Securely Insecure

(Song Dedication: Landslide by Fleetwood Mac)

Guys! Oh Gosh! I cannot believe my last post was October?! Yet…ya…ya I can…

Here’s why I am astonished in my lack of attention to Art of Beingness, yet can whole-heartedly believe I have been working tirelessly to get to where I am right now, finally putting it on a ‘page’ rather than carrying it about in my head one more day. Bullet points feel to be the most expedient and appropriate style of informative dispatch to explain my absence from this forum:

  • Worked through my 2nd and 3rd Applied Educational Neuroscience Courses, graduated in May
  • My behaviour support teacher role began as a 50% appointment and then in January increased to 70%
  • Personal health and chronic pain remained stable in maintenance-mode until late January
  • By early February I was in full-blown pain management (yes, there is likely a correlation there)
  • I controlled my controllables at which point, with a continued decline in my health and well-being, I resigned from my teaching position completely with the support of my health care team (their support but not their directive…I write my own permission slips now)
  • Informed by my appreciation for relational neuroscience and my experiences as a parent, educator and person who has worked for years to resolve childhood trauma and rewire my brain from survival mode to post traumatic growth, my final practicum project transformed into a Parenting/Caregiver Workshop
  • I have been accepted into the Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology Program and begin in September
  • I am proud of myself. Not so much for the aforementioned accomplishments, although for those I am grateful to the experiences and new relationships that have developed as a result (with myself and others).

I am proud of myself for meeting my needs first. For not allowing my pain to rule my life or the lives of those I love. For holding myself with the compassion and courage it takes to walk away from something you have loved for 16 years, that has defined you in a positive light to others and helped you survive some of the most difficult circumstances a person can face by providing a safe and predictable distraction, not to mention a secure salary. My departure from teaching brought grief but more importantly brought growth opportunity.

My relationship with teaching has always been fraught with turmoil; a transactional conditional situation of you get what you give. I gave it my all and then some and although that may have been wonderful for my students, it wasn’t so for my family. I had very little and at times nothing left for them. This activated my stress response. Our Nervous System seeks connection and safety, it craves homeostasis. Even with awareness and adaptation, this last teaching position highlighted that imbalance in life by activating my pain-body. A signal that something was lacking in connection and safety.

Within days of my choosing to resign from my position, the pain that had come back to visit its old haunts of my body receded. A miraculous recovery? This time I know better. This was not my green light to jump back in and test my ‘wobble’. This was my green light to take an entirely different path; in my brain, my nervous system, my life.

I have been given gifts since my departure. Gifts of patience, kindness, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, reservedness. I found myself easier to be with what was once too difficult; exhaustedly succumbing to other peoples problems and emotions merging with my own. Sensing this threat to my boundary and subsequently pushing away and creating distance instead of being. The opportunities to practice this beingness have been plentiful and appreciated.

In my Caregiver Workshop, one of the learning objectives involves creating some awareness around attachment styles. I have been doing a ton of reading in this area as a result and find it fascinating and also bias-confirming, I’ll admit. It has made me more reflective of my own relational abilities and tendencies, first and foremost with my son but also with others. It has given me just a little more space to replace judgement or avoidance or dismissiveness with finding security within myself. A big factor in the science behind attachment is understanding it is defined from the child’s perspective, not the adult/parent. That means my attachment to my son is defined by his experience with me as his Mother, just as my framework for attachment is based on my experience (as the child) with my Mother (primary caregiver).

Bethany Saltman does a compelling and accessible analysis of attachment in her book, “Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey into the Science of Attachment” (2020). As much as we adults think we are in charge and all-knowing perched upon the pinnacle of the intellectual pyramid, in the end our most important relationships will be somewhat-to-heavily defined by how our primary caregiver’s showed up for us in our times of distress and how as the child, we were able to recover our homeostasis (balance) as a result of being seen and heard and felt by them. That’s right, we are still very much driven by our inner child’s past experiences.

Fear not however, the Neuroscience-silver-lining is as always the constant: our brains are flexible. Neuroplasticity says we can rewire through regular dosing and repetition; in the context of attachment, we can develop new pathways toward ‘earned secure attachment’ (Siegel, D. (2020) The developing mind (3rd ed.)). Like in any fertile learning environment: the ideal conditions of support, respect and readiness for learning will cultivate new pathways for healthy secure relationships, first with ourselves and then with others. (Hence the name of my Workshop: Cultivating Embodied Trusting Relationship (with ourselves and others), which I somehow titled 6 weeks before the rabbit hole attachment research began…weird).

