You want to keep the peace at all costs. The problem is sometimes anger is warranted. Sometimes conflict is needed. What do you do when everything in you does not want to be the one to speak up?
On today’s episode, I am joined by my dear friend Rowena Day. This is a powerful conversation for anyone who has struggled with conflict, avoided anger, or stayed quiet to get along.
The second half of this episode is a WHOLE WORD. Listen in for deep wisdom on how to come out of that protective peacekeeping shell and start using your voice. Do not miss the end, when Rowena describes what she’s learning about finding her voice from parenting 4 young children.
Here’s what we touch on:
1. Why it’s normal to talk to yourself and how to pay attention to that inner dialogue
2. The power of attunement—and why interrupting and fixing each other doesn’t work
3. Why we learn to mute our voices
4. The power of generational messages
5. Why we push anger aside, especially as women
6. Why it’s important for peacekeepers to make friends with anger
7. Rowena’s experience of speaking up about toxic behavior she was witnessing
8. Blame shifting and scapegoating in faith communities
9. Embracing the wildness of your your soul
10. The double bind culture puts women in when it comes to using your voice
11. What we can learn from our children
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
- To learn more about the Fawn Response, the Window of Tolerance, the Empathy Trap and the Mirror of Truth referenced in this episode, check out The Best of You: Break Free From Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, And Discover Your True Self in God, by Alison Cook
- To learn more about Parts, Internal Family Systems, Speaking on Behalf vs. From an emotion, and the C's of self-leadership referenced in this episode, check out my book with Kimberly Miller, Boundaries for Your Soul
Resources from today's episode:
- LTI: Emmaus communities
- Enneagram Information
- Keep Calm and Carry On WW2 poster
- Family Systems Theory
- Church Hurt and 4 Steps for Healing
- 3 Signs of Bad Church Leadership
- 5 Toxic Behaviors & How to Protect Yourself (including Blame Shifting and Scapegoating)
- John 2:13-17 Jesus and Anger
- Luke 11:39 Jesus speaks to washing the outside of the cup vs. the inside
- Proverbs 25:15 on the power of gentleness
- Isaiah 9 Jesus as the Prince of Peace
- John 11:35 Jesus wept
- Psalm 18
Books, Music, and Video referenced:
- "The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek." From Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
- When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd
- “Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it." From The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
- Army of Spider Crabs Shed Their Shells, Blue Planet II Video
- Unwritten Lyrics, by Natasha Beddingfield
- Seeking God’s Face devotional
- "Get thee up into a high mountain. Lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid." From Handel's Messiah
Episode 31 The Best of You Podcast 1st Dec 2022
With Dr. Alison Cook and guest Rowena
Alison: Hey everyone, and welcome back to The Best of You podcast. I am grinning from ear to ear because I have a dear friend on the show with me today. Her name is Rowena she goes by Roe. She is a friend that I met I want to say 10 years ago, which feels crazy because it does not seem like that long. At a spiritual listening community that we were both a part of. We're going to get into that and talk more about that today.
We've stayed in touch. She is that rare blend, where we just connect on the deep and we connect on the light, and we find the same things funny, which is such a rare gift in a friend. We can go from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, to laughing beside ourselves. So I'm thrilled that she's on the podcast. We'll get more into Rowena's story today. Right now she's, primarily, parenting four beautiful children. What are their ages, Rowena?
Rowena: They're eight, six, three, and one.
Alison: So she's in the weeds of parenting, you are in it
Rowena: Holy ground every day.
Alison: Yes, and that's another thing that... my kids are primarily out of the house now. They're 21 and 23 so we're on the opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. Which also makes it fun because we just bring a lot to each other. The other interesting thing about Rowena is you were the eighth of nine children growing up?
Alison: Which is amazing.
Rowena: Yes, I don't think there's any birth order studies for families of that size.
Alison: Yes, how many studies have we done on what it means to be the eighth children? I know what you mean.
Rowena: Yes, I haven't found that info out there yet, but I found it within myself.
Alison: Yes, and as we've talked, Rowena and I will just talk, we'll use parts language. We like to read a lot of the same stuff. We like to bring the spiritual component in, so I'm just super excited. I asked her to come on today to talk about peacekeeping parts.
The parts of us that want to manage perceptions. That want to manage everything through peacekeeping. And I know there's so many of you listening who will relate to that. Where we feel like the best way we can manage how we show up in the world, is to just stay really quiet.
Is just to not use our voices and make sure everybody else is getting along. We're going to talk about a lot of things, but that's our main focus. And with that, thank you for being here at Rowena. I know this stirred up a lot inside of you to agree to be here.
Rowena: It sure did. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. It feels like labor, a weird labor of coming out, my voice having space. So it's exciting and it is just a powerful and nerve-wracking opportunity.
Alison: Well, that's what I said when I asked Rowena, because I just love talking to you so much, I wanted to talk to you on the podcast. And one of the things I love is you're not trying to forward yourself, again, to the point of this whole episode.
And, so, I had to ask so many questions like, "Do you want to do it?" There were so many conflicting parts inside of you. Which made me want you to come on even more because I just love how authentic you are, and how honest you are about things. You were like, "Well, parts of me doing, parts of me do not."
