“If you have to act in a particular way to avoid being something you don’t like, you’re trapped.” ~ Debbie Ford, The Dark Side Of The Light Chasers

Question from a reader:

I am determined to not be like my mother and yet so often I find that I am. Help.

(This goes along with another concern I hear often: “I don’t want to be the kind of mother my mother was to me, but I am afraid it’s too late.”)

Dear you…

…and millions of other women, including me.

If she was stubborn, we’ll be reasonable.

If she was critical, we’ll be complimentary.

If she was sickly, we’ll be healthy.

If she was controlling, we’ll be flexible.

If she was manipulative, we’ll be ingenuous.

If she was mean, we’ll be kind.

If she was needy, we’ll be fiercely independent.

If she was angry, we’ll be happy.

It goes the other way, too.

If she was sweet and kind, we’ll be snarky and sarcastic.

If she was overly flexible and people-pleasing, we’ll be rigid and defensive.

If she was lenient, we’ll be strict.

You get the picture.

The problem with this strategy is that, in so doing, we deny ourselves being whole. We deny our “shadow” selves. As well, we often take on the very characteristic we disdain in her because what we resist…persists. And because we are human, we have the capacity for ALL human emotion and behavior.

To deny that hurts us.

The “shadow” is a psychological term for everything we can’t see in ourselves (and don’t want to see), but can usually easily see in others. It is made up of the parts of ourselves we deem ugly, disgusting, shameful, bad, and wrong.

(If you want to know what it looks like to do shadow work, check out these blog posts: She Is A Selfish, Controlling Hypocrite… and The Difference Between “Whole” And “Good”)

Shadow work is super powerful (and super challenging). It helps us be more of who we are and can lead to being more creative, awake, and authentic. Ultimately, it frees us.

Because if you can’t be stubborn, critical, sickly, controlling, manipulative, mean, needy, and angry (plus any other trait you’d like to add), you can’t be free.

Something to consider: If you tell yourself you have to be _____ in order to avoid being like your mother, you’ve limited your freedom and robbed yourself of being whole.

Something to journal on: #1 Pick three traits/characteristics/behaviors you can’t stand in your mother and write about why. If you deal with these traits/characteristics/behaviors by being the opposite, as gently and compassionately as you can, question yourself. How are you exactly like her? #2 Now do the same thing for three traits/characteristics/behaviors you admire in your mother.

Something to practice: Simply notice when you’re resisting being like her. And then stop and see what happens.

Doing this work has helped me see my mother as a multi-dimensional complex women with hopes, fears, weaknesses, strengths, disappointments, heartbreaks, secrets, shame, bad decisions, good decisions, desires, etc. It has helped me have more compassion for her and for myself. It has also helped me admire her…and myself.

And, as I always say, having compassion and admiration for our mothers doesn’t mean we can’t have amazing boundaries! They go hand-in-hand.

Much, much love,

Karen