“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.” ~Joseph F. Newton
“Oh my God, Mom…” she said with a verbal eye roll.
“What?” I responded, sure that I had said too much or overshared like I normally do.
I can’t recall what my daughter and I were discussing openly about while standing in line at the grocery store checkout, but I do remember the girl ringing us up laughing and saying we sounded just like her and her mom.
Uncertain of what this meant, I stopped.
“Is this what a healthy mother/daughter relationship sounds like?” I questioned to myself. This was an entirely new concept for me.
My desire to build a strong relationship with my daughter was not possible because of my dysfunctional relationship with my mother. I also had no boundaries when I was younger. This led me to think too much about how to make a connection with my daughter.
My mother suffered from significant mental illness, and eventually committed suicide.
What was healthy to me?
When it came to my connection with my daughter, insecurity was a constant problem. Did I give her too little or too much? Was she able to trust me? Do you think she felt comforted? Was I too lenient? Was I too distant?
It was not easy to know when doubt sounded.
I’ve watched other moms with their daughters since I was a young girl. I wasn’t exactly sure what normal was, but I knew it was not telling their daughters how depressed they were or talking through their marital issues. It wasn’t asking for their advice or relying upon them to be happy enough to get up in the morning, I understood.
Although I recognized that my relationship to my mother was very different from others, it was still the one I loved. My norm was codependency and making sure that my mother was fine so I could see her the next day.
I didn’t want that relationship with my daughter. It was not my goal for her to feel happy, complete, and unconditionally loved.
It was not an easy journey to motherhood. My motherhood journey was difficult because I had no support and little knowledge of children. My instincts were part and parcel of the problem. I couldn’t always hear them.
A child learns to distrust relationships when they are exposed to a volatile world in their young years. Trusting others is difficult when what seems comforting and loved one moment can become betrayal or rejection the next.
A human’s natural inclination is to want connection, but inconsistency or harm against a person creates a fear in that same connection. When this happens during early development, the child learns to fear what it also deeply desires—which develops into an adult who is quietly terrified to experience and trust reciprocal love.
Only by looking deeply within myself, and being aware of how my patterns were passing on to others, did I know how to make that connection healthy? And so I observed—a lot.
It was interesting to observe other families, and how mothers speak with their daughters. The way their daughters interacted with their mothers was something I also observed. My daughter attracted me, but I also watched her move away.
Learning to listen and not speak was a huge help when my codependency is so real. Also, I have learned to ask for more information instead of just giving advice. I’m still learning, and most likely will be for the long haul since old habits die hard.
But it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t just learning how to respond to normal discomfort when someone I love was uncomfortable. Learning to deal with normal discomfort was the goal. YouIt was difficult. This was the process of learning to stop being anxious and to emotional detach from it when things got too loud.
Raising my children is one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to navigate with these embedded fears. It is to give birth to part of yourself and to know that your job it to allow this person to grow within you while slowly leaving you. To make them feel secure and loved, and to teach them how to go. It’s like one long continual dance of love and grief.
It was this year that my daughter began college. I knew it would be difficult for her, but I didn’t know the extent of the pain I would experience. It’s not logical. The logical side of me loves logic and having boxes in which to store my emotions. My body didn’t know it, although I knew cognitively that it was temporary. It stores memories of every loss and every time I’ve felt left behind, and it was eager to remind me.
“Life will never be the same again. It’s over.”
It is indeed true. But until those old pangs of grief retell their stories without being dismissed and reprimanded for being dramatic or “too much,” I could not see that the new life may even be better than the one before.
It was easier to let go of the sadness and anger feelings and not react to them. I felt more connected and could identify what I needed.
To show that my concerns were not unfounded, I asked for small amounts of constant communication. Snapchat was our only communication method. We shared pictures every day, which allowed us to connect without feeling intrusive. This worked well for us, and it helped me forget my fear of childhood until it went away.
She returned home over a year after her departure. The oversized dog was a perfect example of this with his big, happy cries and jumps to see her. She was missed by us and the whole family was affected.
It was overwhelming to feel the joy in her presence filling our home. It was like she had never left my home and felt at ease being in my presence. Although she was out and about visiting her friends, her presence provided me with the comfort and security I needed.
The feeling was like the fearful toddler inside me experiencing object permanence for the first time. Proof that it’s safe to trust that if love walks out the door, it also returns. Maybe not in the same shape or the same way, but it comes back when it’s ready… and maybe it never truly left to begin with.
Even though my little girl heart was afraid for loss, it began to heal.
The human experience is filled with fears of experiencing old heartbreak and pain again. Understanding these fears helps us to work together and keep our relationships strong. We can also avoid passing these fears on to our partner, children and friends.
We are not here to make people feel better. It is our job to welcome them to the table and allow them to speak. Let them breathe. And let them tell their stories to the fullest. They are more likely to stay around because they wait impatiently for attention.
Fear can manifest itself as strong emotions (sadness or anger), such that it causes panic attacks, anxiety, and even loneliness.You can ask the fear to give you more information just like you would a friend.
It’s possible to do it verbally, or you can write it down. You can ask, “Tell me more about this pain or that fear.” It is what does it feel like to you? Is it anywhere in your body that you can feel it? Is it painful or restricting? This feeling has it ever happened to you?
Ask when you last felt this way. Was it something you were experiencing? It involved who? Was it something you were afraid of? How did it turn out? How can you avoid the same suffering? It’s working.
Once you have begun to feel the emotions and sensations, think about what you would say to someone who is experiencing similar pain. How would you describe your child to this pain?
My favorite question is: What’s the most compassionate and loving thing that you could do right now for yourself?
This type of question allows us to share our feelings with others without being forced to do so. It also gives them the chance to give their opinions and feel heard. We are aware of our inherent desire to feel heard and seen.
We can feel more of what we are feeling, and more easily hear the voice that comes from the bottom. This quiet, intuitive voice is there to support us and heal any wounds. She also teaches us to be kind and compassionate with the people we love.
It’s normal to have fear in our connections. It’s part of our experience as humans and often how we learn about ourselves most. However, letting our fears control how we communicate keeps us from reaching the intimacy we really desire. To be truly intimate, you must first feel vulnerable and trust yourself. Listening to our fears can help us to be more open to receiving the love we need.
Are you afraid of what? Your fears should be shared, but your heart must guide you.
Lynn Reilly is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Master Energy Therapist and Author of the self help book, 30 Days to Me and the children’s book, The Secret to Beating the Dragon. You can subscribe to her blog and listen to her podcasts on livingwithserendipity.com as well as follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
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Fearful of losing people you love? Tiny Buddha’s How to Get Over Fear originally appeared on Tiny Buddha.