Rowena: Yes, I remember the day. You said you had some idea you wanted to talk to me about and I was like, "Oh." I had immediately felt those two different parts. The part that was really curious and then the other part that was trying to speak up, and make everybody else comply. That was like, "Whatever her idea is, let's just agree right here and now that we're not going to do anything that puts us out there publicly. We don't do that, that's not for us."
And all the other parts of me were about ready to be like, "Yes, definitely not. Terrible idea, let's not do that." And I remember closing the fridge and then hearing this other little, brave, voice being like, "Let's just be open to this idea, we're also curious about it."
And, so, it's weird to talk about yourself in this 'We' term. But we talk to ourselves all day long and, so, that's just a bit of my inner dialogue, that was happening on that day. And, so, then, when you told me the episode was going to be about and it was about this very peacekeeping part, that had tried to speak up and shut it down. I was even more intrigued because we would be talking about the very thing that I had been experiencing on the inside.
Alison: Yes, again, just a glimpse, that's what I love about Rowena. You're not a therapist, you haven't gone through the training, but you just have this self-awareness. You are, to me, the classic saying, "Still waters run deep." You are so thoughtful with your words and you pay such attention to your inner life.
So I want to start us off with how we met, and we first met at this Emmaus Community. It's run by a group out of New England called Leadership Transformations Inc. I'll link to it in the show notes.
I highly recommend these communities. They're quarterly retreats for ministry leaders, pastors, counselors, anybody who's interested in just setting aside time to grow spiritually really. And it's a specific way of growing spiritually that I just found so powerful, and really changed even how I do my own work as a counselor, that's where we met. And you can sign up for one year, and, again, it's four quarterly's retreats.
And then you have a reading to do in between each retreat. So it's a significant commitment, and we ended up both doing two years. You can do one year or two years. We did the full two years, and I found I needed the full two years.
I was really discerning things in my life, and it was retreat five where I got to some real clarity. And, so, I'm curious, Rowena, what led you to sign up for Emmaus and to do that two years of really focused spiritual listening?
Rowena: Yes, I found out about a one-day women's retreat that was focused on silence and solitude, and listening to yourself and to God. And I read the description, it was offered by LTI also, and I signed up for this one-day thing. I was like, "That sounds really awesome, I want to do that."
And, so, I went and you could also sign up for an hour spiritual of direction session as part of that retreat. And, so, I was a little bit nervous about that, but signed up. Probably balled my way through the whole spiritual direction session with Diana. But it was just a very structured, yet, very spacious way of listening to someone.
And, so, it was deeply profound to have the attunement of someone else. Who was not giving advice, not interrupting, not telling parts of their own story, or quoting Bible verses, or whatever. It was just a very holy, sacred listening. And I'd never really experienced anything like that before, and it just made me really hungry for more.
And, so, as we explored, in Emmaus together, we did the Enneagram back in the early days before it was really a big thing. And discovering that I am a type Seven, I identify most as that. And, so, I hunger for things that are satisfying. And, so, I found spiritual direction to be something that was really satisfying.
The ability to be heard, be seen, be known to another person, to myself, and to God, all within one sacred hour was just really powerful. And it really stirred up this desire in me to do more of that, and to experience more of that. And then eventually to get training to be a spiritual director, which I'm going to start next spring.
So I've been waiting for the right timing for all these years, and I'm really excited about accompanying other people, and journeying alongside them as they attune to themselves and to God. And I just think the inner world that we all have is so interesting, and fascinating, and so worth exploring. And so a type Seven, I love to travel and experience things outwardly. But I've realized, oh, there's so much traveling we can do inside our own selves.
Alison: I love it. So if you decide you'll come back, I want to do a whole episode on this idea of spiritual listening, spiritual direction. We haven't talked about it, yet, on the podcast. So for those of you who are listening, spiritual direction is a beautiful way to get support.
It's not therapy, but it is a structured way of, as you said, just someone who's trained to listen to you. As you also are inviting God to be part of that listening, so it's a guide. We should all have it, that that's my feeling.
It's just a beautiful, it's not new, it's actually an ancient practice that has started to grow again. People are starting to talk about it more, it's just beautiful. And I love how you described it, Rowena, and this is what we then both ended up doing.
So in these quarterly retreats, the spiritual listening community, you spend time listening to each other. Just as you said, each person has a certain amount of time, it's structured. I could go off on a huge tangent on that. That's why I'm going to bookmark it, and say let's do another episode just, literally, teaching people what that's about. Because for me it was transformative, just as you said.
You set a timer and you just share what's been on your heart, what's been on your soul, what's been on your mind, what you're struggling with. And in the group situation, the spiritual direction is one-on-one. But the group listening, there's a group of five or six people that listen and they don't try to fix you, and they don't give you advice, and they don't quote Bible verses at you. What they do is, maybe, repeat back to you, "I heard you say this."
Alison: And it's like, "Whoa." It's that mirror, and I talk about the mirror of truth in The Best of You. And I think it's chapter four where we need those people that hold up that mirror so we can begin to see ourselves as God sees us.
So I love how you just talked about that, and we've just continued to connect so much. I will say that it's supposed to be this very... there's a lot of solitude, there's a lot of quiet, you do all the spiritual listening.
At the meals, that's where Rowena and I, we clicked on all that. But, man, at the meals, we were just busting our guts laughing and everybody loved that. I mean, I think we also brought a little levity when it was appropriate to do so. But we connected on so many levels and I so appreciated you there.
