Question from a listener:
I just finished listening to your episode on the Reclaiming You podcast with Sarah Vance. A question instantly popped into my head while listening. Sarah asked, “How does a daughter know that it’s time to revisit the relationship with her mother after a separation?” And you responded by saying when they no longer are using the word “toxic,” when the anger has passed, and when they know that they will honor and respect themselves in such a relationship, being able to remain grounded in who they are.
My question is, how to you begin to get over the guilt if that time never came? I’m 36 now and my mother died three years ago. Near her death I was only beginning to tackle the emotional wound of our relationship, only just beginning to realize that autonomy was an option, that I even had that right. Because of this, I chose (for my own mental health) to not see her or go to her funeral. My entire family of origin was dysfunctional and I knew going would cause a debilitating break down of some sort. I just could not do it, and I didn’t want my kids involved in that. I had to be there to take care of my own family.
I guess what I’m trying to get to is, how do you make peace with the idea of never actually making peace with your mother?
Thank you so much for all of your work and for sharing your story. To feel less alone concerning such a taboo topic is life changing.
I don’t have a neat and tidy answer.
We make peace by allowing ourselves to be broken open and gutted by situations that are painful and unfair.
We make peace by acknowledging loss.
We make peace by choosing to grieve well.
We make peace by choosing relief.
We make peace by choosing to feel guilt because we’ve chosen to feel relief.
We make peace by giving ourselves permission to choose any and all emotions (even guilt).
We make peace by knowing that if guilt is a choice, then no-guilt is also a choice.
We make peace when we do not judge our emotions as good or bad, right or wrong.
We make peace when we understand that peace happens in tiny, seemingly insignificant moments.
We make peace by accepting that the situation is the situation.
We make peace by accepting that our mothers are who they are (or were).
We make peace by accepting that we are who we are.
We make peace by practicing peace.
How to practice?
In sitting down and writing out your thoughts to me, you created a moment of awareness for yourself. A moment of peace.
And then, perhaps, you bounced back into guilt and regret.
This is normal. This is human. When our brains are used to one way of being, and they’re introduced to a new way of being, they will tend to bounce back to what they’re used to. For those of us who grow up with guilt and regret (and dysfunction), guilt and regret (and dysfunction) can feel normal and familiar.
With courage, devotion, creativity, and practice, you can transform from being a guilty and regretful daughter who sometimes finds peace…into a peaceful woman who – from time to time – feels guilty and regretful.
It’s in those guilty and regretful moments that you can breathe and place your hands over your heart, even if just for a moment.
(Consciously create peace for yourself: hands-over-heart is a simple and quick way to calm the amygdala – aka lizard brain – which is responsible for the fight-flight-freeze reaction.)
Conscious creativity (which takes place in the prefrontal cortex) is the opposite of fear (which takes place in the amygdala).
The more aware you become, the more you recognize that you now have a choice and that you have preferences – you get to create what you would prefer.
Sometimes what you prefer will be at odds with what you unconsciously create. Sometimes you will stumble and feel awkward. Sometimes you won’t be able to “out-think” your negative thoughts, and nor should you. This isn’t about being happy-happy-joy-joy all the damned time. No. That’s a recipe for chronic anxiety.
Your power lies in consciousness – in knowing that it doesn’t matter whether you create guilt or peace in any given moment.
Your power lies in knowing that you, in fact, created.
You might say to yourself, “But I shouldn’t create guilt for myself! I should create peace!”
Rather than beat yourself up for what you have created, revel in the contrast of what’s possible.
Much, much love,