The Beginning of Wisdom

Recovery cannot be done alone because the experience of sharing our inner selves with others in a safe way is what we have been missing all our lives.

Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families, John & Linda Friel

“How do I heal myself?” This is what we most want to know, isn’t it? What can I do to help myself, to recover, to become more whole and more real, more robustly alive, and more able, effective, and true with my gifts? How can I get to the place where I stop dragging my wounds around or letting them drag me, and really begin to live freely and responsibly as myself? How can I get help getting to where I want to go, when my resources are limited?

To begin with, I’ve learned that it is harder to heal a teenager than a child, and harder to heal an adult than a teenager. I have had hundreds of opportunities to help heal adult human beings, not the least of whom has been my most difficult, persistently pernicious and stubborn patient—myself. Re-parenting and healing adults, particularly oneself, is grueling, tiring, and often heartbreaking work. But among the most blessed experiences of a healer’s life is when the wounded one can finally launch from therapy—or from whatever healing partnership was established—and embark on that grand quest of Individuation.

Practically speaking, what all this means to the adult seeking healing is that the longer you lived in a toxic, shame-based, hurtful environment, the longer your healing will take. More damage requires more repair. Less damage requires less repair. And “damage” is measured by its real and actual cost to the person in terms of her relationship to herself and others, not by what anyone says it should be. As a general rule of thumb, it can take as long to heal developmental wounds as it would have taken to progress through them in a healthy childhood.

That’s a long time.

The first answer to, “How do I heal myself?” is that we generally don’t heal outside relationships. I know you knew that, but let’s talk about it anyway. We need truth and light to show us what happened and where our growth was stunted and twisted or stopped, and for that we often need healing partners: A mentor, a Mother, a Father, a Wise Grandmother, Wise Grandfather. Certainly, we can help, heal, and eventually analyze ourselves by looking into our dreams, reading and working through books, etc. But we do need healers in our lives, especially during the first decade of healing. Healing years one through five are absolutely critical times for needing the help of others. People hurt us and separated us from our true selves, and we seem to need people to help re-unite us with our true selves. We’re social, relational creatures, and this is true in healing work just as it is true in any other human undertaking.

We need healers. But we don’t necessarily need therapists. The healing partner we are given may be a caring, patient friend who is able to listen, or she may be the author of the book we’re reading. The healer may be our pastor, priest, or rabbi, or the spiritual community to which we attach ourselves. It may be a 12-Step group or a support group or a therapist, or the combination of many sources of help. But until we have completed every single developmental task of the human being from birth to launch in a loved, supported, and life-giving relational way, we’re not grownups. We need help re-raising ourselves.

Trying to do it alone is one of the primary symptoms of our dysfunction. This has a lot to do with the core shame from our childhoods. We don’t want others to know what is going on inside of us because we are afraid that they will be shocked, will reject or abandon us, or shame us further. It also has to do with our need to be in control in unhealthy ways. It has to do with the arrogance and moral superiority that is such a strong part of co-dependency.

Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families, John & Linda Friel

We don’t heal ourselves in isolation because our wounds erupted when the people who were supposed to love, nurture, guide, train, and protect us failed somehow. We needed benevolent others to do these things for and with us, and they didn’t. After they failed, we were alone and tasked with a burden we weren’t naturally prepared to carry: the task of re-raising ourselves. We can’t do that. We need our baby, toddler, child, tween, adolescent, and young adult selves to be parented somehow, and we are the worst equipped to do that when we first realize with a start that we need healing. We don’t have the tools for healing; we don’t know what health looks like or how it walks and talks or sits in a room. We don’t have healthy relationships because we’re not healthy people; and if we do happen to have a close relationship, it’s inevitably one of the blind leading the blind. Jesus predicted “they will both fall into a pit.” So true.

So let me emphasize that it is essential to get a healing partner who is not inner-visionally impaired.

Combating Lies

For the first 20 years of our lives, we needed others to give us all the tools necessary to stand on our own two feet, and they didn’t. We needed them to show us what tools look like, what they do, how they function, and how we can find, make, or improvise our own tools. Sometimes they did. But sometimes they didn’t. And so we came to be standing at the threshold of adulthood. Though we looked like adults and acted like adults and could drive a car and vote and buy alcohol, we were not adults in some place inwardly. Some or many parts were lost, hidden, broken off, driven away, kidnapped, buried alive, entombed, mummified. Without those parts of ourselves, even if the broken off parts were developmental bits and pieces of learning such as knowing how to have a celebration, how to change a flat tire, how to get rid of someone who has overstayed their welcome, or how to make good gravy, we’re not fully adult. We know it, and feel vaguely or sharply anxious much or most or all of the time. We’re anxious because we don’t want to see, and we don’t want anyone else to see, just how maimed we really are and what a farce our so-called adult lives are.

But see, we must. We must uncover the truth. In People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes that “all good psychotherapy [combats] lies.” Good self-help books, good support groups, good pastors, and good friends combat lies, too.  They hear or see your version of reality and they lovingly doubt it, even if it means telling you what you don’t want to hear. Even when you resist listening and flail against the truth. Even then, all good helpers combats lies.