All right, so I want to dive in a little bit because you talk about this peacekeeping part of you, and I want to hear a little bit more about your story. About when did you first learn to avoid conflict? When did you first learn that, essentially, you tell me, but it's like muting your voice. Keeping your voice very small was the best way to stay safe.
Rowena: Hmm, yes, so I think to look at that picture, it requires stepping back even further and looking at a much bigger picture of generations before me. And, so, my parents were both born in England and near the end of World War II. And a phrase that has come back, in full force in recent years, is the phrase "Keep calm and carry on."
And that was a phrase that originated in 1939 just before the war, anticipating the dark days ahead. And it was postered in and put in places that were going to be targeted by German bombers. And it was to boost morale, and there were two and a half millions of these posters displayed. And then a copy was discovered in 2000, and then it blew up after that. An original copy of the poster was discovered in a bookshop, and then that's when it of re-came out.
Rowena: And I've been thinking a lot about that phrase and how that probably was a very helpful thing in that time, of significant trauma, for people in that time. And then I wonder if that message has stayed in the bodies of all the people since then.
This idea of keeping calm and carrying on, and how that can be a really powerful thing. But if that's the only thing we're doing and we're not able to pay attention to our anger, or our grief, or sadness, or fear, or disgust, any of these really hard emotions. If we're just always focusing on keeping calm and carrying on, then we are not addressing other things.
And, so, I don't think this phrase was ever spoken to me in my childhood. But I think, somehow, it lives on in the collective of our society. I think as a society we do not know how to be angry. We are very confused about what to do with anger. We know, cognitively, that anger is not all bad. But I've just wrestled a lot in my life, "Well, what does it look like to be angry? I'm so confused about this emotion."
Rowena: And we know that Jesus's anger led Him. So anger can be dangerous, it can lead to harmful behavior, and it can also lead to justice because there are things we need to be outraged about. Things like violence, and greed, and racism, abuse of power, sex trafficking, the list could go on forever. Of things that we need to be angry about.
And, so, somehow, as I've been unpacking, I think just in the society and in the waters that we're in. It has not really been permissible for women, especially, to feel anger. And I think we sort of push it aside, or at least I did, and I didn't know how to express it. I didn't have the tools; I didn't have the knowledge.
I just knew that I didn't like the feeling in my body when other people were angry. I didn't like the feeling in my own body when I was angry. And I guess I learned, maybe, that my voice had the power, sometimes, to make people angry and therefore I did not feel comfortable with that power.
It could elicit anger and I want peace and harmony. Those are really important things to me, and joy. And, so, if my voice was, sometimes, the thing that was going to elicit anger, then, subconsciously, I kept my voice out of the picture.
Alison: Yes, I love that you just gave us the big brush strokes, the big paint brush strokes. I do want to add you grew up in Canada.
Alison: And I'm curious, you're younger than me. But my guess is your parents are, probably, since you're the eighth of nine children, our parents are of a similar generation. And I think that generation, what we were raised in, that keep calm carry on, really does embody how we were raised.
And it's not all bad, and I love how you're describing it, as there is a time and a place for that. And, especially, when you're going into - we've got to just all keep calm. But when that permeates down to the detriment of, "Oh, actually we need to bring some hard things to the surface." This is this season now, that there was a time for that.
But then there's also a time to, "We need to bring some of the hard things to the surface, so that we can honor and work through." And that means bringing up some conflict, bringing up some anger, bringing up some of these emotions, that actually need to be healed. There's also a time for that and you're making a really good point. That a lot of that message filtered all the way down.
Rowena: Yes, like what do you do when you're angry? How do you keep calm and carry on then?
Alison: As opposed to this idea of harmony or peace really being, it's not about denying the hard things, it's about bringing things to the surface.
When you think about harmony, I always think of the metaphor of an orchestra or a band, where every part needs to be able to use its voice in the appropriate way. It needs to be able to be played in harmony with the other instruments.
But if the drums stop drumming, or the flutes stop fluting, or the trumpets stop trumpeting, you don't actually have the full picture of what you could have. At the same time, if everybody is just yelling, and yammering, and playing, you have discord.
So harmony is hard work is what I'm getting at. Harmony isn't just, "We're going to all just sit here and pretend like everything's fine."
From Family Systems Theory, the goal of a healthy family is harmony. But what people don't understand is that harmony is like that orchestra. It's making sure each one of those parts is playing its role, and has its appropriate voice within the family.
Rowena: I benefited hugely from being one of the last of so many kids and really looked up to my older siblings. And there's such a profound love that we all share for each other.
But I think just in being one of the last ones and having so many of us. I spent maybe some of the time just doing a lot of observing of what other people were saying and feeling like, "Well I'm younger, who am I to know what I'm talking about here?"
I think it's only natural that if you're one of the younger kids and you've got lots of older ones, that you will defer to other people's opinions and defer your voice. And, so, a lot of it is reclaiming, "Well, what do I think? What do I feel and what do I think?"
Rowena: And taking other people's voices into account, but not so much that I'm not listening to my own, also.
Alison: It makes sense that you would get lost in the shuffle a little bit. I mean, you're a mother of four now and you see, I'm sure, how hard it is to make sure each one of your children is getting that attunement, it's hard. I can't imagine doing it for nine people, I mean, I can't imagine.
Alison: It's hard for me with two.
