label an emotion incorrectly, our bodies will respond to that too. Brene shares an example of how we often misuse the word “overwhelmed” and that sends an emergency message to our bodies to begin a major shut down. Once you understand what happens when the brain releases chemicals in direct response to your emotions, you will be motivated to learn more about emotional regulation.

About 4 -5 years ago, we started seeing how language doesn’t just communicate emotion, but it also shapes it. We are individually and collectively in trouble if we don’t have language.” –Brene Brown in her interview with Dr. Laurie Santos on The Happiness Lab Podcast, January 2, 2022

If you are familiar with Besser Van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, you will recognize the intrinsic value of helping our bodies process emotions, anxieties and trauma in a more immediate and healthier way.

Perhaps the most eye-opening discovery that Brene makes is how languages shapes our relationships. She admits that for many years, she believed that we just needed to get better at reading other’s emotions. At the conclusion of all her research for Atlas of the Heart, she now acknowledges that this is not possible.

One compelling reason is that so many emotions present the same way.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene gives us not only language, but relatable definitions and real life examples for these 87 emotions and experiences. She explains the impactful differences in words that we often use interchangeably such as envy and jealously. She’s organized the book in chapters that help us recognize “The Places We Go When (fill in the blank with your own emotion)”. It is an incredible guide to understanding where we go in our bodies, our old narratives and our actions when emotions are in the driver’s seat.

Once we begin to realize all the ways we ourselves are impacted by our own emotions, we can gain greater empathy and patience with others.

While we can’t read emotion in people, we can get curious — and connect with them deeply – as opposed to diminishing, questioning or challenging the stories and the emotions they share with us.” — Brene Brown

Along with an expanded vocabulary for our wide array of emotions, Brene sheds much needed light on the reality that our emotions show up in layers. She offers these four B’s to help us understand these layers:

Biology — Emotions are called “feelings” because our body is the first responder — we FEEL emotion. Emotion is physiological — Where in your body are you feeling it and what are you feeling?

Biography – What did you grow up understanding, believing or learning about this feeling?

Behavior – How are you showing up when you are triggered by a strong emotion? Do you want to punch the wall, hide and cry, feel like you are coming out of your skin?

Backstory – What is your personal history and lived experiences? How do they impact your emotional responses in life?

I’ve been on my own self-discovery journey for over six years and it required a lot of unpacking of emotional baggage and entangling myself from behavioral patterns I developed as a young child to help me navigate an often confusing, disruptive environment. None of that was serving me well as I matured organically through life. I believe that we can all benefit from the game-changing research of Brene Brown and the field of neuroscience about emotions. It is time to bring our emotions to the forefront of our self-improvement work and get to know them intimately. They power our lives and have so much to teach us.


This January 2, 2022 episode of The Happiness Lab podcast is a great introduction for anyone who wants to hear directly from Brene what she offers to us in her newest book, Atlas of the Heart.

The Happiness Lab podcast is brought to you by Dr. Laurie Santos and this coming year she is focusing her attention on learning from our negative emotions with dynamic guests and relatable stories.

This will become one of your greatest reference guides in your home. It is a coffee table book — and will require lots of conversations over coffee to fully appreciate its value.

Nuggets of Wisdom — Lessons Learned from Children

One of my most rewarding facets of the personal growth journey is learning how we can best support our children. So many of us go into parenthood with the list of things we will do differently than our parents, but only from the perspective of how their actions and behaviors felt to us as a child. Dig a little deeper into what was going on with our parents to cause them to behave as they did and add a healthy dose of what society deemed acceptable at that time — and you will come away with a better understanding of how invaluable doing personal growth and healing work can be for generations of families.

I’m a huge fan of the dynamic work of Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Dan Seigel. Both these distinguished researchers offer us insights into how a child’s brain develops, the effects of trauma and neglect in the first few months of life, and the importance of relationship scaffolding for children and their caregivers. As Maya Angelou so wisely tells us “When we know better, we do better.” Understanding that a young child does not have the top down emotional and intellectual capacity to self regulate gives us a whole new insight into our expectations of a child’s behavior and what is possible in reality. The onus goes directly back to us as adults to utilize our own self-regulation, effective distraction and empathy to respond to a child in emotional distress. Imagine how the power struggle shifts, and possibly even evaporates, with this knowledge. Recognizing that some of the fidgeting can be a child’s organic way of self-soothing and calming would stop us in our tracks before we tell them one more time to stop.

When I was a young mother, I relied on Dr. Spock for parenting advice. Today I would encourage parents to read the books that Dr. Perry and Dr. Siegel have written. A companion tool for parents is the enneagram. Even if you don’t want to go to deep with the enneagram personally, a quick review of the core motivations and fears for each of the nine types provides a primer to many of the reasons we choose to armor up, dial back and bully our way through life. A little knowledge can go a long way in preventing your own child from needing to make these adjustments to feel safe, loved and to feel like they fit in.

Too often, we are so caught up in our “to do” list, personal agendas or lack of awareness, that we dismiss our child’s feelings. We don’t really mean to do this of course, but it happens. With the best of intentions, we might say “Oh honey, you shouldn’t feel that way. Look at all these things you’ve got going for you.” Wrong. Trust me, they feel exactly as they feel. And those old familiar words intended to bring comfort only bring shame and guilt to a young person already struggling with big emotions.

Get curious when you child is displaying big emotions. You can probably sense the hurricane-like storm that is swirling around in them. Sitting down together – calmly – and inviting your child to open up about their honest feelings is incredibly powerful. Responding with words like “that must be really hard” or “that must feel so painful” is so empathic and respectful. You don’t have to solve the problem or soothe the discomfort away. Just being present, listening to learn and understand, offering compassion and a hug are incredible gifts to receive when emotions are strong (whether you are a young child, a teenager or an adult). Rather than inserting our will, leaning in and holding space for young people who simply do not possess the capacity to understand, yet alone process, their emotions is a better path for parent and child.

There is no doubt that we live in a world where there are many demands on our time and attention. Technology has managed to eat up snippets of our day that accumulate into hours without us even recognizing it.

Take a look around when you are out to lunch, in a coffee shop, at the local park or grocery store. Adults everywhere are staring at their screens instead of each other, and this includes their rambunctious, adventurous toddlers.

It’s easy to see how we can miss the little “bids for connection” that children make all day — with their moms and dads, grandparents, teachers and caregivers. We may not be able to catch every one of those bids but my guess is that there is big room for improvement. Challenge yourself to pay attention to the excited little voices calling to you repeatedly, the tug on your pant leg, or the crashing of toys being dumped in the middle of the floor. It only takes a few seconds to answer that bid for connection, and the reward is huge — for both adult and child. Eye contact, a smile, an encouraging word, a hug or tap on the head are all meaningful responses to these tiny bids for connection that our children seek every single day. If we can jump to respond to the ding of a text or email, we can re-program ourselves to do the same for those who look up to us.

True confession — I came up with this one big question when my sons were teenagers. I’m not sure how it came to be, except that I do remember pondering how to make the lessons stick. Having them be part of the conversation about consequences, accountability and responsibility seemed worth a try. When my sons would balk thought-provoking question and beg for a grounding or daunting chore, I knew that I was on to something.

Now my daughter has been using this question consistently for her young children, ages 4 and 6. The other day I was delighted to discover that this poignant question is entering the third generation. My six year old granddaughter, Charlotte, was knee deep in a silent assessment of the results of a choice she had just made. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her mom patiently watching for her next move. She turned to her mom and said boldly “Well, that was a learning experience!” Then she sighed and added, “I don’t care for learning experiences.”

My daughter looked at me and winked, both of us hiding smiles that tugged at the corners of our mouth. That’s when my daughter knelt down and made eye contact with her sweet girl and reminded her that learning experiences help us make better choices the next time. “I get it, mom”, Charlotte responded.

The reason I have come to like this question as an invaluable parenting tool, is that it not only gives a child information to draw on in the future, it plants the seeds of agency. It also opens up lots of meaningful conversation about trial and error, using good judgment, asking for help, being resourceful. My daughter is not waiting til her kids are teenagers to employ this skill, she is using it now when her children are young — when it sticks like velcro.

The other morning, Charlotte was sitting in the kitchen with her young brother as he was assembling legos. It was clear that he was struggling a bit with his design by the sounds he was making. Charlotte turned to him and sweetly asked, “How can I help you?”

I was in the laundry room and chuckled with delight to myself. She sounds just like me. I confess I loved it.

