Emotional Spring Cleaning
Clear Away Old Patterns and Open the Door to New Beginnings with a Systemic Approach to Transformation
Spring is an exciting time of year. Trees and gardens sprout new growth. Students catch spring fever and play hooky. The rest of us go into a frenzy of spring cleaning. Like our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before us, we clear out closets, pack winter clothes away, clean windows and contemplate the garage. We get the “itch” to do home improvement. At the very least we buy some flowers to bring a bit of color back into our lives.
But spring cleaning is more than an annual household event. It’s an internal happening as well. As nature awakens, something stirs in us. We feel a twinge of creativity, a flutter of potential signaling new growth and a calling to new adventures. We feel deep stirrings. But do we always act on them? Do we pursue these inner urgings to change? More often than not, we don’t. And more often than not we don’t even know why.
I remember Louise, a client who came to me soon after she had gotten her real estate sales license. Despite the beautiful spring day, she was dressed somberly in grey slacks and a black jacket. For years she’d worked quietly as a clerk in her county’s administrative offices until she discovered she had a love for houses, a flare for sales and an easy ability to work with people. She was excited about her new career. But she felt intimidated by her female associates, all of whom dressed in an upscale manner and drove late model cars. “I bought a few new clothes,” she gestured to her uninspiring outfit. “And I know I should get a newer car. But it all feels wrong. I’m freaking out and I don’t know why. It’s just so stupid!”
It’s not like she came from a poor background. An only child from a solid middle class family, she’d gone to good schools and had never wanted for anything … except, as it turned out, anything fashionable or colorful. Her mother, a nurse whom she desperately admired, never wore makeup. She had shopped for drab, unfashionable clothes for herself and Louise at bargain basements and Goodwill. Even Louise’s bike, which she rode to school for years, was old and ugly when she got it. “I remember when I was twelve I wanted a bright red bike with a white basket for Christmas.” She sighed unhappily. “I got a boy’s used brown Schwinn.”
When Louise told me she couldn’t remember her mother’s mother wearing anything but black or dark brown, it became obvious there was a family pattern of the women being extremely modest and self-effacing. As we drilled down, a light bulb finally went off for Louise. “Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. “I remember there was a picture of Grandma taken in Paris right before World War II. She had pink cheeks and was wearing this beautiful pink dress with a pink bow in her hair and she looked so happy.”
“What happened to her?” I asked.
Louise blushed and ducked her head. “I forgot because it was never talked about. But she was raped by a German soldier. My mom was born nine months later and after the war the family moved here to America.”
And there it was. All of her life Louise had lived in the shadow of that rape. Driven by concern for her safety, her grandmother had taught her daughter to never call attention to herself by wearing colorful things—to never look pretty or make a statement with her cars, clothes or makeup. Louise’s mother, in unconscious loyalty to her mother, raised Louise the same way. Now Louise, in unconscious loyalty to her mother, was doing the same thing. Almost 70 years after the fateful rape of her grandmother, she was dressing like a church mouse, torturing herself with anxiety over buying new clothes, upscaling her image and investing in a new car.
Once she saw the pattern and understood the unconscious ancestral program that was limiting her, Louise was able to make changes. She realized her fear wasn’t hers. She also realized it was okay to make other choices and that in doing so she would not be disrespecting her mother—something that was very important to her. The last time I saw her she was still dressed conservatively, but smartly, wearing a little makeup and a big smile as she proudly showed off her new car—a deep burgundy sedan. “It’s not exactly red,” she said. “But I’m getting there!”
Internal spring cleaning tips
So, what excites you this spring? What inner prompting for change is stirring? Does a new job beckon? A new hobby? A new relationship? A new step in your finances? A new fashion look?
Give yourself permission to explore possibilities and let yourself get excited about them. Just this act, in itself, is a gift. And if you need an excuse to cut loose from some of the old habits and constraints of your normal family ways of doing things, blame it on spring!
Once you settle on one particular change, explore your emotions. What feelings come up when you imagine yourself doing this new thing? Are they positive? Negative? Don’t judge. Just take note and jot all your feelings down.
