We Might Not Heal, But We Can Thrive

I was sitting in my graduate-level Psych class recently, and we were talking about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The details of how that therapeutic model works are unimportant in this story, but the core beliefs it can help with, are.

Stick with me for a sec.

The core beliefs fall into the following three categories: helpless, unlovable, and worthless.

Helpless core beliefs include:

  • I’m incompetent, needy, weak, defective

  • I don’t measure up

  • I’m a failure

Unlovable core beliefs include:

  • I’m unlovable, different, bound to be abandoned/rejected

  • I’m defective and others will not love me

Worthless core beliefs include:

  • I’m worthless

  • I’m bad

These three core beliefs commonly underlie depression and anxiety.

OKAY. That’s it for psych-talk. Let’s move into the epiphany they drew out in me.

As we were going over these core beliefs, I started to spiral a little bit. Because I have all of these thoughts. While they aren’t as constant as they used to be, all of these core beliefs are things that pop up for me, things I struggle with, feelings that never seem to go away no matter how much healing work I do.

I sat there and started to wonder what the point of any of this is. If I can learn the theories and go to therapy and change the behaviors but still struggle with thoughts like this, what the fuck is the point? Isn’t all of this work and all this knowledge supposed to stop these feelings, to heal them to the point that they go away? Why bother going to therapy if no matter how many years in I am, I still feel unlovable and defective sometimes?

And then it hit me: I’m never going to be able to heal the relational and attachment trauma I experienced.

I need to let that sink in for a second.

Because it’s a huge departure. I’ve been talking about healing for YEARS. I’ve believed I can heal my trauma, and have been so mad at myself every time my wounds reappear — “I HEALED YOU! GTF OUT OF HERE!”

But what I failed to realize: I can’t mend failed relationships by myself.

I thought I could. I thought I could will myself to overcome what has become my hard-wiring.

I don’t think I can anymore.

I listened to a This American Life awhile back where they interviewed a preacher whose whole life changed when he stopped believing in Hell. He lost everything he had built. His congregation left him. He needed to start something new, something smaller — but something that felt real and honest to him.

This new awareness feels like that.

Maybe we can’t heal our relational trauma. Maybe we just need to learn healthy ways to live with it and not pass it on to our children. Maybe that’s the work: surrendering and accepting and loving the next generation enough to not do it to them — while being gracious enough with ourselves not to hate ourselves for being who we now are.

The world doesn’t need us perfectly healed, loves.

It just needs us being as honest as we can be.

Being Asked To Do Better Is Not The Same As Being Attacked (Even Though I Know It Feels That Way)

I started writing about nine years ago. I had two small children and a treasure trove of as-yet-undiscovered emotional pain that needed an outlet besides late-night tequila shots and the passing-down of unhealthy parenting patterns.

I made a blog. People read it. Eventually, a lot of people read it.

I wrote about struggling to have a purpose outside of motherhood, about how from the ages of 2.6-4 I felt like my son had absolutely picked the wrong mother to be born to (all he was really doing was uncovering all that pain — the angel — but I didn’t know that yet.)

Once I realized the tequila shots were actually a problem, I wrote about that. And then once I discovered it was not only possible, but paramount that I step into the role of cyclebreaker, that.

My public unfurling, the self-discovery and healing that was beginning to take place, was inspiring people — they told me so daily. And it was happening right when vulnerability was a new public idea, when life coaching was an up-and-coming-curiosity. I bought some courses. I thought, “I can do this.”

And so I made a page on my site that offered women everything they needed to be healed and happy. I used clever names for my packages. I was on-trend-soulful and irreverent. I promised something hollow, but enticing.

I got clients. I had arrived.

And then at the height of all of it — tens of thousands of site visitors, pieces translated into languages I can’t speak, regular publication in the then-coveted HuffPost, a sold out weekend-long coaching event in Boston — I gave it all up.

I was a fraud and I knew it.

I hadn’t done enough personal work to be able to really help people. I was chasing the image of the self-made entrepreneurial woman — which had already become the modern marker of success it continues to be. I wanted to be in the club and yet, my gut said, “Stop this.”

I don’t know how I had the will to listen; ignoring that voice and building a successful coaching business would have been sexier than the years of office and restaurant work that have happened instead,

But I knew I was going to ruin myself in irrevocable ways if I continued. I knew, deep in my belly, in a place where only real feelings live, that living out of alignment was that dangerous. And even though it was grief-inducing and ego-bruising and uncertain to step away from something with which I so closely identified, even though I didn’t know what would happen — I knew finding out was a more real way to live.

I was being asked to do better.

At first, I felt attacked by my knowing. I tried to reject it. I tried to defend what I was doing, to cling to it.

But eventually, I could see: nothing was going to save me from this truth. And so I surrendered into what was going to come next.

I didn’t die.

If we’re interested in growth and healing, being asked to do better forces us to look all the way down into the bottom of our shit pit. And it’s (obviously) gross down there. But scrubbing it down is a chance to experience cleaner, ordered living.

Which isn’t an attack at all — but an invitation.

Dear Fellow White Women

Dear Fellow White Women,

We need to call our leaders out. Our self-help and spiritual and branding coaches, our thought leaders, our relatable moms-next-door who like to keep things light and “focus on the good” and not mess things up with reality.

Putting people on pedestals — including ourselves — makes us unwilling to think critically and makes us resistant to change.

Having a common female enemy — like Susan Collins or Tomi Lahren — makes us think we care about fighting for what’s right and against what’s broken, but instead allows to think we’re not “that bad” and so must be good or at least good enough.

We need to have higher expectations for our white female influence-y leaders than being quirky and just real enough. We need to ask for more than pictures of crystals and sinks full of dishes partnered with sarcastic captions about "#RealLife and requests to stop “being so divisive”.

If we start relentlessly insisting we each do better, we will do better. It starts with doing uncomfortable things like asking those we’ve previously idolized to put some skin in the game and step it up.

And remember: we can only do this after first asking ourselves to do better.


Social Media Is Real

Don’t shame people for valuing the work they do on social media. It’s real and impactful work.

Some people didn’t grow up being heard, and value having a space to express their whole selves. And some people are saying things more traditional spaces don’t care about. Social media allows these people to be fully authentic in a way they can’t be in the 3-D world.

Social media is real.

Don’t laugh off the work people do there.

Because radical healing is happening and revolutions are quietly being born while we’re busy thinking we’re better and “more real” and focused on the “right” things.

Try thinking differently.