Square One

My favorite books for knowing what to look for and how to begin are Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families and  An Adult Child’s Guide to What’s “Normal,” both by John and Linda Friel. An inquisitive person who reads both books will come away with a good, basic understanding of how functional and dysfunctional families work in their particulars.

Certainly, wounded people need more than particulars and facts. Facts are a good place to begin, but facts never healed anybody. For healing, people also need to see, feel, and hear how their own particular losses affected them. They need to remember what happened, see what happened through their own new eyes, and through other people’s eyes. They need to sit awhile with themselves, experiencing again in the here-and-now what was done to them so long ago, and which has been so long forgotten, and which hurts so very much. And most times, we need others to sit awhile with us, too.

The Beginning of Wisdom

In Proverbs it says, “the beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom.” And so the way we heal ourselves is, we get healers. Though they speak to us through therapy, over tea, in church or synagogue or temple, through books or tapes or DVDs or free seminars or talks at the local library, speak they must. And we must listen, and humbly go forward for healing. They must lay their healing hands on our wounds, slap us on the forehead and shout, “BE HEALED!” shake the rattle, breathe smoke over our inert forms, apply the poultice, tell us to breathe, hold our hands, hug us, rock us, mutter an incantation, wield the antidote and warn, “This is going to sting.”

And then, we talk.

22 responses to “The Beginning of Wisdom”

  1. woundeddeer Avatar

    Hi Eve,
    I got my user name from a bit of a poem by Emily Dickinson, “A wounded deer leaps highest/I’ve heard the hunter tell;” I found it very empowering, especially after a female minister prayed for me and told me I would become a “wounded healer”. When I read the entire poem I found out the second line was not so uplifting, “‘Tis but the ecstasy of death/And then the brake is still.” On my blog, I posted a little essay(?) where I ponder about the deer surviving.

    I should be off writing my 5 page Hamlet for the end of the semester but I am drawn to this series. I can’t wait to see what else you have to say.

  2. yuppieaddict Avatar

    Ok… this is kinda funny timing…

    I regularly read a blog by Neil at

    And todays installment included a story from the Bible…

    “…And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”…”

    It jumped out at me that for centuries now, milleniums (or is it millenii?) in fact, people seem to have been going to various practitioners for healing of whatever kind and found no results. It really jumpped out at me that this Bible story said that she had suffered much under these physicians care and spent all her money.

    Sound familiar?

    If we substitute “Mental/Emotional/Relational healthcare provider” for “Physician”, it brings us right up to date to this thread. Eh?

    Ciao. Chaz

  3. davidrochester Avatar

    I’ve found that working with my needs in the present day is actually what brings the memory back, at least for me, because working with them is a series of blockages, and one of those usually holds some memory.

    I had one of these recently, in relation to a completely irrational reaction I had to someone trying to teach me something (I think you read that post, over at PDots). I was baffled by that … my feeling of being shamed was entirely irrelevant to the situation at hand, but was triggered by the same set of instructions being repeated again and again as though I hadn’t ever understood them, when my question had to do with the last item in the series of instructions.

    I really struggled with understanding what unmet need I was dealing with. It wasn’t exactly a need for approval, though there was some hint of that. It also wasn’t exactly a need to feel competent, though there was some hint of that as well. I finally gave up on trying to understand it, and just started working with the pieces … what do I need to do to allow myself to make mistakes while learning something? I knew that wasn’t actually the problem I was dealing with, but it was a starting point, at least.

    I was amazed that trying to soothe the wrong issue, which was the best I knew to do because the real problem was still hidden from me, brought back the memory I needed, and it was one that hit me like a ton of bricks, and which I really had completely lost, associated with how I was indoctrinated in a fundamentalist church. I don’t think I would have gotten the “why” if I hadn’t clumsily started with the “what.” And I was completely on the wrong track as far as how I was trying to address the present-day issue … but I’m amazed at how forgiving the self tends to be when I make a little effort (which I personally am very bad at doing; I’d rather ignore myself and tell me to shut up and sit down and stop bothering me).

    Anyway — I had some point, but now I appear to have forgotten what it was. Um. Hmmmm.

    Oh, right — I think I was trying to say that at least for me, working with the issue without knowing what it’s about is often effective in eventually giving me clues as to what it’s about. I sort of think of it as going to a foreign country and making some ludicrious effort to speak the language … my inner life appreciates the effort, and rewards me for being vulnerable and trying even when I know I’m doing it wrong.

  4. henitsirk Avatar

    David, you said, “What I’ve learned to do is observe my irrational reactions, and then sit quietly and ask if there is something I need to know.”

    That is something I do as well, as much as possible, but I have never received the gift of a recovered memory!

    I get the idea of different and equally valid memories of the same situation. I’m sure my memories of looking down from my bedroom window at my mom sunbathing in the backyard, wondering why she needed to be so distant so much of the time, are not the same as her memories of sunbathing, which probably had more to do with finding a way to not feel the anxiety and depression she so often felt.

    I believe that when I get unreasonably frustrated and angry with my children, those emotions are rooted in some unmet need of mine (to bring in Nonviolent Communication into the mix). So my challenge is to figure out what that unmet need is, and how to meet it without hurting my children. My problem is that I might be able to identify some need (to be acknowledged, to be respected, to be autonomous, etc.) but not why that need is my particular thorn in terms of childhood trauma.

