My name is Allison and I am a working mom of two daughters in a quiet town in California. For most of my life l have hustled for my worth as described by Brene Brown. I perfected, people pleased and achieved, but the cost was high.
I excelled at work, fitting in friendships and keeping everything running efficiently, but I kept feeling like something was missing. Like I was just going through the motions.
Turns out, I had Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), defined by Dr. Jonice Webb as "A failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child's feelings. Because it's an act of omission, it's not visible, noticeable or memorable." This is often passed from one generation to the next where parents, usually due to their own trauma, aren't able or never learned how to validate and empathize with their children's emotions and needs.
My Mom's older sister died right after she was born so her Mom and Dad were understandably grieving and not able to be present for my Mom during her youth. Also both her parents were strict and authoritarian, not showing their feelings. My Dad's parents grew up in the depression + both world wars and did not know how to validate nor empathize with him. This was normal for past generations where many were focused on just surviving and the neuroscience of emotional intelligence hadn't been discovered yet.
It makes sense that they treated me similarly, so I learned to repress dark feelings like shame, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty. I hid them behind thick armor, as Brene Brown describes in Daring Greatly. Instead, I would think about feelings, but avoid actually experiencing them, to the point where I no longer had access to them. They were messy, inefficient and scary, why experience those?
This is a cautionary tale with a happy ending.
I was a driven student, who worked hard to get good grades, land jobs where I put in a lot of hours and moved up quickly. I hustled for my worthiness by becoming a perfectionist-people-pleaser, competent in each thing I focused on. I made a bunch of money in the hay days of the .com boom, selling hi tech computers for SGI and I was killing it. I worked out everyday and had a stable long term relationship, a dog.
I was ‘successful’.
But was I happy?
My boyfriend at the time once told me he felt like he was just a piece in my puzzle, I was so busy getting life ‘right’.
I got married and we wanted to have children. I decided I was going to be the best mom ever and that I was going to be ‘successful’ in this arena too. I was going to manage our kids and our house efficiently and effectively. I had it all.
Then my daughter was born.
She came out spirited and passionate, strong-willed and with her own way of doing everything. She never ever wanted to be told what to do; she was determined. However, I was competent and knew how to do everything the best way. We were on a collision course.
How could I do my job as a good parent if teaching her the right way to do something would push her buttons and send her into a meltdown and fits of defiance?!? I couldn’t see that learning was messy by definition and trying to control it was ridiculous. We would get into battles that were awful, intense, and scary. Our interactions traumatized the whole family.
I looked for tools because I needed support and found Nonviolent Communication (NVC) which was started by the brilliant Marshall Rosenberg. He and the local Santa Cruz NVC center showed me how my feelings were messengers and crucial to being an integrated, whole person. Plus emotions connected me to universal human needs and Life energy.
This was completely foreign to me as I said, because in my race to get straight A's, get into a top college, and excel in my career, I had unconsciously walled off my dark, uncomfortable feelings. Angry and uncertain seemed in conflict with being a 'good girl'. They'd get in the way of my perfectionism-pleaser persona.
I aggressively avoided these hard feelings to maintain my image of keeping it all together. How can you stay in control and be perfect with uncertainty and anger around? I repressed shame so completely that I didn't even acknowledge I had it when it came up in a workshop.
A big part of the NVC program was to teach you about your feelings which was amazing and necessary because every time I turned around, my daughter had one. She was angry when I said ‘no’ to cookies before dinner. She was inconsolable when we had to leave the park. She would rage when her sister took a toy. She was resistant and cranky when it was time for bed.
I was hoping that NVC was going to help me deal with her emotional outbursts and get back in control. I still wasn't prepared to feel them myself, I just needed tools to stop my daughter's emotions.
Not exactly how it worked out.
Especially when she was 2 and 3, oh and 4 and 6, oh yeah and 5 + 6.5 ummm and 7+ 8...she was so intense for me, it's hard to determine which was the worst stage. I was so out of my comfort zone, I had no idea how to be ‘successful’ here.
I would either go into shut down and withdraw or get angry and frustrated and take it out on her. I would try to be calm and then after the 3rd time, just lose it! All of my reactions was like pouring gasoline on her fire. It was awful.
I wanted to learn more about conflict so I trained to become a Mediator and practiced Conflict Resolution for 10 years. I saw first hand how being human is messy and tough! Boy have I observed a lot of human nature while being a parent, a mediator, an office co-worker, and a kids soccer & running coach.
The great news is that over the past 15 years I developed survival tools I call the 5 Steps To Connect, a set of practices that allow me to prioritize self care, reclaim my emotions, stop taking things personally, deeply listen and set limits.
These practices allow me to re-center during or after a reaction and connect in a deep, real way. I still blow it, because I'm human, but I know how to make a repair.
I'm no longer a human doing, but a human being.
I don’t just go through the motions, but live into and experience a full life.
I want to share the Five Steps To Connect because if I had kept going in my effective, efficient, 'successful' mindset, I wouldn’t have the relationships I do now with both of my daughters and my husband. I would have wasted precious time with them overly focused on accomplishing stuff and doing it right.
Because when I was so focused on doing, I was trying to manage them. I was trying to make them into what I thought they ‘should’ be, what I ‘should’ be, instead of experiencing who we are.
I was caught in the fixed mindset of living ‘right’. I thought that being ‘successful’ and telling them how to be ‘successful’ was my main role as a mom, but it wasn’t. It is modeling and living into the messy, alive, uncertainty that is humanness. And I couldn’t model what I didn’t have. So the first steps of the 5 Steps to Connect were mine.
The happy ending part is that the 5 Steps to Connect are things we can practice and it is never too late to connect with those we love. I was able to learn how, and you can too.
The foundation was discovering I am worthy without doing or accomplishing anything. I learned how to be present and what the heck presence even was. How to slow down, have one-on-one time and really be there without thinking of other things at the same time.
Most importantly, how to listen inward and live wholeheartedly.
I stumbled on big obstacles along the way as this is hard stuff; if it were easy we’d be doing it already. But the connection you yearn for is possible, take the first step.
The End...or just the beginning
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