Let’s say the idea of a new love relationship excites you, but misgivings show up. Maybe it even scares you. Explore relationship patterns in your family system to see if this fear even belongs to you. As we saw with Louise, emotional patterns take root and travel through the generations. You may well have inherited your fear from a parent or sibling or even an earlier ancestor who got badly burned in a love affair. Take note of the way you’re thinking. Do certain negative thoughts predominate? “I’m not attractive enough to find a great love. Good relationships don’t happen in our family. I’m not deserving enough.” Or how about, “Love is overrated.” Or “Love makes you weak.”
Just like emotions, thought patterns, words and sayings—something called systemic sentences— travel through the family line. We end up thinking and saying things automatically, never realizing these thoughts don’t really belong to us. Louise had some real zingers running through her head. “People who need attention are just begging for trouble” was one systemic sentence. Another was “Just keep your head down, don’t ask for much, and things will work out fine.” How could she possibly stand out and shine in a sales profession with thoughts like that running the show?
So, get a broom and sweep those old dusty thoughts from your focus. Acknowledge and thank the old patterns for the wisdom they have provided, then put them down and create new thoughts and feelings you can believe in deeply to replace them. Grab a cloth and polish the windows to your soul. Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself it’s not just okay to have a new love—or a new car or a new job or a new puppy—in your life. It’s your destiny. After all, it’s just a part of spring cleaning.
By Judy Wilkins-Smith
Judy Wilkins-Smith, author of Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint: A Powerful Guide to Transformation Through Disentangling Multigenerational Patterns, is a highly-regarded, international organizational, individual and family patterns expert, systemic coach, trainer, facilitator, leadership conference and motivational speaker and founder of System Dynamics for Individuals & Organizations.
Turning Triggers Into Treasure
Content and trigger warnings, book bans, gender sensitivity, cancel culture. Even though most psychologists and social workers now agree that trigger warnings don’t work and “cognitive avoidance” (dodging sensitive topics) is counterproductive to emotional growth, the list of social hot potatoes and things we won’t or can’t look at grows longer by the day.
Perhaps this is because we haven’t understood these unpalatable hot buttons for what they are: messengers sent directly from our subconscious pointing us in the direction of where the buried treasure within us lies.
American novelist and activist James Arthur Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” And that’s very true. But I’d like to take his words a big step further and say that, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but everything we face holds a gift.” We just need to look at things the right way.
Let me give you an example. A client (I’ll call her “Alison”) came to me after a recent vacation in Hawaii. She was deeply disturbed because mask mandates had been set in place that made it impossible for her and her family, who were not vaccinated, to sit inside a restaurant to eat. They had to sit outside or ask for takeout. “Fortunately Maui has great weather and many restaurants have outdoor seating,” she said. “But that’s not the point. I got hugely upset and angry. I felt discriminated against and couldn’t help but think about how my grandmother and grandfather had been excluded from eating in restaurants because they were Black. I knew it wasn’t the same thing, and tried not to react. But I ended up getting so upset I got sick and we had to fly home early.”
As we explored her situation, it became clear that Alison was always looking out for the underdog. Although it was deeply unconscious on her part, she often projected her own issues about discrimination onto others. As a lawyer representing women of color who were victims of discrimination, this wasn’t hard for her to do. She also kept getting emotionally involved and angry at the injustices her clients experienced. “It’s like all the hurt and unexpressed rage of my forefathers and mothers is coming out through me,” she said. “I can’t control it and I hate it! I’m even beginning to think I need to change careers.” I reassured her that, although running away is what most of us naturally consider when we’re feeling overwhelmed emotionally, instead of quitting her career, what she needed to do was to see beyond the triggers and anger to the treasure they were pointing her toward.
Together we set up what’s called a “constellation,” in this case a physical 3D map of her closest family members— her mom, dad, siblings, and maternal grandparents—comprised of pieces of paper with one family member’s name written on each piece. Alison then arranged the names in her family system on the floor in a way that energetically made sense to her, a pattern that reflected the actual relationship dynamics of the family: who was closer to whom, who was distant, who was absent, who was engaged and who wasn’t. We also included the presence of anger. Alison wrote the word on a piece of paper and placed it where she felt it needed to go, which was beside the names of her mother’s parents. As she looked at the whole pattern, literally standing in the middle of the pieces of paper set out on the floor, I prompted Alison to talk about her family.
