Your Mind as a Sacred Enclosure

“Your own mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by your permission.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Tell me about a time you permitted something harmful into your mind—and a time that you didn’t.


  1. Fran Stekoll says

    The time I let something harmful climb into my mind was after adopting our son. We paid an attorney to get him, which is considered the grey market. In the early 60’s, the only legal adoptions for couples who already had their own children (we had two daughters) were mixed or handicapped, and we wanted a son to carry on our name. We went to pick him up in San Francisco. His parents were married and the husband thought this child would save his marriage; but the mother was a fashion model and wanted no children.

    We named him Alan. He was six months old. We had just had a professional portrait taken of our family. My husband and I were sitting in chairs, Alan was in my lap. Our two daughters were standing by our sides.

    I got a letter from his birth Father the day before the adoption was final. I panicked. I called our attorney. He told me that in grey market adoptions, the birth father has the option to cover the name of the adoptive parents when he signs the final papers. He opted not to cover our name. He looked it up in the phone book, found our address and asked us to please send him a picture of “his son” before he left for the east coast. He said he and his wife had divorced and he wanted to see what “his son” looked like so he could put his picture in his wallet as a keep sake. The attorney told me to go ahead and comply with his wishes and I probably would never hear from him again.

    I took scissors and cut Alan’s face out of our portrait and sent it.

    Years later, my best friend went to her 50th class reunion in Middletown, New York. She looked in her class yearbook and saw the boy who pulled her braids and wrote her love notes. He looked just like my son Alan. She called me. His name was Fred La Vigna. She asked me how I would feel and how Alan would feel if he turned out to be his father.

    I told her that when Alan was 15, he was going to New York and I told him what his father’s name was and to look him up as he’d be so proud to see how well he’d turned out. Alan wasn’t at all interested at that time in meeting him and told me that we were his parents.

    However, during a recent physical some questions came up from his doctor that Alan had no knowledge of so he was at this time curious as to his birth parents physical problems. I told my friend to question Fred. Sure enough, he was Alan’s father. I was not feeling threatened this time. Fred was thrilled as his former wife, Alan’s mother had passed away and it turned out she had cancer in her family.

    Fred came to California to see his sister-in-law (Alan’s Aunt) and two nieces, (Alan’s cousins. Alan flew down with his wife and son and daughter and everyone met. I was to meet Fred but he passed away before our scheduled meeting. Before our meeting he told Alan to tell me that I’d done a wonderful job of raising him and how proud he was to see how well he’d grown into such a handsome, successful man with such a wonderful family. I guess sometimes we just have to go with our gut feelings and decide what we allow to pollute our mind or don’t!!!

    • Polly says

      One thing that struck me as someone with a beautiful black niece is that it wouldn’t have occurred to me that a mixed baby wouldn’t be thought of as someone who could have carried on your name. It certainly sounds like times were different back then. That aside, it sounds like opening your home to a child who needed you yielded some lovely results. Thanks for sharing.

    • PJ says

      Fran- this was a touching story and good to meld the reader’s thoughts and feelings with your own to show how complex some of life’s issues are. It was good to get the bio-dad’s feedback before he passed away. My wife and I got a complimentary letter from our future son in law’s step dad with his impression of how important we were in his life even tho we showed up in his late teen years. He had many regrets and we ended up being the influence that he had hoped to be. Seth, (the son in law) affectionately called us “Ozzie & Harriet” (as flawed as we were). Virtually all of his friends and relatives came from disjointed single parent homes and this was indeed a high compliment in its own special way.

    • says

      Fran, I was also struck by the context of this story and your adoption–and how people’s views of family have shifted in the years since you adopted your son on the grey market. the ideas about who is “an acceptable son” to carry on the family name–and the whole concept of open adoption. So much is different than the era and time in which this story played itself out. I’m glad it had a positive ending…and that Fred did get to meet his biological son.

    • Terry Gibson says

      I appreciate your story, Fran. Thank God things are different in so many ways now. Every existing -ism ruled back then and affected how everything and everyone was viewed; I’m not naive enough to think that is all better today, but it sure has improved! That era reminds me of my Mom’s youngest brother who was born developmentally challenged; he was hidden away in a hospital, naturally, and that always bothered me. When I had my own car, my best friend and I went there to volunteer, which was mainly to see him. It made me sad that he was there but I couldn’t do anything about it. He did appreciate the visit from his big sister Wilma’s daughter though. Thank you Fran. I’m glad everything worked out for everyone.

      • Fran Stekoll says

        One thing I didn’t mention was when we went to pick up our son, the nurse at the Hospital tried to give us a boy and girl twins. I often wondered what ever happened to them. Also now, Fred could’ve kept his son; but then it wasn’t acceptable. The cards I sent out after Alan’s adoption read:”I wasn’t expected, I was selected” Even though he was a handful, always getting into trouble, He ended up being a Youth Minister.

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      Fran, I love the image of you cutting Alan’s face out of your family portrait to send to his birth father. A moving story on so many levels. Thanks for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Fran, what a touching story. Oh yes, how times have changed. I loved your openness, full-hearted telling. Absolutely loved that announcement card! WOW. Alan is blessed, indeed, to call you Mom.