    Maybe I don’t need to do that. Maybe I just need to sit with my needs and work with them in the present day.

  5. davidrochester Avatar

    Heni — I’m sure Eve has a great deal of wisdom about the fake memory phenomenon, but I happen to have seen your comment, and this is a topic much on my mind, so I’ll ramble for a second.

    I know that I have vast amounts of repressed and lost memory. Much of my childhood is completely gone, and I know about it only from anecdotal evidence from other people — chiefly my mother. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have lost my childhood in this way unless it needed to be kept away from me until I was ready to handle it.

    I don’t think that any good therapist is capable of implanting false memories, and I also think that a conscious client (such as you would be) would be very aware if this were being done. I do think that what confuses people sometimes is the difference between real memory and literal memory. No two people remember the same event in the same way, but that does not mean that either of their memories is inaccurate … each of them had the experience they had. The journey of therapy has suggested to me on many occasions that childhood memory is often a bit strange, because it is the memory of a child who does not have the capacity to contextualize experience. It sometimes seems wrong or irrational, but it’s not … it may not be the an accurate memory of the literal shape of events, but that doesn’t make the memory less real.

    One example of this that I can think of offhand from my own childhood … one of my defining childhood traumas was an incident in which I was quite seriously ill (though I didn’t look like I was; I had something that turned out to be fairly rare, and difficult to diagnose, so it seemed to observers that I must be exaggerating my description of how I felt) and begged my mother not to leave me with my father, whom I hated and of whom I was terrified. My perception was — and is — that she deliberately abandoned me in a dangerous situation, and didn’t care enough about me to stay with me when I was in great need of her. Her memory is that I seemed fine, she was leaving me with my own father (of whose misdeeds against me she was unaware at the time), and she was gone for twelve hours to attend a family wedding. Both of these memories are completely correct, but mine would be identified by a therapist as a legitimate source of trauma, whereas my mother would deny that it could possibly be that.

    So there’s that piece of it — that the accuracy of memory depends partly on whose memory it is.

    But as far as retrieving memory, and knowing it’s yours, rather than it being suggested by a therapist … there are two ways I personally have found to guarantee truthfulness.

    One is that kinesthetic memory doesn’t lie. I know that if my memory is accompanied by somatic sensation, if I really feel myself in that memory and it is from my point of view (as opposed to narrated memory in which you see yourself as a character) then it’s real, no matter how bizarre it seems. It may need to be investigated further, and it may not be entirely accurate factually, because it is a child’s memory based on a child’s understanding. But there is always truth there.

    The second useful thing I’ve found is that retrieved memory is very much like an intuitive flash. You don’t think about it; it’s just there. I know, when I have an irrational trigger in my current life, that it’s calling back to a former experience — and often I don’t know what that experience was, because the memory is gone. What I’ve learned to do is observe my irrational reactions, and then sit quietly and ask if there is something I need to know. When my mind is ready to give it back to me, I get the memory, and it is sudden, and completely intact. My therapist is not involved in this process — but she is involved in helping me to integrate and understand the information I bring to her after having found it myself.

    That, I think, is what a good therapist does for people with lost memories … he or she provides framework, and procedure, and support, and suggestions about how the client can find what is lost.

  6. henitsirk Avatar

    Well, that’s a bit of a lightbulb you turned on. I was certainly a very placid child, and I did not really experience anger until just before my children were born. I remember realizing that I felt angry, and how new and refreshing and powerful it was. But I had never learned how to experience it in a healthy way, so I see myself now becoming angry with my children and not being able to handle it well.

    I can say with some certainty that there was no molestation or other abuse, so I tend to think it must be a combination of my personality with whatever my parents’ behavior was at the time that led to this possible repression. And I’ve always been a bit leery of therapy, because I remember clearly the rash of essentially fake memories that therapists were instigating in people regarding abuse, back in the 1980s. I don’t have clear memories, but I don’t want anything foisted on me either.

  7. Eve Avatar

    Heni, in an odd bit of synchronicity, I happened to just be reading about foggy or lost memories. You hit the nail on the head by suggesting possible repression, which is what Alice Miller thought was going on.

    Before I quote her, I’ll suggest you do what they suggest in AA, which is to “take what you like, and leave the rest.” And another old saying is, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” So, yes, indirect evidence suggests something; on the other hand we have the big problem of therapists seeing molestation and other significant traumas behind every tree and “helping” clients to discover “lost memories.” I don’t think people need that kind of help, personally, and I think it’s dangerous on a variety of levels.

    Having said that, I’ll quote Alice Miller from “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” The particular edition I have is referred to at the end of “Good Help is Hard to Find.”

    On p. 9 she writes, “On the basis of my experience, I think that the cause of an emotional disturbance is to be found in an infant’s early adaptation. The child’s need for respect, echoing, understanding, sympathy, and mirroring have had to be repressing, with several serious consequences.”