Rowena: Right and the person on their own has all their many parts. And, so, you won't just have four kids, you have all the parts within each child.
Rowena: And then you have all the ways that those are interacting with the parts of the other kids. And you just have so much happening and it's wild, and messy, and beautiful, all at the same time.
Alison: When did you begin to become aware that for you staying quiet, not using your voice, was a conditioned response. And that it wasn't necessarily the only way, and that maybe it was important to speak up?
Rowena: Yes, so I have really valued peace and harmony in my life and want to create, protect that. I don't want my body to feel so much discomfort that I'm outside my window of tolerance, and that I can be assertive in many moments.
But I think in moments when I fear that my very voice is the thing that is going to elicit anger. Then this is where the peacekeeping part goes into overdrive. And, so, I've been on a huge journey, recently the past year especially.
Our family was involved in a faith community for many years and there are lots of dear people, and memories, and things that we loved and enjoyed about being a part of it. And, yet, there was a growing feeling that something was not right and our bodies began to feel at first, and our minds kept trying to override the signals and say, "Everything is fine, just keep the peace, have grace."
And, yet, our bodies just kept getting more and more uncomfortable and the signals kept getting stronger to the point where we couldn't really ignore it. And, so, we had no choice but to become curious about what we were feeling.
And, so, I realized my body was saying, in some ways, "I don't feel like I have a voice here. I feel a bit stuck. I feel trapped, I feel powerless. I don't feel like I'm flourishing. This doesn't really feel like the way that it should be at church." And I was also getting ready to birth our fourth child. So I was going through these two kind of labors simultaneously, it was a really stressful time.
And, so, my husband and I just started to gather puzzle pieces and realized in dysfunctional families, there's one person's emotional needs that are at the center. And this is the person who has the highest need for constant attention and praise, and you can feed into that all day long.
And then anyone who wakes up to that reality and stops pouring into the center, and maybe tries to, gently, bring some awareness, there's blame shifting that occurs. And the problem is deflected onto the people who are trying to say something, and then you become scapegoated. So it's a very challenging dynamic, to say the least.
So I would say that there was an incongruence that we witnessed between what the authority figure was presenting publicly, and the lived experience that we had behind the scenes that didn't match. Jesus says it like, "You wash the outside of the cup but you're ignoring the inside."
And that's what we were seeing and experiencing. There's this carefully curated and crafted image and, yet, we're not really seeing the love and the abundant life modeled.
And we also saw that there was an ongoing pattern of leaders, who had gotten close proximity, being deeply wounded and leaving, and then we became one of them. And, so, the incongruence was profoundly disorienting. And your article on the empathy trap was really powerful for us. In understanding that loyalty and empathy can't run the show alone, and that we also need courage.
And, so, loyalty and submission, and deference to religious leaders and authorities should not be given automatically, simply, because of their position and training. We need to be looking at the character and the fruit in people's lives, and not just their words.
And, so, the essence of Jesus's loving others well. And, so, love should be the primary measurement for how well things are going. Basically, we realized we all have wounds and we need to tend to our own, and take responsibility for them. But if we don't they're going to be infected and they're going to leave a legacy of harm.
So we decided that we wanted to say yes to something else. We wanted to say yes to a community where we felt like our voices would be heard. Where we could bring gentle correction from time to time, if even though we're not the type of people who are constantly criticizing.
But if we don't have any space to bring ourselves, then we were feeling very stifled. And, so, we had to do the very thing that terrified me, using my voice, knowing that it would elicit anger. And that was very scary for my body, my nervous system.
Alison: Thank you for sharing. I know how hard this is. I think so many people can understand what you're describing. And I love how you said it in the context, again, this family system, church is a family and when somebody, especially somebody in authority, someone in power, so in a family, it's a parent.
In a church it's somebody in leadership, a pastor, somebody in leadership is sucking all of the energy toward themselves. This is the powering-over P, they're controlling the narrative. They're controlling and silencing others as a result.
So you combine that with your own, "I don't speak up, I am a peacekeeper." And, oh, that is hard. And, yet, I think of the Proverbs, listening to you, that says, "A gentle word breaks bone."
It's the gentleness of, "I don't want to be the one to do this, but I cannot not see what I'm seeing." And, so, I just want to name those things. This was for you, there was no interest or your husband, I mean, I know him, too, just gentle people all the way through.
we're witnessing this dynamic that is not healthy for us, not healthy for the community, and we've got to be the ones to use our voices here. And, as you just said, sometimes, you use your voice and it's like, "Oh, this is great."
People are like, "Oh, we're so glad, thank you. It was so great to hear from you, thanks for sharing." It was not going to be that. It was not going to be that.
Rowena: No it was not.
Alison: It was going to be the thing you feared and you knew it. It was going to be, "We don't want your voice here, this is going to create discord." You knew that, so it was the very thing you feared the most, and I just, again, that word courage.
That word courage to speak up just really speaks.
Rowena: Yes, and we know that everyone has a true self.
Rowena: Ye, we really believe that. But we can all get lost from our poor true self that God has given us, and wander away and be just caught in a lot of self-deception about who we really are. And, so, it requires a lot of awareness of what are these protective parts of us that are so overactive, that are hiding something within us because of wounds.
And we all have the responsibility to travel within and figure out what those wounds are, and name them, and bring back the puzzle pieces within ourselves, and experience healing. But if we're not, and we're not willing to listen when people are saying, "Hey, I think you're going off track here." It's scary.
