When you find yourself the object of someone else’s addiction

The portion of today’s post that is in italics is taken from Clinton S. Clark ©1993.  I highly recommend that you visit Clinton S. Clark online at The Art of Healing.

Addict Parent

Addict parents are without coping skills for feeling bad, they react or lash out in order to avoid hearing anything that they feel might cause them to “feel bad” As a way to destructively disconnect from the pain they are experiencing (feeling bad), they will try to control the information they are hearing by discounting it.  “It” being the child’s pain which in effect discounts the child’s sense of worthiness to have pain.

An addict parent is basically addicted to controlling, either in the form of controlling themselves (their behaviors and their feelings), and/or controlling other people in the same way.  And controlling information or personal space empowers the addict with feelings of control.  Controlling is a way addict parents “feel better.”

Addicts are said to abuse alcohol and drugs.  Sam will also be abused.  Like a bottle of booze waiting in the liquor cabinet, Sam will wait.  Booze is forgotten about until it’s needed and Sam will be forgotten about until he or she is needed.  If booze becomes difficult to use it is discarded.  When Sam becomes difficult to use he or she will be discarded.  Sam will learn how to function as an inanimate object similar to a bottle of booze.  This will be Sam’s acceptable role in his or her family. It will be a lonely role filled with pain, grief, anger, and rage over being used similar to a bottle of booze.

Keep in mind that Sam’s addict parent is not an evil doer.  An addict cannot consciously see the addiction they are engaged in.  They engage in the behavior because they are terrified of “feeling bad.”  This terror stems from being trained as objects of addiction themselves as children.  And objects of addiction lack the basic developmental coping skills for feeling bad; these coping skills for “feeling bad” were never allowed to develop.  This lack of coping skill creates an overwhelming sense of terror when strong feelings occur.  This is the developmental stigma of being trained as an object of addiction.  And unfortunately, an addict will continue to pass this training onto their children or the next generation in their family.  The cycle will continue form generation to generation until an unexpected event occurs to interrupt the cycle.

In order to keep Sam functioning as an inanimate object of addiction in the family, Sam’s addict parent or parents will have to use some kind of control.  For the addict, control is equated to compliance and compliance is equated to no frustration.  No frustration (or conflict) is equated to security and security equates to happy addict.  As a result of this sociophysiological phenomenon, nothing is more important to an addict than satisfying their interdependent need to maintain a sense of security.  Their object of addiction is important only as long as it accommodates the addict’s need to feel secure. The control techniques or behaviors used by the addict parent to keep their objects of addiction functioning effectively in this interdependent relationship are called “The Addictive Pull.”  The addictive pull is comprised of all the necessary control behaviors, or “destructive control behaviors,” used by the addict to keep an object of addiction functioning like a drug.

Members in a dysfunctional family operate on the same premise.  “You will submit to the control I think I need to have over you or I’ll abandon and beat you up emotionally or physically.”

Addict parents do not respect boundaries.  They have no idea what the concept of boundaries is about.  Setting a boundary for an addict parent creates an immediate hostile and abusive response.  Children raised in dysfunctional families are abused, beaten, or abandoned when they try to keep themselves from being injured or intruded upon by setting a boundary (examples: “Don’t do that you’re hurting me! Or Ow-w-w!…that hurts!”  or “Pl-e-a-s-e…don’t”) This is another part of the terror for children who were raised as objects of addiction.  The addict parent is operating on the assumption that the child is an object of use and therefore does not need to be allowed a sense of safety by allowing boundaries.  A boundary is seen by the addict parent as something that needs to be demolished in order to keep the child functioning as an object of use.

Note: Rebellion is dangerous in dysfunctional families where the child is being used as an object of an addition.  A rebellious child is similar to removing cigarettes from an addict addicted to smoking or removing heroin from an addict addicted to heroin.  The addict’s reaction to a rebellious child will be violent and non-supportive.  Setting a boundary to maintain the protection of oneself is also seen as a rebellious act by addict parents because they see this as keeping them from their addiction of needing to use something or someone to feel better or avoiding feeling bad.

Children who grow up in addiction have high tolerance levels for abuse and scared feelings.  Being abused and feeling scared becomes normal feeling and goes unnoticed or repressed.  Also called stuffing or numbing feelings.

Today’s Bonus borrowed from …In All Our Affairs:

Detachment with love sometimes means loving ourselves enough to suspend blame, fear, guilt and self pity long enough to separate the problem from ourselves, until we can clarify our options and responsibilities, identify how we are contributing to the problem, and let go of the rest.

I was first reminded that for the alcoholic, drinking is not the problem—it’s the solution.  Alcohol had served as the source of his security, courage, and serenity.  Today he is often in a state of panic because he has not yet found other sources for these very real needs….If you do want the marriage, they told me, then accept the fact that you will not get healthy behavior from a sick person or logical statements from an illogical person.

When violence first occurred in my marriage, I truly thought it was my fault and that I should never say or do anything to anger my alcoholic husband.  If I did, I thought he was justified, because in my mind he was always right; therefore I must be wrong.  Because I didn’t want to think badly of him, I just denied that any violence occurred.