  2. PJ says

    Generally I had a safe, happy childhood, but I did have some minor bullying on my mile-long walk to first grade class in suburban Springfield. Like every kid in the 1950’s, I had my cowboy heroes to guide me in my behavior where there was a very thin line between fantasy and reality (Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and of course the classic movie hero, Shane). I had recently found a rusty jackknife and the next time the two older boys jumped me on my way home. This time when they jumped me I pulled it out and threatened to poke them with it which probably scared me as much as it did them. When you are 6 years old you can’t see beyond pulling out the knife and watching the others scatter (if you are lucky enough for things to work out that way). Since that day I worked out dozens of really bad scenarios where it didn’t and am grateful I got “lucky”.

    To contrast the first incident, my hormones were screaming at me “GET LAID!” 24/7 during my college years BUT somehow I managed to avoid this with enough diversions to get by with. This was probably a good thing as marriage before graduation was out of the question. Knowing myself as I do now, I realize that a risky one-time thing in the mid-sixties would not stop there but continue until the numbers caught up with me and my partner. While it might have ended well, initially at least, it would have been embarrassing, stressful and possibly divisive and may well have turned life upside down for the two of us. On the flip side of that- it may have given us a taste of “life” (Life is what happens while you are making other plans).

    • says

      Dear PJ, thanks for sharing this reflection. It’s interesting how you view your choices in retrospect–and I’m glad nothing bad happened to you with that knife!

    • Polly says

      PJ, this was interesting. It all seemed kind of surreal. I would like to echo Laura’s sentiment in being thankful that nothing bad happened to you or those other kids with that knife – scary!

    • Judy says

      PJ, that’s a very scary experience for any age, but at six year old–when did you tell your parents? And, oh yeah, Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Nice ending.

  3. Nancy Schoellkopf says

    The office calls me on my cell phone. Mrs. Jones has arrived to pick up her son Johnny, a student in my special education classroom. It’s my lunchtime, but I am sitting in the Media Center monitoring her son, who has removed his shoes and shirt and has been running barefoot and bare-chested, laughing his Beavis and Butthead laugh, all over campus. My aide and I have trapped him in this large empty space where we are guarding the doors, pretending to ignore him, though I am worried he may hurt himself climbing on a rack of folding chairs in the corner of the room. If I attempt to move him, the chase will begin again, and his mother is so close. It’s almost over.

    She comes through the door now and I stand to greet her. Johnny catches sight of her too.

    “Mom!” he exclaims in surprise. It’s one of his few words. We are teaching him to use a picture communication system, but–typical tween boy–he prefers to communicate with belches and farts.

    He rushes over to his mother who embraces him, kissing his forehead. “What’s going on here?” she asks me. “Where are his shoes and his T shirt?”

    I begin the spiraling story of his morning romp: a fight over a ball at recess, a screaming tantrum during math instruction, a desk knocked over, finally the flight from the classroom, articles of clothing discarded between here and the playground. I’m about to tell her that his fancy red and black Nikes are now on the roof of the kindergarten cottage but she interrupts me. “What is the matter with you?” she accuses me in a bitter voice. “Why can’t you handle him? Didn’t you go to school to learn how to teach disabled children?”
    She’s ranting now and I press my lips into a tight horizontal line. I breathe through my nose and nod and nod and nod, waiting for her to finish, hoping she’ll be quick. There’s still twenty minutes left on my lunch break, maybe I’ll have time to eat something. Maybe I can even spend five-minutes in meditation. If she would just leave.

    “Oh!” she says, pausing suddenly. I lift my eyebrows, feigning interest. “I see what you’re doing,” she blurts. “You’re just standing there, nodding. I’m a nurse, I work at a hospital, I have to do that sometimes. I see what you’re doing.”

    Her voice has grown louder and more shrill. The irony that she has recognized my surrender tactic seems to have made her angrier. Now she has become one of those people who require the overly-patient, silent nod. She grabs Johnny’s arm and bolts through the door, seemingly unconcerned that he is half dressed.

    When I started writing this, I was going to say that here was a time when I didn’t allow harmful words to come in and take root. I knew I was well trained, a good teacher and a hard worker. I knew I was doing the best I could with the resources I had. But even though I didn’t give her permission, Mrs. Jones and her words were yet another straw on my back. The straw that would break me hadn’t been piled on yet, but it would be soon.

    Is it really that easy? Just say no? Don’t give permission? Pretend you’re a piece of honeycomb and the anger and the meanness and the unkind words will just pass through? Is it possible? I don’t know. I didn’t give Johnny permission to leave the classroom that day either, but he and his mother sure ran roughshod over the top of me.

    • says

      Nancy, thanks for sharing this story. Teachers work so hard and I love that you documented just a little of the incredible challenges they (and you) face everyday. Thanks for posting this story.

    • Ilana says

      Nancy- Thank you for sharing this story. It is so well written and descriptive. I am sorry you were put through that. If I may answer the questions you posed with my two cents… I say “No.” It’s not as easy as Mr. Emmerson makes it sound. It’s good advice but definitely easier said than done. Good read! IM

    • Polly says

      Nancy, my mom taught for many years and in watching her throughout her career, I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for teachers. It is quite possibly the most noble profession. It seems to me her greatest challenge was also difficult parents. It seems increasingly common for parents to see their children as being perfect, and place the blame for behavioural problems onto – as you so aptly put it – the backs of teachers; all the while overlooking their own role in this equation. Thanks for sharing, and for doing the work that you do.

