Wisdom Gleaned from A Ninja Child

Almost six months after my mother’s death I offer this to those who may see themselves in this essay. I know my mother suffered with mental/emotional illness and unhealed traumas for which I hold much compassion. She exhibited the capacity to love and show kindness with her students, colleagues, and other family members. As the scapegoat or split all-bad child, I had a very different experience from which I continue to glean rich and enduring lessons. I honor the life my mother (and father) gifted me by creating a beautiful one, by breaking the cycle of wounding ways.

We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of our past and are thus able to live with it.

~Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self

Surviving a household with a mother who shape-shifted from a queen to a witch to a waif required cunning and skill. Gaining mastery inside this unpredictable chaos and cruelty, to survive and transcend, I became a ninja. Developing keen sensitivity to the moves of my tortured soul mother, I became hypervigilant to the physical, emotional, facial, body movement, tone of voice cues coming from her ever-morphing, tumultuous ways.

My mother consistently answered the phone with a sweet, syrupy voice of fake kindness. She’d hang up the phone and in a blink shift into a witch in a full-blown annihilating rage storm or a rat-a-tat-tat attack of the pecking to death variety of my appearance, posture, behavior, facial expression, hairstyle, body size, demeanor, character, and the very essence of my being. As a child and as an adult, if I did not comply or complied completely (it didn’t matter-rock in a hard place) with the ever-changing expectations and demands of the controlling queen, the ice queen often, unexpectedly, removed herself completely from my presence. This character seemed like it would create relief, but it did not because the silence persisted, cold and haughty.

Her waif self suddenly appeared needing me, wanting me, fake adoring, luring me back with a package of junk wrapped in brand new colorful, crinkling, candy wrapper paper with helium balloons attached.  Handwritten notes including the words, “I love you.” scribbled on a recycled greeting card showed up.

Walking outside the house, her waif self deftly showed the world the Loving Parent she needed everyone to see. “Oh, I Loooove my daughter!” she gushed, which masterfully confirmed what people easily accepted because they lived outside the perimeter of this bold lie.

This message wafted out into the world as propaganda to be believed, trusted, and accepted as truth. As a child, I kept wanting these words she spoke to other people to be true. Plus, all these other seemingly intelligent adults kept telling me what a loving mother I had or how much they loved my mother. They believed her lie about loving me. Desperately yearning for the lie to be true, I often cautiously jumped up and down, then wiggled like an excited puppy thinking I would finally get some peanut butter treats and a genuine hug.

This trickery worked like worm bait for a very hungry baby fish; a vacuum system that sucked me right back in to being rat-a-tat attacked or raged at for being a kid, for cleaning my room, for practicing the piano, for unknowingly cleaning the bathroom the wrong way, for crying, for laughing. I simply never ever figured out what I did that triggered all these different characters to appear in my energy field. I felt owned even into my adulthood.

As a child, I believed myself to be a flawed, worthless being. I knew I had to earn my right to exist. A tension formed inside me of feeling powerless, chronically terrified, and ever hopeful. I worked diligently, vigilantly, fiercely to become a child she could love, to sort of hold it together, which I failed miserably at doing. My hands weren’t that strong.

These dynamics persisted for years into my adulthood until I chose to break the trauma bond and heal from inside of myself with the support of healthy, wise people.

I learned a great deal from the shape-shifting ways of my mother and for all of this wisdom, I’m forever grateful. She remains my most tormented and brilliant of spiritual teachers. No one will ever hold a candle to her.

I learned to stop yearning for empathy or compassion from my mother. I grieved the difficult truth that she lacked the capacity to ever see, hear, or value me for me.  This hard truth was heartbreaking because we’re constantly told that parents/caregivers unconditionally love their children, but this is not true for many of us raised by tortured soul parents. This was my hardest lesson ever. No amount of turning inside out or transforming myself ever altered her ability to become fully self-aware, to shift her ways of interacting with me-even her tearful apologies during our brief détente-of a few years ago- felt like manipulation because she quickly morphed into a cruel witch with me one last time before I relocated to NC.

My work continues to be with me and all the younger versions of myself because I am the only person I can heal and transform.

I learned boundaries-how to create them and hold firm to them-no matter what the blowback and there was intense blowback. My mother violated boundaries all the time. This is the part of the dynamic that made me believe that she thought she owned me. I learned not to open the door, the mail, or return the phone calls. I chose silence and non-responsiveness.

I learned to trust my gut that even when someone other than my mother told me a hot stove didn’t exist let alone burned my hand to not believe this when my hand burned, once again. I finally stopped placing my hand on a hot stove because I knew the stove actually exists and when it is hot, I must keep my hands far away. I learned to trust my own senses-all nine of them!!

I learned to cultivate my senses of taste, touch, sight, smell, sound, inner body cues such as hunger, body awareness of posture, gesture and closeness to physical objects, inner body sensations such as warmth, chills, belly expanding during an inhale, contracting while exhaling, and intuition aka as an inner GPS.

I grew in an ability to become unconditionally loving towards myself, to make peace internally, to shed the inner critic/bully because that voice wasn’t ever mine. I continue to expand the ability to be deeply compassionate with myself and other people-sometimes from a vast distance of space and time.

I learned to be introspective, imaginative, creative in playful and life-giving ways, in love and contribution to myself and others.

I continue to cultivate an Inner Fly on the Wall or Inner Knowing or Witness Consciousness or Essential Self –that part of me that watches me do and be me, that notices thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. I now know that I am not my body sensations, my personality, or face lines. I am an Experiencer of life experiences.

I knew what it felt like to be stalked-to know that others have felt stalked-that I am not alone in this scary experience. I learned how to get away-to seek safe havens inside of myself and outside in nature, lovely buildings, inside homes of friends or beloved ones.


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. Oh, Paula, thank you so much for all you’ve shared here-which has me clear that I’m not alone. I appreciate your insights and the celebration of our healings/transformations-really empowering to come through the storms (especially with a parent-a mother, father, or both-or caregiver). Once again, I read an article that spoke (blindly) to this presumption that all children experience unconditional love and this period of innocence. I find myself feeling a bit rankled with wanting to continue bursting this Untruth-Myth-Belief to which other people hold so tightly. Alas, I chose to honor this writer’s perspective -but I did write “some children.” to hopefully send a cue that not all children have this experience. The lessons learned from difficult people (especially TS parents can endure for a lifetime. Thank goodness for resilience, post-traumatic growth, and people along the way who did see, hear, and value us (even if we struggled to see these decent, loving people because we were (0r I was!)sometimes so myopically focused on earning the love of a parent that we walk around blind to all the other adults who have been loving us-as children and as adults! Big hug to you soul sister. Grateful beyond words…..

  2. Laura… I hope you know by now and I’ve said it. How much I love you. This essay is a showcase of resilience, strength, forgiveness and compassion….basically it is a testament to survival in one if the greatest forms. A child is pure and innocent. They are un condemnable. You endured what many have not and still struggle with. The inner bully a mother charges is not your best friend. I’m so glad you found self love and compassion in a high degree. The severity may be different but I can definitely flip some of these feelings towards my father. He set the tone for me to follow in not feeling of any value and walked right into a life of abuse too. Setting my boundaries and learning to love me allowed me to find the peace I needed to really truly live. Sometimes I fall back…but this love picks me up. I’m with you in my souls sister. Big hug. I’m so excited to know you and no, you are not alone…❤️❤️❤️