Read more Clinton S. Clark at The Art Department

Connection to Self

Quoted from Terrence Real:


The first clue of his condition is an absence rather than a presence—an absence of feeling for himself.  Billy tells me that he felt the pathos of his bickering parents but did not feel, and still does not feel, much concern for the young boy who grew up with them.


Billy feels his parents’ pain precisely because they do not.  And, burdened with their pain, he has little room left for empathy toward his own…Billy’s lost connection to self suggests that in those nights out with friends or upstairs alone in his room he learned more than simply to cut off from his deepest emotions.  He actively learned to despise them.



Blurry Sense of Identity (Who’s Pulling Your Strings – Harriet Braiker)


Having an unclear sense of your own identity—not knowing where you begin and end, whose needs you feel and fill, and what values are central to your core—is a bookend of manipulation.  On one side, the lack of clear identity predisposes you to being dominated and controlled in manipulative relationships.  And when you become the pawn in other people’s power games, the weaker and more blurred your sense of self becomes.  Here are some examples of blurred identity thinking:


  • I have difficulty describing who I really am independent of how other people see me.
  • I do not have a clear sense of myself.
  • I am not sure that I have strong needs or values outside of taking care of other people and making them happy.
  • Sometimes I just feel invisible.
  • I often feel that my identity is absorbed from the beliefs, traits, and values of other people in my life.


How to Correct a Blurry Sense of Identity


Debugging Guidelines:  Allowing your identity to remain out of focus will keep you trapped in a vicious cycle of vulnerability to and victimization by manipulation.  Correcting soft-target thinking in this area is a matter of asking and answering self-defining “Who am I?” questions.


  • How do I see myself?  Compose a self-concept word picture using 20 nouns, adjectives, or short phrases.
  • What are my personal boundaries?  How are you similar and how are you different from your spouse or romantic partner, member of your family, friends, coworkers, and other significant people in your life?  Compare and contrast your needs, personality styles, and character strengths and weaknesses with at least three others.
  • What are my core values?  What moral or ethical principles are most important to you?  What political, social, or cultural attitudes do you hold with conviction and/or passion?
  • What are my spiritual beliefs?  What is your religious faith?  How would you describe your personal spirituality?
  • With whom am I bonded?  What people or relationships form your strongest emotional attachments?  What relationships define your deepest bonds with others?
  • What are my dreams and goals?  What motivates you?  What goals give your lfie a sense of mission or purpose?


Gleaned from Al-Anon Literature:


Canceling plans and staying home to avoid the consequences of “defying” the alcoholic is another form of self-abandonment and has nothing to do with love.  Love is nourishing.  It allows each of us to be more fully ourselves.  The enmeshment that characterizes an alcoholic relationship does just the opposite.


It is entirely up to us to determine what is acceptable to us and what is not.  Personal limit:  I will leave the party if I feel uncomfortable around other people’s drinking.

Core Needs – Introduction to a Basic Skill

Studying One’s Self – Becoming Intimate with My Wants, Needs, Desires

(Everything in italics has been borrowed from Clinton S. Clark© 1993)  I highly recommend a visit to his site at The Art Of Healing.

My Needs (stable for the most part)

  • Access to food, clean water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, and medical services.
  • Income (for the first need) and the transportation to earn that income.
  • Recovery and the income and transportation to maintain that recovery.
  • School (education)
  • Dreams
  • To say I can choose.
  • To say I love you.
  • To say I’m sorry.
  • To say I need you to help me meet my need.
  • To know that the screw-ups I have are healthy.
  • To hold and to be held.
  • To have approval (in direct and non-controlling ways).
  • To express (expulsion) my “self.”
  • To allow my “self” choices and the possibility of choices that are unknown.
  • To set boundaries (and no explanation is necessary).
  • To allow myself honesty.
  • To say, “I don’t know” when I don’t know.
  • To allow my honesty to be earned and not shared indiscriminately.
  • To practice safe sex.
  • To practice eating as needed and not in a way to stuff or over eat.
  • To stop and clear myself when I’m in chaos or subtle diversion.
  • To detach.
  • To be separate in order to be close.
  • To know that the best I can do is too much (controlling, approval seeking).
  • Acknowledging when I’m hurt.
  • Acknowledging when I’m sore.
  • Acknowledging when my stomach hurts.

My Limits (at the time I have them)

  • The limits I have are not the same as the ability (I have) to do something.
  • I’m unable to change the past.
  • I’m unable to change the future by worrying about it.
  • I have fears.
  • I get tired.
  • I’m unable to control what someone else is thinking of me.
  • I’m unable to forcibly control someone else’s actions without using destructive control behaviors. (to kill spirit)
  • I can’t control another person by being nice and accommodating.

Asking for Needs to be Met

Asking for my needs to be met is more productive using the same non-victim role as with setting boundaries.  As an infant, I had my own infant ways of asking for needs to be met.  As an adult, I have adult ways to ask for my needs to be met.  Clarity is important.  Over-explaining the reason for my needs is control for approval’s sake.  I can choose not to control by explaining.