Skillfully learning how to approach others when it appears they might need help was a hard lesson for me and one that I truly only got after a few years of personal growth work. Thank you to the enneagram and Brene Brown for helping me discover that we can help too much, steamroller people, and even take away growth opportunities when we insert ourselves too much. Who taught me this lesson in the most remarkable way? None other than spunky, strong willed Charlotte. When she hit that age of “I can do it myself”, I got many chances to practice skillful approaches. Charlotte wanted –and deserved — the chance to do things for herself. Whether it was learning to ride a bike, bake cupcakes, or follow instructions for a science project, she wanted autonomy and agency. I remember telling her “I respect you Charlotte and I promise not to help.” She beamed.

What we are all learning together is that when you ask before just inserting yourself, it is a show of self-restraint and respect. Asking “how can I help you” opens up the space for someone to speak their truth — “I don’t want help. I don’t need help, I’m just frustrated. Could you hold this end for me? That would be great.”

I used to help too much. I have done this since I was a child. Always believing I needed to keep the peace, pick up the pieces, resolve the issue. These childhood patterns can lead to enabling and co-dependency in adulthood. It can also be dismissive to others, making them feel incapable or instilling a sense of neediness.

Brene Brown offers this great question for our adult relationships – “What does support look like to you right now?” Wow — isn’t that an awesome, clarifying and supportive question to ask your friend, your partner or your colleague. Rather than assuming we know what they might need or want, invite them to share honestly with you. The other caveat to this question is that it invites someone to ask us for the help they legitimately need or want – without having to feel guilty or ashamed of asking for help.

I’m including this “reframing” of what we often call triggers, because of a touching note I received from a follower recently. Her 11 year old son struggles with PTSD and she read this “reframing” to him because it felt relatable and comforting. My heart melted as I read her note to me. This is how we can help our children heal, by being aware of the hurts and traumas they have experienced and conscious of how they might show up from time to time. Our children are deeply impacted by divorce, by the loss of loved ones, by the pandemic and virtual school, by incidents at school…..the list goes on. How we show up for them when they have bad dreams or bad days, is crucial. We don’t have to be perfect, we simply have to care enough to put ourselves in their smaller shoes.

Sending love and encouragement out to all parents, grandparents,caregivers, teachers, mentors and coaches who lead with their hearts and their ears….showing our precious children that they matter.

Recommended Resources:

My prior blog posts:

Profoundly Helping The Next Generation

Older and Wiser Parenthood

Empathy- Essential and Endangered

Go to YouTube and search for conversations with Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Dan Siegel to listen and learn from two of the best resources on childhood development and how we as adults can make an incredible difference to the quality of their future lives by showing up in meaningful, helpful, responsive and respectful ways.

Profoundly Helping the Next Generation

Now that we know just how much our childhood experiences can impact us far into our adult lives, what are the big takeaways that can guide us in helping our little ones to avoid some of those emotional and behavioral pitfalls?

This has been on my heart a lot lately. I watch my young grandchildren, who range in ages from 4 – 8, and I delight in witnessing how their little personalities are developing. It’s not surprising that they remind me quite a bit of their parents at those ages. It makes me ponder what I might have done differently had I known about their early childhood brain development, emotional regulation development and the enneagram.

Admittedly I was pretty naive about parenthood at age 25. I relied on a paperback Dr. Spock baby and child care book and my budding maternal instincts. And yes, I had that list in my head of all the things I vowed I would never say or do to my children that came from my own childhood experiences.

I was often baffled how three kids raised in pretty much the same environment could all be so different. While I laughed about this with other young mothers, I’m pretty sure that few of us really adapted our parenting approaches to the unique personalities of each of our children.

This is where I am finding the enneagram to be such a useful tool. Maybe we can’t truly identify which of the 9 enneagram types a child might be. However, I do think that having an understanding of our own dominant enneagram type can be really helpful in finding better ways to relate and interact with children.

My two sons are now in their mid-40’s and my daughter is 34. We’ve each figured out our own enneagram types and frankly it has been eye-opening for me. I wish I had this insight when they were teenagers. I think it would have alleviated some of my frustration and it certainly would have been beneficial for my kids to understand their own natural hard-wiring.

My oldest son was always on the go as a child. He was the life of the party, sometimes impetuous and always full of big ideas. It was no real surprise to me that he’s an enneagram type 7 — The Enthusiast — fun loving, spontaneous and distractible. Teachers might have labeled him with attention deficit but I just thought he was smart, easily bored and needed an outlet for his artistic talents. I agreed to hold him back a year in school, but supplemented his education with art classes. His teen years were the most challenging for us when his impulsiveness would often clash with his responsibilities. If I had understood his personality better, I think we could have found resourceful ways to strike a balance. Today when he describes his own son’s antics, I wonder if he too might be a little Enthusiast in the making.

My middle son is an enneagram type 9, The Peacemaker. When he was younger, I’d get so frustrated because he appeared so indecisive. If I had known that he would rather harmonize than rock the boat by stating his personal choice for dinner or weekend activity, I could have navigated many conversations much better and empowered him to make meaningful decisions for himself. I often thought he was an introvert, but in hindsight, I think he preferred collecting information and reading a room before engaging — a consummate harmonizer and conflict avoider.

When my daughter was in elementary school, I often described her as my M & M that had been left in the warm sun. She had a very hard outer shell, but inside she was soft and mushy. She was strong-willed and not afraid to push back — and she had a sensitive, tender, loving heart and carefree spirit. She’s an enneagram type 8 — The Challenger. Turns out that my M & M description of her was spot on for a type 8. Her four year old son is so much like her we often comment on the mold not changing much. He can drive her crazy and melt her heart all in 30 seconds flat. Understanding how he is hard-wired diffuses a lot of frustration and points us toward ways to interact to help him feel heard and understood.

As for me, I am a certifiable Enneagram type 2 — The Helper. Over recent years, I have become acutely aware that I often “over-helped” and in doing so may have unintentionally disempowered my children. And because I was so sensitive to their feelings, I would often swoop in to soothe with ice cream, or inadvertently dismiss what they were feeling by telling them “not to feel that way”. What I should have been doing is fully acknowledging their true emotions and adjusting my parenting skills to meet their unique needs.

My middle son recently described his eight year old daughter to me with positive adjectives that I would have used to describe his feisty sister at that age. At the same time, my granddaughter’s mother often experiences the more challenging behaviors she possesses as well. This has me intrigued. I am wondering what enneagram type my eight year old granddaughter might be. Can we find some clues about how she’s hard-wired to help her navigate her emotions and circumstances in healthy ways? I’m also curious about the impact of the pandemic, virtual school and a major change in her familial life.

Like my own daughter at that age, my granddaughter is experiencing divorce. She is now in that challenging stage of dealing with co-parenting, two homes and merging into a new family with dad, his fiancee and her nine year old daughter.

It is only natural that my granddaughter will struggle with her emotions as she’s trying to fit into all the changes. Understanding how things land in her heart, and what she needs to feel safe and valued, will be key in helping her navigate it in healthy ways.

Kids often do not have the skills or language to articulate everything they are feeling, especially when it is a very confusing concoction. This requires some special parenting skills and a lot of patience. I’m beginning to understand more clearly the relevance of that relational scaffolding that Dr. Bruce Perry says is critical for children who are experiencing any kind of trauma and disruption. This is where other family members — and especially grandparents — can provide so much support and continuity for young children and their parents.

I can look back at my own divorce now and have a better understanding of how it impacted my children and especially my daughter who was only 8. When a parent forgets that their innocent children should not be paying the price for an unhealthy marriage or divorce, poor choices and actions can have long-lasting debilitating consequences. It was a compelling reason why I stressed the importance of healthy co-parenting when my son and daughter-in-law separated. I also recognized how extended family members can provide a safety net through divorce and transition. Not choosing sides, but choosing to be emotional glue and unbiased support, can ease a lot of the turbulence.

What if we had a parenting resource that would help us balance “nature and nurture”? I believe that the enneagram just might be the field guide we need.

The enneagram sheds light on the core fears for each of the nine types — and it is easy to spot the correlation to childhood experiences. Core fears include feeling unwanted, unloved, unworthy, disrespected, controlled, or a fear of chaos or of being wrong. These unaddressed fears become the root cause of problematic behavioral patterns that can follow us into adulthood.

The enneagram also helps us identify the core motivations for each type such as having integrity and being good; being admired and successful; being unique and special; having security and guidance; protecting yourself and your inner circle; being wanted and loved; being fully satisfied; and having inner stability and peace. When we are aware of the importance of these core motivations for each child, we can become more skillful at fostering and respecting those needs in healthy ways.