    “One such consequence is the person’s inability to experience consciously certain feelings of his own (such as jealousy, envy, anger, loneliness, helplessness, or anxiety), either in childhood or later in adulthood. This is all the more tragic in that we are concerned here with lively people who are often capable of deep feelings. It is most noticeable when they describe childhood experiences that were free of pain and fear. They could enjoy their encounters with nature, for example, without hurting the mother or making her feel insecure, reducing her power, or endangering her equilibrium. It is remarkable how these attentive, lively, and sensitive children who can, for example, remembere exactly how they discovered the sunlight in bright grass at the age of four, at eight were unable to ‘notice anything’ or show any curiosity about their pregnant mother, or were ‘not at all’ jealous at the birth of a sibling. It is also remarkable how, at the age of two, such a child could be left alone and ‘be good’ while soldiers forced their way into the house and searched it, suffering the terrifying intrusion quietly and without crying. These people have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can experience her feelings only when there is somebody there who accepts her fully, understands her, and supports her. If that person is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother’s love or the love of her substitute in order to feel, then she will repress her emotions.”

    She goes on to say that, though the memories and emotions are shut off from a person, they will return some day unbidden, triggered by some event. However, since the cause of the emotion isn’t accessible by memory to the person, she’ll continue obliviously. The solution suggested by Miller is, “the connection can be deciphered only when the intense emotions have been experienced in therapy and successfully linked with their original situation” (p. 10).

    It sounds terribly presumptuous of me to disagree with the great Alice Miller on that last point, but I do think that not every single person has to experience and link this emotion in therapy. I agree with Thich Nhat Hanh that there are other types of listeners and friends who can be as effective.

  8. Eve Avatar

    Librarian, your wry but dreamy comment made me smile.

  9. The Librarian in Purgatory Avatar

    Ah, if I could only find the right words for me…then how I would dance.

  10. henitsirk Avatar

    Eve, I have a question: What if you can’t really remember your childhood wounds? As you said, we all seem to have them, but how do you heal them if you can’t see them clearly in the first place? I know that a lack of memory is probably a bad sign, perhaps some repression or defense against a wound (or a defensive mechanism to prevent more wounds?)…so there’s indirect evidence of a wound, but how do you really become conscious of it?

  11. davidrochester Avatar

    Eve — I’ll definitely make the book a priority.

    When I made the comment about clear inner sight, I wasn’t thinking specifically about therapeutic relationships, though that dynamic is a big part of the concept I was considering … it just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I was thinking more of self-help gurus, actually, and people who spread the gospel of New Age, uh, bullshit such as The Secret . Which is not to say that I don’t think we actively create our lives by thought and intention … I do think that. But I have seen so many hurting people suckered in by promises of healing based on little more than snake-oil enthusiasm … and then they are hurt more when of course it doesn’t work, which lessens their ability to seek real help from someone who knows how to be that (often challenging) guide.

    I do think that there needs to be more education regarding how to “vet” a therapist. I was particularly impressed with my current therapist when, at the first session, she was completely candid about the fact that based on what I’d told her, the process of healing would take years, that therapy would be hugely destabilizing and I shouldn’t undertake it unless I was realistically prepared for that, and that we would be entering uncharted territory full of both miracles and disasters that neither she nor I would be able to predict. She then went on to explain the level of support she was able to provide, and the strategies she would help me to implement so that I’d be able to tolerate the hardest parts of the work. (She later told me that she loses a lot of potential clients with this disclosure, and the ones who stay are the right clients for her to have.)

    RE: my unrealistic-ness … there have been people in my life who wanted to heal me, but they were people whom I approached for that purpose. Once I approach them, they usually really want to help me out. What I see about myself is a lack of acceptance of people’s fallibility. Most of my healers have been people whom I have come to know personally, or whose personal lives I have had the opportunity to observe, and whose own stumbling-blocks caused me to lose respect for them as people who could heal me, even when the work they were trying to do with me had absolutely nothing to do with the “weaknesses” I was observing.

    My voice teacher is a good example of this. She is literally a world-class coach, who is passionate about working with people who have been emotionally abused by music teachers or by the conservatory system. She is an incredibly patient, loving, sensitive woman, and I have seen her work miracles with people who were too terrified to utter a sound when they first started working with her. After working with me for a couple of years, and making amazing strides with my singing and not being able to move my stage fright at all, it was she who first suggested that I might have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, and she encouraged me to try to find the right avenue to explore that.

    In the course of knowing her, I observed the fact that her passionate faith in people had a shadow side … she lacks discernment. She had friends of whom I found I didn’t approve, and who later turned out to be people who were taking advantage of her. I hated the guy she was dating, who turned out to have a wife and children in another state, and four other women whom he was seeing at the same time. Did any of this have anything to do with her ability to help me resdiscover my right to express myself musically? Not really, and yet … seeing her blind spots caused me to lose confidence in her, and to lose respect for her.

    I don’t think this is a reasonable way to react to something like that, particularly since it didn’t have anything to do with what I was receiving from her. I think I have some confusion over the difference between the blind leading the blind, and people being on different journeys in different parts of their lives. I don’t think that Linda’s journey of interpersonal discernment impacted her capacity to bring the joy of music back into the lives of people who have had it beaten out of them … or maybe it does impact it in some enormously subtle way that I can’t articulate.

    I don’t think so, though … I think it’s more an outward projection of what I do all the time in my own life, which is to say “Well, I can’t do that [thing that involves advising or helping someone] because I’m a lunatic, and so it would be hypocritical.”

