Empowerment, Healing

Healing the Father Wound: My Journey from Rage to Reconciliation

I remember the seething, white-hot rage I felt inside. I wanted to burn shit down or blow it up and leave a trail of ashes behind me. I had finally connected the dots between a father who was emotionally absent and impossible to please and the men I had attracted into my life. Guess what? They were emotionally absent and impossible to please, too.  

When you don’t receive that unconditional love and support from the man who is supposed to teach you how men should treat you, then you’re likely to make poor choices in the relationship department. You keep trying to be good enough. You twist and mold yourself into whatever shape you think he desires. You make too many compromises about where and how you’ll live. You sell yourself out. You get swept away. You bury your dreams. You dismiss your gut feelings. You keep hoping that the next one will really see you, appreciate you, and actually be there for you in body and soul.  

So you try—again—to love someone else, to be open, to get past the scars on your heart. You light up inside when he approves of you and die a little when he doesn’t, because the wound is still there. You’re still hoping to earn his love. You have expectations he can’t possibly fulfill. It’s not even his job to fulfill them, but you don’t know that yet. Every relationship you have with a man is just another opportunity to heal the bleeding, gaping Father Wound, but the problem is that you’re not going to the source. 

Then you get fed up after all the painful goodbyes and starting over for the umpteenth time with your life in cardboard boxes. You want things to change. A light comes on. You start doing the work on yourself, because why not? Nothing else has helped, has it?   

You see the pattern you’ve been repeating. It feels like wading through miles of swamp water and muck. You grieve. You rage some more. You feel disgusted. You kick yourself for not waking up sooner, for not knowing what you think you should have known. Then you kick yourself for kicking yourself. You sit in circles, alone and with others. You tell your story. You listen to their stories. You feel heard and witnessed as you are, raw and unvarnished. You shed holy tears. You forgive. You breathe. You do this work for months or years, however long it takes.         

Gradually, with wobbly legs and new skin, you begin to give yourself the love you never received. It is strange, at first, to walk in worthiness, to know your own power, to have clear boundaries, to not seek validation. Then self-worth becomes your default setting, and those around you either adjust or fall away. You know your triggers quite well; they are old friends by now. You catch yourself long before you are at risk of falling into the same old tar pit. 

Sometimes, your healing ripples outward through your words, your prayers, your offerings.     

I have watched my father go through his own metamorphosis, prompted mostly by terminal illness and the realization of his own mortality. We’ve had many conversations that usually start out with how the weather has been, who is ill, and who died recently. There have been times, though, when we transcended the whole father-daughter relationship to simply be with each other as two souls trying to figure out life. 

I once told him that I never learned how to do marriage very well.   

He paused for a minute and said, “I never did either, honey.” 

Then we laughed! It was one of the most real moments we’ve ever had, both acknowledging that we’ve fucked up and even finding humor in our mutual fucked-up-ness. 

I understand now that I had to go through this whole cycle of healing the Father Wound, because you can’t teach something that you haven’t lived. I didn’t ask for the wound, but the responsibility to heal it was, and always will be, mine. Much of what informs and enlivens my coaching practice is my own journey toward wholeness. It took years for my rage to become compassion, years before I would see my father as the catalyst who set me on my spiritual path, and years before I could have a 360 degree view of it all and feel gratitude.  

Healing the Father Wound changed how I viewed all men, and maybe that has been the greatest gift in this journey. When I stopped categorizing them as either oppressors or saviors, I began to see into their individual and collective pain. It was just as valid and deep as my own, and that awareness cracked me open. It still does, every single time that a man drops his armor and bares his soul to me. 

My dad has an incredibly sensitive heart—he just had it beaten out of him by a tyrannical, abusive father and an indifferent mother. In another life, he might have been a poet and a dreamer like his only daughter turned out to be. I carry what he wasn’t allowed to carry because of a patriarchal culture that equates sensitivity with weakness. I carry it like a medicine staff, because it is one.  

May we rise above the outdated paradigms. May we heal our parental wounds, for ourselves and the generations to come. May we strive to understand each other, and in that understanding, may we find peace.    

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.    

Uncategorized

When You’re Woo-Woo as F*ck, and Your Partner Isn’t

It may surprise you to know that despite being a witchy, Goddess-powered kind of woman, I cohabitate with a man who is decidedly non-woo. It has come to my attention that there are quite a lot of us out there who maintain some type of spiritual practice that doesn’t involve our partner. It’s like we’re all keeping a holy sanctuary that our most-loved person never enters.

Does it matter? Well, that depends.

For some, it’s no big deal, as long as the partner is respectful and understanding about things like burning candles, wafting incense, reading Tarot cards, and being highly conscious of the moon’s exact phase and astrological transits. As long as love is the foundation of the partnership, it works well enough.