This brings me to another invaluable tool for parenting. Dr. Dan Siegel refers to it as “rupture and repair”. We often have this hope that we won’t mess up or that we will be nearly perfect parents. This isn’t reality — we are beautiful, complex, messy human beings. Disagreements, hurts and conflicts happen in all relationships. Repair is critical — and the sooner it happens, the better. Repair means making up for a momentary and impulsive loss of control. What if we reframe these moments of “rupture and repair” as meaningful experiences in raising kind, respectful and resilient children?

Ruptures are opportunities to strengthen our relationships. If a rupture can be repaired, it demonstrates that the relationship is solid enough to withstand when things get bad, and even ugly.” (Psychologist Adam Rodrigues) Repair builds trust and resiliency.

Painful ruptures can be amplified for our children when they are caught in the cross-fire of divorce. Trust is the one crucial element that gets tested most fiercely for children of divorce.

I found Dr. Siegel’s and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Power of Showing Up” to be a phenomenal parenting resource, especially for divorced parents who have the added pressure of rebuilding trust and showing up in new ways for their children.

We now know that the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain –her whole brain — that develops skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives. You could call it brain sculpting – or brain nourishing – or brain building. Whatever phrase you prefer, the point is crucial, and thrilling; as a result of the words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.” — Dr. Dan Siegel

What I am observing is that being present with our young children, giving them eye contact and fully engaging with them and their wide range of emotions is a key component for effective parenting and grandparenting. Often children simply need our full attention and a safe space to share their honest feelings. Too often, we are distracted by our devices, our own emotions or own agenda in the moment.

Dr. Seigel describes “showing up” as bringing your whole being — your attention and awareness–into the present moment when you interact with your child. When you show up with your whole being you are mentally and emotionally present for your child. It is this power of presence that enables you to create an empowered mind for your children — even when you mess up.

Admittedly this takes a lot of practice but the payoff is worth it. That’s the remarkable thing about kids — you will see a shift in their reactions and responses almost immediately. Over time, with consistency, you will see that your child is gaining some agency over his emotions and reactions. It’s that brain re-wiring taking place and it is exciting, just as Dr. Siegel has noted.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t put a little plug in for mindfulness and meditation right here. It’s really hard to shift gears, clear your mind and de-escalate your own emotions so that you can “show up” for your children. Yet it is not impossible. Awareness and practice will help you earn your “calm” badge especially for quality parenting. A bonus is that mindfulness and meditation are invaluable skills in our emotional regulation toolbox that we should be teaching our children, just like good manners.

I believe that each generation embarks on parenting with ideas on how to improve. It’s so encouraging to see young parents today who are knowledgeable about their own personal growth, coping skills and core values. In my heart, I am hopeful that our younger generations will grow and thrive in parenting environments that open them up to their full potential.


Rupture and Repair Article by Nick Bowditch (This article, written by a dad about his relationship with his young daughter is so relatable, honest and encouraging)

Typology Podcast – The Enneagram & Parenting series

In 2020, Ian Morgan Cron presented a series called the Enneagram & Parenting, and each week did an episode for each of the 9 enneagram types. I listened to them all and derived so much insight and ideas. I’ve shared this series with family and friends and I highly recommend it.

Inspiration from Imperfections

My Zoom book club has taken a summer break and I am missing the camaraderie of good friends taking deep dives into rich conversations about life. Perhaps it is why listening to Brene Brown and her twin sisters, Barrett and Ashley, discuss the ten guideposts of the Gifts of Imperfection has been such a treat. I totally marinated myself in the realness of these three sisters having those big conversations. Honestly, you would never have guessed that this was a public podcast. It just felt like being part of a no-holds barred girls getaway.

Brene and her sisters used the Summer series of Unlocking Us to talk about how they use the 10 guideposts in their own lives. Mostly they talk about how challenging it is to break old habits and integrate new ones; how helpful it is to unpack how they developed learned behaviors earlier in life that aren’t serving them so well now. They took those deep dives into two of the ten guideposts every week. There was a lot of laughter, some very serious aha moments and a warm wash of being heard and valued that felt like a cozy blanket and a hug.

They used the Wholehearted Living Inventory as a starting point for each week. Brene offers this tool on her website and encouraged her listeners to take it before they listened to the podcast. Brene’s approach is to consider using a gas tank analogy for each of the 10 guideposts — measuring how full your tank is on each of the life skills. This is so much better than viewing it through a strength and weaknesses lens. That mindset alone makes such a difference. It is also a relatable and relevant way to look at how we are showing up in life.

As the three women talked about having just a half tank in some of the areas, it opened up a lot of really good dialogue about awareness and change. It was a safe and inviting space to do that exploration and excavation.

And….the reality is that even when we have the best of intentions, it is really hard to have a full tank in all ten of these guideposts at one time. To me, it is the interweaving of these guideposts that creates a strong framework for personal growth. When we only have half a tank in one area and we might have 3/4 of a tank in another. That combines to lift us up — to a better version of ourselves. It is the natural rhythm of life, an ebb and flow of our emotions, events, energy and intentions.

Check out this awesome diagram for the 10 guideposts. The left hand side in bright green are the qualities to cultivate. The right hand side in “stop this” red are the things to work on releasing.

Brene and her sisters use a lot of the same tools that I do to help them integrate the guideposts into their own personal growth journey. The enneagram is a great resource for understanding our core motivations for some of our learned behaviors and best of all it helps us recognize our blind spots. The enneagram also uses a measurement approach similar to the gas tank analogy — it is a spectrum, from healthy to unhealthy. When we move to the healthy end of enneagram type, we are using our gifts and talents in the best ways possible. We find more joy and fulfillment in life and others enjoy being in relationship with us. When we start operating on auto-pilot and act more unconsciously, we move to the unhealthy end of the spectrum. Often this is when we begin to have relationship issues, are prone to numbing to avoid painful emotions and make poor choices.

Being a big believer in both the enneagram and Brene’s work, it was so beneficial for me to hear how using these tools in tandem were so meaningful to Brene, Barrett and Ashley.

Another area that really resonated with me was the candor with which these three siblings could talk about their childhood, the experiences that shaped them as they were growing up. Brene is the oldest and she assumed the role of protector for her younger sisters. Like so many of us, their childhood also had dysfunction weaving through it and this set them up for many of those roadblocks that are in that red column above — being a control freak, having a need for certainty, always comparing ourselves to others who seem to be doing it right, working ourselves to exhaustion to prove our worth.

As they discussed these experiences and how it shaped each of them, they also revealed how they were coming to know their parents in a whole new light — mostly as messy, flawed and big-hearted human beings doing the best they could at that time. This is one of the gifts is truly a blessing that goes both ways — adult children gaining a deeper perspective and parents being given space and grace for all they navigated, often with little support for their overall quality of life. This is where we often discover the root causes of so many of our unconscious behaviors that are listed in that red zone above. Brene research shines a light on the armor we use from one generation to another to be protect ourselves. Getting our family skeletons out of the closet is just like mom or dad shining a flashlight under our bed when we were young, confirming that the monster was mostly a figment of our imagination.

I see a lot of overlap in the discussions that Brene and her sisters had and my Zoom book club. We are taking what we are learning and applying it to our lives — past and present. Applying it to the past fosters healing. Applying it to the present frees us to live authentically. We are helping each other along the way through honesty and vulnerability.

I’m also part of several Facebooks groups that revolve around Brene’s Dare to Lead teachings and Glennon Doyle’s game changing book, Untamed. For the most part, the women and men in these online discussion groups are strangers. Yet there is a clear understanding that we are there to support each other with respect, kindness and empathy. The outpouring of stories, questions and a need for supportive help is profound. Every single day, there are a handful of stories that look and feel much like pages in the book of my life. It is incredibly uplifting to read the touching, encouraging responses. It is even more profound to see how many people have overcome tragedies and adversities and now are shining beacons of hope for others.

So there it is — Brene’s podcast, my Zoom book club and these online discussion groups — all taking that leap of faith and sharing their imperfections and vulnerabilities — and inspiring each other to keep going, keep growing and lean in to those who care.


Check out the Wholehearted Inventory Assessment in the Gifts of Imperfection Hub. Listen to the Summer Series if you’re looking for motivation and inspiration for integrating the 10 guideposts for Wholehearted Living in your life.
Glennon has evolved through many chapters of her life, often sharing those experiences in great detail in her books. In this one, Untamed, she really pulls the layers off the onion, offering poignant self-examination stories that many of find so relatable.

Please check out Nedra Tawwab — especially if you want some solid footing when it comes to setting healthy boundaries. I discovered Nedra through a Being Well podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest. I follow her on Instagram and absolutely love her Nedra Nuggets!