  12. yuppieaddict Avatar

    Eve… thanks for your post. There is a lot to it.

    What I connect with the most is that we are unlikely to heal alone or heal ourselves. I have yet to mee the person who has.

    I have observed someone who believes they have but they are the only one who feels they are healthy. All onlookers disagree.

    As for me, I have found progress in my healing journey in 12-step fellowships. Noting that the wording of the 12-steps almost always contains “we”.

    Relationships and communities were most often the source of our pain and injury. So to me it makes sense that we also heal in relationships and communities.

    My community is available most hours of the day. Whether it be a phone call to a fellow AA, a meeting, online dialogue, or a talk over coffee.

    Until I got in fellowship with people who traveled this journey before me, I found no healing. In fact, I got worse in isolation and self-reliance.

    Great post.

    Ciao. Chaz

    Eve replies:
    Hi, there, Chaz. Welcome to my blog! I’ve just visited yours.

    I love 12-Step programs. They’re effective and free, and there’s something for everyone. I think what you wrote here is so true, that “relationships and communities were most often the source of our pain and injury… we also heal in relationships and communities.”

    My own path has had more community than not, but has also required times of going it alone. I think this is true for everyone, and it is also part of the symbolic quest (thinking of Joseph Campbell here). But even in the quest symbolism, the quester returns with something for the community, and to community. He never just goes off to an island to live by himself. So I appreciate your comments, for they are spot on.

  13. The Librarian in Purgatory Avatar

    Judith Herman wrote in, “Trauma and Recovery:

    “Repeatedly in the testimony of survivors there comes a moment when a sense of connection is restored by another person’s unaffected display of generosity. Something in herself that the victim believes to be irretrievably destroyed— faith, decency, courage — is reawakened by an example of common altruism. Mirrored in the actions of others, the survivor recognizes and reclaims a lost part of herself.”

    Eve replies:
    TL, you seem to have a gift, that of using the right words at the right time, “like apples of gold in a silver setting.” Beautiful.

  14. David Rochester Avatar

    There is a great deal to think about here.

    One thought that occurred to me while I was reading had to do with the difficulty of identifying people who really are healers, who have that clear inner sight. I think that for people who have grown up surrounded by insanity, it’s both difficult to recognize those people, and difficult to allow them to be human once they’re recognized.

    Hmmm. Now that I’ve typed that, I think those are two different problems, depending on how one responded to the stress of being inappropriately parented. Anyway, I’ve seen people who are seeking healing sucked in by charlatans, by people whose motives and agendas are unclean, by people who feed off the neediness and lack of boundaries of those who are seeking connection and healing. It’s hard for someone who has always been surrounded by unclean agendas to recognize truth, I think — if only because they haven’t been trained to understand that the truth often stings.

    I see myself on the opposite end of the spectrum, as someone who has almost unerring instincts about what’s clean and what isn’t, but with unrealistic standards for the people who want to heal me; God help them if they’re fallible. This is just as self-defeating as if I weren’t able to recognize a good thing when I see it.

    I’ve had the Peck book in my library forever, but haven’t read it yet. Maybe I should give it a try.

    Eve replies:
    David, Peck’s book on evil is one of my favorites. I generally try to re-read it about once a year, or every 18 months. Perhaps one of my favorite stories in the book is his case study in the beginning of the book of concerned parents whose son is the identified patient. The way Peck describes their song and dance as they came to him for help is just so good. If you read it, I hope you’ll write about your impressions.

    Interesting, the way you went right to the bull’s eye on the therapist issue: “clear inner sight.” I think I wrote that a therapist should not be visionally-impaired; put your way, which is a proactive way, I like it even better. It’s easier to find visionally-impaired and the various and sundry near- or farsighted therapists than it is to find one with “clear inner sight.” Heh. You give me something to think about!

    I am just writing about the problem of finding good help so will leave some of my thoughts on that off till I do. I will say, though, that the therapist is supposed to (ethically) give the client “informed consent to treatment.” This should include the sting (possible difficulties) of therapy. When a professional doesn’t do this, they’re just missing the mark. I think it bears repeating, when one is doing healing work, to let the client know what the predictable, wide range of possible outcomes and difficulties may be. And then leave room for surprises!

    What “unrealistic standards” do you have for people who want to heal you? As an aside, I have to say that when you wrote “people who want to heal” you, I had an antenna go up. Why would a person want to heal you, rather than you wanting them to heal you? Where’s the locus of control in that situation, I wondered? I think I’d feel suspicious of a person who wanted to heal me too, as in, “Come here and let me fix that for you… let me get that for you…. let me… FIX that.” This is different than “can you help me with this?”

    Anyway. Something rang distantly for me when I read that turn of phrase. Probably my own bats in the belfry. ;o)

    So anyhoo, I’m interested in knowing just how unrealistic your standards are, and how you know they’re unrealistic. (As in “leaps high buildings in a single bound” unrealistic???).

  15. deb Avatar

    “…we’re not fully adult. We know it, and feel vaguely or sharply anxious much or most or all of the time. We’re anxious because we don’t want to see, and we don’t want anyone else to see, just how maimed we really are and what a farce our so-called adult lives are.”