Alison: Yes, it is. It's that self-awareness. And I love what you're saying, again, this list of seven Ps, none of them in and of themselves are a problem if we are aware of them, even that powering over one. Even that one where that's the person that's taking control of the narrative, and trying to be in charge, and make sure they're the ones, no one else has a voice.
Well, that awareness of, "I am someone that can do that. I am someone that can bully others. I am someone that can be that." You can imagine raising a kid like that and it's like, "How do you?" It's that self-awareness.
This is cliché, but you think about it a little bit sometimes in Enneagram terms, we need to do a whole episode on the Enneagram. But there's a type, the Enneagram Eight that is the power. They want the power.
Alison: We need powerful leaders. We need people who step up into the spotlight. That is not in and of itself a bad thing.
But if there's not the self-awareness of the dark side of that, just as with any of these, it can get really toxic.
Rowena: I've had to reclaim my understanding of power and authority and get more comfortable with those terms, and not see those as all bad. Like not seeing anger as all bad, not seeing power as all bad, and reclaiming the good parts of those. Those are good things when they're used well.
And, so, that has been healing in and of itself, to not view power as bad or anger as bad. So, yes, in terms of how we began to grow and change in, bravely, speaking up. I was surprised at the journey that it would take me on inwardly and learning more about my own wounds, and my own self. And, basically, it set a fire to all these old habits and ways of being because I was using my voice knowing that it would elicit anger.
And, so, that set a fire to unhealthy ways of relating to others, in a good way, but in a very challenging and deeply uncomfortable way. So I didn't know that the Fawn response was a thing. And it has been eye-opening to discover that that is a response of the body, basically, it's a peacekeeping response.
You're trying to keep the peace and just manage the situation, by not eliciting people's anger and not being disruptive. And those are things that my type Seven body does not want to do. I want to experience joy.
And, so, it has been basically setting a fire to that Fawn response to fearing anger. And also realizing the disconnect between my mind and my body, and realizing, "Oh, I have been just stuck in my head for a lot of my life and my body has so much wisdom to share with me."
And in the past I think I would view anxiety, or anger, or rage, or disgust, all of those things, or fear and try to just get them far away from me. And now I feel like I've alkalinized those emotions so much more, and I can pay attention to my body and understand that it is trying to tell me something. And if I can just get curious about it and listen that there are things that my body is trying to tell me to help me.
And, so, anxiety doesn't need to be something that I fear anymore. And anger doesn't be need to be something that I fear and these can be really powerful things if I can get curious about them. And I think this is part of why Internal Family Systems has been such a powerful tool is because it helps distance yourself from these parts of you. Because when they take over it feels like it's all of you.
And you feel like, "Well, I'm just drowning in anger or drowning in anxiety." And really when you can realize, "Oh, this is one part of me." Then you can step back from it and differentiate from it a bit more, and that has been such a helpful tool. Peace, and harmony, and avoiding pain cannot be my primary guiding values.
Rowena: And if they are then it's creating a false peace and harmony. And, so, having peace and harmony are good things, but they need to be also in tandem with courage and listening to angry parts of ourselves, and anxious parts of ourselves, and fearful parts of ourselves.
And not just trying to sweep them under the rug or put them in a jail within us and say, "You can't come out it's not safe." And, so, I've really been learning to bless those parts of myself and say, "Oh, anger is, and you've got good things to tell me and I thought you were all bad."
And, so, I had this moment where I felt like all my other parts were able to welcome anger back in. And be like, "We see you, we value you. You actually put us in that situation." And now I know, especially, from the work that you say, that phrase, "We speak on behalf of our anger not from it."
And that has been the distinction that I've been trying to find for so long. I think journaling about anger has been a common theme for eight years of parenting. Because I've been like, "God, please show me how to be angry." This is what kids do, they know how to press your triggers and it's not their fault. That is a window into something within ourselves. Like, "Why is this a trigger for me?"
And, so, yes, I've been on that journey for so long and so I feel like I've had some breakthrough moments. Where I've been able to recognize anger as good and I can bless it and honor it, and I can steer it in a way that I'm not so afraid of it. That it's going to be destructive or take me over or hurt other people.
Alison: It's like a paradox. So the peacekeeper parts of us think anger is the enemy. Avoid it at all costs because anger is conflict, anger is discord, anger is all the things that peacekeeping parts of us just cannot stand.
And what I'm hearing you say, the paradox is, as you've made peace with your own anger, and even welcomed, and allowed anger a seat at the table, there is more peace. More actual peace because we don't want to make peace.
You gave a great list of things, at the beginning about, of all the things we should be angry about. We don't want to make peace with certain things. We don't want to make peace with these terrible things, atrocities, that are going on in our world. We don't want to make peace with toxic leadership. We don't want to make peace.
And, so, we have to make peace with our own anger, which is our cue that something is awry. And it does turn this idea of what is peace" And even thinking about Jesus, "I'm the prince of peace."
And then you think about, "Yes." And if we look at the whole life of Jesus there were some really hard things in it, and there was anger in it, and there was even some harsh words for folks in it, and He didn't shy away from conflict at all. And, yet, He was-
Rowena: "A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." And He experienced anger. The shortest famous verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept." He experienced intense grief. He had a panic attack in the Garden of Gethsemane, and experienced intense anxiety like we have never experienced.