Red Flag Insights

I’ve often shared how a relationship breakup put me on the personal growth path in my 60’s. While moving on from a broken relationship was challenging by itself, trying to understand why I ignored red flags and held on so long to an unhealthy dynamic proved to be the hardest part. It also became the most profound pivot of my life.

Today as I was listening to a Being Well podcast, I found myself feeling so “heard and understood” by Dr. Rhonda Freeman. Learning how the brain is impacted in our relationships explained a lot of the mystery that kept both me and my partner in unhealthy cycles. Repetitive patterns and the release of brain chemicals that “reward” us play significant roles.

Turns out that Dr. Rhonda Freeman also went through a similar relationship and breakup as me. She had the same experience afterward with friends and an unhelpful counselor that I did. She also had a strong desire to learn from the lessons which resulted in her turning to personal growth resources to find her healing. Dr. Freeman discovered that this foundation in her very own field of expertise — neuropsychology. While her main focus had been dementia, she now applied the science and tools to healing from a dysfunctional relationship.

While I did not have that field of expertise, I did have a keen fascination in neuroscience as well as a budding interest in mindfulness — and that led me to discovering Dr. Rick Hanson. The profound pivot for me was turning my attention inward and committing to some major changes. For most of my life, I’d always been about helping others, so this was a complete 180 for me. It was Dr. Hanson’s book, Hardwired for Happiness that jumpstarted the process.

Listening to the podcast today revealed the complex impact of an emotionally dysfunctional relationship on the brain. Suddenly a lot of pieces started to fall into place for me as I gained clarity about red flags and why my healing from that relationship took several years. I found Dr. Freeman’s honesty about her own relationship experience to be comforting and reassuring. She too had missed the red flags. She too had kept doubling down on efforts to salvage a fraying relationship. There is such a strong influential pull in romantic relationships fueled by our innate need for belonging and connection, that we can often override and overlook what should seem obvious.

Even Dr. Hanson confessed that he was once “talked into” following a cult-like group at one point in his life and in spite of his background, he too was completely affected and bamboozled by the influential power of the group. He pointed out that because we humans are by nature empathic and compassionate, we are also vulnerable to being influenced and drawn into relationships with others that are not so healthy. Sadly, emotionally dysfunctional relationships are all too common these days.

It’s not that unusual to have blind spots to the red flags. We may just dismiss them or explain them away. It can happen to anyone. We get flooded and overwhelmed by strong influences. Dr. Hanson cautions us to have a deep appreciation for the power of social conformity, acceptance and openness to being manipulated by others.

Once the conversation established how we find ourselves getting pulled into unhealthy relationships, it then turned to what is needed in the aftermath. How do we heal? What lessons do we learn and how do we develop our awareness and attunement to red flags and our own unconscious patterns?

Dr. Rhonda Freeman explained the double whammy of recovering from dysfunctional relationships. Not only do we have to heal from the pain of an emotionally dysfunctional relationship, we also have to address the shame that accompanies it. Shame we put on ourselves for allowing ourselves to be pulled into such a dynamic and shame from others. Very often well-meaning but misguided friends will also shame us. “How could you get into this relationship? Why did you accept that behavior? How did you miss those red flags and long-standing behavioral patterns?

As I listened to Dr. Freeman’s stories about her friends who took a “tough love” stance and told her to “get over it” and “just move on”, it resonated deeply with me. The tough love approach can do more harm than good and often only causes additional heartache. Now I understood why I felt so awful back then and even avoided friends who doled out their tough love advice or thought I should dive headfirst into a new relationship.

As Dr. Hanson pointed out, you need a trusted friend to fill the emotional void that is inevitable after a breakup. This is a key element to healing — because it is the emotional void that can cause rumination, longing and extended suffering. It is much more supportive to have a trusted friend who will hold space for you and be willing to listen without judgment. You need a reliable friend who can curl up on the couch with you and watch a movie, make you laugh, offer grace to you as you take time and space to reflect, to recover.

While this was not covered in the podcast, it was only through a lot of deep introspective work that I realized some aspects of my former relationship had triggered memories and emotions buried deep in me from my childhood experiences with my mother. Oddly enough, this started to come out in my journaling. I would have missed many opportunities to go deeper with my personal growth work had I not stuck with it. The breakup actually served to be quite cathartic for me.

Once I was more aware of those old emotional layers, I committed to healing them as well. It is why I now have a daily practice for my mental health and well being. In fact, there have been many aspects about my former relationship that became gateways to learn more about how the brain functions, childhood trauma, depression, emotional intelligence, addictions, neuroscience and the enneagram.

While my partner may not have had narcissistic issues, I believe that emotional disregulation and old behavioral patterns contributed to relationship dysfunction that feels remarkably similar to what was discussed in this Being Well podcast. He often described himself as a delicate flower — and I now understand that this was how he felt about the fragility of his ego. I often felt like I was walking on eggshells around him, never knowing what passing comment would trigger him. This led to more guarded conversation than light-hearted banter.

Our approaches to life’s challenges were quite opposite –I’d head for a walk in nature to clear my head and he’d curl up in bed, in the dark, for hours and often emerge heavier and sadder. I’ve come to understand that his enneagram characteristics predisposed him to hang out with deep dark emotions, often ruminating about the past. It was his comfort zone – a soothing mechanism that did not serve him well.

I’d been traumatized as a 4 year old when my mother locked me in a dark attic as punishment for running home from pre-school after an incident with a bully. So the last place you will find me is in a darkened room if the sun is shining. Since I did not understand his innate preference for sitting at length with his heavy emotions in the dark and he did not understand my need for sunlight and energy, we were both blind as to why our responses to adversities were so different. He felt unsupported because I could not stay in the dark where I unconsciously felt scared and very uncomfortable.

At the onset of our relationship, I mistook his deep pool of emotions for vulnerability and a capacity for empathy. I have subsequently learned from enneagram educators who share his type that this is a common misconception and a frequent cause of relationship issues. HIs self-focused actions often caused me and others hurt and confusion. It was his lack of remorse and understanding about his impact on others that baffled me the most. Surely if he himself could feel emotions so deeply, he must be able to understand another’s feelings. There was a disconnect about what he needed and what he was able to reciprocate. I chose the word “able” intentionally here. I know he was “capable” but I believe that unconscious behavioral patterns created his blind spot.

I’d seen the poor coping skills early on in our relationship, but chalked it up to the aftermath of a troubled marriage that ended in divorce. Especially because it often seemed to be most apparent whenever he and his ex had a disagreement about matters relating to their children. He was a doting dad who cared deeply for his children. But over time, I witnessed his struggle with emotional regulation and poor coping skills cropping up in many areas. It seemed that he really struggled to make any distinction between what should have been a 1 or 2 on the radar screen. Everything got a response as though it were a 10. This was an exhaustive pattern for both of us. I urged him to work on it so that we would have some reserve for the bigger milestones and adversities that life would surely bring us. This conversation sent us back to couples counseling.

Recently I have learned through Dr. Bruce Perry how the bar for our emotional stress regulation gets set in childhood. While I do not know my former partner’s full family history, I have some clues that might explain why he innately struggled so much with emotional regulation. While I did implore his family members to learn more, no one seemed to really have any answers, just the observation that ” he’s always been that way. ”

The very thing that brought us together — golf — was the final blow in our relationship. Instead of us having fun and enjoying our mutual passion for the game, each round was filled with his drama, poor sportsmanship and blaming others over bad shots.

That was when I took stock of the bigger picture and recognized that the behavioral patterns I experienced were not confined to our relationship. They were prevalent in his men’s golf groups, some friendships, with a prior girlfriend and at the very end, even with a cherished family member. It was in that moment that I asked him if this is how he really wanted to live his life. A few months after we broke up, he moved a new partner in with him.

Here is why I think that it is imperative to share as much information as possible about the tools and research that support mental health, self-awareness and personal growth. During our relationship of 6 years, we saw 5 couples counselors. We never made any significant and sustainable progress. Looking back, with the knowledge I now have, I can see where there were some big clues disclosed by each of us in our sessions, but no counselor ever picked up on them or suggested that we do some solo counseling. My partner was also treated for depression but again it was limited to dispensing medication. Even his long time friend and family doctor would just shake his head and say the he was the most complex guy he ever knew. The stress overload he carried surely contributed to a string of serious health issues.

We have to find better ways to support people who have healing to do from childhood trauma, who need help to rewire their neural pathways so they can be free from rumination, chronic low-grade depression, high levels of anxiety and PTSD. Unresolved trauma or loss can be so overpowering that it affects the quality of our lives. Dr. Bruce Perry explains that unprocessed trauma and poor emotional regulation will stay with us all through adulthood and will result in a cascade of relational problems and serious health issues. I’ve witnessed this reality in my own family and this relationship.

