I imagine a woman:
who is authentically herself
who cultivates her inner soul-flame
who brings this soul-flame into the world to assist in healing individuals, communities, countries, the world
who is being of service in the world in a way that brings joy
who inspires others through her actions; through her being
who is a light to other women
who reveals that beauty is about finding and sharing your inner light
who becomes even more visible in her 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s
who knows that love is more important that anything else
who imagines the world anew
who walks into that world, creates a path, and illuminates the path for others to follow…
“When the Soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it.” ―Meister Eckhart
Thank you for the inspiration of your life and the path you illuminated, Seena Frost, MFT. I am incredibly honored to have met and been guided by you. Your life was a light for many and your light continues to shine. For a beautiful tribute to Seena, founder of the powerful process of soulcollage(R) click here: SeenaFrost, Founder of Soulcollage
Are you a salsa dancer? Free form? Do you watch from the side and “don’t do dancing”? All family systems have a dance and all family members play a role. There is nothing wrong with this, unless you find yourself square dancing when you prefer salsa or if you are being called to lead a partner dance with your parent and you are 5-years-old.
My preschooler recently was at the “small manipulatives” table at preschool and made this:
He called it “Trapped faces.” Though I am 95% sure this was not his intent or interpretation, it did remind me of what can happen in family systems when individual members carry certain emotions, roles, or characteristics for the family. When everyone is not allowed to have all aspects of their human experience, certain aspects of being human can become trapped in individuals. Some of these may include being: the responsible-one, the one-who-is-depressed, the angry-raging-one, the one-who-takes-care-of-everyone–else, the-one-who-is-creative, or the one-who-achieves or-looks-good-for-the-family.
Below is a list of family roles that children often adopt (based on the work of clinicians Virginia Satir, Claudia Black and Sharon Wegscheider) summarized beautifully by Laura Doughty, LMHC:[i]
The hero is the responsible, accomplished one. She gets good grades in school, is goal oriented and self-disciplined. Externally, she appears successful and together; internally, however, she bears the burden of making the family look good. She holds the belief that if she is perfect enough, the family problems will go away or be solved.
The People Pleaser
The people pleaser tries to ease and prevent any trouble in the family. She is caring, compassionate and sensitive. She also denies her own needs, and, as a result is anxious and hypervigilant.
The scapegoat is the family member who is blamed for the trouble in the family. She acts out her anger at any family dysfunction and rebels by drawing negative attention to herself. While she is more in touch with her feelings than the other roles and is often creative, in school she gets poor grades and is often in trouble.
The Mascot is the class clown with the uncanny ability to relieve stress and pain for others. But there’s something missing that he won’t find until he looks beneath the humor façade and faces his own pain.
The Lost Child
The Lost Child is quiet, withdrawn, lonely and depressed. She doesn’t draw attention to herself because she doesn’t want to be a burden. But what she wants most is to be seen and loved, and to be healthy, she must allow herself to be visible.
Many family systems “roles” also include the Alcoholic/Addict and the Caretaker/Codependent. The Codependent often tries to prevent the alcoholic from experiencing consequences of their behavior and cares for others at the expense of themselves.
In my clinical practice, I often see aspects of all of these family roles and “trapped faces” in adults. Many recovering anorexics identify with the hero child or the people pleaser, many bulimics or alcoholics can see the mascot or the scapegoat in themselves. Adult children of alcoholics may see the lost child in themselves. In the process of recovering from an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, codependence, or alcoholism, there needs to be room to include allowing ALL aspects of yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to act it out all of these roles. If you’ve never expressed anger, it doesn’t mean you need to start raging. However, it does mean that you allow yourself to own parts of yourself that may not have been able to develop in the “trapped-ness” of your family system.
If you were the scapegoat as a child, you can now see, embrace and practice as an adult that you have hero responsible, leadership qualities as well. You have skills that are valuable and you are not the problem. If you played the role of the hero as a child, you can consider getting a B+ or even failing a class as an adult, just to practice imperfection and seeing the world doesn’t fall apart if you don’t get an A. It means you allow yourself to have aspects of being angry, sad, happy, carefree, irresponsible, responsible, pleasing, rebellious, and creative.