    • Judy says

      Dear Nancy, What a vivid picture you painted–I was there with you nodding–hoping this would have a better ending than the blame game. Teachers/educators are amazing human beings. We hear far too many similar stories (several of our kids are educators). Thank you for being on the front line, helping shape young minds, helping shape the world.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Nancy, I was right with you…and I wanted to wring that mother’s neck. I was a teacher in an ordinary classroom and I know that a kid doesn’t need to be disabled to be really difficult.
      My grandson, fostered at five was so obstreperous that he was asked to leave three pre schools. My daughter cut back her hours at work so she could spend time in the classroom helping the teacher.

      Another granddaughter has spent most of her 24 years in special needs programs. I have not just respect but awe for good natured way they negotiate their day with some quite difficult situations.

      • Nancy Schoellkopf says

        Thanks to all of you for your supportive comments! Full disclosure–I retired this year, so I’m no longer having encounters with parents who have creative imaginations. This is also why I feel freer than ever before to write about my experiences in the classroom. I’m just warming up! Thanks again.

  4. Liz F. says

    When I first saw this prompt, I thought: “Yeah, that is so true. My own mind is a sacred enclosure–into which nothing harmful can enter–except by my permission.” And then I thought: “Wait a minute… By my permission” is a operant phrase.

    I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and TODAY this concept is a true one for me. I am able to protect my sacred enclosure, and nothing harmful can enter–except by my permission. But for many years this concept was not so true for me, and the perpetrators were harmful when they entered and violated that sacred enclosure, and left me beleiving that I had let them. Giving them my permission to do so.

    I must say UN conciously I had given them permission I suppose. I can own that now. But for many years at least on a concious level, this was not true. And the painstaking work of uncovering the hidden effects allows me to know this now.

    • says

      Liz, I believe this is a part of us that stays sacred and our own even when we are violated and this is what enables us to survive. I’m so glad you feel you can set boundaries now…as you know, it’s hard for those of us who had them violated to learn how.

      • Liz F. says

        Yes Laura I beleive that it is a part of us that stays sacred and our own too, and my sacred enclosure truly did keep me sane during some very insane times. And I am grateful to know how to keep it safe now; although it is a work in progress…

    • Terry Gibson says

      Liz, thanks so much for your post! When I read this prompt, I was instantly triggered. I felt so ANGRY for similar reasons. Knowing that everything sacred about me was pawed and rummaged thru–and experiencing every day the resulting turmoil–often overwhelms me. This was especially true one day, when someone accused me of making my own choices (choosing my own hell, in other words). I was incensed! This made the mental anguish worse; it seemed that no matter how I looked at myself, I was always just a big joke, even complicit in my own slaughter. Anyway, I am glad you shared this. As you can see, I am passionate on the subject. I’ve come far since then and do derive comfort from Laura’s words about how we survive–that our core being, by birthright, remains untouched, inviolable, and only ours to share or cherish in peace.

      • Liz F. says

        Yes Terry, It is awful when people get into the “you make your own choices” BS without actually knowing the true context of what is going on. Or maybe they do know the true context of what is going on, and just want those they are harming to feel responsible for it as part of their sick twisted logic.

        There is a sacred part of us that remains untouched and I am so grateful for it too….

        • Terry Gibson says

          Liz, you said that so precisely to what I know. Thanks. It’s so freeing when people understand … I wish you continued healing and happiness.

    • Ilana says

      Liz- Oh that beautiful feeling that comes when someone here gives me that “She gets it! I’m not alone!” Feeling. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Well done! IM

    • Polly says

      Yes, to your piece and to everyone’s comments on it. Speaking for myself, (and I’m still pretty early in the healing process), I would say that I never gave my adult brother permission to do the things he did to me, consciously or unconsciously. I honestly believe that and I don’t think anyone did … not to discredit anything but how could we have? Maybe that’s the “unviolable” part. You are brave for having written this. Thank you for sharing.

      • Liz F. says

        Thank you Polly for your response and the chance to clarify. I never gave the abusers in my childhood permission conciously. I knew at the time what they were doing felt uncomfortable and I beleive nobody else “gave them permission” either.

        I was told that stuff about “making choices” (and therefore giving permission) as an adult by a so called therapist, and when I was told that, it was a hard concept to grasp because of the conflict of feelings involved. I never addressed the hidden effects the childhood sexual abuse had left me with in that “therapy” and it was many years later when I finally did….

        • Polly says

          Hey Liz, thanks for clarifying! … Not that you should be made to on here, ever, as it’s your experience. I think I had a big moment and I felt the need to ask about that. Largely what was going through my head was “how could I have consented? I wasn’t even in the room.” Seriously. How’s that for logic?

          It sounds like that therapist said some very inappropriate and potentially harmful things to you. I’m sorry. That must have been difficult.

