I spent most of my February in a dark place. It was depressing, scary, and cold. Yes, I spent most of February in a basement storage area tackling my big decluttering project. And it only took me thirty-six years to start on it!
While I was digging through one of many boxes, I found a paper I wrote my first year of college called “The Art of Packing.” How odd — to be finding it as I was unpacking my life, thirty-six years before I started packing it all up.
I was only a senior in high school when my mother passed away. Since my parents were divorced, I was left responsible for packing up a three-story colonial home. As I worked my way through each and every drawer, dresser, and cabinet, I divided the items evenly between me and my two siblings.
Yet, my brother and sister did not want much to do with the memorabilia I saved for them. So, I took on the role of caretaker. For thirty-six years, I held on to everything. Each time I moved to a new home, so did the boxes. I carried them around like a heavy weight from place to place.
I KEPT THE BOXES FOR
I’ve patiently waited for my siblings to show up at my house so I can pour them each a glass of wine, turn on some music, and go through the memorabilia together. I had this vision of a happy-go-lucky gathering. But, it never happened and it might never have happened. So I had my own party. Except it didn’t go exactly as I had envisioned.
There was no wine, no music, and no laughter. Just me alone, venturing into the dark storage area to retrieve box after box. Each item, whether it be a piece of paper or a picture, was painfully examined. Throughout the process, it felt like I was re-attending the funerals of both my parents. And even my own.
"We all lived with my mother in a three story colonial house. The house now stands silent filled with the lives of four people. These possessions that fill up our house now needs to be packed and put away." — An excerpt from my college essay, The Art of Packing, 1983
In the end, I filled up twenty contractor bags of trash, made two trips to Habitat for Humanity, dropped off two loads at my local second hand store, sold some items, and gave others away. This decluttering project was messy, heavy and depressing as hell. And I was left thinking about why I had held on to all of these things?
Keeping all of these mementos meant that I valued my life and the things I’ve helped create. These items represented my years of motherhood, building a business, banding birds in the field, and being part of my small, Upper Peninsula community. And keeping all of my family’s memorabilia meant that I cared about my parents and valued their lives. Otherwise who would? I thought, ‘why do we live these lives if nobody remembers or cares about us after we’re gone?’ But, this thinking kept me stuck. And it kept me feeling heavy.
"My mother had forty-five teacups and saucers. To be fair about the division, we cleared the family room floor, smoked a joint and preceded to put all forty-five cups and all the saucers on the floor." — Wendy Wagoner, The Art of Packing, 1983
I had to let go of my parents, again. I had to let go of the belief that I am a ‘bad’ person if I let go of my mother and father’s childhood pictures or their yearbooks. And I had to drop the role of caretaker that I had shouldered for thirty-six years.
In the end, I could feel in the deepest part of my being, that no picture or box filled with memorabilia represented a life well lived. It was just stuff. And that stuff doesn't define me as a child, sister, or mother. And that is what truly sparks joy in my heart!
"There is no graceful way for me to way good-bye, even to a house. The house is packed and gone, school has ended and I must move onward." — Wendy Wagoner, The Art of Packing, 1983
Are you keeping yourself small? I have a hard time “BEing big” or putting myself out there.
I can feel how the tension lives in my body and my autonomic nervous system. When I dive deeper into this fear, I connect it to the self-thought that I am someone who has great ideas, but often fails to bring them into existence. This tension is directly related to my fear of failing, which developed during my childhood. If I still believe that I am a failure, then I struggle to prove that it is NOT true.
A core belief from my childhood was that I was a failure. This belief has been validated over and over again in various ways, which keeps me stuck in this pattern.
When I don’t finish something, I want to argue, rationalize, and/or collapse (child behaviors). While I want to convince everyone, including myself, that I’m not a failure, shame arises nevertheless because the core belief from my childhood comes creeping back - and I know this feeling too well.
I can distract myself by watching TV, posting on social media (“look at me!”), or eating too much food - but I still feel these feelings. So, how can we move away from this fear of failure and instead embrace a “bigger” life?
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us."
The first step is to be aware of the internal voice that controls our life. The “judge voice” is relentless and says, “you can’t pretend - you are a failure and I can give you examples to prove it.”
When that happens, turn TOWARD the judge, harness energy from deep in your body and say, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” This stops the judge and allows you to question whom exactly you’re yelling at.
For me, this inner judge is my mother’s voice. I can visualize and feel my parent’s disappointment that I took on as a child. But were my parents really disappointed in me? Probably not. So, what is the fear truly about? Did I want my parent’s love, but was afraid of losing it?
