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.