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Do your children seem judgmental of some of the things you do? Or do you feel triggered into judgment and lack of compassion in regards to your own parents?
When I teach the Shadow Energetics Workshop, I give examples for how couples carry each other’s shadow traits, how siblings are often functioning from opposites, and how children trigger our own shadows. When I was teaching day one of the training last weekend, it occurred to me that I don’t highlight as much that children are also triggered by the shadows their parents mirror to them. Our parents reflect to us what we have disowned in ourselves and we do the same for our kids.
Henry Ward Beecher points out that we don’t really know the extent of the love our parents felt for us as children until we have become a mother or father ourselves. I would like to add that we also don’t know what it feels like to be judged by our children until it happens to us. The experience of walking in the parental shoes gives us a different perspective on our own parents and their struggles. Being the parent means that we are mirroring shadow traits for our teenage or young adult children as well. It is uncomfortable to be at the receiving end of those projections but we need to keep in mind that this is not about us, as much as it feels that way, but it is about what our children have learned to disown; and we may even have taught them to disown that particular trait or energy.
When it comes to technology or other modern day problems that need solving, I am quick to throw my hands up in the air, going into helplessness. My daughters will help, but lately there has been some impatience from their side. They pride themselves on being independent and able to problem solve well. At their age, they have disowned their own neediness for outside support a bit. It appears to them as a quality that is not desirable, a shadow they have renounced.
Ironically, raising my daughters, I always affirmed their independence and encouraged them to put their mind to problem solving because my own mother mirrored helplessness to me. Independence is a very useful quality. At the same time, we are naturally interdependent as human beings.
Helping others with an open heart and gracefully accepting help from them in return connects us on a heart-to-heart level and fosters greater compassion and understanding for one another. What would society look like if everybody just took care of themselves without extending a helping hand? No energy is “bad” or “wrong”. Being able to ask for help is as useful and beneficial as being independent.
As a parent, it is my job not to take the response of the younger generation personally and to keep mirroring this shadow to them until they are ready to embrace it. We need to learn from each other in this situation. Their independence encourages me to problem solve more myself before turning to somebody for help. At the same time, they also need to be connected with that energy of “neediness”. As humans, we are all needy for emotional support and practical help from each other.
According to author James Gilliland, who has written about the seven essence mirrors, the fifth mirror reflects our parents to us: “It is often said we marry our father or mother. We often also become them, acting out the same healthy and unhealthy patterns we learned as a child.”
I used to see my mother as overly fearful and helpless, especially when something unforeseen occurred, and I also judged her for what I perceived from the outside as “settling” for a situation she was not happy with. Once my sister and I had grown up, she was clearly bored. I used to question why she didn’t find something new, something that was challenging and fulfilling.
Today, I certainly have more fears than I had when I was twenty. My daughters’ courage sometimes leaves me breathless. When the older one travels all over the world by herself or the younger one charges forward without fear of rejection, I have to remind myself that they are safe and to trust them to be okay. In some ways, I have become my mother. The horizon of the next generation is always a bit broader; it is a different world.
I also notice that the lure of what is familiar is strong. Starting something new can require a lot of positive self-talk and belief changes. It has a scary element to it. I did not have that empathy when I was younger. I lacked the understanding that what my mother was mirroring to me was what I had disowned within myself.
Sometimes we realize that we have become somewhat like our parents, other times we wake up to the fact that we are married to our father or mother. In an older blog, I wrote about Benjamin who grew up with a stepfather who was a raging alcoholic. Ben learned that anger is nothing but destructive and that he is weak and helpless when confronted with it. Before Ben realizes it, he is married to Grete, a partner who in that one important way is a replica of his stepfather. She didn’t appear to be angry when they first married, but their interactions bring this energy to the surface. When she is frustrated, she hides her vulnerability behind anger and she yells. Ben, however, has learned to be afraid of anger and aggression. When somebody only slightly raises their voice, not to mention starts yelling, his reptilian brain instantly goes into the fight, flight or freeze response. The more Ben freezes and avoids her instead of communicating what is going on for him, the more disconnected and invisible Grete feels and the louder she becomes, desperately trying to get through to him. They are caught in a cycle of frustration. Ben feels unsafe and unloved just as he felt during childhood. He judges Grete for being too angry. Grete feels invisible and unimportant, which is her childhood experience. She perceives his stone-walling as a danger cue and, if you so like, a counter-attack.
Ben shuts down because he feels controlled and powerless just as he did when he was growing up. As a child, he felt terrified of his stepfather’s anger. By the time he was a teenager, this fear had turned into stubborn resistance. Ben perfected the non-response, a completely still-face and quiet defiance of the man he hated. Grete mirrors his stepfather to him and he cannot help himself; he flips either into the helpless little boy or the stubborn teenager. In that quiet defiance and non-response lies Ben’s power. He is unaware how this dynamic perpetuates the problems they have. Even though Grete seems to be the stronger one on the surface, underneath the tip of the anger iceberg is always a more vulnerable experience.
Anger lives in Ben’s shadow and because it is an energy he is disconnected from and fears, he is bound to attract it into his life through other people, like his wife, until he integrates this shadow quality. Grete judges Ben for being weak and passive. The only way out for Ben and Grete is to embrace the opposite energy more. Ben needs to get in touch with his own anger and stand up calmly and assertively. That will allow Grete to be in her female energy more, be softer and gentler, allowing him to be more masculine and strong. By taking steps towards each other, they are both becoming more whole and are able to communicate and interact more productively.
Are you stuck in a parent-child interaction with your partner? In which ways do other people mirror your mother or father to you? And in which ways are you mirroring a disowned part for one of your children?
If you want to work on your own triggers and shadows to live more conscious relationships contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching.
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