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Overwhelm Overdrive

Throughout our lives, we made sense of the madness. We, as is common with developing young people, absorbed the shortcomings of our primary care providers from a SELF-centered place. Meaning that, for young developing people, it is actually more common and easier to assume that WE are somehow to blame for the bad that is going on around us. To ponder that our primary care providers are not capable of taking care of us is too scary a proposition. We are hard-wired to internalize the errors rather than fully accept that our primary care providers are potentially the ones that were struggling or flawed.

As young people, we adapted and evolved. We developed coping strategies and defenses to overcome the bumps in the road. If we experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment, and this does not require being left at a fire station, it can even be perceived, we developed strategies for drawing in what we needed to survive. Remember, when we are young, we require connection and a sense of safety to thrive, or even to survive. In the absence of this, or even in the perception of the absence of this, we grow with survival skills, or strategies, to compensate for this lack of connection and safety. Sometimes, these strategies are adaptive, or healthy for us, and sometimes not so adaptive. Regardless, we are a species designed to persevere. We morph into whatever is needed or asked of us, and often we absorb the messages of “not good enough” along the way.

Managing these pains of the past is a bit of a full-time job. It is a program, or window open on a computer, that keeps on doing its job even when we are not fully paying attention. It is scanning the environment for signs that the world is not safe, that someone may leave us, that we can’t trust people, that we may need to defend ourselves. This hyper-vigilance becomes a sort of hyper-drive and often translates into ‘overachiever” or Type A in women. As young women, we are driven to overcome the pains of the past and thus we must be “good enough”.

This drive to be good enough is a balancing act. We strive to get a good education, meet the right partner, develop a career, etc, all while keeping the “not good enough” balls in the air. We think we have the past all wrapped up and are ready to grow a family only to have the addition of a little one be the spark that triggers the overwhelming avalanche of “not good enough”. This jolt, or blast from the past, can come on forcefully and sudden or leak out slowly as we are seemingly adjusting to our new role as mom. The very foundation of who we are gets shaky and it becomes a perfect recipe for a full-blown identity crisis.

Overwhelm can look really nutty when combined with the unraveling of your well-constructed coping strategies. We can look controlling and particular, not fully aware that our own historical wounds are colliding with the intense, and often unconscious, drive to not let your little one feel an ounce of neglect or even discomfort. The caring for of your little one can trigger a deep cellular memory, or sensation, of your experience of not being fully cared for in the way you needed. The notion that you once had all buttoned up can come flooding back with a totally overwhelming bombardment of thoughts, feelings, and memories. We often feel vulnerable and full of fear, or even dread. We fought hard to put vulnerability on the back-burner, we made some peace with the past and now find ourselves drowning in a mixture of the present and the past during what is reported to be the most joyous times of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, we can feel joy and dread all at the same time. We can love and feel fear all at the same time. It is just the collision of all of this that is overwhelming. It can put many of us on full tilt.

The triggering of our own childhood wounds is a phenomenon nature provides in her effort to not so gently ask us to revisit our own management of it all. We are confronted with this blast from the past in order to force us to re-examine how we packaged it all up. If we put some band-aids on it or didn’t fully get a grip on it all, we are being nudged toward looking at it through this fresh lens as a new mom. Our kids may, in fact, be sent to us to bolster our own continued growth. The drag is that we are usually not really equipped for this gut-wrenching, soul-opening, heartbreaking type of self-awareness journey. In theory, we are supposed to be surrounded by loved ones and taken care of while we convalesce after giving birth and throughout the postpartum period. This tradition, certainly in western culture, is all but ignored and, often times, the “bouncing back” mom is celebrated. This lends itself to a deeper trigger of our original ”not good enough” wound.

As a mom, your historical wounds can take on lots of shapes and sizes. The once packed up pains are now glaring at us and we are feverishly manic about not letting them leak out onto our little ones. Without a clear picture of what is actually going on, we can begin to see ourselves as broken, sick and downright useless. We are NONE OF THESE. It is not us that is to “blame”, we are responding to a jacked up early life attachment, a whacked out nervous system and a skewed view on safety and vulnerability. With some guidance and education, we can properly conceptualize some of this and work toward building up new strategies for containing and managing our historical wounds.

I think it is Will Smith, the actor, that has a video out there that says that it is not our “fault” but it is our “responsibility” to tend to this stuff. The “not good enough” message and the life dedicated to making that not true can often lead to a woman that really has no idea how to admit defeat, or ask for help. In our effort to have it all together, we lost the art of allowing others to help us. Us new moms are really spoon-fed many messages, we sometimes overlook the note that it is ok to ask for help. This is made even more difficult if you have built an identity of being the one people can count on. What happens when you can’t really even count on yourself during this time?

We can make change and not kick this can of childhood wounds down the road. We can make some sense of it and avoid replaying the pains of the past in our parenting. It requires a little digging and unearthing some of the beliefs we hold true but the transformation is rooted in who you are now and who you want to be. The stakes are higher now that we have little people depending on us but let’s not forget the the littler version of our SELF that is depending on us too. It is our current and present self, the grown-up woman with a life of experience that can help heal some of the pains of the past for a smoother ride ahead.

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