There is fear in asking for my needs to be met.  My needs were shamed or discounted as a child.  That fear of shaming or discounting generates hostility in my conversation style.  The hostility is projected onto the listener.  In return, they become hostile in order to protect themselves or become submissive in order to protect themselves.  Either way, the listener will resent the interaction.

I can choose to approach my needs in a non-victim style (non-victimstance).  I find a more nurturing result more often.  I state my fear of asking up front and not hide it in a hostile conversation.


  • “I’m afraid of asking for _________________”
  • “I’m afraid of not knowing how to ask for ______________”
  • “I’m learning how to ask for my needs to be met.  I need your patience while I learn.”

Some basic needs statements

I need ______________________________________.

  • To eat.
  • A drink of water.
  • To go to the rest room.
  • To get some different clothes, a jacket, etc (to stay warm, dry, etc.).
  • To go to the doctor.
  • To throw-up.
  • A place to stay.
  • A job.
  • A loan.
  • To borrow some money.
  • A ride.
  • To get gas.
  • To have my car repaired.
  • Help.
  • To go to a meeting.
  • To know if….
  • To know if you like me.
  • To know if anyone else feels this way.
  • Your approval.
  • To rest.
  • A hug.
  • A kiss.
  • To be held.
  • To be with people.
  • To say I’m sorry.
  • To say that for myself.
  • To do this.
  • To talk.
  • To know if you have time to listen.
  • To do this myself.
  • To go slow.
  • To keep this confidential.
  • Your patience.
  • You to know that I love you.
  • To know if you’re being honest with me.
  • To know if you are mad at me.
  • To know if you love me.
  • To know if you expect something from me that I don’t know about.
  • To leave.
  • To stay a while.
  • A back-rub.
  • Your friendship.
  • You to back off.
  • You to slow down.
  • To work something out with you.

If I consistently ask for a need to be met, and it’s not being met, I need to go elsewhere.  I accept that my needs are important.  I accept that my needs are my needs and my responsibility.  My needs are not someone else’s responsibility.  My needs are not a guessing game for someone else.  And, my needs are not the perception that someone else has of them.

Whatever the needs statement be, I practice being clear, direct, non-victim, non-whining, and non-controlling.  I can choose to “ask” before I decide that my needs won’t be met.  I accept that asking for my needs to be met and getting them met are different.  I won’t be able to get my needs met in one place.

I am all that I am at the time that I am

Acknowledging without control that:

“I am all that I am at the time that I am”

is another way to nurture and reparent myself.  I am all my likes, my dislikes, my needs, my limits, my choices, my thoughts, my opinions, my double binds, my feelings, etc.  Without fear of injury, I am all that I am at the time that I am.

Gleaned from Al-Anon Literature

HALT When we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, we have needs that require our attention, needs that may be preventing us from acting in a positive, affirming way.

When a man reconsiders performance-based esteem, when he reaches into his own heart to unearth and form a relationship with the emotional parts of himself, when he takes on responsibilities for psychological self-care as well as the psychological care of others, he breaks with the terms of traditional masculinity. –Terrence Real

The Narcissist’s Strategy for Dealing with Unmet Needs

Based on their implicit and explicit memories of unmet childhood needs, many narcissists develop the notion that such needs will never be met later on in life.  This fear is at the root of the narcissist’s flimsy and unanimated attachments to others.  He compensates for the fear of not having his needs met through a well-executed excessively autonomous style.  This combination of fear and overcompensation also leads to a lack of intimacy with himself, avoiding self-knowing.  –Wendy T. Behary

We learn not to ask for what we need during the first three years of life.

Emotional Bullshit:

Self-Care is both a tool and an ongoing skill.  Using it as a tool will help you make a quick decision that might avert a problem even in the most difficult moments, or avoid outright disaster.  Developing Self-Care as an ongoing skill will enable you to promote your best interests in the numerous situations that make a colossal difference in the quality of your life and your relationships.

To be narcissistic means you focus solely on your own pleasure, ignoring or discounting the needs of others.  But fulfilling a Core Need means fully understanding and fulfilling your responsibilities to both yourself and others.  It’s actually the opposite of being selfish—it means taking care of your personal business so that you have the emotional energy and awareness to be able to focus on others.  Keeping your word, doing what you say you’re going to do, completing the tasks you have taken on, are clearly in your long-term best interest.  It is a fact of life that many of the responsibilities we have to ourselves enable us to create a healthy environment for other people to live with us in community…If you’re in a relationship taking care of your Core Needs means that you maintain a nurturing and balanced environment for your self as well as for the other person.  So be assured that taking care of your Core Needs is not at all narcissistic.  In fact, it is the height of responsibility and maturity.  It’s a total win-win.

Terrence Real

As a small boy he had stepped into the vacuum left by his depressed father.  Little Joe became, in many ways, his mother’s emotional husband, his father’s business partner, his siblings’ father. The only person’s needs Joe learned to ignore were his own.