It is the very reason that I have shifted my focus to broader outreach and awareness of mental health for both children and adults. I will continue to share resources, research and tools to support each of us in healing. As I recently heard on a podcast with Dr. Dan Siegel — “it is not our fault that trauma happened, but it is our responsibility to recognize how it impacts us and others.


Being Well Podcast – Recovering from a Relationship with a Narcissist

Being Well Podcast – Depression and the Brain

YouTube Interview with Dr. Dan Siegel – The Power of Showing Up

Trailblazers, Teachers and Lamplighters

Have you ever experienced the Frequency Bias? You are thinking about buying a certain model of car and all of a sudden you noticed that model car everywhere — the freeway, the grocery store parking lot, ads on TV and your neighbor’s garage. The frequency bias is a way of describing what happens when something you are holding in your mind influences where your attention goes.

I’ve been experiencing the frequency bias a lot lately and it has ignited an excitement in me that has me feeling a bit like a little kid! What has me so fired up is a “growth mindset“.

When we practice growth mindset principles, we see possilbiity instead of limitation. Failure becomes a valuable opportunity for learning, and the success of others inspires us rather than discourages us. (

The frequency bias that has captured my attention is a correlation between an expanding personal growth community and Joseph Campbell’s teachings of the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell, a leading mythology expert and modern day philosopher, revealed how story has been passed down through centuries and cultures to help humanity evolve.

The Hero’s Journey is a common story template that involves a hero that goes on an adventure, learns a lesson, wins a victory with that newfound knowledge and returns home transformed. The hero in the story template offers a shining example of personal growth work. We witness the transformation as heroes confront their own inner barriers, discover inner resources and test themselves. They return victorious from their adventures and conquests with a strong desire to motivate others.

Here is the magic in Joseph Campbell’s insights: It is far better for us to have a story to look through than an explanation. The story is richer – it pulls us in, makes us feel all those strong emotions, connects us to the character through those emotions, trials and discoveries. When we cheer for the hero, we are also cheering for ourselves — for possibility. A moving story inspires us, reminds us of our shared humanity and expands our empathy.

How many hero’s journeys have you personally experienced in your lifetime?

How many times have you had a sudden jolt in your world that changed the course of your life? What did you discover about yourself in those times of great trial? How did you help others when you emerged?

Those who have become Trailblazers, Teachers and Lamplighters are no different than you or I. They just recognized that their hero’s journey was only complete when they came through their personal growth experiences with a transformation so needed, so worthy that they shared the rich details to provide a scaffolding for us. We have a responsibility to those brave, courageous heroes to assist in our collective evolution. We don’t have to get it right, we simply have to do it better.

Take a moment to reflect on the things you often take for granted that might not be possible had others not fought for change. It could be collectively significant such as voting or being able to have credit in your own name. It could be singularly significant such as a parent getting you and your siblings out of a toxic environment. It could be life-saving heart surgeries or cancer treatments not available to prior generations. We are all benefactors of all those who came before us and did hard things that paved the way for something better. Nothing about life is stagnant – we are changing moment to moment. The major thing that gets in our way is when we inadvertently or unconsciously stunt our personal growth.

Every minus is half of a plus……waiting for a stroke of vertical awareness. What awareness can you add to it so that you get a far bigger picture? –Alan Cohen, Author and cast member of the movie, Finding Joe

What I have been noticing with greater awareness is that my Frequency Bias is picking up the patterns that are evident in the Hero’s Journey, the growth mindset, and the expansion of the personal growth community. The components and benefits of all sound remarkably similar:

Joseph Campbell’s lessons from the Hero’s Journey include accepting the possibilities of the present; trusting yourself and doing what makes you feel most alive (following your bliss, discovering your passion); part of the journey is exploration, facing our fears; stretch yourself (put yourself in uncomfortable situations every 7 days); we grow the most from things we stretch the most; no one holds you back but yourself.

Research links the GROWTH MINDSET with many benefits, including: greater comfort with taking personal risks and striving for more stretching goals; higher motivation; enhanced brain development across wider ranges of tasks; lower stress, anxiety and depression; better relationships and higher performance levels. (

Mindfulness tools include meditation and deep breathing; engage in activities you are passionate about; bring your attention to the present moment; sit with and truly feel all your emotions; journal for self-reflection; practice active listening; become aware of habitual but ineffective behavioral patterns; avoid numbing emotions and experiences.

I’ve written about the upward trajectory and merging of all this meaningful work in prior posts. What I have been amazed to discover is how often I’m having conversations today that reveals just how much it is beginning to seep into regular conversations.

Just in the past two weeks, I have had chats with waiters, grocery clerks and strangers at the coffee shop about personal growth, hard conversations, mental health and managing anxiety. No mindless conversation about the weather and plans for the rest of the day. I get the sense that people are hungering to find a better path forward as we emerge from the pandemic. There is a buzzing kind of energy that feels like the universe nudging us to chart a new course.

Could all of this explain the growing fascination with mediation apps like Headspace and Calm? And why Brene Brown’s work is exploding way beyond her initial Ted Talk and first book, I Thought It Was Just Me? She’s now hosting two podcast platforms on Spotify and she’s published 7 books with another one currently in the works. What incredible timing for Oprah and Prince Harry to launch their documentary on mental health; and for Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry to release their new book “What Happened to You.” Neuroscience is weaving its way into mainstream conversations and intersecting with mindfulness, meditation, mental health, anti-racism and childhood development.

It seems we are open to the invitation that humanity is extending. It is our collective Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey has 3 basic parts — Separation, Initiation and Return.

The pandemic provided that separation in more ways than we could have ever imagined. The initiation had us all dealing with unforeseen trials, isolation, and obstacles to our previously normal life, and we all got pulled into caves for self-reflection and a reality check. And now…..the return as we emerge. The big question before us is how will we show up?

Enlightenment occurs when we take time out for serious self-reflection and we face the things that scare us the most. Sometimes those scary things are the equivalent of a monster under our childhood bed. Bring them out into the light, learn more, do some perspective taking. There’s no doubt that it takes courage to recognize that we have some blind spots, some unfounded fears. Stretching out of our comfort zone a little at a time shines some light under that dark bed and informs us. We have a plethora of high quality resources to help us — books, documentaries, podcasts, conversations with people whose views are different from our own.

Many of our most invaluable resources are the rich stories of our Trailblazers, Teachers and Lamplighters. What lessons can we take from their heroic journeys? How can we honor the forward progress that they made for our benefit? We are the gardeners of the future….what seeds are we planting? What weeds are we pulling?

I’m sharing two stories I have learned over the past year from Glennon Doyle and her book Untamed. I think these are relatable examples of love in action and a willingness to open minds in whole new directions. The gateway to these shifts in perspective was through the heart. In her book, Untamed, Glennon shares the story of her parents attending a church-inspired community meeting in rural Virginia in 2015 in response to the racial issues agitating America’s consciousness after the Charleston mass shooting. There were about a hundred white folks in attendance. A woman called the meeting to order and announced the decision to send care packages to the predominately black school across town. The group embraced with relief this “outward action”, performance instead of transformation. Glennon’s father was confused and frustrated. He stood up and said “I’m not here to make packages. I’m here to talk. I was raised in a racist Southern town. I was taught a lot of things about black people that I’ve been carrying in my mind and my heart for decades. I don’t want to pass this poison down to my grandkids’ generation. I want this stuff out of me, but I don’t know how to get it out. I think I’m saying that I’ve got racism in me, and I want to unlearn it.” Glennon paints the picture of her dad as a good man, dedicated to family and community…in other words he looks and acts just like most of us. But as she so wisely states “he dared to imagine that he played a role in our sick American family. He was ready to let burn his cherished identity of “good white person”. He was ready to stay in the room and turn himself inside out.” (excerpted from Untamed by Glennon Doyle, Chapter entitled “Racists”).

The second story is about Glennon’s mother. Not surprisingly, her mother was full of fear and concerns when she learned the shocking news from her daughter that she was in love with a woman. While it was no surprise that Glennon’s marriage to Craig was broken and a divorce was imminent, it was a lot for Glennon’s mother to absorb this new revelation. What Glennon realized was that her mother was reacting as most of us moms would naturally do — a strong desire to protect her beloved daughter from the onslaught of judgment, harassment and negativity that was sure to come her way. And that protective instinct overrode her mother’s ability to separate her emotions around that from how she really felt about Glennon and ultimately Abby. Her love for Glennon was never in question. Her support for Glennon was layered under all the fears. When the dust settled and the air cleared, Glennon’s mom not only embraced the joy and love so evident between Abby and Glennon, she became a committed activist for the LGBTQ community. Glennon readily admits that her mom is now more involved in this activism than even she is. I share these two stories as examples of awareness and transformation in two people that are in their later years, facing change in unexpected ways and evolving. In fact, they are sources of inspiration to me and others who view this chapter of life as an opportunity to live on purpose, with purpose to create a better world for our children and grandchildren.

