“Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.”
As the sun in May becomes felt in our eyes and on our skin it also casts shadows in front of us. Shadows teach us. We can tell time with the shadows. I think of the song here, Me and My Shadow.
When events occur in our lives where we are victimized in some way, that experience casts a shadow on us in our lives and affects the lives also of everyone we come in contact with because we are still acting under the spell of it. When we are little, we don’t have much choice as to what happens to us and how we are treated. The problem is we keep that shadow with us throughout our lives.
We don’t know how to turn the shadow effects around for us so we can move on. How we treat and react to others is influenced by the shadow. In our heads and minds, we feel innocent. It is not about us. It is about them. Yet, it does become about us when we use it as an excuse to stay the same. Do we do it on purpose to hurt ourselves and others? No, we certainly don’t. Yet, that is what does happen. We become too invested in the shadow that developed, and begin to think we are the shadow; so change is very difficult. How then can we live happy lives?
I was working with an individual recently who had a very difficult childhood. Her mother was depressed and was experienced ae mean, while father worked a lot. She was the sixth of eight children leaving her mother alone with a lot of young children. That alone is a difficult task for anyone. Her mother loved babies, at first, but the more she had, the more difficult it became for her and the more depressed she became. Her child, my client, now grown up keeps a great distance from her mom. She doesn’t feel nurtured and doesn’t really know how to nurture herself, so she is worried about her daughter.
Using the tools of Family Constellation work with early trauma training, it is important to set up who and what came before. In working with her we focused on her mother and what happened in her mother’s family. She needed to have a context for her mother’s life. Her mother lost her father when she was a teenager to stomach cancer, a very painful way to die. This left my client’s grandmother to raise her children by herself. Her mom wasn’t very close to grandma, and so she too is not close to her mother. She needed to have an image and a feeling as to what life was like for her own mother. In addition, it was important for her to get a feeling for what her life was like while she was in the womb where her mother was feeling overwhelmed and burdened by all these children to raise while her husband was working a lot. In a way, her mother was alone too with her children and felt that way. She was also frequently ill and there were periods of time where she wasn’t at home and was literally unavailable to her young children. My client felt alone and abandoned by her mother and her very early nurturing was interrupted. The flow of her life and her nurturance was interrupted. When this occurs, it is frequently very difficult for anyone to forgive their parent and to regain a close bond. The flow of life stopped originally with the early death of her grandfather.
There is not always a happy ending in this work. The closing of the gap in bonding has to happen slowly. This is the case for this woman. She has to learn to accept her mother for who she was and to see that it was not about her at all; it was about what happened to her mother. For a little girl this is difficult. As an adult with a grown child who struggles too, although differently, it is hard to give up her anger and resentment as well as carrying an unconscious fear that if she gets too close to her mother, she will be depressed also. So she was able to get close enough to touch her mother’s finger; not too close, but a start. By helping herself to accept the nurturing she received as it was offered, and to see the great sadness her mother carried as unconnected to her, the steps are there for her to fully care for herself more without judgment. As she can let her mother handle her own trauma by leaving it with her without unconsciously carrying it with her or for her she can unburden herself to live and be happy and in turn unburden her daughter, who also struggles in life.
The early death of a parent, especially with such a difficult illness, is life changing for everyone involved. This is a fate that carries many feelings of guilt, sadness, loss and abandonment. When left unresolved, this fate can live in the future generations through their challenges. In this case, the challenge is feeling unnurtured. If her mother can’t accept the early death of her father and the aftermath, the daughter is unconsciously loyal to her mother by not accepting it either and living in the shadow of that life-changing event. Her future happiness is certainly possible. The sun is right there, just presently being concealed by its shadow. Patience, acceptance and love are just around the shadow.
Small Lifestyle Changes that Promote Big Results
Think of an event that cast a shadow on you and your life. This could be the early death of someone or something, someone leaving, the loss of a job or a good friend, the fears you might carry without really knowing why, and so on. Take out a piece of paper and make two columns. In the first column, write out what occurred and the symptoms of the shadow from that event or person. In the second column, write out the good outcomes from that event. Even if you aren’t there yet, write out what the good outcomes could be as you can see them. Project yourself a bit in the future and see what is possible out there from this occurrence; as a learning experience.
Take out this sheet of paper as often as you need so you can see what you know is possible even if you aren’t there yet. Then as they come to you, write out the steps needed, one by one, for this outcome to happen. You are actually writing the map out of your pain and shadow. There is the sun!