  5. Lee Xanthippe says


    Dear Ralph,
    Thank you for the reminder that my mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by my permission.

    Or let me begin again,
    Dear Ralph,
    When I first saw your email, my mind saw, “Your mind is a scared enclosure…”

    Dear Ralph,
    What do you know about my mind? And what kind of enclosure it is?? Or if it is an enclosure at all??

    Dear Ralph,
    I’m glad that you are privileged enough as a white guy who doesn’t have that much to fear and who can have such control over what enters your mind or not. I am glad that you can keep your mind guarded in a way from harm. I wish I was that lucky. But really, Ralph, is it luck? Perhaps you are woefully unaware of the way women (to make a generalization, if I may) have been socialized to let it all in, to be accommodating, to be receptive.

    Receptivity is a double edged sword.

    Ralph, I am glad that you have not been so assaulted by reading or watching the news against your kind as I have against been my kind, to have to read the constant details about the bad things that happen to women, not to mention many others.

    Dear Ralph,
    My mind is sacred. I am trying to learn how to protect my mind and being from harmful things. This can be exceedingly difficult for me at times. And it can get complicated. Sometimes ironically I have to protect myself by letting things in and learning that they are not such fearful things, while other things are quite toxic and catch me off guard.

    Dear Ralph,
    I want to be able to get swept up in good moments but sometimes what might seem like a good moment can shift/change and I have to…I have been learning to be the kind of person that can enjoy but also needs to keep listening to myself over the other messages to be polite (and other such seemingly good things women especially are taught that can backfire against us when we must perhaps be a little or lot “rude” to protect ourselves.)
    This is hard, being in these predicaments—learning to listen to our smart inner voices while trying to be kind and civil and we cannot always do both things and we err, one way or the other, but hopefully we learn some more comfortable way of being—of listening to ourselves, protecting ourselves…so that we can be in a better place to engage with others in a more healthy way. Or choose not to engage with certain people or situations that prove toxic in some way.

    Dear Ralph and Laura,
    Thank you for the good writing prompt…this is tough stuff.
    It is not always easy to tell when you are letting something harmful into your head…It is not easy to block the harmful things even when you wish to. One can learn to get better at it, but it can be hard work, but who ever said life was easy, right?

    • says

      Lee, I love your very serious response to the issue raised by this prompt, but also the very creative way you chose to answer it. I loved your series of mini-letters. And the way your perspective deepened with each one.

      • Nancy Schoellkopf says

        Lee–I love that you’re telling Ralph Waldo that women have been taught to be accommodating and receptive! It’s so true! Thank you.

    • mariah says

      Thank you so much for sharing, Lee. I loved the way you wrote this. The fourth “letter” really stood out to me. Something I think everyone should read!

    • Ilana says

      Lee- I enjoyed this on so many levels. The letters were so creative. The way they evolved was beautiful. And the message was such a relief to hear. I wrote my own piece before reading too many other pieces and thought I was alone in my struggle with the quote. Thank you for all of it! IM

    • Polly says

      Lee, I love how you explore the roles of white male privilege, the socialization of women to be polite, and pleasant, and the predicament (to put it mildly) that this leaves us in. Very, very well done. Thank you.

  6. Ilana says

    “No One Can Make You Feel Badly Without Your Permission.”

    That’s how my father used to say it when I was a teenager. I felt myself crumple beneath the weight of those words. To me they translated into “Your fault. If you feel badly because of what Andrew does to you it’s your fault. If you feel badly because the kids at school pick on you it’s your fault.” Honestly, I don’t understand the concept; not the way my father said it and not the way Emmerson said it. It seems to me that if someone says something derogatory or hurtful it will enter my mind. Maybe I’m just not very good at not “permitting something harmful to enter my mind.” I know I have a rough time permitting the positive stuff to enter my mind. I’m so damned good at pushing away compliments and any evidence of positive attributes to my character. So rather than look at my failures, to let in good and keep out bad, I’d like to look at a few success stories.

    I’ll begin with the negative I was able to push away. There is a mother at my son’s preschool who has always needed to put me down and evaluate me at every turn. I’ve known Caron since Micah was in the parent-tot program with her daughter. Through four years of classes and being on the PTO together I have tried to shrug off her nasty comments. This year, again, Caron’s daughter Trixie is in Micah’s class. One morning Caron accosted me in the hall outside the kids’ classroom. “I learned something about you that absolutely shocked me!” She said with great energy. “What?” I asked. “Trixie told me that Micah had a Lucky Charms bar in his lunchbox. That is not healthy.” This was the second time Caron had approached me about her daughter’s report on the contents of my son’s lunch box. The first time I let it in. Not this time. “Because he likes them and the NuVal score (rating of how healthy the product is) is 26. Regular granola bars are only a 4.” I shrugged. ‘Why do you care so much about what I feed my children?’ I wondered silently. ‘It’s a waste of your time and I am not interested in your opinion.’ I went home and told my husband about the comment that was verbatim what she had said to me three months earlier. I was so proud of myself for not getting defensive. Still I didn’t understand why she cared so much. Zander explained it. “Ilana, the woman has weight issues. She’s jealous of you and sees you as some kind of health nut because you don’t allow him to drink juice.”

