If there is a single lament I hear from daughters working on making sense of their experiences and striving to get free of the old patterns which get in their way in the present it’s this: “Why does it take so long to heal?” The short answer is that the damage was done over time and it’s intricate so that the process of undoing it—given the lack of a magic wand—takes time and effort as well. Therapy helps cut to the chase, as many daughters attest, but doesn’t necessarily finish the work. But there are steps you can take now.
Make sure that you’re not letting your frustration turn into self-blame, adding yet another critical voice to the litany of self-criticism you may hear in your head. Try to be patient and understanding with yourself without letting it devolve into self-pity. Remember that you’re not the only one struggling with these issues and that everyone acknowledges that healing from them is very hard.
Here are four suggestions to help you on the way.
1. Use positive memories to bolster your sense of self
This isn’t a call for you to turn into Pollyanna or put on rose-colored glasses but, instead, for you to focus on the people who really did and do love you, both now and then. Using recall to still self-criticism can be very helpful, as can focusing on the traits and characteristics you like about yourself. If you’re coming up empty-handed, ask a friend to list two or three things he or she likes about you and hone in on those. Research studies show that anxiety can be quelled simply by focusing on a positive recollection—it can be a place or a person—to help regulate your emotions. Writing your recollection down in full detail—describing the person physically, the encounter itself, the words exchanged—is even more helpful.
2. Use “cool” processing when thinking about the past
I write about this all the time but it’s the single most important piece of advice you can be given when you are thinking about your experiences and trying to make sense of them. “Hot” processing—recalling what you felt when your mother’s words turned into a verbal assault or how you cried and cried when she ignored your pleas once again—will have you relive the moment with intensity and only serves to re-open the wound and, most probably, spin you into a cycle of rumination. Most important, recalling “what” doesn’t help you push through your feelings into new understanding but, even worse, usually leaves you stuck.
“Cool” processing has you focused on why you felt as it you did, and the experts suggest that you look at the experience as though it happened to someone else and as if you were seeing at a great distance. This permits you to focus on the dynamic in the moment—to see your emotions as a response to a situation—and to understand why they were triggered. The next step is to label your feelings as precisely as you can. Did this experience make you feel angry? Sad? Frightened? Ashamed? Understanding how we have learned to defend ourselves against certain emotions is part of the process.
3.Work on becoming self-compassionate
Healthy self-love is often very hard for daughters who grew up feeling unloved, especially if that self-critical voice is always at the ready. “How do I this when I don’t feel worthy to begin with?” one reader asked me on Facebook. One way to start is to spend time with photographs from your childhood and adolescence and look at that girl as if you were a stranger. I am willing to bet that you will start to see someone very different from the girl your mother’s words reflected—a small child or a young girl who was very worthy of love and deserved it. Years ago, I went through all the old photos of me, looking for the impossible-to-deal-with, difficult, argumentative, unlovable and “fat” daughter my mother always described. All I saw was a kid who was a bit of a tomboy with curly hair and a big smile and mischief in her eyes—me then.
4. Start thinking about healing in a new way.
Recently, a reader asked me a very poignant question: “Don’t you ever wonder who you might have been, if you’d been loved by your mother? I do all the time.” I may have wondered about that years ago but no longer; I know the answer is that I would have been more, in some ways, and less in others. But what I have spent a lot of years thinking about is the word “healing.” It means to “make whole” and I’m pretty sure that the kind of wholeness all unloved daughters wish for—that wave of the magic wand so that you end up being one of those daughters who can laugh with their mothers or sit at a bar together, sipping wine and talking, the kinds of daughters whose mothers wrote them silly notes and bought surprises when they were young—just isn’t going to happen. I used to say that the hole in your heart gets smaller over time and that your perspective on it changes but whether it shrinks to a pinprick or is something larger, it still remains a hole.
Now, I think we need to revise what we consider healing and wholeness and the perfect metaphor is the Japanese art of Kintsugi. In the West, when something valuable gets damaged or broken, we seek to restore it to its pristine state so that it looks whole again, as if nothing untoward ever happened to it.
Kintsugi—its name means “golden joinery”—takes a very different point of view. The treasured object—a work of art, a family heirloom, a beloved bowl, plate, or vessel—is repaired with precious metals, making the cracks and broken places part of the aesthetic of the piece, and making its damage and survival part of its history. How fabulous is that?
I think this is how we need to look at healing. To close our wounds with new understanding but, nonetheless, to realize that our experiences make us unique, not flawed. Think of the repairs you are making to the broken pieces of your spirit as rivers of gold. Think Kintsugi.
All Images courtesy of and copyright Lakeside Pottery; works made by Morty Bachar.
For more, please visit:http://www.lakesidepottery.com
Kross, Ethan, Ozlem Ayduk, and Water Mischel, “When Asking ‘Why’ Doesn’t Hurt: Distinguishing Rumination from Reflective Processing of Negative Emotions,”Psychological Science (2005), vol. 16, no.9, 709-715.