Instinct Injury and How it Happens

How does a person become instinct injured, and lack the ability to set and communicate clear boundaries?  Here are some excerpts from Clinton S. Clark © 1993 (in italics) that I find extremely helpful in setting the groundwork for implementing this new skill set.  Setting boundaries is a skill that we did not learn as children.  And there is a good reason this is so.  While reading the following, keep in mind that we use the term “addiction” and “codependent” very loosely, covering a wide range of behaviors, and not from a position of judgment, but rather as a scientist would examine a new species of tropical plant.  With a little bit of distance (objectivity) you stand to gain a new understanding of the family disease of addiction, and begin to understand how its poison has been passed undetected from one generation to another.  The good news is that we can learn to recognize it, understand how it works, and make subtle changes in our own behavior and attitudes to stop the transmission and the pain.  But like anything else, this is a process.  One cannot expect to change a lifetime of beliefs and habits overnight.  So please be gentle.  Find more Clinton S. Clark at The Art Department.

In order for Sam’s addict parent to be happy, Sam must assume the same role as the booze.  That is to say, that as long as Sam remains easy to use, like the booze, Sam’s parent will be happy.  And as long as Sam’s parent is happy, Sam will feel safe and acceptable.

In this way, the child learns from the parent’s example that caring for one’s self is the job of another.  In this case, caring for the addict parent is the responsibility of the child.

A codependent is a control addict who is obsessed with controlling and compulsively tries to control.  They’re unable to cope with the terror of their own feelings, so they try to control the feelings and actions of other people.

Codependents are connected in an unhealthy way to the people and even the objects in their environment.  They constantly react as if there was some invisible and painful cord connecting them to other people.  This makes it almost impossible for them to listen without becoming reactionary.  Talking with a codependent may leave you feeling hurt and empty or like you haven’t been heard at all.  Chances are, you haven’t been heard.

My daughter might say to me, “I don’t like going to school.”  My reactionary response to her might be something like, “Don’t be silly, your friends are at school so just get going to school now.”  By calling her “silly” I’ve discounted her feelings.  Now, not only does she feel bad about going to school, but she feels bad about feeling bad.  I do this because I’m uncomfortable with her feelings.  I am codependent with her; attached to her in some unhealthy and invisible way.

Children who have addict parents are forced to forfeit their relationship with their addict parent in favor of the addiction.  The addiction is stronger than the child.  Even though the child is an object of addiction, the addiction takes precedence.  By that I mean, from an outside view (a view from outside the family) it will appear that the child is receiving attention, when in fact, it is the addiction itself (the child as an object of addiction) which is receiving the attention and not the child as a sentient being.

Playing the Victim

Playing the Victim is an extremely effective technique used to control someone (especially children).  The addict parent controls the child’s behavior by becoming the so-called wounded victim.  The child might say or do something that the addict parent becomes uncomfortable with.  In reaction to the child’s behavior, the addict parent responds by saying something like this:

(said from an angry victimstance)

  • “How could you do that to your mother?”
  • “Mommy thinks you don’t love her anymore.”
  • “You don’t care about me at all, do you?”
  • “You’re hurting mommy.  You’re driving her crazy and no one will be able to take care of you then!”

This destructive control behavior uses false guilt to control the child.  When the addict parent plays the victim, the child looks inward and thinks: “How could I do that to my parent…She (or He) looks so hurt and sounds so angry or depressed…She’s (or He’s) talking and looking at me; therefore I must have caused her (or his) pain…I’d better be good so I don’t hurt her (or him) any more…she’s (or he’s) the only one I have to take care of me and the alternative of taking care of myself scares me to death, because that’s impossible for myself as a child to do.  I could die.  I’m sure I’d die.

The goal of an addict who is addicted to their child is to “feel better” by controlling the child.  As stated before, control is equated to compliance and compliance is equated to no frustration.  No frustration or conflict is equated to security and security equates to happy addict.  Unfortunately, children of addict parents grow up full of false guilt or shame as a result of being trained by the addict parent’s use of playing the victim.  They (the children) automatically feel guilty, terrified, and anxious when they come in contact with anyone playing the victim.

Children who are trained to be objects of an addiction receive the following message from their addict parents (from addict to child):

I’m not OK, when …. You’re not


Translation:  I have no coping skills for feeling bad or tolerating strong emotions (mine or yours).  If I’m around you when you are having needs, setting boundaries or otherwise being yourself, I believe you to be the source of my pain.  I can’t allow you to be yourself if I feel bad in the process.

Unfortunately, a child does not have the benefit of insight into this translation.  He or she only knows that their addict parent is not ok when they (the child) are not ok.  The child then rationalizes that:

If the addict parent is not ok, who is going to take care of me?

In response to this rationale, they believe that by being ok enough, their addict parent (their provider) will be ok enough to take care of them.  The alternative as seen by the child is death (Whitfield, 1988).  They think, “If I don’t take care of my addict parent by being ok, they are not going to be able to take care of me (because they won’t be ok enough to do so).  And, if they aren’t ok enough to take care of me, I could die.  I am not old enough or knowledgeable enough to take care of myself.”

