We Begin Healing Through Awareness

This is the beginning of a new journey for me. I’ve never committed to writing a blog or sharing about my personal journey. For context it’s a little bit like the loud chaotic part of a river as I am in the process of rediscovering myself and want to offer both commentary and insight about the healing journey. I will be writing a series of blogs on the topic of personal healing that will span the process of having awareness, gathering knowledge about how things could be and eventually developing skills to work on your healing. This means we will start by taking inventory of early life experiences all the way through using meditation to advance the healing experience. These blogs will also be available via podcast and possibly video podcast so stay tuned.

First, allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, I have a doctorate degree in Clinical-Community Psychology. This is relevant because although I am a clinician, I was also trained to help heal people through community and many other resources outside of individual clinical psychology- that will become more apparent later. I am also a board certified clinical psychologist, which means I joined a prestigious organization named the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) by allowing them (several peers from the organization) to review my work both written, through video, and via a several hour-long oral examination (panel of board certified peers). Upon completion and review of my work, I was certified as a more than competent clinician and permitted access to join the organization.

My Family Background

I grew up in California, to a mother who was born in Texas, but raised both in the U.S. and Mexico (her parents went back and forth for a while before finally settling in New Mexico). She completed some education in Mexico and obtained a secretary certificate, but when my grandfather decided to move back to the U.S. she asked to go to finish high school in California and live with cousins (that was an unpleasant experience for her) when she was 17 years-old. It was after finishing high school and while living in California that she met my father. She was the eldest of 9 children, a very responsible and hardworking woman. She was expected to take care of her siblings, so leaving to California for school was a chance to get away. There is more to her story, but I will wrap it up by saying she was only 19 years old when she married my father, while living with friends, a married couple, in California and she had me at 21 years of age. She died at 38, leaving behind 4 children. I am the eldest of the four siblings and I was 17 years-old at the time of her death. My father is from El Salvador. He came to the U.S. about 7 years before the civil war broke out in his home country. However, it is important to know he grew up in a country with serious political unrest and division, to parents that both had very little education and resources. It is of note, that his father was orphaned during school aged years and he was the youngest of 3. My father’s mother ran away from home at 12 and was basically raised by a German family while she was a nanny and maid for them. My father was the eldest of 3 children, but he was a second child to my grandmother as her first was still born. The constant fighting in the country led to men being pulled into the military or guerrilla groups, which of course frequently led to death leaving fewer and fewer available men in the country. Many women put up with conditions that were less than ideal given that men often had more than one family, as was the case for my father. I share this part because even though my father is responsible for the terrible choices he’s made in life I do understand his limitations based on his background. This is the backdrop to the parents that raised me. 

Childhood Background 

I was an only child for 8 years before my first sister was born, my next sister was born 2 years later, and my brother about 2 years after that. My mother was tired and relied on me to help her with the kids, she worked long hours, plus she was in a traditional marriage where the balance of household demands fell on her, but she also managed the money. At first I helped  reluctantly. I was repeatedly told I was the oldest so I was supposed to be the model daughter and I needed to look out for my siblings. Eventually I took this seriously and started correcting, monitoring, watching out, and guiding my siblings. Plus I would get in trouble if I didn’t follow my parents expectations. So, when my mother died it felt like a seamless transition to just keep taking care of them. During this transition, my father basically acted as if I had replaced my mother. By psychology standards we would call this “parentification, conditioning, and generational trauma.”  

Patterns That Needed Healing

Parentification is when a parent deliberately places responsibilities on a child that are inappropriate for their age and abilities. The responsibilities can be practical duties, paying bills, or being an emotional support, such as acting as a confidant. If you’ve had a similar background or relate to some of my story then you might have already noticed that this can have a negative effect on a child and set one up for complicated relationships in which the individual almost always thinks of others needs first before their own. 

Conditioning is a psychological term to describe a type of learning. It is when a stimulus becomes increasingly effective at evoking a specific response. In fact, when the exact conditions are present the evoked or elicited response is consistent. For example, a parent might withhold love, or affection, in exchange for the elicited response. In my case, I only got positive attention for doing my duties as a responsible older sister that watched out or looked out for my siblings. 

Generational trauma is when a parent or a group passes down the effects of their historical or individual trauma down to a younger generation. Examples of this are: domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, drug and alcohol addiction, survivorship of war related trauma…etc., More specifically a parent that grew up with domestic violence is more likely to repeat the cycle of violence in their own life and have their children witness it which is then likely repeated again in the next generation because it is seen as normal. 

It took me a very very very long time to truly come to terms with what these experiences (parentification, conditioning, and generational trauma) meant about who I was and how I got along with people. This is important because one might think how can a clinical psychologist have issues to deal with?  Well it’s like I tell my friends, “I obtained this psychology knowledge years after my trauma and the knowledge did not protect me from my early childhood experiences.” Having said that, please know that whenever you come to the healing journey IS the right time. I hope you will join the healing journey and discover your own story of origin. I hope that you are brave enough to ask yourself the question: Who have I been programmed to be? You might have had a pattern of even minimizing your own story, but please know that we humans are very tender and we form a hard shell of protection quickly and easily. 

Taking The First Step:

If you are ready to begin your healing journey start by taking inventory about the following:

  1. Who were the important adults/caretakers in your life?
  2. What were their strengths and weaknesses?
  3. What events shaped those adults/caretakers?
  4. How did their style affect you?
  5. What were your consistent or inconsistent experiences with those caretakers?
  6. What are the feelings that come forward when you think about these experiences? 

This journey is about stopping the pattern of ignoring our story and our pain and truly decide what you want to do with these very real feelings. We cannot heal what is outside of our awareness. You might notice emotions of anger, sadness, or fear coming forward and just begin acknowledging that these emotions are in you.

Stay tuned for the next topic, where we’ll talk more about trauma.