As it turned out, her mother’s parents, who lived in the South, had been deeply active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. But her mother moved to Chicago to go to school and met her father whose family wasn’t involved at all. “It’s like when she moved North, Mamma washed her hands of the whole thing,” Alison said. “My parents acted like discrimination didn’t even exist— like they’d escaped or something. And early on both my older brothers got into computers and IT.” She studied the layout of the names on the floor. “It’s like everything grandma and gramps felt and did and stood for went totally unseen by everybody.”
“Except you,” I said. Her eyes flew wide. “So,” I continued, “What do you think your grandmother and grandfather wanted for their children and grandchildren? What were they working toward?” “A world where we could live in peace and be free to live the lives we choose,” she replied promptly. “And isn’t that exactly what your parents and brothers have done?” She gasped. “Oh, my God, yes,” she said slowly, realization dawning.
“Is it possible that anger has its time and place? Is it possible that while your grandparents used their anger to effective purpose, holding onto their anger is not honoring them so much as holding you back and denying the gift they worked so hard to give you?” Alison was stunned. “I never looked at it that way before,” she whispered. I asked her, “What has anger given you? Can you look at anger and thank it for anything?”
She thought about it and nodded. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Thank you, anger, for what you did for my family. You inspired ambition, success and peace. I can see you had a place in my family. But I don’t need to carry you anymore.”
Systems—whether it’s a family system, a business system or a social system— are like the people that comprise them. They’re wired to evolve and grow. And, like people, growth is dependent upon actions and breakthroughs in the system being built upon and expanded. Alison had been acknowledging her grandparents by emulating them—repeating the pattern of anger instead of moving beyond anger to take their legacy to the next level. Subconsciously, she was angry at herself for not doing so. She’d also been angry at the rest of her family, interpreting the gift of their peace as indifference.
That which doesn’t grow, stagnates. Sir Winston Churchill summed up this cycle very well when he said, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Alison had been repeating history, finding all sorts of people and situations around her to keep the old anger pattern alive.
When I asked Alison what new emotion could replace anger and take her and her family’s legacy forward, she was quick to reply. “Determination!” she cried. “I can keep my career and not be victimized by it. I can be bold in my determination to help other women. I can show them what it looks like not to be a victim! I can help them live the kind of free life my grandparents created for me!”
See how you can move beyond a trigger and find strength? Next time you get upset by something, don’t judge yourself or try to dodge it. Stop for a moment. Reflect upon the trigger. Consider the issue and its context within your family. Ask where it belongs. Where did the issue start? Who else had this issue? Was it expressed? Was it buried and ignored? Was it judged? By whom? What is trying to be expressed and/or healed through you? If you look deeply enough, you’ll find the gift waiting for you, longing to ignite the next step. And that is true transformation.
Judy Wilkins-Smith, author of Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint: A Powerful Guide to Transformation Through Disentangling Multigenerational Patterns, is a highly-regarded Systemic Work & Constellations expert, coach, motivational speaker and founder of System Dynamics for Individuals & Organizations. For more information: https://judywilkins-smith.com.
Rewiring Family Patterns
Ep#198 – Rewiring Family Patterns – An Interview with author and visionary leader, Judy Wilkins-Smith.
I am thrilled to welcome author and visionary leader, Judy Wilkins-Smith to this Empowering Chat. Judy is the author of, “Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint. A Powerful Guide to Transformation Through Disentangling Multigenerational Patterns.”
As I began this interview, or chat as I like to call it, with Judy my first question to her was: What is an emotional blueprint? Here is how Judy explained it. An emotional blueprint gets created when a significant event happens in your life. This event is often followed by your personal reaction to that event. And in response, you create a story about it and often times it is coupled with strong feelings. Eventually the story becomes so much a part of you that it becomes your truth. And then it becomes, “The Truth.” However, is it not really “The Truth” it is your truth.