I’ve also known women who relish their spiritual path as their private, inner world, and they have absolutely no wish at all to share any of it with a partner. Doing so would almost feel like a violation, because they have fought so hard to create that sacred space for themselves.

For others, spirituality becomes a sticking point. They want and need their partner to be fully on board and engaged with them and their woo-woo. Questions can begin to arise like, ‘If my partner rejects my spiritual values, does he/she reject me as well?’ and ‘If I can’t share this part of my life with him/her, then do we really even have a relationship?’

In the earlier days of my break from mainstream religion, I was thrilled if the guy I was with didn’t bug me about church or try to convert me. It was even better if he didn’t freak out over words like witchcraft, Goddess, and pagan. (Having been raised in the South, I was recovering from the emotional abuse and patriarchal wounds I received from the church. The slightest mention of evangelicalism would send me running).

So, I only looked for tolerance and open-mindedness from potential lovers, and that’s mostly what I attracted. The word witch almost served as a kind of litmus test to see who would stick around, although I have to say that many didn’t care what I believed or practiced. They were far more interested in my body than my mind and spirit anyway.

I thought that men who were spiritually awake, plugged in, and switched on would be too much to hope for, quite honestly. I figured I’d be doing really well just to find one who was stable, reliable, intelligent, driven, and kind. Enter Domestic Partner #3, who has all of those qualities.

I felt that he was extremely fortunate to have parents who didn’t drag him to church or force him to practice any type of religion. I certainly wasn’t going to do that to him, either. He formed his own beliefs, which are pretty close to agnostic if I had to put a label on them. He has always been supportive of me, but we’ll never share the same views on the inner-workings of the Universe and the things I feel inside but can’t always explain.

Our relationship works, as long as my witching and priestessing takes place on the outskirts of our daily life. It works, as long as my woo-woo conversations are limited to friends and members of my community. It works, as long as I don’t connect the dots between sexuality and spirituality. It works, as long as I don’t care if he ever joins me in my inner temple. It works, as long as I keep this immense part of myself, which informs so much of my writing and all that I do, separate from all that we do as a couple.

Sometimes I do care, though I try hard to release any expectations. I’ve learned that having expectations of anyone is always a recipe for disappointment. Knowing that is one thing; putting it into practice is another. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes I feel we are speaking a completely different language, and there is no translator. Sometimes I follow the flowchart back to the beginning and find that the heart-centered medicine men and sages of this world are still in short supply.

I’ve never felt that my partner rejected me personally or even my spiritual outlook directly. It’s more that I question how deeply a relationship can go if one of the most important aspects of my life can only be experienced with other people.

Empowerment

Good Fences: How to Set Healthy Boundaries and Maintain Your Sanity

 

Having and enforcing healthy boundaries has become the topic of many conversations in my world lately. It seems like we’re all trying to get a handle on what is or isn’t okay with us and how to communicate that to other people. It’s a bit ironic that we’re more comfortable with letting strangers know when to back off than we are with letting our own friends and family know when they’ve crossed a line (or ten). We don’t worry as much about how strangers are going to feel or how the dynamics might change, because odds are high that we’ll never see them again. Our interpersonal relationships demand a lot more of us, however.

I now have an even deeper understanding of why Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Fences show you exactly where a boundary lies. There is no mistaking when and how it has been crossed. It’s frustrating sometimes that our emotional boundaries aren’t always so visible or accessible.

When people come to me because they feel like others are taking advantage of them in some way, I’ve noticed that they often haven’t looked within to really identify their own boundaries. They’re too busy people pleasing and trying to manage how others feel. Women fall prey to this a lot, because we’re socially conditioned to be caretakers and to put others’ needs well above our own.

Expressing what we need out loud can be difficult, because we don’t want to be accused of being selfish. (Oh, that nasty little word!) What we usually fail to recognize is that others fire the “selfish” missile at us out of co-dependency. They fear the possibility that their needs might not get met by us, so they use “selfish” to churn up guilt. If we bite the hook and give into the guilt trip, then we’ve collapsed a boundary. We’ve said Yes when we really felt No. Is that what a Goddess would do? I think not.

Friends have referred to me as “The Queen of No” and “The Boundary Queen” before, and I wear both titles with pride. It took a long time to love myself enough to stop being a doormat, so I will share my tactics for maintaining my sanity and sanctity.

Do a Gut Check

Step One in healthy boundary setting is checking in with how you feel. When somebody asks you to do something, stop and take a deep breath. How does their request sit with you? If you sense hesitation inside, heaviness, or anxiousness, that means you’d rather not do it. Your body will give you signals, but you have to recognize them and honor the message. If you feel like you should say yes, consider the motivation. Are you just worried about being liked?

