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Mothering and Codependency: A Catalyst for Personal Growth

May 13, 2018

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The Meadows

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If I had been more honest with myself and diagrammed my family when my children were young, I would have made myself smaller than anyone else. What I learned through my own ACA/codependency recovery was that if I kept doing that, I was not, in fact, serving my children nor myself nor my husband.

Trauma has the effect of shrinking us, we get hurt, and we withdraw, we get scared, and we shut down, we become emotionally constricted, we’re less present and less spontaneous. 

Recovery wakes us up.

Waking up is not a totally smooth process because we’re waking up feelings and thinking that we shut down, maybe as kids or teenagers, because it was too much for us to feel at that time. But waking up eventually allows us to come to life and to recognize that we’re as important as our children and that when we shrink ourselves, we teach them, we model for them, particularly for our daughters, just how to do that when they become adults.

We love our children, so how do we learn to love them in a way that will show them how to love themselves and others; how to take their proper size in the relationships that they will develop in their own future?

Bringing anxiety, pain, and fear into motherhood is a subtle thing. One of the ways that old pain rolls out through the next generation is through a phenomenon called projection, i.e., we project our unhealed, unconscious pain from OUR childhood onto our children’s childhood.

Here’s a process that I have developed over the past twenty years or so that’s simple and effective. It not only frees up the child from the grip of their parent’s old pain, it gives the parent, in this case, the mom, a second chance. As we say in recovery, “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood!” So be good to the child you have and the child that lives inside of you and try this exercise:

1. Identify an age in your children’s lives that is difficult for you, that tugs on something inside of you…. this often manifests as excessive worry for your child at that age, concern that something is amiss or will go wrong for them.

2. Now close your eyes and imagine yourself at that same age. What was going on around you? What was occurring in YOUR life at that age?

3. Feel the feelings that you felt then, think the thoughts that you thought then.

4. Now ask yourself, “is there something from this time in MY life that is making me extra anxious about this time in MY CHILD’S life? Am I projecting or even creating pain that is more about me than my child?

5. If the answer is “yes” then see if you can allow more memory to come up, more feelings, more thoughts; let a fuller picture emerge.

6. Now let yourself just sit with this awareness, you might feel some pain because if you shut something down it was likely because it hurt. You might feel some guilt because you realize that you’ve been putting your own pain on your kid. You might feel some confusion because stuff is coming up and dis-equilibrating you. You might feel some relief because it feels so good to connect the dots.

7. Now be good to yourself, don’t rush to your child to explain yourself, just sit with this new awareness and breathe through it, visualize comforting yourself at this age. Then take your own hand and let the adult in you, take the child in you, out of harm’s way.

8. OK now relax, rest if you can or just continue through your day and let this go, the awareness will continue to come. Just let them and remember to be good to yourself and to breathe through the feelings.

Moms have a tough job and a beautiful one. One way that the journey of motherhood can become an awakening of self is to pay attention to where you get triggered most frequently. Realize that what triggers you most intensely may be sending up a red flag marking the territory of your own childhood pain. Then do this little process. You might find that your children’s lives become the greatest catalyst for your own healing. Our love for our children makes us want to protect them from harm and even to protect them from our own darker sides. Let motherhood be the light that illuminates the child in you as you love and adore the child you have.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Written by: Tian Dayton, Ph.D and Senior Fellow at The Meadows