This is the terror.

This is the helplessness.

This is the anger, rage, and pain.

Codependents [learn to] blame other people for how they feel.  Obviously, if a codependent is attached to you, they are going to blame you for how they feel.  They’ve been trained to believe that their feelings are the results of other people’s actions and feelings.

Children of addict parents learn that in order to stay accepted in their family they must remain easy to use, and be without boundary (do nothing to frustrate the addict).  Children of addict parents learn how to become easy to use by becoming invisible; which means to become compliant and without needs, or suffer the consequences of being apparent, real, noticeable, with boundaries, and having needs.

This phenomena is also described by Whitfield (1989) and Cermak (1986) as “psychic numbing.”  Children raised as objects of addiction are under attack or the threat of attack throughout the duration of their childhood and sometimes beyond.  They are like combat soldiers waiting for an attack to occur.  Cermak (1986) writes that during periods of extreme stress, such as an attack or the waiting for an attack to occur (the threat of death, injury, and the feeling of being unable to flee), “combat soldiers are often called upon to act regardless of how they are feeling.  Their survival depends upon their ability to suspend feelings in favor or taking steps to ensure their safety.”  This is a characteristic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.  In the case of children trained to be objects of addiction, you might say that they were forced into fighting a war without weapons to protect themselves and they were unable to see the enemy.  This is one of the reasons why so many children of dysfunctional families withdraw into isolation.  It’s the last resort in fighting an unseen enemy and fighting an enemy without a weapon of defense.  You might say that this [material] is an exposure of the enemy by exposing the attack methods, i.e., the destructive control behaviors that hurt.

As objects of addiction, these children have psychologically trained their feelings to become unavailable to them as a way to cope with repeated attacks or the threat of attack.  As a result of this, their feelings have become so unavailable to them that they subsequently become emotionally and cognitively unaware of an attack at the time it occurs.

Common effects of growing up in this kind of environment:

  • Fear of other people’s judgment resulting in chronic procrastination.
  • Having no limits in response to not feeling good enough.
  • Trying to “people please” or seek approval of others.
  • Negatively judging other people as a way to distract one’s self from one’s intolerable emotions.
  • Blaming others for how they feel.
  • Feeling uneasy or suspicious when receiving compliments or gifts.

In the case of me, in my addictive patterns, here is how it works for my daughter.  Over time, it will become painfully apparent to her that her actions and feelings will somehow trigger me.  She will become a “people pleaser” to avoid having to deal with my reactions to her.  She knows she can’t be herself without me reacting to her, so she becomes what she thinks I want her to be.  This is how children of [addicts and] codependents learn to survive.  They can’t be themselves so they become what they think will keep them from getting hurt.

She’ll learn how to control other people by being a “people pleaser.”  She’ll become very good at guessing how I feel and very poor at knowing how she feels.  Her focus will become directed towards other people outside of herself.  She’ll obsessively try to figure out what everyone else needs and not be able to figure out what she needs.  And if someone resents her for trying to take care of their needs without being asked, she will become angry and resentful because it scares her not to take care of someone else.




Cermak, Timmen L. “Diagnosing & Treating Co-Dependence: A Guide for Professionals who Work with Chemical Dependents, Their Spouses, and Children” Johnson Institute, Minneapolis, MN. 1986.

Whitfield, Charles L. “Healing The Child Within” Audio Cassette.  Health Communications, Inc. Taped live U.S. Journal Training Conference.  Chicago.  June 1988.

Whitfield, Charles L. “Healing The Child Within” Health Communications, Inc. 1989.


The issue of boundaries pervades our lives in ways that are so subtle, yet so profound, that once they are mastered, simply everything changes. I am in the process of creating a workshop to break down this fascinating subject into its basic “nuts and bolts.” Here, we will offer a forum where we can examine how emotions and boundaries work together; build and strengthen personal boundaries and learn when others are pushing and violating your boundaries. I am interested in forming a group that meets for 5-6 consecutive weeks, or a couple entire weekends. Timing will depend on preference of participants. Cost for entire event will be $180 – $250, depending on size and format of group. See some excerpts from Clinton S. Clark of The Art Department for an idea about the perspective of this offering.

Conscious Parenting

Conscious Parenting

v1. interrupting trauma & abuse cycles

by Trina Brunk

Can’t you make your kids behave?

Spoken or implied, this message carries the weight of society.  Is it just me, or have you ever found yourself taking a more rigid stance with your kids than you otherwise would to avoid judgement of others?  We lived in New Mexico when my first son was small.  I lived in a small community where my from-the-inside-out style of parenting was celebrated and honored, and I felt free to allow my son to explore his ecstatic connection with life.  Our connection was rich and satisfying.  When he was 2 1/2 we moved to central Missouri, several hours from where I grew up.  In less than a year, our connection felt tense and stressful.  He was demanding and bossy, and sometimes threw big screaming fits that would go on and on.  I was pregnant with our second child and in spite of frantically reading up on good things like Non-Violent Communication, trying to be a gentle parent, I found myself flipping out with him periodically.  I certainly couldn’t make him ‘behave’ the way I felt pressure to.  What I came to realize was that it was very difficult for me to maintain my sense of connection with myself, and therefore with my son, in the culture where I grew up.  Not only were the social expectations different, I was also plunged back into family dynamics that I never resonated with, and had learned at a young age to ‘disappear’ around.  But you can’t disappear with a child.  You have to either 1. show up and be who you are, and connect authentically, or 2. pretend to be who you’re not and get good at role-playing and domination.  Which is exhausting!!   My preference is choice #1, but at first I didn’t experience being at choice.  Slipping into painful roles, re-enacting old family dynamics, and finally hurting so much that I sought a way out — this was my pathway: a pathway that led me back in to my own heart; a pathway I call “conscious parenting”.