As a child, I took on their feelings and mixed them into how I thought about myself - a failure. This is what we call a double bind. Visualize a rubber band that is pulled so tight on both ends that I can't let one end go. I can’t win in a double bind. Instead, I stay stuck in the middle and if one end goes, it will hurt since the love will go away and I will be alone on the other end. In this scenario, my judge wins. I can’t allow that.
So, as I turn toward the rubber band, I know that the sting will hurt, but afterwards I will be free of the double bind - and my prison. Isn’t it worth the pain? If I can get away from this inner judge voice that is truly not me, I can feel how much it is causing me pain and suffering, making me small and collapsed on a daily basis.
Ultimately I decided to let me mom go. I now feel compassion for my younger self and see that I am not a child now, but an adult. Life is really good in this very moment. I can be in the world without my mom (ironically she died when I was a teenager) and I can let go of the lingering fear that I am alone and afraid of the world. This relaxes my nervous system and the tension I have been holding. I feel a gentle warmth and appreciation for myself.
If we want growth and change, we need to turn toward the pain, specifically this double bind. Let’s allow ourselves to un-merge from our old stories. We are enough. We are not worthless, ugly, or weak. We don’t need someone else’s love - the source is within us. Nobody can do this for us - our shift in consciousness is the key and the key is to look inward.
Why would anyone need a coach or therapist? Would connecting with one mean something is wrong with you, and you need to be “fixed"?
"We are products of our parents before us and their parents before them. It is like a giant wave and we are a ripple in the current"
One reason why you might seek out an attuned coach or therapist is based on John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. John Bowlby (1907-1990), along with his colleague, Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999), developed the attachment theory based on the idea that an infant needs a secure relationship with a primary caregiver in order to fulfill the child’s social and emotional development. Through extensive observational studies of infants with their primary caregivers, Bowlby and Ainsworth noticed that security is a basic need for toddlers to grow and explore their surroundings.
So, how does this apply to you as an adult? The attachment theory states that as adults, it allows us to feel secure, enabling us to go out and explore the world without stress and anxiety, but instead with trust that we will be taken care of by life. Bowlby published many books in this lifetime (all worth reading). But, in summary, I’ve posted two charts (below).
If we fall into the insecure avoidant, insecure ambivalent, the insecure disorganized or a mixture of these styles, we were missing that consistently attuned primary caregiver. Having a consistently attuned primary caregiver available would have installed in us the feeling of having a secure base, or safe haven during our first 3 years of life.
So how do we develop this feeling of having a secure base, or safe haven if it is not in our systems from our childhood? How can we change this for our future children and grandchildren? This change from one type of attachment to another does not happen overnight, it is a process. One of the ways to start is to work on moving to a secure attachment type, which takes having a secure base and a “safe haven person.” This person’s role is to be consistently attuned during sessions and to help develop trust. With an attuned coach or therapist, one can work through their old wounds and issues. The coach or therapist plays the role of the parent (or original primary caregiver). Therefore, it’s an authority role, not a love relationship role as peers.
We are born with the need to be taken care, touched and held for our brains and nervous systems to hook up properly. We are products of our parents before us and their parents before them. It is like a giant wave and we are a ripple in the current. Why would we think that just because we are now adults that we need to do this alone, if we have the wounding of insecurity? We need to develop a relationship with another person that becomes our so-called, “parent” to work though these issues, to heal them. Then, when we learn to really trust in life, we become a secure attachment person.
Do you ever feel that someone else is running your life and it isn't the life you actually want?
I recently witnessed a true shift in consciousness. For the first time, this person (let's call her "Julie") identified and then let go of her inner judge voice.
When I started working with Julie, who is in her 70s, she didn't know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Julie struggled with depression and merging with her children. She felt as if her life was going by so fast, but she was stuck in this double-bind of not being able to fulfill her desires while simultaneously keeping everyone happy.
In her processing, Julie recognized that she had difficulty moving toward what she truly wanted because of her strong inner judge. After recognizing this hurdle, we went through the following steps together.
The first step was working on identifying who the judge was and how it controlled her daily life. While grounded into her body, Julie found that she was collapsed by her mother’s energy riding on her back (metaphorically, of course). Julie's mother has been dead for 16 years. She allowed herself to feel how this energy lived in her body.
The second step was being the judge voice. Julie preceded to voice out loud what the inner judge voice was saying. The true energy of her mother was allowed to come out in that moment and we could feel that this voice was not actually Julie's voice (it even sounded like her mother).
