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Last weekend, I went to visit my mother-in-law.
She had asked for me, after not speaking to me for over two years.
In these last several years of my journey, as I step more and more confidently into my sovereignty, I’ve lost people to silence.
As I break out of my identity as the pleaser, the fixer, the one who feels responsible for everyone’s mood, and prioritize my own needs instead, many people in my life experience this as an act of war.
As I shatter the status quo, no longer playing by the rules others are attached to, I appear as a threat to relationships that depended on me being a good, obedient, and quiet girl.
Our families have become incubators for perpetuation—not only of species, but of ideologies, traditions, traumas, and dysfunction. Women police other women to stay with the program, to self-sacrifice, and to remain mute, unconsciously repeating the way things have always been done before. My own mother struggled to see me as a person outside of my role as a mother. My mother-in-law was unable to see me as an individual outside of my role as wife to her son.
I experienced people’s judgment, silencing, and blocking of me as rejection and betrayal. It was painful on many levels.
I was particularly hurt because, after more than 30 years of being part of my family-in-law, I thought we were more connected. I believed they loved me for me, not just as the wife of their son and brother. After all, they met me when I was 22, younger than one of my daughters now. They’ve watched me grow and shared in the joys and sorrows of our expanding family over the decades.
Tribal loyalty in families is what I think and write about a lot. As in many other relationships formed in the old paradigm, we objectify family members to serve our needs. We forget that the person with whom we are relating is a sovereign individual with thoughts, needs, and desires of their own, that are often different from ours.
I believe that learning to respect each other’s differences and not view them as a threat is the path to true authenticity in relationships.
If the other person is only focused on pleasing us—without pushing back or displaying their own needs—we are in relationship with our own ego, not with the other person.
Over the years, through my own process, I’ve made peace with the silence of people by whom I used to feel loved. After allowing the initial pain and anger, I was able to remember and focus on all the love I used to feel from them. The many gestures and acts of love and shared experiences during several decades of life that I am grateful for.
It is with this open heart that I went to visit my mother-in-law last weekend.
But our first conversation had me feeling judged and completely misunderstood.
I did not react in the moment, although my feelings were big. I went for a long walk to process them. I was upset. I was hurt. No, I was angry! I spent several hours ruminating on the unfairness of the judgmental words thrown at me, while I prepared a revengeful rebuttal. I was planning to say hurtful words to my husband, to put him in the middle.
After a while, I was finally able to come back to the witness point of view and remembered that the pain I feel in my body is not caused by anyone on the outside. These are my own wounds that haven’t been nurtured yet, that were reawakened by some words spoken by my mother-in-law.
I was able to drop into my body and nurture my rejected inner child as the mother I needed in that moment.
I wrote in my journal:
“I see you! I understand you! I know what you went through! I know how hard it was and I know the heroic deeds you performed to survive. No one can ever understand the depth of your feelings, of what you felt in your body. The fear you faced alone. But I do! I know what you went through, and I am proud of you!”
By the time I returned that afternoon, I was still feeling on the defensive. I went into my bedroom and closed the door. I was hiding, still unsure how to integrate back into the family relating. To my surprise, my husband came to me with a bowl of food he prepared and asked if I was hungry. I hesitated for a moment, considering whether to accept his offering or to not eat in prideful silence, as I intended. Refusing food is a childhood coping mechanism that is so familiar I often do not even notice it.
I accepted the food. As I was eating it, I allowed myself to feel the pleasure of a dish that I love. I noticed my body relaxing as I let myself be nourished by the warm, home-cooked meal. As I was eating, I realized how hungry I was and how good it felt to satisfy my hunger. I noticed how—as I was filling this basic need—my mood was improving with every bite. When I was done, I closed my eyes and whispered: “Thank you! I receive.”
Having received love that was on offer, I was ready to engage again. From a calm place, I shared some of my stories with my mother-in-law who missed the details of how far I’ve come in the last few years. I wasn’t trying to prove anything or convince her that I am still a good girl. I said “no” when I felt I needed to, and spoke about my life and my work with authentic passion and joy.
As my husband and I were leaving for home a few days later, my mother-in-law hugged me and said: “I’m so envious of your life!” When I expressed surprise and asked her to clarify what she meant, she said, “To live a life of passion is a great blessing!”
I left her with a heart that was light and at peace.
I had the potential to create quite an emotional mess that weekend. Instead, I stayed true to myself and showed up for my inner child, attending to my emotions, regulating my nervous system, and accepting love that was being offered with gratitude. In my relationships with others I now try to engage as an adult, whole, sovereign being—as someone who feels safe to be me.
I can do that now because as I take care of my inner child, she no longer needs to run my adult relationships in order to get attention.
As I live in safety to be me, I allow others the safety to be who they are.
We often expect, even demand, safety to be guaranteed to us by others. On my journey toward embodied wisdom, I have discovered that emotional safety is sourced within. This is the new paradigm of relating. I preach it because I live it and benefit from the ease and the spontaneous release of good will it brings.
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