Clearly, it can be challenging to stay conscious as a parent.  I think that the commitment to continue to come back to awareness has got to be a fast-track to enlightenment.  It’s just that so many of us haven’t engaged it that way because to do so requires so much courage and faith, and there aren’t many examples available to us.  It is much easier on Sunday to put the kids in daycare and get our enlightenment in the sanctuary with all the other polite adults.

Perfect parenting vs. conscious parenting

I’ve been interested in conscious parenting since I was a little girl.  I remember listening to my mom yell at me about cleaning my room and thinking she could get a lot further with me if she would just talk respectfully.  I promised myself that if I ever had kids, I would do such a better job than she.  While my mom was all about being in control at all times, I was full of dreams about creating mutual wins, treating each other respectfully, and having fun together.

And now that I’m a mom, (you knew this was coming) I can understand and appreciate my mom a lot more.  I haven’t given up my dreams; the eight years I’ve been engaged in the parenting process have been humbling, mystifying, thrilling and sometimes shattering. My relationships with my children help me to get clearer on my vision, and clearer with myself on what goals are attainable and which ones set me up for feeling guilty and hopeless.  I’ve  noticed that in the quest to be a good parent, it’s easy to get caught up in perfectionism, which, while it seems harmless, is key in keeping the painful story going.

Perfect is concerned with right and wrong.

Conscious is being aware of your connection with all that is.

Perfect is focused on behavior and appearances.

Conscious is focused on the inner experience.

Perfect is about forcing or controlling to bring about a desired outcome in the future.

As a conscious parent, my priority is connection and bringing my awareness to the present moment.

Perfect is about product.

Conscious is about process.

Perfectionism seeks approval in vain.  Funny, I almost wrote “vein”, which expresses it maybe better — seeking an intravenous infusion of approval from an outside source, a drug that must constantly be sought but that never gives the deep nourishment we really need . . . its futile quest is to medicate an imagined deficit.  And that’s the trap, because you’ll never be good enough when you’re judged against an illusion.  That’s what perfection does: sets up an illusory, unattainable goal, and then accepts nothing less.  Do we really want to hold ourselves and our children up to this unforgiving measure?  Failure is guaranteed; the soul has no choice but to express through dysfunction.

Consciousness experiences connection and being in the moment.  There is no lack, no right & wrong way to show up and behave: instead, a deeper awareness of the love that we are guides our decisions.

Using triggers to track down and transform cycles of trauma and abuse

It’s cliche’ to talk about parenting as being the most difficult job in the world.  But I think it’s a mistake to blame that on children.  I think it’s challenging to engage parenting consciously specifically because of all the trauma we carry from generations and lives past.  Unless we can find ways that work for us to heal and release the cycles of trauma and abuse, we’ll pass them on.

Toni A. Rahman, LCSW is a counselor and therapist in Columbia, Missouri.  She sees clients every day who are grappling with the various manifestations of trauma, and she supports individuals and families in releasing painful patterns and claiming renewed lives.  According to Toni, “Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and tends to plague us all to varying degrees at one time or another, whether it’s the Big-T Trauma of an automobile accident or the loss of a loved one, or the smaller-t trauma a child experiences when encountering emotions that he or she can’t yet put into words.”

In my journey in moving from perfectionism to conscious parenting, I have found triggers to be a powerful opportunity for healing and growth.  Even while it may feel awful at the time, a trigger always points directly to something that I’ve hidden from myself due to past trauma, but that will hinder my growth and healing until it is revealed.

My personal practice has been that when I feel deeply triggered, to “be like a log” — do nothing, and just observe myself, and pay attention to my breath.

One big trigger for me is when my two eldest sons, ages seven and four, fight.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told them to stop fighting with each other.  I’ve told them to make up and be friends and the battle intensifies.  I’ve screamed at them and threatened them and been big scary monster mommy.  No luck.  “Being Like A Log” can sometimes be excruciating because it calls to my present awareness some old long-forgotten pain, that had invariably been too much for me to handle at the time and which I had stashed away for such a moment as this.

What first becomes evident to me when I stop and be still while I’m triggered, are the beliefs flying around in my head about the situation. “He’s evil.”  “He must be punished.” “I have to put a stop to this.” When I go deeper, the next thing that comes to my awareness is the intensity of my feelings — often grief, rage, terror.  And when I look at it, the feelings I have are way out of context with what is actually happening between the boys.  Any actions I take while in this state will be similarly out of context, and I’m at risk of being abusive myself.