    I never felt like an adult, not even with three children and a husband, until I turned forty. My family always treated me like a child and so did my husband in a way. And I acted like a child, which is hard to admit. But I did, I acted like a spoiled child who wanted what I wanted, when I wanted it which was NOW. It makes more sense now though, reading this. I never did really grow up and I’m only now learning to separate myself from my family and from other people in general. My own boundaries have always been so blurry, as are my mother’s, she constantly oversteps into my space, my life and I find myself doing the same with my own children. I’ve run off two of my children in an effort to let them be independent of me and I’m seriously considering running off the last one:)

    Hopefully I can learn how to be myself, separate and whole, without having to isolate myself from those I love. Fingers crossed. By the way, you’re my mentor, just so you know. No pressure or anything:)

    Eve replies:

    Deb, you probably guessed that I’ve felt the same way—not feeling fully adult even though I was one. It’s rather painful and bewildering, isn’t it, especially when you have children of your own?

    What you wrote about your boundaries and your mother’s made me smile wryly, because I just had a boundary-less moment (several of them, actually) on Thanksgiving Day with my own mother, followed by an enlightening dream that night that finished off a puzzle I’ve been working at for decades. At least, it feels finished off… but who knows? Perhaps I’ll say otherwise later.

    It’s typical to have blurry boundaries when we don’t have our whole selves back yet. And then mothering itself provides a natural and needful blurring of boundaries. Baby doesn’t know that he even exists yet! This seems to last for a good long while. I watched my 21-month-old granddaughter try to climb up my daughter’s legs last week, imploring, “Mummy, I wand yewww! I wand yewww!” She looked for all the world like she thought my daughter’s body belonged to her. And yet, she also knew there was a “yewww.” Contrast that with the mother who isn’t even there for the toddler who “wands yewww,” or with the mother who pushes her clingy toddler away, or who does anything other than what my daughter does, which is to look into her child’s face, question, “You want me?” and take my granddaughter’s needs seriously, and then scoop her up and hold her. That’s mothering. But since we don’t know what we were getting before we turned two years old, all we have are our body-based, residual memories of something that doesn’t feel good to this very day. We know the truth somehow, but because we have no memory to attach to it, no dream in the present helping us, and no story told by our mothers or siblings or fathers about how it really was, we are left kind of wandering around, looking for our true selves and wailing plaintively, “I wand yewwww!”

    Let’s just take that seriously, look it full in the face, lift that little self up and cuddle it, I say.

    You wrote that you’ve “run off” two children, but I know you didn’t actually do that. You launched them or had boundaries you had to put into effect that are entirely appropriate and healthy. But you write “run off” because there’s something about launching them or asserting appropriate boundaries that doesn’t fit in with your own launching script you received from your parents.

    This is interestingly coincidental, because I am in the midst of a launching experience with two of my children, and plan to write about that within the next week, as soon as I can figure out how to do that in a respectful way and have finished through thinking about my personal launching from my family of origin (ah, that’s where the mine fields are!). The fact is that people whose real selves are loved and wanted launch differently than those whose weren’t. And I’d suspect that you were not launched perfectly, and so launching your kids has dredged stuff up. I know you’re going to just love me (wink, wink) for pointing out that little slip of unconsciousness showing when you wrote that you ran off your kids. Your homework is to stop right now and write down the first ten associations that pop into your head when you say the words RUN OFF. Ready, go!

    *Cackles wildly*

    As for being your mentor, hoo boy. That’s kind of you to say and heady, and humbling and makes me smile. This seems to indicate that you feel you’re learning something from me. I want to point out that I learn so much from you. What attracted me to your blog and has kept me reading all the time is your sometimes staggering honesty. I think you read Meno’s blog, too, and she and Crazymumma are exactly the same way: breathtakingly honest. You are *my* mentor in that way, Deb. I am not nearly as transparent and honest as you when I write.

    There’s a proverb that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I think this is true. And it’s good to know we are sharpening one another, helping to shape one another into better, more whole, people.

  16. Carmen Avatar

    I am going to read this one again and think about it before responding. I am very greatful to the Universe for leading me to your blog. For me it’s a classroom but with insight that doesn’t come from a textbook. It is especially interesting to me now since I am taking the class Family Systems Theories.

    In my Master’s program I had to take Human Development. In that class we had to complete an autobiography. I completed my 10 page paper and let my mother read it. She handed it back to me after reading the first two pages and pronounced she would not read anymore. I didn’t understand and I asked her to explain. She asked me why everything sounded so negative…I talked about my family being addicts, my favorite uncle dying in a motorcycle accident due to being drunk when I was three, my biological father abandoning me when I was one and my mother’s guilt from being a pregnant teenageer who was a preacher’s daughter.

    These are the things I have connected and these things surround my thoughts when I think about growing up. I wondered what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t get past the negative. Of course my mother is in complete denial but she said to me…Carmen, do you not remember the fun you had with your uncles and all of the attention you received? Do you not remember getting new puppies, a rabbit once and even a duck for Easter? Do you not remember the family camping trips to Canada, Yellowstone, Key West, don’t remember THOSE things?

    Well, I do remember those things. I wonder why I fixate on the negative and why I feel like I can maybe “fix” it or perhaps come to some sort of resolution. My own philosphy tells me it is what it is and I grew from each of my experiences.