    Later, at the father’s day breakfast Caron’s husband subjected my husband to a similar conversation. He explained to Zander, a former cardiac nurse, that doughnuts caused heart attacks and when he allowed Micah to eat a single doughnut hole he was risking heart disease. What?! But Zander only shrugged and said, “One’s not going to hurt him.” Apparently, our eating habits are a regular topic of conversation around their home. Wow. Didn’t know we were so important. What a waste of time but it’s not my problem.

    Now onto some stories of good things I was able to let in. The first happened a few weeks ago in my spin class. I’ve been going to spin at 5:15 each Wednesday morning for a little over two months. For the first three weeks I struggled through, dreading the class and only sticking with it because I really liked the teacher. She checked on me regularly and was very encouraging. On my way into class the fourth time I said to someone, “I don’t know why I keep coming. I hate it.” That day something clicked. I had a blast and became addicted. It’s now my favorite class. A few weeks ago she pushed us, I mean REALLY, pushed us. At the end of class she said, “That was so hard. I wouldn’t have put you guys through that work out but we didn’t have any newbies and I thought you could take it.” I smiled to myself, absolutely thrilled. Two seconds later my beloved teacher looked at me. “Did you hear that? I just said you were not a newbie.” I nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. I caught that and was really enjoying it.”

    Today it happened again, in spin. All of her work outs are grueling but we’ve got a couple of guys in our class training for some kind of killer mountain ride. They get extra instructions, to push themselves harder. One of them was on the bike next to me. He jokingly raised his arms in a triumph when she said, “If you really want to you can push your speed up an extra 30 rpms.” I felt like part of the group, laughing along at his joke but really assumed these athletes didn’t bother to notice me. I assumed wrong. This same guy stopped me on my way out of the gym. “Good work today.” He said encouragingly. Wow! Not only did he consider me a part of the group but he noticed how hard I was working and took the time to congratulate me. I thanked him and went home to tell my Zander.

    The last story of my success needs a little bit of preface. I’ve been trying to keep this saga out of my posts but for the last month my in-laws have been putting us through sheer hell. Their obvious cruelty toward us began upsetting our children a couple of weeks ago. Then they extended their cruelty to the kids in order to hurt us. Aize, my seven year old, is now terrified of her grandparents and showing physical symptoms from the stress. I took her to a psychologist for advice. Dr. Wen, gently and kindly, taught her some relaxation techniques and then asked Aize if she would like Mom or Dad to please tell grandma and grandpa to stop yelling at her. My heart sank. There is as little contact as possible already but Dr. Wen felt it was important that I make the request and assure Aize I had done so. I knew it was going to be a hellish conversation but my children come before my own feelings absolutely.

    I talked it over with Zander. We agreed that I would make the call but I would need him to be available for me to talk to once I was done. On Wednesday, April 10th at 9:00am I texted him that I was calling his folks. Then I dialed the dreaded number. James answered the phone. I began by telling him that I would never do anything to hurt him or Dianne but we really needed them to stop yelling at Aize. He was furious and began screaming at me right away. What he did can only be classified as verbal assault and that’s exactly how I experienced it. He’d been screaming for a full minute when I said for the third time, “James, I need to hang up the phone now.” and finally did it. I called Zander immediately afterword. “You’d [gasp] better not [gasp] be [gasp sob] with a patient.” “I’m not. I left the room because I knew you’d need me.” He said gently. He listened, with growing horror, to my experience. “You will not have to talk to my parents again. From now on they are not allowed to speak to you at all.” Later in the day he called them and despite getting yelled at, himself, explained that no one deserved to be yelled at. “Not me, not my children and not my wife.”

    Zander is standing behind me all the way. But this is still scary as hell. There are plans that need to be canceled, arrangements to be made if we are going to avoid them. For several nights I’ve been plagued with violent nightmares and insomnia from the worry. Last night Zander went out for guys’ night and I went to bed early. He came home at 11:00 to find me crying in my sleep. He put his warm hand on my arm. “It’s okay.” He said. “I’m here.” I woke up and thanked him. A few minutes later I was fast asleep; peacefully and for the rest of the night. Zander meant every word of what he’d said. It wasn’t just a comforting thing to say. He meant “It is okay because I am here for you.” That’s what I heard and that’s what I took in. I am still sad. It’s still a horrible situation but Zander is here and it is going to be okay. I have a feeling that I’m going to sleep just fine tonight.

    So these are my stories. The times I failed to protect the “sacred space of my mind” from “harmful things” that other people say are too numerous to be worth discussing. The same is true of my failures to let the good stuff in. Far more notable are my precious successes. I’m learning. I’m doing better and with the love and support of the people who value me, I will begin to succeed more often than I fail. That will be my greatest triumph.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Thank you for this piece…I felt myself moving along on this rollercoaster between the judgments of a father, of parents at school, of grandparents and the difficult communicating and setting of boundaries with the support of other people. And in between I heard the pride and another kind of effort and striving in the spin class and earning the respect of others as well as realizing the joyous feelings of sticking with something and working hard. Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of the journey, and the feet set down to protect oneself and others.

      • Ilana says

        Thank you Lee for your supportive comments. I’d say you summarized my piece well and take it as a compliment that you got so much out of it. That’s why I love posting here! IM

    • Polly says

      Ilana, I feel like I’m being repetitive with my comments to your posts specifically but I have to say that this resonated with me. As someone whose thoughts are often (lately) infiltrated with darkness, and who has one heck of a time accepting and believing a compliment, I can appreciate how you feel. Common threads in our respective pasts could have something to do with that, but that’s just speculation. Anyway, I get it. It’s nice to see that you’re letting in the good, believing in the inherent good that is you, and asserting yourself at the same time. Thanks for letting us in on this part of your life.

      • Ilana says

        I agree with you, Polly, and feel the same way. We have a lot in common and a lot we can learn from each other. I echo your thanks in letting me be a part of your life and being a part of mine. IM

    • says

      Ilana, I loved the range of your response and the heart you put into this post. You demonstrate so clearly and lucidly your own process. Thanks, too, for sharing the very raw and real dilemma with your in-laws. I’m so sorry they’ve been so invasive and inappropriate and so glad Zander has your back.

      • Ilana says

        Thank you, Laura, for your support. Honestly, sharing what my in-laws are putting me through here has been extremely helpful. Often times throwing my pain onto the page gets it out of me. It relieves some of the pressure anyway. To have a place like this where people read it and respond supportively increases that relief exponentially. I am so grateful to have found this blog. IM

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      Illana–you are incredibly brave to confront your in-laws and speak your truth. And what a blessing to have a supportive husband! Sending prayers and positive thoughts your way!

    • Judy says

      Ilana, As always you express yourself with clarity and deeply from your dear heart/soul. And, I feel strongly that you are role model for your family—your in-laws are lucky to have your wisdom, patience and emotional intelligence. You and Zander are a ‘the North Star’ team and your children will benefit greatly.

  7. beverly Boyd says

    When Kate, the older of my twins, came into the world, I looked at her through the nursery window, arms flailing to match her noisy objections that her sleep had been interrupted. At that moment I recognized the powerful being she is and found myself praying, “Oh, God, help me to know how to raise her to be acceptable in the world without breaking her spirit…as mine was broken.” I was startled by the ending of my prayer. I never had that thought before, yet I knew it was true.

    Several months later as Kate was throwing a fit of frustration on my parents’ kitchen floor, my mother observed, “Well, Beverly, it took you six to get yours but you finally did.” Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. “It took me years to break you but I finally did!” The candor of her confession, even though it validated my awareness, made me mute. For years I wanted to ask her how she did it so I wouldn’t do the same to my daughter, but I never found the right time and the words.

    In the years when my first children were tiny, I had often heard my mother’s tone as I corrected them. Did I really want to use that tone…those words? Was there a better way? So I believe I learned better ways to interact with them.

    A few years later I came across the idea of a psychological bully and realized that not only was my mother one but my husband was too. As so often happens I had married my problem parent (my mother) so I could keep working with the dynamic I knew so well!

    Two years later Kate was born. Then when she was eight I was working on my inventory in a twelve step program. One day I was inspired to write in my journal about as many of the times that I could remember when my mother had metaphorically pulled the rug out from under me.

    Mother was a practical joker. While many of her jokes were relatively harmless there is that aspect of a practical joke that takes pleasure from seeing someone look silly or worse. If you don’t think it is funny you have no sense of humor: “I/We were only kidding!” She also used many ways to set me up about emotional issues, claiming she was only kidding or curious. She would try to get me to admit things she thought I was doing by planting evidence in a pocket, or claiming she had talked to somebody. Tearful denials fell on deaf ears until I would finally storm off with her voice in my ears letting me know she would tell Daddy when he came home…which she seldom did.

    Seventeen pages were filled with anecdotes from a paragraph to a page and a half of painful memories. It was close to the holidays and I didn’t want to carry all that pain and possibly spoil the day for my loved ones, so I made a date with my sponsor to give the inventory. He suggested that if I had any other inventory work I wanted to “give away” to bring them along in case we had time for more.
    As I read, George was amazed at some of the things this woman, who looked to all the world like the soul of loving kindness, had heaped on me.

    Near the end of the stories of my mother there was a triumphant recognition that she had not broken my spirit. She only thought she had. I was aware that I had found a place deep within me where the essential “me” was safe and protected. I had complied with her (as long as it didn’t go against my truth). I was careful not to share anything that she could twist or betray me with because I had learned she could not be trusted.

    Then I read an inventory about my boyfriends, which was mostly about my husband. His brand of bullying was more of a passive aggressive nature, but there was also the aspect of cloaking it in humor so I had no real defense. That one also had a similar triumphant passage. It was so good to have George there to validate that my experience of abuse though not of a physical nature in either case, was emotionally crippling. We both noticed the triumphant passage of having found that “sacred enclosure” where my spirit was safe and had a “high five” moment over it.

    I’m happy to say that because of the serious work both of us did on ourselves (Mother spent some good time with a good therapist and I in the twelve step program) we were able to have a healed relationship for many years before she died.

    • says

      Beverly, this is beautiful account of some amazing healing. From where you started in the first two paragraphs to where you ended up at the end–very inspiring.