I sit and be still, and watch my breath.  One tool that I’ve found extremely powerful in these moments, and which I encourage you to experiment with, is applied kinesiology.  It’s a way of asking your body for the information it holds, using yes/no questions.  You can use it to get valuable — although sometimes subjective — information about  the source of the trauma, sometimes through generations and sometimes through past lives, if you believe in that sort of thing.  I’ve also found it very helpful in ascertaining what I need to do to release the trauma.  And I could go on and on about this subject, but that would be a different article.  Bottom line, use what tools you have available to you and feel comfortable — whether applied kinesiology, EMDR, counseling, to get conscious of what you’ve hidden from yourself, so you can release what is keeping you from being present and available to yourself and your children.  The rewards are massive!

In my process, a recurrent theme that came up for a time was the pain and frustration I felt as a small girl in my relationship with my older brother.  There was boundary confusion, bullying, teasing, harassing — some of which reminds me precisely of what I see going on with my sons.  Sometimes, I find myself going deeper and further back through previous generations or past lives.  I get a big ‘a-ha!’ that shows me that my feelings weren’t about the boys fighting at all — they were merely out-picturing my inner landscape (which I’ve found children do for the adults in their life all the time).  And I see that my relationship with my brother was a setup to come into a deeper level of awareness about these issues, so I can bless and thank him for his role too.  I focus on taking care of myself, doing what is necessary to understand and appropriately address whatever inner battle I’m having.

At this point, I find prayer to be very powerful.  I ask for help in healing and releasing the trauma, as necessary — sometimes, the trigger is so great and my mind is mush, and asking for help is all I can think of to do. And I feel myself coming more into the present moment.

Often after doing this, almost like magic, I notice that the children are playing delightedly with each other.  Doing and saying things together that are so beautiful to me that they bring tears to my eyes.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I am NOT saying that I think it’s a bad idea when kids are fighting with each other or bullying to set firm limits and re-direct and give information about how to get needs met in a positive way. I most certainly do think that these are important parenting skills.  What I’m talking about is in recurring situations where you’re feeling really triggered, where you feel the pressure rising and it feels all too familiar — you are concerned that you might flip out and act in a way that damages your relationship with your child.

Take the test

Do you see yourself as being someone who’s relatively free from trauma?  I think a great test for that is this — play with your child.  Let them take the lead.  Do what they choose.  Do it for 15 minutes  — set a timer and don’t look at your watch for the duration.  Notice how you feel.  Do you feel refreshed and invigorated and in love with the young person you’re with?  Or are you feeling drained, frustrated, bored, antsy?  Can’t wait for it to be over?  Sometimes I struggle with staying awake while playing with my four-year-old, but have a very easy time hanging out with my seven-year-old, which tells me that there’s material ripe for healing my inner four-year-old, and that I’m pretty clear at the inner seven-year-old level.

If you find yourself experiencing some stuck places, do yourself and your family a favor and get help!  You didn’t deserve what happened to you and you, and your family deserve to be free of painful patterns.  Don’t isolate.  Whether through reaching out to a friend you trust, finding a counseling professional you trust and committing to a course of therapy, spending time in nature, praying and asking for prayers of others, there is help available.  Yes, it takes courage! But when we engage the process of becoming more conscious, we can begin to release the wounds of countless generations, and set into motion a new way of being that will bless countless generations to come.

Making Pie

The conversation I had with my pie crust this morning was one that I will not soon forget.  I’ve been working on perfecting my crust for a couple months now.  It’s a very exciting process.  I love to take the food surplus I have around the house and make it into a pie.  Not that I love making pie crust, please don’t misunderstand, but I definitely like eating pie, and I’d certainly like to enjoy the crust creation part more.  This morning the process was even more juicy than usual.  Sometime well before I began rolling the dough, it occurred to me that what the crust really wants is to have a lightly floured surface underneath.  If it’s not smooth and floury under there, it’s physically impossible for it to slide and grow to the shape and thickness I want.  The cookbook gently reminds me, moreover, that this process cannot be rushed.  It takes time.  Going into the process this morning, I remembered the dough’s simple request.  It was not unreasonable.  The dough doesn’t request much; just one small thing so that we can both be happy.  But besides being the dough’s request, it’s simple physics – nature’s law.  Smooth surface, ease in expansion.  Less friction, more movement.

