Please to welcome Karen. To say I admire her feels like such a small phrase to capture the feelings she sparks inside me.
She’s wise. She’s insightful. For years, through her blog, she’s been able to capture so many of our emotions and feelings even when we are unable to do so ourselves.
When I started reading Carla’s blog (sometime in early 2009, I think) her “unapologetically myself” (UM) tag line beckoned and intrigued me.
At the time I was struggling (yet again) with food, my weight, my body, near-crippling anxiety…with my very self.
I yearned to be UM but I was (unconsciously) afraid because “being myself” (unapologetically or otherwise) tended to be met with disapproval by the one person from whom I most wanted approval: my mother.
In my eyes, being UM was rebellious, radical, reactionary, and…mysterious.
Rebellious, because even though I was in my mid 40s, I wasn’t ready to give up my quest for my mother’s approval (not to mention I thought I needed her authority and control my in my life while at the same time hating her for it).
Radical, because it represented changing what I thought of as my fundamental nature (turns out I didn’t fully know my true nature).
Reactionary, because I imagined it came with middle fingers blazing and a big ol’ F bomb (but don’t get me wrong, I love a deliberate F bomb).
And mysterious, because even though I knew plenty of women who fit the UM bill, I didn’t know what it felt or looked like in action, nor did I think it possible for me. Why? Because it wasn’t modeled for me by my mother (and modeling is everything).
I spent a lot of time in either/or land as a result. Either I #1 become a mysterious, radical, reactive UM rebel, or #2 I blend into the metaphorical woodwork and be…apologetic (pathetic, weak…a victim).
Both options scared me because at the time, option #1 was seemingly unattainable and unsustainable, and option #2? Well, that just wasn’t acceptable.
I had experienced myself as powerful on and off over the years, and as much as I loved feeling that way, those were the times when my mother disapproved.
By that time I’d also been in and out of therapy and I’d read books about mothers who can’t love and narcissistic mothers, so I thought I was basically screwed.
I spent a lot of time wallowing in my sad (apologetically me) story and believing that I wouldn’t be able to change.
So without really knowing what I was doing or why, I started blogging.
At first, as I said, it was all about food, exercise, body image, and weight loss. It quickly became evident that I was writing my way to becoming UM.
I then learned a life-changing lesson. And yeah, I know how cliche that sounds, but bear with me for a moment.
I learned about the connection between my thoughts, my emotions, and my behavior.
If you’re thinking, “Well, duh!” I get it.
I understood the concept but what I didn’t know is that I was emotionally enmeshed with my mother – I believed (unconsciously, of course) that she was responsible for my emotions and that I was responsible for hers, because that’s how it had been from the moment I was born.
This is what I often refer to as a wooooo-hooooo-oh-shit moment:
Wooooooooo-hooooo I am finally free and powerful…
…oh shit, from this moment on, it’s on me…I can’t blame her any more.
Slowly but surely, I stopped making it about my mother – and I started asking myself three questions, on the regular:
What am I making it mean?
How do I want to feel?
How do I want to show up in any given situation?
Asking (and answering) these questions is part of the process by which I became un-enmeshed, autonomous, peaceful, and, ultimately UM.
Here’s how I define UM now: aware, connected, deliberate, and creative.
Aware, because with practice I’ve learned how to observe my mind and my thoughts.
Connected, because I understand that my emotions are directly connected to my thoughts and this, in turns creates a sense of connection to – and trust in – myself.
Deliberate, because there is always the option to either react or to respond.
And creative, because in any given moment, I can create the experience I want to have.
I couldn’t keep it to myself so I wrote a book: The Peaceful Daughter’s Guide To Separating From A Difficult Mother.
Part my own story, and part concepts, lessons, exercises, and journal prompts, my book is a great starting point for any woman who has struggled with her self-identity as a result of being emotionally enmeshed with her mother.
It’s a guide for any woman who wants to cultivate a healthy sense of self (i.e. “be unapologetically myself”); develop the ability to say “no” and set boundaries without guilt and from a place of peace, not anger; and reduce stress and anxiety.
Karen strives to tell the truth (even when it’s uncomfortable), to practice what she preaches, and to help women recognize, heal, and stop passing down their “mother wound”: the pain of being a woman in a patriarchal culture, which often shows up as people-pleasing, not being able to say “no,” weak boundaries, and fear of expressing themselves (and their preferences).