I’m a great believer in fresh starts, especially if you’re a work-in-progress and healing from childhood wounds and you’re feeling stuck, as everyone does now and again. To that end, I look to the start of a new month as a blank page, the start of a new season which always has a different kind of energy, and, of course, the biggest start-your-engines of them all, the New Year. But I’m not talking traditional resolutions here (because they don’t work, for one thing); instead, let’s focus on some mindsets and skills that can help you stay on track and make real progress. The ideas are drawn from my books, Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life and the newly released The Daughter Detox Companion Workbook: A Year of Guided Journaling, Inspiration, and Tools to Heal, which is organized by the calendar year and begins with January.
Before we look at what what to focus on, let’s do a checklist of what you need to let go of.
3 things to try to chuck in 2019
Please note the words “try to” above; not one of these things is actually easy to let go of. Letting go is actually a process which requires you not just to control your thoughts and emotions but only truly takes place when you’ve substituted a new behavior for the old one you are quitting. The words “let go” are very misleading; it takes a lot more effort than simply dropping the string and allowing the balloon to float away.
- Kick your impatience to the curb
You spent many years in your childhood room and under your mother’s or father’s influence; the ways of coping you learned in that time which have proven to be maladaptive for thriving as an adult will take real time to unlearn. I completely understand why a part of you is fed up and impatient but you must be kinder to yourself and have some patience with your efforts. You will get there; it just takes time.
- Abandon that self-critical gaze
Recognize that becoming self-critical—pinning every failure, misstep, or mistake on your supposed character flaws—is a default position bequeathed by childhood experiences. Likely as not, what your inner voice is whispering is probably an echo of what was said to you by your mother, father, or other family members. When you find yourself thinking that, of course, things didn’t work out because you’re dumb or lazy or unattractive or anything else, stop yourself. Put whatever it was that was disappointing in context and see what role you did play. This doesn’t mean putting on rose-colored glasses but, instead, being realistic about what you brought to the party.
- Stop second-guessing yourself
This too is an old habit fueled by not trusting your perceptions, thoughts, and judgments. When you find yourself re-visiting a stressful situation or even an encounter or conversation you found unsettling, try to see it from a third-party perspective or as a stranger might. Ask yourself questions using that distanced perspective: Was your response appropriate and measured? If not, why not and what did your behavior contribute to the situation? Answer the questions objectively and not judgmentally. Did you read the situation correctly? Getting in the habit of stepping away and seeing what you are seeing accurately and what you need to pay more attention to in the future will help you maintain an even keel and enable you to trust your perceptions more.
5 ways to jumpstart healing
As I explain in my books, healing is an active process and largely consists of unlearning all the behaviors you learned in childhood as self-protection and substituting new ones. I always use a garden metaphor because it really works. When an invasive plant takes over the garden, your first impulse may to lop it off but unless and until you pull it out by the roots, it will simply grow back. That’s especially true of our unconscious behaviors; quick fixes don’t work. Instead, you have to dig deep and pull the behavior out by the roots, and see where it got its start. It’s at that point that you can begin to tend your own inner garden and substitute new behaviors.
- Work on naming your emotions—every day
Unloved daughters and sons suffer deficits not only in the regulation and management of strong emotions but in emotional intelligence. Luckily, emotional intelligence is a skill set and, yes, it can be learned and improved for which we owe the human brain and its malleability a zillion thanks. Knowing what you’re feeling with precision is often very difficult for women and men who’ve had a toxic childhood so it’s important for you to work at not just distinguishing your emotions but naming them. One way to do that is to journal about situations, using cool processing; when you recall an incident, you write about why you felt as you did. Ask yourself what you felt in the moment: Was it anger or pain? Shame? Anxiety or fear? or disgust? Did you feel lost or hopeless? Understanding why we are triggered when we are is a key to healing, as is knowing what we feel.
- Practice self-talk by asking questions
Yes, be your own best inner cheerleader but skip the affirmations and use the format of a question instead because research shows that it works: Will I be kinder to myself? Will I work on loving myself? Affirmations don’t nudge the brain into thought; you can say “I will love myself” one hundred times a day and nothing much will happen. But if you ask “Will I love myself today?” you’ll start to think about what it actually means to love yourself. Does it mean not jumping on the bandwagon of self-criticism today? Does it mean treating yourself to some quiet time which you desperately need? Does it mean ordering a pizza because you are exhausted and don’t feel like cooking?
- Use visualization to calm yourself
People with a secure style of attachment calm themselves in times of stress by automatically bringing images and memories to mind that reassure them; this could literally be the face and voice of a loved one, a place where they always feel relaxed and calm; or situations which seemed dire but worked out decently enough in the end. Insecurely attached people, research shows, can learn to do the same thing for themselves in moments of tension.
- Use Stop. Look. Listen. when you get over-reactive
If you’ve already read Daughter Detox, you’re probably familiar with this technique which a therapist taught me many years ago and I’ve given a name; I have been doing for so long that it now happens automatically. (Yes, I am functioning like a person with secure attachment!) It involves giving yourself a mental time-out or a literal one when you’re in the middle of an argument or situation that is pushing all your buttons. Basically, you simply pull back from the emotional heat (that’s the STOP part) and then you LOOK to see what driving your reactions and ask yourself whether you are being triggered and whether your responses are appropriate to what’s going on. Then you LISTEN both to your responses and to the words being said by the other person. Are you hearing the intention behind the words or are you just reacting to old stuff? Listen to your own body and the words coming out of your mouth too; pay attention so that, in the future, you can appreciate early on that you’re being triggered,
- Measure the distance you’ve come
Again, this isn’t meant as a call to put on rose-colored glasses and throw a victory party but instead of just focusing on how much work there’s left to do, appreciate how far you’ve already come. This is part of chucking impatience and accepting the fact that the pace of recovery tends to be two steps forward and one step back. It’s very difficult to unlearn these old, automatic behaviors; there’s no question about it. But the only way you can reliably have the best version of your self show up in the future is tackle those behaviors, one by one.
HAPPY HEALING TO ALL IN THE NEW YEAR!
NOTE: All three Daughter Detox books have exercises but the workbooks are essentially fill-in books. You will need to read Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life first. The Daughter Detox Guided Journal and Workbook incorporates the seven stages of healing of the original book with unique exercises and journaling prompts. The Daughter Detox Companion Workbook is organized by the calendar year and you dip in and out of it. For more, use the Look Inside feature on Amazon.
Photograph by Florian Klauer. Copyright free. Unsplash.com