Oh, and here’s the other thing:  I’ve watched myself, making pies, as time goes along.  I make a pie, then I make another, each time learning, adjusting, experimenting.  Each time I make a pie, it’s a little different, but each time I learn a little something, and with each attempt I at least end up with a semi-edible pie, and my family is happy with me.  But each time, there’s this place in the process where I’m grimacing and cursing under my breath, my entire body tense and full of uncertainty.  It’s that part that I’d like to examine a little here, so indulge me.  As a moderately conscious person, I am aware of the power of thought.  I can accept that I have negative thoughts, and my goal is not to eliminate them, but to use them to heal and grow.  If I do not bring these thoughts into conscious awareness, they continue to go unnoticed.  Noticed or unnoticed, they have a tremendous impact on my life.  Bringing awareness to my thoughts in a difficult moment, I am almost always surprised at what I hear.  This morning, if I’d turned up the volume of this radio frequency, here’s what you would have heard: This is never gonna turn out.  What did I do wrong?  I’m not gonna be able to salvage this.  I’m wasting my time.  How is this stupid recipe supposed to work?  This doesn’t make any sense.  Why do I do this?  This is not fun.  Maybe I’m just crazy – a glutton for punishment.  I suck.

I promise you, those were the words that fluttered through my mind along with feelings of angst, anxiety, dread, fear, uncertainty, doubt, annoyance, powerlessness, anger, blah!

What comes to mind as I’m lifting the crust off the counter with a spatula and pasting in pieces to cover the holes, is the way I flounder about when I’m not sure what it’s supposed to look like, and I haven’t yet had enough successes to feel confident that this thing is actually going to survive.  So it’s at this point in time, somewhere just short of something completely acceptable – maybe even magnificent – where I’m floundering, believing the bad things I’m telling myself, even though I am well on the way to what I have been creating all along.  This hump just happens to bring out the very most ungraceful parts me, and I thrash and curse and wail.  Still, looking back, I have made it through this highly dramatic process a good number of times.  Mental note to self:  If I can just make it through this difficult part without giving in to all those thoughts and emotions, I arrive at a new level of beauty and accomplishment, somewhere in the vicinity of my goal.  I will actually reach the place I was headed not so long ago when I set out with my recipe and my ingredients, and my idea.

Another thought occurred to me while I was making my pies this morning.  What I need is to watch someone who’s already mastered this process, making pie.  Just once or twice.  How nice it would be at this stage of my pie-making development to see it done by somebody who’s really got it down.  All my senses would be attuned at that moment when the water gets sprinkled in, and everything begins to congeal.  I bet I would consciously or unconsciously pick up the information I needed to make a few very minor adjustments that would take some of the angst out of my process.  Just knowing how it looks when someone else reaches this stage would bolster my confidence.  A big part of what makes me thrash and curse is the vulnerability and hopelessness I feel in that moment when I’m really not so sure that I can pull it off.  Maybe it’s the not having seen it done well by someone else that makes me feel so angry and frustrated.  Maybe having such an opportunity to see it modeled by someone who has already learned would transform that dreadful stage of the process so that it is not so dreadful anymore.

Damn.  That’s not just pies we’re talking now.  That’s life.  Maybe we didn’t have stuff modeled as we would have liked when we were young, and maybe we’re still mad about it.  But we don’t have to stay mad.  There are those around us who have the skills we want, the resources we need.  I could even go buy a pie crust from the grocery store if I wanted, and I probably will, but not today.  In mastering the skill of making pie, I get to enter a learning process as a child does, starting without skills or confidence, yet steadily approaching mastery with each attempt.  I know that continued practice will eventually bring the experience and confidence I seek.  And when I send out a request for help, I can get what I want and need.  With this learning comes the grace and faith that those who are watching can benefit from.  I’m still looking for someone who’s willing to let me watch her make a pie, but in the meantime, it’s coming to me, piece by buttery piece.  The information and support I need are available all around me.  And they come from the most unexpected places when I listen.  Today my pie crust helped me understand what it needed, and it turned out to be the flakiest pie I’ve made yet.

Welcome to my blog!

I’m so happy you’re here!

Feel free to come in and look around.

Visit Clinical Practice to read about what I do most from nine to five.

Check out my novel at Written Works.

Up and coming pages will include an Affirmations Page.

I also plan to expand Written Works to include

Essays and Shorter Pieces written to

capture and share my experiences in Bangladesh.

Also up and coming is a project in process –  Adorsho Morshid – a work I am translating from Bengali about the life and times of the beloved Sufi saint,

Kwaja Eneyetpuri.

So stay tuned for more

Traveling Healer

Currently Reading

Brad Blanton in Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life By Telling the Truth Pg 122: Unless a person experiences anger in the body and acknowledges the experience, the anger does not complete itself — does not discharge, subside, and go away.  When anger is expressed indirectly, in ways that are calculated to avoid the experience of anger, anger gets stored up rather than dissipating.  The experience of anger is converted to thoughts about the resented person, judgments, complaints, conclusions, and imaginary conversations.  Pg 123: So this is what happens with anger: as children grow, constantly overpowered, cared for, and controlled, childhood expressions of anger against stronger adults are punished, either overtly or covertly, or worse, condescendingly moralized about.  As children, we do the best we can to copy approved ways of dealing with anger to avoid getting punished for it.  The result, at least in our culture, is that most people don’t express anger directly.  It’s not that they don’t know they’re angry or that they won’t talk about their anger; they do and they will.  Most people, however, won’t express their resentment in person to the person at whom they are angry.  Instead, they gossip, complain, criticize, fantasize about telling the person off, and let it out in other indirect ways.