As I said earlier, see you can still count on me to go ‘off-script’ and trust I eventually make my way back, I have been fully available to ‘show-up’ for my kid, my husband, other family and friends in ways I didn’t know I could (or probably couldn’t when I was under the stress load of teaching).

These lean-in moments have been abundant for me to hone my skills but I find myself tracing back to over a month or so ago. It isn’t the details of what happened but what was said that really got me thinking about the significance of how our early attachment informs our neuroception (Dr. Stephen Porges (2004) defines this term as the way our nervous system reads situations and people and pulls from past experiences to determine threat or safety) and then we respond or react to the source.

My son was feeling stress about a conflict – like I said – I can’t remember if it was friendship or school or his personal disdain, yet wonder for living in a 10-year-old boy’s body and all the weirdness that accompanies the journey…I mean, the amount of teeth shedding alone right now is creepily astonishing…spittin’ em out like watermelon seeds! Needless to say, there was a certain level of frustration and discomfort and he wanted to share this with me and let me know what he was going through.

The more I’ve come to understand the science of neurodevelopment and appreciate the role of the brain to seek safety in times of uncertainty, the more I value that it is his choice to be open and share his vexations about life, personal or social or academic. This particular time, I had forgotten my primary role as ‘the trustworthy person who does not expect my son to fit in but prides herself on unconditional acceptance of however he chooses to show up’ (it’s a tall order and a big ass title, so I’m gonna forget sometimes). This was not a natural message in my life growing up either so it’s been a major shift to just give acceptance out of love, removed of any and all conditions. In my forgetful default mode, we found ourselves in the push and pull vortex of me replacing acceptance with fixing which, in order to fix takes a certain level of good v. bad judgement. Armed with my intellect and nerd-backed science, I had all manner of fixes and ways out of these yucky feelings he was experiencing. Yet he would not acquiesce!

Sometimes these hard conversations are well, hard. I am okay with a certain amount of natural struggle and normative stress for my kid. Prepare him for the path right? Not the other way around. But when it goes past a certain time stamp, completely arbitrary btw, but dragging out a bit beyond my window of tolerance…I can begin to make things about me and my discomfort and seeming inability to be the all-knowing mom. So I said to him at that certain time constraint, Don’t you trust me? I am trying to help you out here. To which his response (that has echoed on some skipping-record-loop multiple times since as a cogent reminder) was, No. I don’t always trust you. To which my body’s response was to mimic the sensation of being sucker punched squarely in the solar plexus.

I tried a recovery, said some things, changed some body positions and probably huffed some air to regain some composure and then said Okay, if there is nothing I can do right now I will give you some space…I’m here if you need me. As I took my exit, stage left bedroom door, I must admit I felt a sting of defeat. I remember hopping in the shower to try some self-regulation and soothing and my brain looping through the implications of, Oh my gawd, I’ve done all this work and all this schooling and all this STUFF and he STILL doesn’t trust me!

Drying my hair with my towel, my mind quieted enough to consider a loop hole. Kid-gloving my way through this stalemate, it dawned on me. Wait a minute…I would have never been able to say this aloud to anyone as a kid! That would have pissed people off. Saying that would have drowned my connection seeking efforts dead in the water. My son trusts me enough to tell me that sometimes he doesn’t trust me!

And for me, that’s trust enough.

Another thing about attachment is you don’t have to fit into one all-in-$100-on-red or what have you…you can place your bets all over the table and be some combination of styles. I don’t get to define how my son delineates our relationship. I don’t get to tell him how to feel…well I can do these things but the point being that in the end it is up to him. Because there is a chasm of difference between thinking something and actually authentically feeling something. Just as I was given the opportunity to break from patterns of repression and false expectation and eventually developed agency to self-equip and redefine how I am in relationship with myself and others; the fact that my son is already able to do this on some level brings me such joy and hope.

In western culture we pride ourselves on being independent, self-sufficient, autonomous. We love how even a little wee baby can be passed around to strange faces and left in the care of others and not make a fuss. But I think this is part of a slippery slope we are now careening down as the avalanche of loneliness and otherness threatens to bury us in its wake. We are human. Humans are not meant to be alone, by design we are meant to share and connect, be vulnerable and loving. To be insecure, have moments of doubt and uncertainty, which pushes us toward each other in the hope of embrace and acceptance. To be allowed the security of being insecure and still be loveable.

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