And, so, Jesus shows us that He felt the full range of human emotion, and I'm really thankful for that. And I find that the Psalms have been a powerful way of connecting emotions and bringing them to God. And the Psalms are a way that God is just always trying to reveal to us, that He keeps us safe, seen, soothed, and secure.
Alison: Yes, even when the circumstances of our life require us to enter into discomfort, that's the paradox.
Alison: That internally we can experience that experience of being seen, soothed, safe, and secure even when we have to walk into a really hard situation that challenges us. What I love about what you're doing here, Rowena, is the event was, "I've got to speak up about something I'm seeing. It's really hard, I don't like it."
But then you immediately got yourself into a safer situation.
You got yourself to where you needed to be, and then, all of a sudden, guess what happens, you are the one that's growing. That's what these things do, these invitations to courage. And I just love how you're describing this process of really having to examine a lot of ways, that you've showed up in the world. So tell me a little bit more about some of those breakthrough moments.
Rowena: Yes, so one of the quotes that I love of Parker Palmers. He says that, "The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek."
And, so, I think this is the nature of human beings, are the nature is that we want to hide. And we often think that God is the one hiding and we are the ones trying to find Him, when all along it's we are hiding and He's out there in the open.
And I think Henri Nouwen is the one who says that beautifully in a quote, I'm just paraphrasing it. And, so, it was sort of doing that very thing of sitting quietly in the woods, with the wild animal that my soul is, and waiting for it to reveal parts of itself that were wanting to be seen, and wanting to hide all at the same time.
Rowena: And I think of Sue Monk Kidd, in her book When the Heart Waits, and she says, "Crisis can be holy beginnings, a coming alive." So we get to take these inward journeys where we have these holy beginnings.
And we can travel inward and discover what are the places within us that are wanting to hide and why? And how can we draw them out, and experience greater healing, and have well-ordered souls, and we can be fully alive. It's such a travesty to live in this world and be hiding and feel like you're not fully alive.
And, so, while I don't have the power to change outer circumstances, that's not within my realm of responsibility. I have been surprised at how much ownership of things within me that I have needed to take.
And that healing can come by gathering exiled parts of myself that have been scattered and bringing them back together. And it's this mysterious journey where God is at work and we are participating in the process somehow. And it's slow, very slow, and it is deep and lasting.
And, so, one of my big breakthrough moments was when we were watching this episode of Blue Planet with the kids, and there was a section on these crabs. And they are usually solitary creatures who gather together by the hundreds of thousands.
And they don't gather together to reproduce or to feed, they gather together to molt. And it's because they've become too big for the exoskeletons that they're in, and they need to climb out of those shells, and they're super vulnerable. They're soft, their limbs are all wonky, they can't move. So they're extremely vulnerable to the predators. So they gather together to protect each other in these large numbers.
And as I'm watching this with our kids, I'm really moved by it and I'm like, "Wow." I feel like that is what has been happening to me. I have been on this journey of climbing out of my own crab shell and expanding and leaving these old exoskeletons behind. And just dying to old ways of being, and birthing new ways of relating to people, and being able to use my voice instead of keeping it silent, and small, and using the fawn response.
And I've really loved reading so many of Sue Monk Kidd books. And a lot of the themes in her novels are of women bending the ear to the longing in their soul and using their voice. And one of them has this beautiful prayer that's like "Bless the largeness that is within me."
And that prayer really stood out to me, and I think it probably does for every woman and every everybody. That goes in hand in hand with this idea of us expanding and needing to come out of these exoskeletons that we're in, and to leave them behind.
It's awkward for a time and it's uncomfortable, but then we slowly can build new ways of being and we probably undergo so many.
Or if we're paying attention, we can undergo lots of these molts in the course of our lifetime. And that is how we can grow closer and closer to God and to who He has made us to be.
Alison: That's beautiful. That metaphor you had sent me of the crab shells was just so powerful. Because it is these protectors, even these peacemaking protectors, that can feel like they're good Christian parts of us. They're still protecting us. They still are that hard shell.
And, so, when we come out of them and that vulnerability of being seen, of using our voices, it is that it captures that tenderness of that. And, yet, it is part of that process of leaving behind the old and moving into new ways of being truly safe.
Which isn't denying the hard things or keeping the hard things; "Just keep calm, carry on." It's actually coming out and acknowledging the dangers, and being aware of the landmines, and also knowing how to resource ourselves, get ourselves what we need.
Rowena: So other breakthrough moments occurred a lot while reading this Anglican Devotional, that I've been going through for a couple of years called Seeking God's Face. And it's just a beautiful way that it lays out short passages of Scripture.
And this one, in particular, was very meaningful to me from Psalm 18. And it said, "In my distress, I called out to the Lord. I cried to my God for help from his temple, he heard my voice. My cry came before him into his ears. He reached down from on high and took hold of me. He drew me out of deep waters."
And I could probably quote so many of the psalms that have been powerful, but that has been particularly meaningful to really believe and know that God hears my voice, and that He wants it to come out of hiding.
And then I was listening to the Messiah, the other day, and there's this one stanza that was really sticking out to me also. It was like my ears perked up and it's basically saying, "Get thee up into a high mountain. Lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid." And it's just amazing when things hit you in the way that you exactly need to hear it.