    I have some sense of entitlement and I suppose part of that comes from getting the attention I received from my large family as a child. I don’t know why I want everything perfect. I don’t know why I feel like I got the short end of the stick when it comes to parents.

    Was it to much to ask to want a mother and father who got married and stayed together? Was it to much to ask to want ONE father and not three? To much to want a mother who didn’t work 12 hour shifts and then come home and tell my sister and I “give me an hour” before we talk to her so she can unwind from work then spend the next 2 hours on the phone counseling co-worker’s or friends while we went to bed? Why is it I feel jealous when I see parents out with their children shopping, taking walks or going on trips together? Why can’t I have that? Does this make me selfish?

    For me the healing process has been talking with my family about these things. My grandmother and grandfather are especially helpful. When I moved 3 hours away from my mother my grandfather congratulated me for getting away from the sick family system my mother has somehow created for my sister and I. My sister lives 5 blocks from my mother and my grandmother 3 blocks. My sister and mother are constantly in a power struggle and it’s a sick, sad game.

    I think it just hurts me to know how sad everyone is and I internalize that and make it my own pain. That’s it! (lightbulb moment folks) I hold onto everyone else’s pain and this is why I remember the bad. Somehow I have to change it around so I can heal. I want to remember the good and encourage my loved one’s to also heal.

    Thank you, Eve, for constant insight.

    Eve replies:

    You’re welcome, Carmen. I’m amazed at your lightbulb moment at the end of your comment. Do you think, then, that you externalize your own pain by holding onto the pain of others, especially those in your family of origin? And then this would keep your personal pain at arm’s length, over there with the ‘other,’ wouldn’t it? I am just writing another article about that, from Alice Miller, who has such a great chapter on psychotherapists and just how many are themselves unhealed folks, using their clients for their own purposes. If you haven’t read her book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, I recommend it to you now because that’s exactly what she’s written about. The book’s subtitle, which I prefer to the actual title, is “the search for the true self.” If you haven’t read it, I hope you will. So many intelligent but wounded folks go into helping professions and have children (or both) and do to their clients and children what was done to them–unconsciously, of course–that some sort of insurance ought to be taken out by the clincian against herself, or himself! I know that I’ve been downright paranoid about my own self as a mother and former therapist, fearing above everything else that I’d unconsciously victimize others as I was victimized. The only ‘insurance’ I know for this is to get one’s own therapy and accountability and keep up with personal mental health checkups. Or, as Jesus said, “Physician, heal thyself.”

    But I digress.

    You shared about your paper, which you boldly (in my opinion) gave to your mother to read. That she read only two pages and handed it back says a lot, doesn’t it? I have two published books, and my parents have read neither book, even though I gave them the books as gifts. In fact, when I had that first-publication thrill of handing my first book to my father, he accepted the book, paused, and then said, “This is great, sugar, but I’ve always said you should have written fiction.”

    “Hah,” I thought… “our lives are fiction, Dad.” Sigh.

    So I can identify. This sort of experience is why I haven’t yet invited my parents to read my blog, though I’ve thought about it. But on the other hand, I figure if they can’t read or comment on my books or on any part of my personal life already, why bother to invite them to read me today? I have nothing to teach them, nothing I need to display to them, no grudge, no axe to grind with them, no salt to rub into any remaining wound, no need for vindictive triumph, no compulsion to enlighten or teach or otherwise help them in any way, shape or form. And nor do I need to give my true self, regained and resurrected and found at such great cost and pain over so many decades, to the very people who taught me how unvaluable and unwanted she was in the first place. No, I don’t think so. There really is no point in my doing that.

    So of course I wonder what you made of that situation with your mother and your paper. I see above that you made a lot of the ideas and images, longings and sorrows, for yourself. Have you ever offered those insights to your mother? Maybe the paper did that… or maybe it was like a catalog of pain, whereas the actual truth was like what you wrote above, a poem of sorts… something of the spirit because it expressed longing.

    It interests me that your mother immediately pointed to what you did get as a child, as if those things or events or appearances-of-relationships were her own talismans against the anxiety and pain of recognizing that she did not give you what you so needed. And where did her own lack come from? And so on.

    Also, have you offered her anything you’ve written since then? And what response did she have?

  17. Elizabeth Avatar

    To echo what Mei-ling said, last year when I was in therapy my “therapist” said, “You need to realize that not all adoptions turn out bad. Some people are happy to be adopted. I know so-and-so and they are thrilled blah blah blah.” I should have walked out right then, but silly me I went back for more sessions and found myself trying to educate my “therapist”.

    I’ve read “People of the Lie”, and IMO it is a fantastic book, Peck really nailed NPD.

    Eve replies:

    Elizabeth, thank you for being here. I was afraid that the abortion discussion of a few weeks ago might drive you away. I’m so glad that it didn’t, and I’m happy to see you here.

    I felt appalled and sad when I read about your experience with your therapist. There are so many ways in which that communication are just all wrong in terms of being not helpful. “Shoulding” a client, telling them what they “need to realize,” and making those kinds of statements seem very much to me like the very statements and communications that marginalize the entire experience of being adopted, of having lost one’s whole birth family and history, and of being in a sort of limbo between birth and adoptive families. As if you went there to have what invalidated your own true feelings in the first place told you all over again. As if a system of denial needed to gain more ground in your life.

