“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” Carl Jung
There are many people that leave a mark on us throughout our lives. Some influence us in profound ways, too complex to fully grasp with our conscious mind. Those people are our caretakers, for most people – their parents. Even their absence speaks volumes and change us. Constantly reflecting back on the experiences I had, stories engrained in my mind, and discovering pieces of recollections that I’m puzzling back together, I keep having new realizations of how my mom influenced me and how she continues to do so through my memory of her. Although she passed away in 2016, my perceptions of her change as I change and learn new things about myself.
My mom and I were bonded most by the relentless dreaming and hoping that life will be different for us one day. We dreamed of a better future and that imaginary life was what got us through when we often felt lost. I learned to live in anticipation of a better life and with hope that no gloomy days last forever. This blind faith and striving towards the future were life saving for both of us.
I was my mom’s confidant and therapist. Like many wounded healers, I received my first training right there in my family of origin, way before my official schooling began. Not until adulthood did I realized that many of the things my mom confided in me were too big and painful for me to understand and bear as my own burdens. But I did. I felt all of her feelings. I felt her fear, anger, hatred, hopes, and dreams. I knew when she was unhappy, hurt, tired, and lonely. I thought it was my job to remove those discomforts from her.
Although we were always very close, as a young adult, I grew more and more angry at her submissiveness and compliance. Staying in a marriage that felt constricting created a growing bitterness and rage inside of her as she felt that she didn’t have a say in her own life. I overtly encouraged her to leave the marriage and couldn’t bear knowing how discontent she felt and how deeply she yearned for a better life. Long after I left the family home, we discussed and replayed the regrets she had in her life. She told me about the time she went to her parents hinting that she wanted to leave her marriage, and they (very kind hearted and gentle people) refused to let her come home with two kids because it would be a huge shame for them in the village. Their conservative views made them more concerned with What will people say? That was a big guiding force for my mom as well, but so was the lack of financial stability and support. She felt alone in her fears and desires.
Years after both my sister and I left the family home, and about a year after I moved to the U.S. my mom told me she finally left my dad. She took on a job to work as an in-home caretaker in Germany and was saving money and bought a house in the village. It was an old and rundown place, but this house was her freedom, pride, and success. Now looking back at this, I am in awe of the courage she had to make this step. I know that she was terrified, but what strikes me the most is the mental strength and perseverance to go against every norm and conditioning she was fed with her entire life. I have no words for the admiration I have for her, for forging her own path when she had no examples in front of her, no support, and no promise that things will actually work out in her favor.
Almost every morning when I woke up, I would skype with her while sipping my morning coffee, her in Serbia, me in Austin. One day while we were on a skype call, she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, we were hopeful that the treatment would work, but we had no idea what life had in store. The following several years were full of ups and downs, but eventually it turned out that the disease was discovered too late and ultimately progressed. In her last days, she was grateful that she was able to spend her days in her house that, against all odds, provided her with a sense of accomplishment and independence.
Her boldness and refusal to settle was inside of her all along. That’s what lights me up and inspires me when I think about my mom. Plunging from comfort that is too restrictive, into the blind faith that something better awaits on the other side. That’s what keeps me going - the refusal to settle and to believe what others say is possible in this one lifetime. She did not TELL me how to be in the world and what’s possible, she SHOWED me!
By Judith Kroll
Of course they are empty shells, without hope of animation.
Of course they are artifacts.
Even if my sister and I should wear some,
or if we give others away,
they will always be your clothes without you,
as we will always be your daughters without you.
If you are a high-achiever and always have a long to-do list, it is likely that you are familiar with a nagging voice that just won’t let you relax. The one that keeps telling you that if you take time to slow down, everything will fall apart. The one that steals the peace of your present day and convinces you that if you worry some more, you might come up with a solution to all your problems. The one that tells you that who you are isn’t good enough, so you need to read that next book, attend that latest self-development course, be better, do more, and follow in the steps of others who seem to have cracked the code so they must know better than you. Then, maybe, you will finally feel content and confident in who you are. Then, you will be happy, fulfilled, and will be able to relax.
I call this nagging voice a thieve of joy and peace. It creates rumination, overthinking, and self-judgment, and it takes over so fast that before you know it, you are down the rabbit hole chasing and wrestling with stories that either belong to the past or to the future. It arises in thoughts, feelings, sensations, or images that trick us into believe that their messages are facts and that what they’re telling us has merit to it.
Oftentimes, in attempts to silence that voice, you may put a lot of effort into trying to predict possible outcomes and do everything to control the situations you are about to face. That control seemingly keeps your anxiety at bay because it creates a false sense of comfort and predictability. But the more you do to placate the internal anxiety, the more tension, panic, and fear it creates, leaving you unable to deal with things you didn’t anticipate.
If you grew up in constant scarcity, your life narrative becomes one of struggle and hardship. This script says that, only through hard work can you have the life you want, only after suffering can you experience ease, only if you are constantly ahead is when you are not falling behind. Then finally, you may come out the other side as a victor. But unfortunately, this story doesn’t end there. Instead of relishing in that victory, celebrating yourself, and soaking in the good moments, you start anticipating the next struggle. You anxiously wait, unable to relax because you learned that you need to be prepared, you need to control, put effort, try harder, and do more… or you will fail.
You may notice this voice or sensations most clearly when you sit down to relax and do anything that’s not considered “productive” by our standards. That little voice might say “what are you doing enjoying yourself and being all self-indulgent?” It might be telling you there are things you COULD or SHOULD be accomplishing instead of just being and not fighting the next big fight and suffering.
Throughout my life, the narratives that fueled me were ones of an underdog. Opportunities appeared only after struggles. I was fascinated by stories of those who made it through major adversities and came out on the other side, not merely surviving, but thriving! My mom and I would watch the Oprah Show on our old black and white TV, and I would be completely drawn into the story my mom was telling me about Oprah and how she made it through it all. That was the first seed planted in me that if I just work hard enough, I can succeed.
In different chapters of my life, I was constantly searching, working hard, unable to relax, and being pulled towards the next big thing. Constant anxiety made it difficult to truly celebrate all the accomplishments that seemed so distant at one point. Had I not had this voice pushing me and nudging me, my life would have been very different and perhaps I wouldn’t have accomplished most of the things I dreamed of.
But at some point, I noticed that this feeling of restlessness felt unnecessary, draining, & tiresome. It kept arising any time I would slow down and relax. As if I anticipated that the good things in my life were about to last only for a short while and my next struggle will find me unprepared. I kept having to remind myself that this is an old voice that doesn’t serve me anymore, and that good things can last and don’t always have to be preceded by difficulty and lack. Letting go of the control became an intentional act of self-trust and faith that I deserve peace and happiness even when I don’t suffer.
If you find yourself constantly controlling every little action and putting a lot of effort into predicting outcomes, you are not allowing for effortless opportunities to come to you. Sometimes the most difficult act is to let go and simply trust; to notice the anxiety and let it be there; to hear that little voice saying you’re not good enough, and believe you are in spite of it, to notice the discomfort of your feelings and further lean into them.
A few tips for dealing with the internal critic, anxiety, & overthinking.