And, so, yes, just by coming on this podcast I feel like I'm practicing this. I'm practicing lifting up my voice with strength and being not afraid. And it feels really good to have all of these puzzle pieces come together and feel like, "Oh, I am coming out of hiding and I'm coming out of my crab shell."
Alison: I just, I want to sit there, for a second, and play that clip for all of you who are listening right now that just needed to hear that. "Lift up your voice. Lift up your voice before the Lord." And we need your voice. I have been blessed by your voice, Rowena, which is why I wanted you to come on here because I know what a blessing your voice is. So thank you for that word.
I am so grateful for just the encouragement, to me and to so many. I want to ask you being a mom of four, how do you notice this peacekeeping part helps you? How do you need to set gentle boundaries with it sometimes? How does this come into your parenting?
Rowena: Yes, so this is what's also been really redemptive in it and healing, is that instead of seeing this peacekeeping part as all bad. I can recognize and bless the parts of it that have been good, and that is trying to help me, and I can assign it new, more productive roles for me.
So I think the peacekeeping part of me has kept such a tight guard on my voice because it knows that there is value in what I have to say. And my mind may not have always known that. But this protective part is trying to protect something because there is something of value in there.
And, so, I think that has been an important realization, and I don't want it to be on overdrive. But I want to bless an honor that it wants to keep me safe. It's the part of me that wants to help me think before I speak.
Alison: What you're saying is so interesting. I've never thought about it that way., but it's actually protecting a treasure.
Alison: So it's not it's not trying to keep you silenced. It's actually almost saying, "Your voice is powerful, therefore, we have to be careful with it." That's fascinating.
Rowena: Yes, and then because I have feared power then it has made me. I don't know, "Can I trust myself to use my voice in good ways." The tongue is a fire and it can be very destructive. But, also, our voice can be so tightly guarded, like a jailkeeper is in front of it. And, so, I'm trying to give this peacekeeping part of me a new role, that it is the guardian of my voice and the gatekeeper in a wise, shrewd way.
And, so, it helps me think before I speak. It helps me discern if it is wise to speak or if boundaries need to be set with action instead. So it's like bringing that piece of the orchestra into harmony again.
And saying, "You have a valuable role to play here and we've got to change the music that you're playing. But we're going to give you this new music, and it's going to be much more beautiful. If you can take up this really helpful, protective role."
And if my core self can lead with all those beautiful see words of IFS, like courage, curiosity, compassion, confidence, creativity, clarity, calm, and connectedness. If my true self can lead this peacekeeping part of me in that way, then I think that's where the real power is going to be led by the Holy Spirit.
And, so, yes, I'm trying to break free from the shackles of other people's anger, and uncomfortability, and not actively trying to elicit it, but using my voice when it's necessary.
Alison: Yes, and one of the things you touch on is when folks have a very strong bend toward peacekeeping. What can happen is when we do use our voices that we have to get so far down the anger spectrum that it does come out. It can, right?
Alison: It can come out angrily. It can come out because we've suppressed and then it gushes out. And, so, with those of you who see yourself as peacekeepers, it's that learning that nuanced voice of anger that you talked about earlier. Speaking on behalf of, "Man, I am feeling."
And if we don't name that, and if we don't give ourselves permission to feel that, and speak on behalf of that anger it will come out too big. Because we flip into fight mode once we are just done. And especially when we're with our safe people, which often are our kids and our families. Because we know they're not going to leave us, and that's just human.
And, so, I mean, that's just a visceral, that's primal, that's not a conscious choice. It's just, "Well, if I lose it here, I know that..." And, so, learning, again, taking it back to that theme of what you've been saying. We have to make peace with anger, make peace with the things that we're feeling. So that we can speak on behalf of those from that calm place inside versus that activated place inside.
Rowena: Yes, and I also want to speak to the double bind that culture puts women into. Of, "If you use your voice, then you know you're either too sensitive or you're too assertive." And, so, then, I feel like I've experienced that. And so it's left me with like, "Well, how do I use my voice then." Because I don't like being blamed of either perspective of being overly sensitive or overly assertive.
And, so, it's breaking free from that double bind, and owning my voice, and knowing what it is saying deep in my gut. And then once the blockages are gone it can freely wind its way out of my gut, where I know that it lives, and through my lips, and from my tongue and into the world.
And, so, it's that reconnecting with my body, too, that is part of it. Actively feeling, "Okay, I feel like my voice lives in my gut, and it wants to come out of my lips." Sort of reconnecting all of these parts inwardly, and the mind to the body has been really powerful for me.
Alison: That's beautiful, Rowena. That's just beautiful. I've been privy to a lot of this journey, as your friend, and just to hear you articulate it, it's just so powerful and so beautiful. I want to ask you, what would you say to that young, little girl, eighth of nine children. Just in light of everything you've been learning, especially, these last few years. What would you want to say to her now?
Rowena: I think I would say, "You are not responsible for other people's anger." And I would break that connection between the use of the voice and anger. And I would say, "Allow room for your own anger. Don't silence it and be curious about it and don't let it come up sideways, either but speak on behalf of it."
I would say, "Trust your voice and stay connected to your body." Those would be the main things that I do tell my younger self.
Alison: And what would you say to other women, who are listening right now, who struggle with using their voice?