Personal growth and humanitarian growth are inextricably linked. When we know ourselves better, we tap into that deep reservoir of wisdom and understanding. We aren’t meant to get it perfect, but we are encouraged to keep working to make it better.


Finding Joe Documentary on Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey

My son and I are both reading this phenomenal book right now. It will open your eyes and your heart in unexpected ways ….hopefully it will break you open to greater understanding.
in 2010 Dr. Bruce Perry brought to our attention the Empathy Poverty. Fast forward to 2021 and so much of what he shared, we have lived in many iterations. This book is more relevant today than ever. The root cause of so many of society’s problems lie in childhood trauma and neglect. Another book that will teach you things you never imagined impacting our daily lives.

We Can Do Hard Things Podcast – with Glennon Doyle and her sister, Amanda

Master Class

I’ve been captivated by the extensive research that explains how childhood experiences shape our personalities and impact our ability to cope with life’s inevitable adversities. It intrigues me on several levels. One, it helps me unpack a lot of mystery and confusion about relationships I have had since childhood. And two, it fuels my advocacy for children, mental health and the importance of personal growth.

I’m extremely grateful for the work that Dr. Bruce Perry, Brene Brown and many others have been doing over the past several decades that is culminating in a greater awareness and deeper understanding of our hard-wired need for love and belonging. Research is shedding a lot of light on all the ways people go about trying to fill these deficits of worthiness, trust, and connection — and what goes wrong more often than not.

The cause of these feelings of deficit are often rooted in our childhood experiences and even the culture of the time.

Acceptable and normalized punishments for “bad behavior” from my generation have thankfully evolved. As is so often the case, because we did not understand basic brain functions, we were making things worse — for ourselves and our children. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We are now beginning to understand that a child’s bad behavior is not a choice, but a natural limitation due to childhood brain development.

Our personalities and our behavioral patterns are all shaped in early childhood. They are a direct result of our lived life experiences. We develop our coping mechanisms and behavioral patterns as a child to to keep us safe all while also seeking to be accepted, to be valued and to be heard. We need love and belonging to grow and thrive.

As we make our way into the adult world, we subconsciously take these childhood experiences and patterns with us.

Imagine how many relationship problems could be resolved in a supportive and meaningful way if we actually addressed the “right’ problem. Between the armor we have all piled on to protect ourselves from childhood trauma and insecurities — and the behavioral patterns that become walls to scale, we truly do get in our own way of achieving a wholehearted life.

When I left a failed relationship six years ago, I decided I needed to unravel whatever it was that I was doing that was blocking my success in rebuilding my relational life after Skip’s death. I had no idea how invaluable that broken relationship would become as a reference point for educating myself about the complexities of living an authentic, wholehearted life.

One of the most revelational tools I discovered was the Enneagram.

The enneagram was the equivalent of having an MRI to uncover my learned behavioral patterns and the core motivation driving them. When I took my first enneagram test to determine my type, I found it to be remarkably accurate. It dovetailed perfectly with my childhood experiences, and the people pleasing skills I carried far into adulthood. It was a helpful starting place for me to unpack the “why” questions. Why was I a “rescuer”, why did I avoid conflict and why was I so afraid to express my own needs.

As I began to recall childhood memories, I saw the pattern of frequent occurrences of painful experiences. In order to navigate the chaotic uncertainty, I developed coping skills to mitigate adverse consequences. I was also witness to the experiences that my two younger brothers had and as the big sister, I felt a responsibility to protect them.

The enneagram evaporated all the beliefs I had that I was somehow irreversibly flawed. It allowed me to realize that the behavioral patterns I’d developed were simply coping skills intended to protect me. These now irrelevant behavioral patterns were the product of my environment. I was not a product of my environment. At the core, I was a big-hearted, tender, spirited girl.

My personal growth work was to reconnect with that girl — and step out of the armor I no longer needed.

I don’t think my story is all that unusual. A hardship or a heartbreak causes pain and self-reflection. Some of those events bring about change that cannot be avoided, like me having to get on with life after Skip died. Some become the catalyst for proactive change and that can be a job, a divorce, a diet, a move — or personal growth. Self-awareness, personal accountability and acceptance can all feel very vulnerable and overwhelming.

It is often a family member or close friend who becomes the emotional glue when we are in that vulnerable state. They care for us through the healing. They encourage us through the transition. It just takes one trusted, caring human being to make a meaningful difference.

Dr. Bruce Perry has repeatedly stressed the value of having one trusted person that we can confide in, who will provide the scaffolding we need as we work through the awareness, the healing and the growth. In fact, professional therapy may not even be required for most people.

I was so blessed in this department — for some unknown and incredible reason, my friend Judy and I reconnected at that very vulnerable point in my life six years ago. Although our lives had taken remarkably different paths, we found ourselves in the same place at the same time. We both were knee deep in some personal development work. We initially stuck our toes in the pool of vulnerability and self-disclosure and once we discovered how safe and therapeutic it was, we took deeper dives.

Honestly, we didn’t know then just how helpful and transformational our deep friendship would be for our personal growth. We did not know about Dr. Perry’s research. We bumbled along for a while without the benefit of the enneagram, peeling back layers with the encouragement of Brene Brown, daily devotionals, inspirational quotes and self-help books. Our trust in each other grew organically and our healing came naturally. We forged a rare sisterhood built on our mutual commitment to become better versions of ourselves and we held each other accountable to the work, to our progress and to continued learning.

I was recently listening to a podcast with Dr. Bruce Perry where he was describing a “teaching” experience he had twenty years ago, but didn’t realize it at the time. He needed to have more experiences, more knowledge, more insight to extract the wisdom from that teaching moment. This really resonated with me because I too have very recently become aware of the master class I was enrolled in during chapters of my life.

It is only now, as I sit on the other side of a lot of hard personal introspection and the work done to heal and transform, that I can look back and see others through a much better lens. If I step way back from those confusing, dysfunctional relationship issues, I am aware that we were often addressing the wrong core problems. We were attempting to treat the consequences of behavioral patterns. We should have been addressing the key motivations.

This is precisely why it is so imperative that we each “do our own work.”

I was often puzzled why people in my life could not see and feel how much I loved them. I would wear myself out, doubling down on my efforts to help, to rescue, to solve, to soothe. The truth is, they were not in “receiving” mode — they could not take in what I was offering and accept it unconditionally as proof positive that they were loved, valued and seen. All the armor they wore, all the core beliefs they had about being unworthy, unloveable and not belonging blocked any possibility that they could absorb these affirmations and confirmations. It underscored my belief that I was a failure. Two people trapped in old history, false narratives and blind spots. Mother and daughter, husband and wife, brother and sister. Nobody wins in these scenarios.

Dr. Perry talks about how the wheels get set in motion in early childhood years — a disregulated stress response system contributes to poor coping skills and emotional regulation later in life. Learned behavioral patterns close us up to receive what we need the most, so that even when we get it, it is foreign to us and we feel vulnerable. This is the root cause of emotional triggers, PTSD and panic attacks. Left unaddressed, these factors will set us up for a cascade of problems throughout our adult lives.

Overlay Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability on top of Dr. Perry’s findings and you get a profound sense of why her work resonates with millions of people all over the globe.

Brene has taught us that when we numb all these hard emotions in an effort to get some relief, we also numb the joy in our lives. This is yet another example of not being in “receiving” mode. Numb the pain and check out for a while. It means we “disconnect” so we just double down on what causes the problem. Disconnection, isolation, not being present in the moment — we are treating our pain with the very stuff that causes it.

Sitting with our real feelings, even the hard painful ones, is our brain and body’s way of processing. It builds resilience and it helps us self-regulate in a healthy way. We use the phrase “No pain, no gain” for our physical health, but we shy away from it for our mental health. As Dr. Perry says, no one gets out of life unscathed. We will all suffer loss, health issues, heartaches, adversity. We can — and we should — do hard things.

We have the tools to do this in a safe, healthy, productive way. It can start with a trusted friend. Asking for help is not an admission of weakness — it is a sign of strength and a desire to overcome whatever is holding you back from enjoying life and building resilience. This is precisely why Brene calls vulnerability the birthplace of courage and creativity.