The Past and the Present
My clients often ask me: “But what if my mother/father/family member boss/husband doesn’t change? How can I?” The answer is that YOU can embrace all of your human experience, whether or not your mother/father/other family member does or does not. That can be challenging and difficult, especially if they want to trap you into staying in the role that is most comfortable for them to be playing within the family system. As a child, you didn’t have much of a choice. Your survival depended on fitting into your family system to have your needs get met. As an adult you have other choices. That is where recovery is simple but not easy. Emotionally, it feels like you don’t have choices and you need to continue being the Hero/Scapegoat/People Pleaser/Mascot/Lost Child. Time does not exist in the emotional world, so your inner child will feel as if it needs to keep playing that role.
That is where you can bring your newly growing conscious adult self in and practice differently. You may need to risk shaking up the family system in practicing a new dance. If your family system is used to a precise salsa or ballet dance and you start practicing a chaotic free form dance, it may not be welcomed. Nobody in your family knows the steps to that dance. Do not be surprised if you encounter resistance.
The Gift of Resistance
I recently heard a Zen teaching about a master and a bird. The master was holding the bird on his finger and the bird was learning how to fly. If the master dropped his finger down quickly, the bird would fall, and need to be caught. If the master held his finger still, the bird could practice jumping off his finger and flapping its wings in order to develop strength. This allowed the bird to fly.
Externalizing Parts of Yourself to get free of them
One way to release feeling trapped/stuck in playing only one role regardless of whether members of your family system change is to externalize them through art, writing, or drama and see what wisdom they have to share. These parts of yourself are often “protecting” vulnerabilities that were too scary to be seen as a child but can now offer wisdom as an adult. They also hold strengths that can offer you help in your life currently. The “Lost Child” part of myself is the one that makes art and studied to become an expressive arts therapist. Here are some examples of my own and some of my clients’ soulcollage® card collaged images (shared with permission). Soulcollage® is a process of making a whole deck of collaged cards, each card representing one aspect of your multifaceted Self.
I am your addiction. No matter what it is: food, pills, worry, it will never be enough. Feed me and I will want more.
Listen to me; believe me and I will take over. Listen to me, but know that there is fear underneath that needs tending, and I will get smaller and not run your life.
Body image stomach in knots.
I am one who has pain internally and believes all others can see it. The wisdom I have to offer you is that this pain is not something you can avoid or run away from. There will always be pressure. If you accept that I am here, I can offer you ways to own your power and listen to your gut.
I look like I have it, all but there is part of me lying on the couch hiding all the time. I want to go to sleep. I can’t be perfect. Not even going to try.
The wisdom I have to offer is that you can no longer overachieve. This is the ultimate experience of practicing imperfection and asking for help. Let someone see me and you may find you are not alone.
Creating Recovery Families
Last but not least, many recovering people find they need to create a “recovery family” to help them practice new roles. This can be a collection of recovering friends, your therapist/treatment team, a 12-step sponsor or other people who embrace and welcome all the parts of you and themselves. These are people who want to help you practice new roles, want to help you learn how to practice imperfection if you are recovering from perfectionism or playing the hero or practice taking leadership steps if you are more familiar with being a scapegoat or lost child.
Where in your personal relationships, work life, home life currently are you playing the same role over and over? Where can you embrace the strengths that some of your more familiar roles offer? Where can you risk bringing in another part of you?
[i] “The Effect of Family Roles on Life’s Choices” Laura Doughty, LMHC, Thriving, A Journal of Well being, Spring 2010.
The body has been made so problematic… that it has often seemed easier to shrug it off and travel as a disembodied spirit.
Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born
Who among us in this culture of busy-ness to get-things-done, has not consciously or unconsciously thought life would be so much easier if we didn’t need to tend to this human body with all of its needs, desires, and dis/comforts?
A Mother’s Body, The Earth’s Body
Yet the body, our human bodies, the earth body on which we live, are what give us life and sustain us. We all come from, grew in, a body, a mother’s body and we all return to a body, this planet’s body, when we die. Coming back to this body, these bodies, are essential to fully living the original duality of life: we are all born, we will all die. The body remembers the past and creates the future. The body, every person’s body, your body, is actually made from the stars of the cosmos, starts that collapsed in the past:
Every single cell in our bodies contains elements created in the burning center of a collapsing star — from the iron in our blood to every bit of calcium in our bones and keratin in our hair. That’s because in the very early days of the universe that followed the Big Bang, only the simplest elements existed, like hydrogen.