Rowena: Yes, I would say get curious about what blockages are in the way. Because once you can remove the blockages, then it can flow again and it can come out. And, so, I get curious about what are these protective parts trying to.
In what ways are being overly protective and why, and then take that journey inward to listen to all of your parts. And do this with support and befriend painful emotions like anger, and fear, and anxiety, all those things. And realize that your body is trying to send you good messages if you would get curious and have compassion for yourself as you do it.
And then honor and bless those parts of you and realize the ways that they are trying to help and to not see them as all bad, and that that can really set free a lot of things. And then I would I would say, "Once you go through all that work, lift up your voice with strength. Lift it up and be not afraid."
Alison: That's beautiful. Rowena, thank you so much. As I close every episode, I ask all of my guests, what or who is bringing out the best of you right now?
Rowena: So I think that I would have to go through all four of my kids, just briefly. But our one-year-old, I think we have so much to learn from babies. We just think that we need to teach them so many things, but they have so much to teach us. And, so, our one-year-old is just such a joy and delight, and he contributes zero productivity to our household. But we just delight because he exists.
Alison: That's awesome.
Rowena: And, so, I feel like God is always reminding me of that. Like, "This is how I see you. You are a delight just by existing, just by being, and I don't expect you to produce and perform, do all these things. Babies are uninhibited from all of these ways of being that we've adopted as older people.
And, so, they're just beautiful to witness the presence that they have, and the joy. Our one-year-old, right now, is going through all of these language acquisition. And, so, he's just babbling and he's so uninhibited with his voice that it's just really beautiful, it's inspiring to me.
Alison: That's great.
Rowena: Like you don't care that you're just saying, "Higgledy, gibody." words right now and, so, I love that.
And then our three-year-old, I feel like this is really holy ground because he really knows how to let his anger flow. And, so, he's been teaching me a lot, and he'll just be able to name like, "I'm so angry." And I'm just like, "Wow, you just know how to name it."
It just feels like a very tender spot where I'm really trying to be a wise parent and not shut it down. But try to help him have healthy outlet for it, and it is very challenging, too. But I think this inner work that I'm doing in myself, hopefully, is going to translate to that over time.
It feels like I'm that wobbly crab at the moment with that. But I'm hopeful that I can nourish his anger in healthy ways, if that makes sense. And then our six-year-old is just so curious and always inspires me with just his curiosity about the world and his playfulness.
And then our eight-year-old daughter, right now seems to really lack this peacekeeping to please and fawn part. So I've just been like, "Oh, cool." Trying to bless that part of her that is really strong, and speaks her mind, and also she has a huge laugh, and it's super silly. And, so, she just brings a lot of hilarity to our household.
And then I have to say for my husband, too, he is just such a safe person and accepts all big emotions. And I can say to him like, "I felt angry when you did such and such." And he can listen and not be defensive, and we can have regular rupture and repair cycles. And there's just a lot of mutual trust and respect with him, and I just am really thankful for who he is.
Alison: I love it. I love how you flipped that to what you are learning from each of your kids. That's beautiful perspective there, that the things that could also drive us crazy, about our kids, are the very things that we probably need to learn, and I think that's just incredible perspective. What needs and desires are you working to protect?
Rowena: So I think beauty is something that I am working to protect. Whether it's creating pottery, or listening to beautiful music, or singing and dancing in my kitchen, just noticing. I've had to, because there's been so much happening inwardly, I've really been needing to look at open space.
And, so, I've just found myself being so much more attentive to what the sky is each day and noticing the clouds, and really looking at it because it's just like the open space. I can't get to the ocean as much as I would like, so the sky is an incredible open, vast, expanse that really helps settle my nervous system, too.
And then reading, I just have been really interested in reading lots of different books. And that has been just something that I want to hear other people's perspectives, and take them in, and just turn things over, and think through things.
And, so, John and I went on a date last night and we heard this song playing in the restaurant that was from our high school days. And it was a Natasha Bedingfield song, the song Unwritten and the words were so [Inaudible 00:56:40] to me. It was like my ears perked up.
So she has these words that are;
"Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten"
Rowena: And I hadn't heard that song in decades and it just came back. And, so, the next morning, I'm driving our kids to school, we've got six car seats in the back and I'm blasting this song, and singing and dancing in the car. I get to this red light, and I look over and there's this bus stop filled with people, and this one guy is just looking at me and laughing. And, so instead of breaking eye contact, I just kept looking at him, and I kept singing and dancing, and he started to move too.
Alison: That's amazing, I love it.
Rowena: It was so funny, it just really made my day.
Alison: I love it, that is a perfect image. I just am so grateful for you. Thank you so much for your time today, just for all of your wisdom, and your nuggets. And I just couldn't be more grateful for all that you had to share with us today, thanks for being here.
Rowena: Yes, thank you, Alison. You've been such an important part of my journey.
Sandy Powers says
I have no words for how life-giving and inspiring this interview was. She painted the most beautiful, eye-opening living picture of what it looks like to actually live with your internal family systems. I feel like just from this one interview, I will become better at it and will be healthier going forward!
The timing also feels so God-timed in my life as I painfully deal with the realization that I have been an unhealthy (to myself) chronic peacekeeper with a family member that gets easily defensive, attacking, critical or dismissive. This gave me such clarity and a new strength to manage it all better!
THANK YOU! And THANK YOU to Rowena!!!