Be Honest and Speak Up

Step Two is being honest about where you feel compromised. Women have to learn how to be outspoken, even though that goes against the way we’re socially conditioned. We’re taught to be nice, to acquiesce, and to accommodate. Outspokenness is a skill we have to master, nonetheless, if we’re ever going to reclaim our lives. Say it out loud, and stand firm, even if you’re shaking. It does get easier with practice!

Release the Guilt

Step Three is letting go of the guilt that will surface once you learn how to say no. People are rarely going to let you off easy, because they have their own agendas and issues. Feeling the guilt is completely normal, so it’s important not to be hard on yourself when it comes up. It’s equally important to push through it and realize that a more balanced, positively-engaged life awaits on the other side of that guilt.

Be Ready for the Fallout

Step Four is allowing toxic relationships to die, and this may be the hardest part of setting and enforcing boundaries, particularly with relatives. A balanced person who truly loves you will honor and respect your limits. Period. An unbalanced person will argue, give you the silent treatment, try to coerce you into saying yes to their demands, play the victim, or heap on the guilt—maybe all of these things. If they can’t learn to accept your new assertion of power, it’s time to limit your association with them or cut ties completely.

Rock Your Goddess Power

The goddess I think of most when it comes to setting boundaries is Durga. She’s a badass multi-limbed warrior and protector of the universe who rides a tiger or a lion. Her very name means “fort” or “a place that is difficult to overrun.” I like chanting her mantra when I need an extra shot of fortitude, but I encourage you to do whatever ignites your own Divine Feminine fire.

Remember that even if our parents didn’t teach us about healthy boundaries as children, it’s something we can learn. It’s a practice, and it’s something that we have to keep practicing in all of our interactions.

Decide. Begin. Make your life brilliant.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

Healing

How to Let Go of the Past

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One of my favorite lyrics is in a song called “Rise Up” on the album Goddess Chant by Shawna Carol:

The past is over; it can touch me not.
Let’s celebrate now all we’ve got.

The song reminds me to look at what is here and now in my life, not what I left behind me.  Even if every day doesn’t make me feel like I’m in the middle of a Broadway musical, I’d still pick right now over five, ten, or even twenty years ago.  Along with the pain I experienced came the many lessons that shaped me.  Who would I be without them?  What if I hadn’t learned or grown wiser from them?

Having been through two divorces and several not-quite-relationships, it would be easy to gaze backward on all of the debris and wreckage and think “failure.”  After all, I didn’t follow the formula—didn’t fall in love with the right one in my 20s, didn’t settle down in suburbia with Mr. Perfect, didn’t have the standard 2.5 children and the fulfilling, rewarding career, while decorating like Martha Stewart and cooking like Julia Child.  Nope.

My journey down the road of romance was full of false starts, insurmountable obstacles, irreconcilable differences, reinventions, and major transformations.  That’s what you get when you have Pluto in Libra in the first house of your natal chart.  I was truly destined for a lot of breaking down and rebuilding, partly because of the guys I attracted and simply because it’s part of my path this time around.

It has taken plenty of soul excavating to move past bitterness, sorrow, and regret, but I can now say “thank you” for all the relationships that never worked.  They were like stair steps that forced me to climb a little higher and work harder to define what I actually wanted and needed in my life.

If I could open up a portal in time and give my younger self some advice, especially when I was struggling to resolve the past, I would say this:

  • Things always change.  Nothing—whether you view it as good or bad—ever lasts that long. When your perception shifts, so do your circumstances.
  • Healing can’t be rushed, so don’t get back into the fight if you’re still wearing bandages from the last round.  Only you know for sure when the healing process is complete.
  • Don’t overdose on self-help books and workshops.  They all say the same thing.  Find one method that works for you, and give it ample time and attention.
  • Be wary of those who try to “fix” you, but be open to those who love you, warts and all.
  • Say “yes” to new experiences.  Go rock climbing, go sailing, go make some pottery.  Go to whatever gets you out of the house and into the juiciness of life again.
  • Treat yourself with as much kindness as you would treat a bird with a broken wing.  You’ll fly again with proper care and attention, so nourish both body and soul.
  • Don’t be so hard on the exes, even if they were crazy, selfish, and terribly misguided at the time.  They are also human, and so are you.  Remember, you picked them, and they picked you for a reason.  It’s better to ask, “What have I learned, and what will I do differently from here on out?”

On a final note, there is a point in the whole process of moving on when you realize all you are missing by staying stuck in the muck of the past.  It hurts worse to stay immobile than to move, so you take a step, then one more, and then another.  It gets easier—the walking, the visioning, the trusting, the cracking open…and then you find you are not just walking but positively running at the speed of life.

Blessed Be

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