I believe that the enneagram is another invaluable tool for self-discovery. Just as it evaporated my false beliefs about who I am at the core, it can have that same impact for others. It diffuses all that negativity and heavy emotional investment we have around our sensitivities and needs. It turns the spotlight onto the core motivations and that gives way to clarity and understanding. I believe we all really do want to support and help each other, but it gets so hard, so frustrating and self-defeating if we put all our time and energy into solving the wrong problem.

The more I learn about all nine types in the enneagram, the greater my awareness of what makes others tick. I have a clearer sense of what drives their behavior especially if I am familiar with some of their life history. A little awareness, coupled with a healthy dose of empathy can go a long way in creating the scaffolding for anyone who wants to get a foothold on their own personal growth.

Life is always providing lessons for us. The more we know what we don’t know, the greater the motivation to discover. I started out just trying to make sense of my own life six years ago and now I find myself a part of something that will greatly benefit my children and grandchildren. Imagine how we can all benefit from these game-changing, transformational shifts in how we raise children and how we support with each other.


The Malleable Brain

Can you imagine hopping into your car and expecting it to fly? What if you tried to start your car’s engine with the house key? What if your inner child, say around age 4, was in the driver’s seat as you pulled into the stream of traffic? Now that I have your attention, let’s unpack how we are subconsciously doing just that in our lives because we really do not understand how our brains work.

I hope you will stick with me as I curate some of the most revelational insights from Dr. Bruce Perry about neuroscience and how incredible our brains really are. You will start to piece together why there is such a growing interest in meditation, unpacking childhood trauma and discovering dynamic new ways to treat mental health issues.

Neuroplasticity is the term that is used to describe the malleability of the brain. It is the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. This is why we can learn new things, enhance our existing cognitive capabilities, recover from strokes and heal from the emotional impact of traumatic events.

Neuroplasticity plays a key role in healing people whose stress response systems are not functioning well. Dysfunctional stress response systems are often the root cause of mental health issues. We make matters worse by not understanding how the brain works and having unreasonable expectations as a direct result.

We can help people heal and reset their stress response systems but we must go about this in a much more (w)holistic way. My goal is to shed some light on valuable information so that we can have better advocacy for mental health.

Dr. Bruce Perry has been doing research for over 30 years on the effects of trauma in childhood. His findings reveal that the first two months of life are crucial for brain development and establishing the regulatory set point for our stress response systems. Consider this the “factory settings” for our brains.

Infant brains are truly astounding. While the baby appears so helpless, the infant brain is undertaking incredibly rapid changes in those first few months of life. The quality of maternal interaction, bonding and connection is crucial during that timeframe. If an infant has attentive, attuned and responsive caregiving, the stress response system becomes very resilient and that child will be better equipped to handle future adversities.

It is the timing of developmental adversity that is key.

If an infant has high developmental risk in the first two months of life, and then is given a more stable, caring environment for the next 11 -12 years, that child’s outcome will be much worse than if the situation were reversed.

If an infant has a nurturing, connected and stable environment for the first two months of life, and then has 11 – 12 years of neglect, abuse or dysfunction, that child will have a better stress response system and will be better able to cope with life’s adversities.

“If an infant has chaos and unpredictability in those first 2 months, the stress response systems are discombobulated. That person will have incredible vulnerability and a cascade of problems that have origins in that first two months of life,” says Dr. Perry.

Dr. Perry shares that a major roadblock in the way we are collectively addressing mental health is that we are treated as if we are all the same.

The complexity of the brain and its functions, along with the incredible differences in each of our life experiences is a clear indicator that this needs to change. Consider that there are 86 billion neurons in the brain. Each one of those neurons has thousands of synaptic connections. Dr. Perry points out that if you visit a children’s mental health clinic, there will be only 6 basic diagnoses — “6 little boxes to put all those diverse problems in.

Contrast that with our approach to heart conditions. The heart has 16 billion cells and only one major function — to pump blood. A visit to a pediatric cardiology clinic would reveal hundreds of unique diagnoses.

As we become better educated about the complexities of mental health, we can become effective advocates –for ourselves and for others. We can help move the field of mental health forward.

Let’s start with basic neuroanatomy, the relationship between structure and function. How does the brain actually work and how does it process information? Picture the brain as a floret of broccoli– the top of is the cortex, the most human part of the brain. The middle part is emotional and the lowest part is regulatory. Self-regulation is the ability to adapt our emotions and actions to situational requirements and to internal standards and norms.

Traditional adult perspective is that the brain is rational, that it is a “top down” process — a misconception that the cortex is running the show. But this is not at all how the brain processes information. A fundamental principle of neuroscience is the concept of “bottom up” functioning.

Getting up to the cortex means going through the lower part of the brain first. Dr. Perry describes the lower part of the brain as Grand Central Station for regulation. It is where our five senses get ignited, and changes occur in our oxygen levels and heart rate.

Are you beginning to understand why your heart races, your face flushes or you feel like you can’t breathe in a sudden high stress situation? This is happening subconsciously and our reptilian brain is trying to keep us safe.

Dr. Perry makes this stunning observation: The lowest and dumbest part of our brains (the part that can’t tell time) is the secret to understanding stress.

Wait, there’s more. A key component of the activation of our stress response is that it immediately begins to shut down parts of the cortex. So the very tool that “top down” people expect us to use to self-regulate is shut down and made less efficient by the very act of becoming disregulated.

And lastly, the cortex doesn’t fully mature until we are about 30 years of age.

Let’s review: As adults, we pride ourselves on self-control and executive function. We can more readily self regulate and use our cortex to prevent us from saying or doing something stupid. That is, if we have a cortex that is mature and organized. We’ve had years of practice, not to mention a boatload of mistakes when we did lose control of our emotional regulation. The consequences of losing our tempers resonated in a way that made helped shift us from “reaction” to a more controlled “response.”

Children and young adults are works in progress. The same is true for adults with low set points for self regulation.

This is the very reason that we struggle to understand why young children are misbehaving. We think they are making a conscious choice to misbehave! Frankly, it is also a critical piece to the puzzle of mental health for adults. According to Dr. Perry, many mental health professionals, educators and most parents are unaware of this game-changing concept of “bottom up ” subconscious functioning.

There’s one more piece to the puzzle that we are often missing. Even when the set point for stress self regulation is very low, Mother Nature equips us with a natural calming mechanism. Why then do we “over-ride” that feature in children? Let’s unpack this:

Rhythmic patterns are hard-wired in utero and the brain instinctively relies on them as a basic self-regulation tool. Dr. Perrry explains that when in utero that little body is sending signals to its brain continuously –“I’m not hungry, I’m not thirsty, I’m not cold”. Those signals send the message “I am safe. I am regulated.” The signals that come in from the sensory part, through tactical, vibratory and auditory routes, are the syncopated rhythms of mom’s heart rate, and the opening and closing of valves. The tiny body makes an association of patterns and rhythms with being well regulated.

After birth, mom will rock her infant at 60 – 80 beats per minute and the baby calms down. We do this instinctively for newborns — we rock them, play music for them, have them listen to sound machines, take them for stroller walks and car rides.

Then our children become toddlers, preschoolers and adolescents. We tell our kids to sit still, stop tapping their foot or wiggling in their chair. Guess what? These little actions are tools of self-regulation for kids. As unaware adults, we make matters worse by chastising them for utilizing their innate tools of self-regulation. We “over-ride” Mother Nature’s factory settings.

We try to get kids to use “top down” regulation and no kid can do that. Not even the kids who are well regulated can do that. Remember that Dr. Perry explained that parts of our cortex gets shut down when we are deregulated. This impacts attention span and the ability to actually open the cortex to absorb what is being taught.

“The irony is that we are not proactively teaching children how to self-regulate,” says Dr. Perry.

When kids lose interest or are unable to focus, they can also dissociate. Every one of us has also experienced dissociation — when we tune out and go to our inner world. We do it when we are in conversation with others, we do in a classroom, we do it at work. We even do it while driving!

By now, I am hoping that you are beginning to connect the dots about why mindfulness and meditation has become so popular in recent years. As more neuroscience knowledge gets distilled in a way that we can wrap our heads around it, we discover that we “check out” in many ways as we routinely go through our daily lives.

We subconsciously let our emotions and the lowest part of our brain direct our lives. We let our minds wander and miss important content and context. We get caught in a loop of anxiety, rumination or imagined fear that is not serving us well for dealing with reality and making good decisions.

Most of us are doing all of this with pretty good factory settings for our stress self-regulation. Imagine how hard it is for those who struggle with poor emotional regulation set points.

I’ll stick with the car analogy to drive home an important point — we are diligent about taking our vehicles in for regular maintenance. The wear, tear and age of a car takes its toll. We have an opportunity to expand the understanding and the treatment of mental health in that same context. Mental health education, tools and support are the ongoing maintenance we need to improve the overall quality of our lives.