The next step was standing up to the judge voice. Julie had to STOP the judge and not rationalize, defend, or collapse (all childhood strategies). She needed to ground her body again and feel how the inner judge voice was crippling her from moving forward. She had to feel how this inner critic had caused her pain.
This was not an easy step. Julie practiced many different strategies to try and stop the judge. But, finally, she found the strategy that set her free. She now feels and exerts a new strength in her mind and body.
Now that Julie is free of the judge, she is fully in her body - relaxed and standing without her mother on her back. She is full of strength, which allows her true essence to shine - a playful joyfulness.
If you want to experience true joy and your true essence, like Julie has, and let go of old wounds that keep you 'stuck' or un-empowered - consider signing up on the link below and Commit to Freedom from your inner judge today!
What is your biggest fear? Mine is speaking in public or in front of a large group of people.
How do you confront your biggest fear? Well, I confronted my deep fear of public speaking rather unexpectedly just two weekends ago when I was pulled up on stage while attending a conference in Las Vegas. After I walked under the spotlight and grasped the microphone, I looked at the eyes of over 400 attendees staring back at me. But, I quickly realized that these were the eyes of supportive, loving people. And I realized it wasn’t really that scary. (Watch the full video below).
The Power of You (POY) is a 2-month online course with Mel Robbins and her amazing team. She invited the POY class participants to a reunion in Las Vegas so we could get to know each other in-person, share our experiences, and hopefully get answers. At the registration desk, we dropped our names in a hat, which were entered into a drawing for a live, onstage coaching session with Mel. Of the 400 attendees, I was one of 4 names drawn from the hat.
Mel has an Audible series called, Kick Ass with Mel, where she coaches 8 people through habits or issues in their lives that are keeping them stuck. Mel helps each person go beneath the surface level - to the root cause. And this is what she did with me two onstage weekends ago!
From my experience with Mel (see video above), I found that I am fearful of saying words, any words. I fear I will not find the words or that I will not be able to accurately articulate what I mean. I am scared that I will look or sound stupid. I am fearful of being laughed at, or being judged by others. I dread eyes looking at me because I think they might find me lacking, without value. Or, perhaps they will find me ugly. In other words, I am terrified of people thinking that I am a piece of shit (root).
"I am terrified of people thinking that I am a piece of shit." - Wendy Wagoner
A quiet childhood
Throughout my upbringing, my mother was not fully attuned (my brother and I were 13 months apart and he had some physical issues that needed special attention) and my father was an alcoholic. While a small child, my dad did not like noise in the house. To receive the love I wanted from him, I had to stay quiet. So, I quietly played in the corner. If I cried, he would often say, “do you want me to give you something to cry about?” Sometimes he did.
Misbehaving has consequences
My father would return from work on Fridays (he worked out of town during the week), hoping to come home to peace and quiet. Instead, he was responsible for disciplining us if we had misbehaved in his absence. My father did not want to spank us with the belt. But he did because my mother expected that from him and he was frustrated with the situation. I remember feeling bad for him, and yet at the same time I was upset for being hit. I would cry (because of course it was very painful) and this would only make him more angry.
Grandma embarrasses us all in church
Once, when I was 5 years old and my crippled grandmother was staying with us, the neighbor forgot to pick us up for church. My grandmother found us another ride and we slipped in the side door since mass had already started. While the priest was talking, my grandmother decided to yell across the church at the people that forgot to pick us up. Every eye turned towards us and the judgements flooded in. I wanted to shrivel up into nonexistence. Since that moment, I haven’t walked into a church without worrying about what people thought of me.
Teasing has consequences
During my adolescent puberty stages, my brother would come into my bedroom without knocking, and say to me, “boy you’re ugly” or “boy you’re stupid.” And sometimes “you’re so flat chested.” When you are told something often, you start to believe it. Plus, my brother was popular and cool, so I figured he would know. I decided I better stay hidden so people would not tease me like he did.
I was going into the 4th grade when we moved to a new city. At the new school, the pretty girls pretty much ran the playground; they decided who could play with them on a given day and who couldn’t. As the new girl, I was bullied and told that I was not allowed to play with the poplar girls. This validated my belief that I should stay small in the hopes that I would not be picked on. I never raised my hand in class to read or answer a question. In fact, if we were reading out loud, I would count down the lines so I could practice reading the paragraph before I was called on. I would literally take an “E” in a class before I would get up and speak. I would even get to the end of the bus line over and over again so I could take the last shuttle to junior high school and avoid walking the halls before class.
Wendy Wagoner has explored numerous avenues of disciplines over the last 30 years. She is a professional Awakening Coach, healer, and experienced workshop leader.
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