    I’m so sorry for that. There are so few therapists who understand adoption, foster care, childbearing loss, etc. already; those who do may also be questionable because they normally come into specialized work due to their own interests–or even due to their own unhealed wounds or unfulfilled agendas. However, I do personally know some who are very good and who “get it” very well, and who also are personally affected by adoption somehow. So they’re out there. The problem is, they don’t ever seem to be where we are! ;o)

    My unasked-for personal opinion about adoption “issues” and therapy is that someone wanting help with those things ought to read the adoption healing, philosophy, and practice canon first, then go to some conferences, and then seek a therapist afterward. One good tip I’ve offered to other adoption involved people, though, is that therapists specializing in divorce, or marriage and family (systems) therapists are generally better equipped than most to competently handle adoption stuff. I also put Jungians, depth psychologists, and Freudians high on my personal competence scale.

    Finally, I’ll say that I think it’s OK if a therapist needs to be educated in some ways by the client. But a therapist who tells a client what they “should” understand, feel, or think before fully exploring what they have understood, felt, and thought in the past and what they understand, feel, and think in the present, and what they hope to understand, feel, and think in the future… well, that therapist is a doofus. It sounds to me like you did exactly the right thing by moving on.

    My only questions are: did your therapist pay you for his/her education? And did you manage to find a more helpful therapist? If not, what did you do to help yourself?

  18. woundeddeer Avatar

    Thank you for this series Eve, it is pushing my buttons in a good way. I also appreciate the Christian influence, since that is my first encounter with healing.

    When this series began I started questioning my user name, Woundeddeer. I wondered if I was engaging in public wallowing. Maybe I just needed to heal and move on with my life. That is always the first response I have to material on healing and/or forgiveness.

    I realized it is still difficult for me to embrace the depth of my distress, I do often feel ashamed that I am not “over it” yet. The way you are approaching this material is very respectful and it has helped me immensely. These posts often sound like the voice of one who has made it over to the other side. It gives me hope.

    Eve replies:
    Woundeddeer, I noticed your user name, of course, the first time you commented and I wondered about it then. I have only good associations with deer, though, as it is one of my daughters’ totem animals, a symbol of protection, grace and beauty that we’ve all come to appreciate. The fact that there’s a “wounded” in there only brings into sharp relief the tenuous nature of mortal life. But I’ve wondered how you decided on that user name, and if you care to share about that, I’d like to know more.

    I’ve taken exception to the way that 12-Step programs consider people in recovery to always be “in recovery” and never recovered, which is what comes up in my mind when you mention that you may have needed “to heal and move on” with your life. On the other hand, as Alice Miller says, the past isn’t really corrected, as we can’t go back and undo what was done. Some things that we get only as infants, if we get them at all (such as unconditional love) we can never get later, when we are responsible for our actions. Perhaps one way of looking at healing is that we don’t heal and move on with our lives; we heal and take our scars with us.

    I’ve come to regard my own wounds and scars as part of who I am and part of what I was given in this life. That I have healed in so many ways is a testimony of God’s grace and work in my life, and of course all my own hard work, and the abundant, generous patience of those who have loved me. And also of those who have hated me! I have received some of my most profound truths from enemies, who ought to be taken seriously, in my opinion.

    My dear deer, I’m not sure what being “over it” means, really. Whenever I turn my eyes inward I can easily question my own journey “to the other side.” But I remind myself that feeling the pain again doesn’t mean that no healing occurred. Because the pain isn’t physical, but is psychic, of course we can call it to mind and re-experience it over and over again, if we so choose. Or if we need to, for some reason. When I look at my life from that certain angle, I have to revisit my memories, my history, and ask myself if there’s some old thing I have new insights or feelings or grief about. Then I listen and find out if something is there. And if for some reason I’m having a hearing problem or reception problem, I have some folks in my life I know can help me over that bump.

    So anyway, I can say that I am much more conscious than ever before. And I expect that this time next year, I’ll be even more conscious. It isn’t a rose petal-strewn path. But it is a good path, as substantial and wholesome as newly-baked whole grain bread. And that’s enough for me right now.

    Keep going. Keep your eye on the ball. And thank you for your comments, because comments are the only way I know if I’m even making sense! I’m glad that what I’m writing here is doing someone some good by way of encouragement. We’re fellow pilgrims.

  19. Eve Avatar

    Mei-Ling. My knee-jerk reaction to your writing that “many people do not see [losing one’s birth family] as a loss that needs to be validated” was, “Yeah, dumb people.”

    I imagine that people who think that being adopted doesn’t have losses attached to it would change their minds if they had the same thing done to them. If we took their parents and wiped their memories clean so that they had no history and no past, no connection to anyone like them, and plunked them down into a brand new family and said, “Here ya go! Here’s your nice, new, loving family! Yahoo!” they probably wouldn’t throw a party about it on Day 1. Or even Day 10 or Day 255.

    But that’s probably just me. ;o)

  20. Mei-Ling Avatar

    You and I have had discussions on the aspect of “healing” before.

    Just wanted to note that in adoption (and I know this post isn’t necessarily adoption-related) that many people do not see it as a loss that needs to be valiated.

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