Now imagine that significant event happened generations ago and is accompanied by all the cautionary tales and all of the “be carefuls” which are also part of the story. This gets passed down either through word of mouth within the family or through cultural stories. And people’s reaction to the story are seen by you and others in the family. The feelings are played out on their faces and their bodies. What many of us don’t understand is that these reactions get imprinted into the generational system and then get passed down as truths. These truths create patterns and behaviors that also get passed down from one generation to the next.
Recognizing the patterns for what they are and seeing what is not inherently yours can be the pivot point to making different choices and seeing the gift embedded in the DNA of your family. Judy is all about acceptance of these stories as they are not bad, good or ugly, but rather they can be informative and ultimately can be used to heal that old generational pattern that has been passed on for many years.
In a series of easy-to-understand steps, Judy’s book, “Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint” explains how you can uncover these Emotional DNA patterns and understand the limitations as well as the gifts they bring. Judy gives her readers assignments and investigative questions to ask themselves as they work to break the patterns and rewire the brain, allowing for transformation to occur.
Written for the beginner, as well as for those who want to take systemic work to the next level, the book reveals how every individual can change and heal their Emotional DNA and be transformed through this amazing approach.
Judy and I enjoyed connecting during this Empowering Chat and we both believe we are all here to evolve – I think that is more true than the statement that says, “We need to heal to become whole.” I believe we are already whole – we have all we need to succeed. What is perhaps lacking is the necessary insight to face those events in our lives that need to embraced and understood in a way that adds to the whole. By embracing it as a gift, I feel we can become more. Everything belongs.
To learn more about Judy and the visionary work she does please visit her website at:
To purchase Judy’s book, “Your Emotional Blueprint,” visit: JudyWilkins-Smith.com/products/
Judy also offers meditations and blogs on her website that I encourage you to check out.
To learn more about how I show up in the world please visit my website at: SusanBurrell.com
Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint
The emotional suffering we experience tends to close us up to insight about the problems we face. There may be more hope for solutions in looking at the broader context.
What is an emotional blueprint and does everyone have one?
An emotional blueprint is the compilation of patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions that we inherit from our ancestors who create emotional DNA in response to events that happen to them. The way they respond to an event and then pass down those responses is what I call emotional DNA; it creates an emotional blueprint for the way subsequent generations will respond to events or stimuli—until someone says they want more or different and mindfully starts to tweak or turn the current patterns, creating new emotional DNA.
Yes everybody has one, even those of us who do not know their history. To find it, look at the inexplicable patterns in your own behavior. They are often tied to that blueprint.
Judy Wilkins-Smith – System Dynamics for Individuals & Organizations
Aired Thursday, July 29, 2021, at 5:00 PM PST / 8:00 PM EST
In 1966, Paul Simon wrote a song called “Patterns” and the lyric intimated that we are all born with fixed “patterns” that we cannot change. Is this true? Are there ancestral patterns of emotions, beliefs and attitudes that are inherited, just like DNA?
My guest this week on Vox Novus, Judy Wilkins-Smith, says that we may learn to recognize these patterns and change the “dynamic”, leading to healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives. Judy Wilkins-Smith is a highly regarded organizational, individual, and family patterns expert, systemic coach, trainer, facilitator, thought partner, leadership conference and motivational speaker and founder of System Dynamics for Individuals & Organizations. She has 18 years expertise in assisting high performance individuals, Fortune 500 executives and their teams as well as legacy families, to break limiting cycles and reframe challenges into lasting breakthroughs and peak performance. Her website is https://judywilkins-smith.com/ and she joins me this week to share her experience and methods.
In the second episode of the Searching for Satya series, Kelly talks with constellation therapy facilitator Judy Wilkins-Smith about her work with Sharon Barry to help find her lost daughter Tess (now calling herself Satya). Constellation therapy is a transformative process that explores the hidden dynamics and patterns in families that keep people stuck. On the show, you’ll hear about the incredible inside-out, multigenerational work this therapy does.