In the words of the celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson “We are not just figuratively but literally made of star dust.” 1
And yet so many of us walk around thinking of our bodies as a slow burden to carry our minds around. As a Psychologist, I have compassionate awareness for people who have experienced trauma have a tendency to avoid felt-sense in their bodies. There is good reason for this: trauma is painful, we are not meant to experience that much pain, and to survive we often leave our bodies during the pain. Learning to re-enter the body and feel safe there is a journey that requires fiercely compassionate attention, often with a safe (therapist) guide assisting the process. Women and men recovering from eating disorders often have sensitive dispositions that, if not “leaving” or numbing feelings in the body through eating disorder behaviors, require building up the capacity to tolerate distress in the body. People who find themselves “living in their heads” can also find that re-entering the body actually brings a sense of peace that accomplishing “more” can never provide.
Finding Animals in Your Body
What? No, I’m not talking about parasites. I’m talking about a fun way to return to, explore and invite what your body has to say to you, without judgement. That is the beauty of expressive arts work- it uses the right brain to invite the body back in while bypassing the left brain’s “gatekeeping.” Expressive art can be a vehicle for you to come back to your body in a fun, playful and safe way.
Soulcollage(R) is an expressive arts process developed by Seena Frost, MFT, in which you make a deck of collage-d cards, each card representing an aspect of your multifaceted self. Finding an animal, in the soulcollage process, includes being guided in a meditation through the different energy centers in your body to see what animal being lives in each of them.
When doing the process of finding an animal in each of the chakras in the body, it is not a literal, but an imaginal process. Because of this, it can be a fun and inviting way to curiously explore wisdom in the body.
When I work with women recovering from disordered eating, who often hate their stomachs, they find wisdom and joy again when they find an animal in their solar plexus. “I hate my stomach,” after discovering a tiger, becomes “I own my power, hunt for what feeds me, and am fiercely clear about my intentions.
But what if I don’t find an animal, find more than one or find one that I don’t like?
There are no wrong ways to find or not find an animal. Because this is an imaginal process, it is in Rumi’s mystical field “beyond right doing and wrong doing.” When I was guided through this meditation in the soulcollage facilitator training, we were directed to find an animal in our fifth chakra, the center of expression located in the throat. I found a horse in my throat. First there was a hummingbird, then it flew away, then a horse appeared. Now, I don’t have anything against horses per say, but I really didn’t WANT to find a horse. I would have preferred the hummingbird. Hummingbirds are beautiful magical gems flying through the air and humming! Horses are clunky, big, and snort. But because this was an imaginal process that was fun, I was able to let go of baggage/judgement about a horse vs a hummingbird. I got curious and asked what the horse had to offer and why it appeared. Turns out that it had a wealth of wisdom to offer me about letting my intuition lead the way in my life. This horse told my anxiety-mind that was obsessing over a particular Psychological licensing obstacle at the time: “Let go and trust that I can get you there quicker.” It basically told my mind to get back onto and into the “horse” of my body and relax.
In my training as an Imaginal Psychologist, we learned that “psyche” comes from the Greek word meaning soul. And so psychology is actually about the soul, bringing the soul back. The soul lives in the body, as well as the mind. There is no mind-body split from this perspective. There is an invitation to return to the place where your mind, body and soul are aspects of a unified YOU. I love this quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her wisdom of what returning to your body can bring:
I saw again what I had been taught to ignore, the power in the body. The cultural power of the body is its beauty, but power in the body is rare, for most have chased it away with their torture of or embarrassment by the flesh… the wildish woman can inquire into the luminosity of her own body and understand it not as a dumbbell that we are sentenced to carry for life, not as a beast of burden, pampered or otherwise… but a series of doors and dreams and poems through which we can learn and know all manner of things. In the wild psyche, body is understood as a being in its own right, one who loves us, depends on us, one to whom we are sometimes mother and who sometimes is mother to us.
-Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, Women Who Run with the Wolves
1 “Every cell in your body is infused with the collapse of a star,” The Huffington Post, Cate Matthews, May 21, 2014.
2 “The Seven Chakras for Beginners” Mind Body Green, October 28, 2009.
DrLindaShanti.com or email Linda@DrLindaShanti.com (for soulcollage workshops!)