The good news about mental health breakthroughs and advancing the field, is that neuroplasticity means that we can “reset” faulty set points for self-regulation. New neural pathways can be created and sustained using the same standard operating tools we are born with — somatic rhythmic patterns and repetition. That is what is meant by “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

There is however one key component that is rarely discussed. That is the over-arching value of having a strong human support system. Dr. Perry calls this “scaffolding”. We gain tremendous healing benefits from having a person with whom we feel safe who will scaffold us through our “reset” and growth process.

All learning has some discomfort associated with it and a fear that we are not going to master it. As a young child, we learn to crawl, walk and ride a bike because someone scaffolded us through the learning curve. We need that same type of scaffolding for our mental wellness and personal growth. Dr. Perry says that “if you want to heal a lot, go slow.”

He explains the concept of low dosing — an easing into healing and resetting. A person gets out of their shell (leaves their comfort zone) for just a little. It’s a small, controllable dose of discomfort. Then they return to their shell. This is repeated over time, a little dose at a time. Over time, with this slow and steady repetition, they will change and grow. It is important to remain open to these little doses of learning.

Slow, repetitive low dosing and scaffolding is something that each and everyone of us can do for someone else.

And here is a pro tip — two seconds of eye contact sends a signal for a new neural direction. Just two seconds of eye contact can be a wonderful bonding connection. Eye contact when you are scaffolding someone is the best tool in your box.

Dr. Perry believes that while a weekly therapy session is a major entry point, it is the collective support we get from our family, friends, teachers, coaches and others who foster our long term healing process.

I love this image that he shared — a therapeutic web — a collection of people in our lives who give us these tiny doses of kindness, affirmation, information and loving support.

A clear understanding of how the brain works coupled with awareness and intention is the foundation for addressing mental health in a more meaningful way. The more mindful we are, the better we are able to show up and support others. All of us an actively participate in that supportive therapeutic web.


WiseGirl YouTube interview with Dr. Bruce Perry

As Born for Love reveals recent changes in technology, child-rearing practices, education and lifestyles are starting to rob children of necessary human contact and deep relationships — the essential foundation for empathy and a caring, healthy society. Sounding an important warning bell, Born for Love, offers practical ideas for combating negative influences of modern life and fostering postive social change to benefit us all.

Recommended Resources:



The definition of mental health is simply this: a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.

What is not so simple is the complex and intricate ways our psychological and emotional well-being get out of balance.

When I started on my personal growth journey, I wasn’t thinking about my mental health. I was thinking about my heartbreak, my derailed dreams and my utter exhaustion. After slogging through a lot of self-help books and meditation magazines, I began to understand mental health in a new light. We contribute to each other’s mental health in our daily interactions and responses. Poor emotional regulation, lack of self awareness and old habitual patterns can suck us into a complex web of familiar but dysfunctional chain reactions. I began to realize the interconnection of members of my blended family and how we were inadvertently triggering each other’s most vulnerable emotional memories.

I could see how my own unconscious behavioral patterns and resulting coping mechanisms were in fact affecting my mental health. As I overlaid how members of my family were also operating unconsciously, what came to mind was the image of intricate, delicate necklaces all twisted and knotted together. Untangling all of this was going to take a committed effort — and it had to start with me. Our mental health was at stake — and it was affecting everyone’s quality of life.

I had plenty of evidence that my anxiety level was high. Stress was running the show and running me ragged. I was now a chronic ruminator, prone to stress eating, had trouble sleeping and was becoming forgetful. I credit my long-time fascination with neuroscience for preventing me from going into denial about the connection between stress overload and old behavioral habits feeding the cycle. I stumbled onto Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D and his teachings on the neuroscience of happiness.

I began learning about rewiring the brain to break the anxiety cycle and create new neural pathways. I discovered that strong emotional intelligence — the conscious ability to regulate our emotions — contributes to better psychological health and lessens the risk of anxiety disorders and depression.

At the same time, I was also absorbing what Brene Brown was uncovering about shame, vulnerability and our need for true belonging. Her research revealed all the things we do to avoid revealing our imperfections — and how debilitating those things are to living a wholehearted life.

Numbing anxieties is not the solution. The point that Brene Brown makes that when you numb pain, you also numb joy was very evident in my personal life. I felt my joy draining from me like the battery on my iPhone when I was in high stress situations. We can numb pain with food, drugs, alcohol, work, suppression and avoidance. None of these choices will solve the root problem. And when we numb joy, we lose sight of the blessings in our lives, the love and support that is already present. Joy provides balance and ballast for our lives.

I have lived with family members who had very poor coping skills and tried numbing to ease their pain. It ultimately led to dysfunction in their day to day lives, illnesses and addictions. Not only did they suffer greatly both emotionally and physically, there was a lot of collateral damage to others whom they interacted with at home, work and even play.

Failure to address and manage our stress will only amplify anxieties and insecurities. It clouds our thinking, distorts reality and creates confusion. Ignoring our emotions and over-reacting to our emotions deteriorates our mental health and impacts our physical health. As Brene teaches, we armor up. In doing so, we just keep adding to our growing iceberg of our core issues. You’ve probably heard that saying “the body keeps the score.” Chronic and life-threatening health issues can develop due to stress overloads.

Here again I had personal experience — extended periods of high stress in my life were the precursors of breast cancer at age 40 and then 18 years later the sudden development of lymphedema in my right arm.

I began to clearly see the big picture and understand the direct correlation between physical health, mental health and overall quality of life. Focusing on getting to the healthy end of the mental health spectrum became a top priority for me. It was neuroscience and rewiring the brain that created the framework for my personal mental health improvement plan.

All mental activity — your thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows –require neural activity. Neurons that fire together, wire together. Repeated patterns of mental activity require repeated patterns of brain activity. Repeated patterns of brain activity change neural structure and function. You can use your mind to change your brain to change your mind… benefit yourself and others. — Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D, Author of The Neuroscience of Lasting Happiness.

The infrastructure I built inside that neuroscience framework consisted of mindfulness to expand my awareness of my behavioral patterns; meditation practice to help me recognize and stop the patterns in their tracks; meditation practice to learn how to let go of racing thoughts, rumination loops, and attachment to strong emotions. I supported my mental health goals with a lot of reading, journaling and deep vulnerable conversations with my trust buddy, Judy.

Brene Brown calls friends that you can confide in with complete honesty and trust “marble jar friends”. You only need one or two of these deeply rooted friends to help you gain traction in personal growth work. They are life jackets and air bags for all of life’s turbulence.

Brene Brown’s grounded research reveals how we have similar behavioral patterns and how/why we developed them. Dr. Rick Hanson teaches us how to retrain our brains to let go of those old patterns and replace them with more beneficial responses. Behavioral science and neuroscience come together to help us diagnose the problems and then heal them.

I took myself out of the entanglement. I acknowledged to myself what was tripping me up. I asked my family to help support my efforts and I held myself accountable for needed change. I blogged about my experiences, the trial and error and the discoveries.

The greatest gift is being a much improved resource for my family and friends now. I was not able to do that in a meaningful way five years ago and I wasn’t even aware of it. The more I learn about myself, the more I am able to discern when others are in struggle. My empathy, acceptance and non-judgment of others has grown exponentially as a direct result of doing my own work.

I am grateful that there is a dedicated collective effort taking place to de-stigmatize mental health. It is a collective problem — we truly are impacting each other’s mental health in how we show up in life. If we continue to drag around unprocessed emotions and trauma, to numb or hide it, we will not break the cycle of impairment. Taking care of our mental health is as fundamental as taking care of our physical health.

We can become advocates of our own mental health just as we are for our physical health. We can also help advance the cause to destigmatize mental health. Mental health is not an “either or” proposition — you are either mentally healthy or you are not — is totally inaccurate. We are all on the spectrum of mental health, just as we are with our physical health. As events and circumstances in our lives change, so does our mental and physical health.

I started on my personal growth journey because I wanted to be “at my best” for whatever the future held for me. At the time, I envisioned grandchildren, milestones and health issues — the good and the bad. I naively thought that “at my best” meant being physically strong and well-rested, no drama and a positive attitude. I was blind to how my past was impacting my mental health and how I was unconsciously reacting to myself and others. I certainly was unaware of how interconnected we all are with regard to mental health. We can do a better job of taking care of each other.


Greater Good Science Center, Berkley, CA – Four Things to do Everyday for your Mental Health

Trauma experiences leave traces on minds, emotions and biology. Sadly, trauma sufferers frequently pass on their stress to partners and children. — Bessel van der Kolk, MD

Dr. Martin Seligman: Check out this interview: