This morning both of my kids crawled into bed with us and asked for a “kid sandwich.” The boy child said he was “the meat, because of my huge muscles,” and the girl child said she was the pickles because “I like pickles.” Then the boy child said, “Mom’s the potato, because she’s thicc!” (Thank you, Lankybox, for introducing my children to “thicc”. Having seen “thicc Shark” and “thicc Foxy” you will realize this is not the kind of thicc we were talking about five years ago. This is not Rihanna. Appropriation has killed it.)
“No!” said the girl child. “She’s the top bun because it’s round!” (Clearer now?)
My husband, sweet man that he is, tried to reroute them, but they doubled down, explaining that there’s nothing wrong with being the potato, that women who have babies sometimes become round-shaped, and that, the boy child added “she’s shaped like that, because I got stuck coming out of her and we both could have died. We should be thankful she’s alive.”
That was about all the family snuggling I could handle, so I got up and ran six miles. I’d planned for that, by the way, it wasn’t driven by the comments about my potato-shaped body. But I did run very fast.
I don’t need my kids to affirm my physical attractiveness. I don’t need them to realize that being their mom is not the only thing my body has ever done. I am their mom, and that is the single most important role to them, and if I’m learning nothing else right now, it’s that we need to be able to be give different love to different people. They didn’t know that they were putting their meaty, pickled little fingers right on the very place I’ve been trying to heal lately: my unworthiness wound.
See the wound
I discovered the unworthiness wound through a series of encounters with energetic healers. It lives on my right side between my iliac crest and my false ribs, surrounding the unexplained occasional muscle tension I’ve had since high school. My amazing Pilates instructor, who also does energetic body work, had once put her hand on it and said “something is going on here.” It’s a tight, swirly collection of energy protecting a tender little spiritual wound I’ve had for as long as I can remember. That’s how wounds work, explained Paige, the energy healer who helped me begin to unravel it. We have a part of ourself that hurts (what IFS therapists call an exile, or Jungians might consider a piece of our shadow), and then we put a lot of energy around suppressing it, protecting it, keeping it from being aggravated (what IFS calls protectors or managers, and Jungians identify as ego). When we allow Divine energy to encounter the wound, it moves things around and creates room for Self—the part of us that is one with God—to heal the wound, unburden the protectors, hold the exile, and integrate the shadow.
Self is REALLY good at loving. We want Self around. Self loves like God loves.
Before this sounds like me just bleeding on the page: WE ALL HAVE THESE WOUNDS. If we talk about our shit, we can all make sense of it, and we can get love flowing. That’s how this works. No one heals alone! No troll left behind! (Side note: This is what the latest Trolls movie is all about.) And this is how we heal our communities too. There’s plenty of woundedness in the world, protectors fighting protectors. Healing can happen at every level if we get brave.
But here’s the catch, Paige explained. This was not a wound I could heal through meditation and communion with God alone. This wound was given to me in relationship, she said, and it will be healed in relationship. To prove her point, she had Lewis take my hand, and he felt the wound in his own side, and then tracked the tension as Paige moved some energy up away from my side and out my mouth in a big, gasping breath. Yes, you should totally go see Paige Britt.
She said something important: the people in your life can feel your wounds. It affects them. And that, my friends, is all the impetus this mother, wife, and friend needed to get down to some serious healing.
Know the Wound
It’s not a mystery where my wound came from. I grew up on a steady diet of “you’re a sinner who deserves hell” and, well, diets. I was never thin enough. It’s the culture we had, nothing more to say there. The wound/shadow/exile at the center is an intense, chubby little kid who is terrified you’ll see that she’s really selfish and surly, and doesn’t feel appealing or attractive enough to make up for it. Her protector is the overachiever, the marathon runner, the dutiful daughter, the cool girl. That part uses affections and interests that are absolutely genuine, but also works really hard to make you like me. The protector’s job is to get a little fix of love to take back to the exile. And as I got older, that protector needed a protector too, because she kept getting taken advantage of, and was also very tired. The bigger protector, who adds superglue to the energy around this wound, is the part that pushes you away or closes my heart if I feel an imbalance. She does not wait around to hear you explain why she’s unworthy.
Again, before you think “geez woman, get ahold of yourself,” I remind you that you also have a version of these systems. We all do. This is being human. This is learning to love.
So the protector’s protector—I like to think of her as Bev from Midnight Mass, if that helps—is really, really hard to get past. She’s always on the look out for you to signal that you see the unworthiness, that you don’t love me as much as I love you, that you only love me for what I give you. She tells me stories about “what they might be thinking” so that I can get ahead of the blow. Bev has an origin story, every protector does. She has a “never again” moment. I’m not going to share it here, but Bev didn’t make something from nothing. She’s just…vigilant.
So while the little overachieving protector—I like to think of her as Shirley Temple—will fly across the country, or rearrange my schedule, or plan you a surprise party, or drop everything to talk to you, the Bev protector will immediately be on the lookout for you to reject me immediately after. Her ability to turn things into harbingers of rejection is truly astonishing. Ten out of ten ghosts for that girl.
Touch the Wound
It’s been a little overwhelming to see all of this, because Paige was right: this wound does work its way into my relationships, even my most cherished ones. So when my husband misses a cue, or my friends can’t talk, or my kids call me a potato…the little wound system tightens up. Trying to figure it out alone is almost impossible. I cannot reason my way through. It’s really difficult for me to tell which relationships really do need better boundaries, and which ones need me to chill the fuck out. It’s made me really confused about what love requires, in terms of giving and receiving.
But a magical thing has happened as I have begun to allow the people in my life to place their hands on the wound. Not to literally touch my side, but to learn to accept love that is directed right at that most tender place. I have been honest about how vulnerable it feels to show love when I’m not always sure I’ll be able to recognize it when it comes back to me. These special ones have been able to tell me “this is how I’m loving you”— through constancy, caring for my kids, sending memes, thoughtful seating arrangements, and affirmations that my intensity is okay (even endearing to a couple of them)—and their love has seeped into the the ball of energy around the wound. It has loosened. There have been fascinating physical effects in my back and hips as it does, and, conversely, a sharp pang in my side has become a good warning sign whenever I’m operating out of the wound and need to reorient.
And once loosened, my most beloved have been able to touch the core of the wound. Some of them have managed to reach not Bev, not Shirley Temple, but that intense, chubby little diva at the core. They’ve given me a place to be fully me, which has helped me stop trying to impress my way into people’s hearts. They have given love freely, without agenda or expectation, which has freed me from the endless search to figure out what I can do to earn approval or belonging. As these soulmates have placed their hands on the wound, it has loosened, and the Divine confidence, compassion, and curiosity of Self has flowed in. Because even though healing happens in community, the connection to Self is what makes it durable and allows me to give the love back without fear of losing everything.
It’s the difference between loving and loving freely.
Loving freely allows me to be just mom-the-potato to my kids, because I don’t need them to feed affirmation the wounded parts. By healing, I give them all of “mom” without panicking that potato is all I am.
My kids aren’t the first people to unintentionally aggravate my wound through the body image part. My sister used to tell me that my vibe was the little girl in the bee costume from the Blind Melon “No Rain” music video. When she told me that, I was deeply, deeply offended, because it made me think that my pathetic little exile, not my very cool ego, was what people could see. But as I re-watched the video today, I realized how much I do relate to that bee kiddo, and how good it feels when you find people who see and celebrate your exiled parts. When you see her with the people who love her, you see the gifts she had to give all along.