      • beverly Boyd says

        Thank you Laura,
        I’m happy to say, that I not only don’t need to tell those seventeen pages of stories any more…I only even remember two of them! That in itself is a healing!

    • Ilana says

      Wow Beverly, what an amazing story and so beautifully told. All I can say is I salute you. I pray that one day I, too, will heal my relationship with my mother. Thank you for telling such an inspiring story. I really needed it today. IM

      • beverly Boyd says

        I. too, hope you have a healed relationship with your mother. I will say from my own experience that the family I raised was so much healthier as I believe is also true with you and Zander, that even if that relationship had not healed I am in a much better place because of my own healing!

        Keep showing up with new awareness. You are doing a great job!

    • Judy says

      What a powerfully written piece on healing. Thank you, Beverly. You are so brave to initiate the process with your Mother and have the time to share before her death. Blessed be.

  8. Judy says

    Mind as Sacred Enclosure: tell me about a time you permitted something harmful into your mind and a time you didn’t.

    More often than I like, my ‘monkey mind’ would steamroll my brain, body and spirit into chaos—not a fun place to be.

    You know the monkey mind, don’t you? Those jumping, screeching, chattering, energy-robbing, carrying on endless thoughts—all demanding attention, often having the same boring conversation time-and-time-again with no real solution. My youngest son once described the monkey mind best with this, “Oh, man, I couldn’t sleep last night. The monkeys called a committee meeting.”

    Marriages, motherhood, migraines, divorces, work, missed opportunities and finally fibromyalgia—all caused me to slide into negative self-talk and depression: I’m so fat. I’m so slow. I not smart enough; not good enough; I’m too…..this or that, I was miserable and didn’t understand why.

    Before I was diagnosed with PSTD from psychological and sexual abuse by my Dad, the Fear Monkey, Shame Monkey, Anxiety Monkey or whatever horrible human emotion we fair creatures can imagine took up way too much real estate in my mind.

    I was a mess but a high functioning mess, UNTIL my body said, “Enough.”

    My professional organization was planning a national lobbying effort–a trip to the Capitol. Local members were scheduled to meet with our U. S. legislators, present white papers, schmooze, and be available for photo ops. I was co-chair of our Midwest group. After hours and hours of meetings, strategizing and rehearsing, I collapsed into bed two days before departure to D.C. and didn’t get up for nearly a week. Along with the feeling that the efforts were a fool’s errand, I was ‘burned-out.’ I wasn’t fully invested in the effort—it seemed like sophism. So, I put my business on hold, pulled back from community activism and committee work to find out why I felt like shit.

    A dear friend and former business partner recommended that I see her internist/acupuncturist, who quickly became my internist/acupuncturist, as well. Immediately, the physician introduced me to a medical qi gong master/healer for acupuncture, herbs, massage, body work, qi gong (energy work) and tai qi (movement). The healing process began, and I am deeply indebted to them both for saving my life. I am learning to trust: myself, my teachers, the wondrous loving energy that surrounds me. Along with a dear husband, children, and grandchildren, siblings and friends–I feel very blessed.

    Here is what I’ve learned and am learning:

    • every cell in your body listens to the dialogue in your head. In fact, the cells in your organs take ‘marching orders’ from the mind chatter and respond both positively or negatively;
    • smile therapy is amazing (Google it);
    • talk therapy;
    • I can call a Committee Meeting. I can halt those monkey mind shenanigans by lining them up, telling them they are no longer needed, and giving them a time out!;
    • I discovered my mind—yes;
    • that sitting with ‘it’ for awhile is enough, sometimes, for ‘it’ to fade…to move out of your body;
    • that sometimes you can’t get the dust off your boots….meaning, there is no such thing as perfect healing–that it ebbs and flows–that it comes and goes—that it is what it is;
    • forgiveness and love are all that matter.

    Remain in the present. In the moment, fully engaged in what you are doing. Be aware of your body and your emotions. Do a quick self-check—to identify your emotion. The self-check is key to staying in a non-reactive state and recognizing what you feel, physically, emotionally and mentally.

    Ask yourself:
    • what is between me and pleasure at this moment?
    • Identify the emotion: anger, rage, fear, terror, shame, humiliation, jealousy, lack.
    • ask when did my mood change?
    • what was happening at the moment that I no longer felt pleasure?

    While waiting for an acupuncture treatment, I found a Newsweek article on the benefits to daily journaling. I was hooked and share this summary with you:

    • writing about upsetting experiences makes you feel better;
    • it can strengthen your immune response;
    • increase the level of disease-fighting lymphocytes circulating in the bloodstream;
    • modestly reduce blood-pressure;
    • reduce symptoms of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis;
    • reduce symptoms of depression;
    • reduce doctor visits; and,
    • ten minutes a day for 30 days will create a habit–one that may provide benefits yet discovered.

    And, short of all these practices, I find that crankin’ up old timeie rock & roll, dancing around the house, arms flailing, hips moving, and heels kicking, I can change the vibrations around me and send those monkeys marching right out the door!

    • Polly says

      Judy, it’s amazing to see your continued journey of healing. You are truly an inspiration. I have my share of monkeys, too. Thank you for sharing your experience and your insight.

    • says

      Judy, thanks for sharing your journey and your wisdom in this post. I loved this line, “I was a mess but a high functioning mess, UNTIL my body said, “Enough.” And later, “every cell in your body listens to the dialogue in your head. In fact, the cells in your organs take ‘marching orders’ from the mind chatter and respond both positively or negatively.” That was a wake-up sentence for me.I immediately recognized the unpleasant truth in it. Thanks for inspiring me toward positive change.

      • Judy says

        Laura, thank you for your generous comments. This piece was emotionally difficult to write. It went through several rewrites in the ‘mid-section’ and was by far too long. So again, thank you for YOUR encouragement.

    • Janet says

      Wow, Judy, this is awesome. “What is between me and pleasure at this moment?” What a good question I can ask of myself to get into the present moment, or at least, see what’s in my way. Thank you so much for this thought provoking and inspiring piece.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Judy, you gave me so much in this post. Monkey mind causes a lot more trouble than I thought. I am highly functioning too; most people would never believe how well. But my body screeched it all to a halt by turning on me and gifting me with RA, Fibro, prediabetes and a couple extras. Your list is so fitting for me. Will refer to it.

      I am so happy you are doing well. You deserve it. Take tender care of yourself and thanks for reminding me how vital self-care is. I have slipped up on that but am now working hard to change all that I can.

  9. Polly says

    A thing I experienced today:

    It’s my brother’s birthday tomorrow.

    It’s my pedophile freak of a brother’s birthday tomorrow.

    And I don’t care.

    It’s not like I specifically made sure I would have a therapy session on that day, a month ago. (I did.) Just in case. But I didn’t think I would care.

    I’ve been sick for a week and instead of resting, I worked overtime every day. I stayed home this weekend but just feel intense anxiety because that means I might not meet some deadlines on time.

    Today, mass family emails start pouring out with the subject line “Happy almost birthday ____.” I was having a bath so, naturally, I had my cell phone on the side of the tub. People can reach me literally anywhere. I heard the bling sound of an incoming email and saw the messages. I didn’t read them, but I didn’t delete them right away either. I start to shake and I feel that disgusting pressure. But, no, he can’t get to me. Not here. This is where I’m safe. I shave my legs.

    Next I have a shower, to rinse myself and the tub. Showers are complicated these days. Some of my memories are with him in the shower. I decide to power through it. Go fast! That’s not really his voice – it’s just a stupid memory. Get it over with. You’re fine. I notice I can’t stop leaning back and I wonder how my centre of gravity allows me to stay upright. At least this time my mouth isn’t doing that effed up thing on its own.

    I finish the shower in record time and start to dry myself off. My heart is racing and pounding so hard inside my chest that I find myself marveling at the fact that it’s not visible from the outside. I can’t breathe. I want his bs power over me to disappear.

    Although unlike various other points in my life – some quite recent – I no longer want to disappear. Whether I meet my deadlines or not, whatever the outcome when I confront my brother, or disclose to my family – or don’t, and just focus on continuing to heal myself, I’m here for the long haul. I’m a survivor. By definition, that means that I survive in the end.

    • Judy says

      Polly, You ARE a survivor and an inspiration, as well. So glad you can share this story–know you are not alone. Blessed be.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Polly, I’ve also got to say how happy I am that you are facing these highly-charged situations and getting through them. That’s hard work but you’re doing it. You can. If we just share as needed, get feedback, erase the slate each sunrise and begin again, we can do this. I am blessed to know many who have moved on to entirely different lives; I have too but must tweak system a bit.

    • Ilana says

      Polly- Once again you have echoed my own feelings. Dates are always difficult for me. I also understood the shower anxiety. Just this morning my exercise teacher instructed us to put a ball between our thighs to align ourselves during the exercise. I got very upset at the feeling of something holding me open, vulnerable. It was a triumph to tell her point blank that I could not do that and ask how I could complete the exercise in an effective way. We do what we can, right? Take care of yourself and celebrate my birthday instead. It’s only two days before his. 😉 IM

  10. Janet says

    “You permitted something harmful in your_____”. I cannot get beyond the times that I had no way to prevent what was done without my permission, to think about when “I permitted something harmful” in my mind or anywhere. This much I know: I’ve spent an adulthood trying to change thoughts and beliefs that do not serve me.
    It is when I consciously choose to be still, and quiet my mind of past and present clatter, that my “real thoughts” emerge: “I am whole. I am safe. The love within me greets the love within you. I am divinely guided. I am divinely protected.” When I permit these thoughts, I feel aligned with a sense of purpose, and I am lifted far, far away from those thoughts and feelings created in terror long, long ago. I am free.

    • says

      Hi Janet, I loved your last paragraph so much, I’m going to repeat much of it here for emphasis: “It is when I consciously choose to be still, and quiet my mind of past and present clatter, that my ‘real thoughts’ emerge: ‘I am whole. I am safe. The love within me greets the love within you. I am divinely guided. I am divinely protected.’ When I permit these thoughts, I feel aligned with a sense of purpose, and I am lifted far, far away from those thoughts and feelings created in terror long, long ago. I am free.”
      Thanks for the great post.

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