Dr Margaret Paul on How to Learn to Love Yourself, Inner Bonding and Better Parenting

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Katie: Hello and welcome to “The Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com. That’s wellness with an E on the end. And this episode is all about how to learn to love yourself and what that actually means, as well as inner bonding and how this translates into better parenting and better relationships as well. I’m here with Dr. Margaret Paul, who is a best-selling author and relationship expert, as well as the co-creator of what’s called the Inner Bonding Self Healing Process. And she’s appeared on all kinds of different media, including Oprah, about this. And she has books including “Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You?” Which has sold over a million copies, as well as “Healing Your Aloneness,” “Inner Bonding,” and recently released “Diet for Divine Connection,” “The Inner Bonding Workbook,” and “Six Steps to Total Self-Healing.” She has been doing this work for over 53 years, and she’s worked with hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.


And I really, really enjoyed this episode on a personal level, because I’ve personally talked about trauma in this podcast and some of the inner work that I’ve done, and I’ve gotten lots and lots of questions about resources in tangible ways that people can begin this process. And I think she’s the most tangible example I’ve seen to date. We go deep on things like what loving yourself actually means. And it’s not about bubble baths and self-care. Why this is so important, but often misunderstood. How she divides emotions between life feelings and wounded feelings. Why we tend to treat ourselves either the way our parents treated us, or more often the way they treated themselves, and why this is really important as parents. How we often make other people responsible for our feelings and how this is a cause of relationship failure in many cases. Unpacking things like selfishness and why taking care of yourself is not at all selfish and actually can be very, very selfless.


Why taking responsibility for our own happiness is one of the most selfless things we can do. How ego controls a lot of these emotions, as well as wounded inner child feelings. What the inner bonding process is and how to begin to take responsibility for our own feelings, including questions we can ask to begin to unpack those patterns. And ways to identify these subtle methods, and the way they show up in relationships in wanting to control others. And I loved there are so many takeaways from this one. I loved her quote specifically that, “Anger at another is a projection of some way we are not taking care of ourselves.” So truly a fascinating episode. Like I said, I learned a lot. I think it’ll be very, very impactful, especially for any parents listening, and highly encourage you to listen and to check out her additional work as well. And without further ado, let’s join Dr. Paul. Dr. Margaret Paul, welcome and thanks for being here.


Margaret: Thank you. I’m excited about having this time with you.


Katie: I think this is such an important topic, but before we jump in, I have some fun facts about you, and I would love to hear a little bit more about your horse, and especially riding it really fast. I have limited horse experience, and I’m still in the, like, white knuckle and hold-on-tight phase.


Margaret: Yeah. So, I was really fortunate in that I learned to ride as a child. And then, I always wanted horses, and I got horses as an adult. So I already knew how to ride, but what’s the problem you’re having?


Katie: Oh, it just still feels like “I’m gonna fall off this thing.” But I’m getting used to it.


Margaret: Yeah. Yeah. Horses are just amazing. They’re so present and so intuitive, and I just absolutely adore horses.


Katie: Well, and I think they probably also have a lot to teach us on the topic that we’re gonna talk about today. I feel like animals have a natural presence when it comes to this. But the topic that we’re gonna really go deep on today is the idea of loving yourself, and what that actually means. I feel like there are many, many misconceptions around this term, and also, for many people, it’s kind of this amorphous concept they don’t really know how to actually do. And then it becomes either a point of guilt, or a to-do list item, and it never integrates. And you have so much work around this. So, to start broad, I would love to just maybe take on the concept of what loving yourself actually means, and why it’s so important.


Margaret: Well, there’s many levels of loving yourself. I mean, you know, there’s the physical level, eating well, getting enough exercise, getting enough sleep, things like that. There’s the relationship level of how we deal with each other. There’s the financial level, there’s the organizational level, the spiritual level. But the level that most people actually know nothing about is the emotional level. That’s about taking responsibility for your feelings, and as I’m sure you know, very, very few people had any role modeling for personal responsibility for their feelings. Most people have no idea what their feelings are telling them. They learn many ways to avoid their feelings. And this is really what self-abandonment is on the emotional level. It’s finding so many ways to avoid your feelings, which is, to me, really, really sad.


So, what we’re gonna be talking about mostly is what it means to love yourself on the emotional level. It’s not just, like, “Oh, I get my nails done and take a hot bath.” That’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re really talking about is more about what happens if you wanna be a loving parent to a baby. You want 100% responsibility for making sure that that baby feels loved and feels safe and feels tended to. That’s what people need to learn to do on the inner level.


Katie: I’m so glad you made that distinction about the emotional level, because I think, often, especially for women, this kind of gets swept under the broad umbrella of just self-care and, like, relax more, take more bubble baths. And those things, while they can be great, are not gonna shift that inner experience. And I saw firsthand in my own life, I had wonderful parents, and I think many of us maybe can share this experience of you can have parents who were wonderful and did their best, and yet there were still aspects of you as a child that maybe weren’t loved in the way that you particularly needed, or that it caused some emotional experience as a child that then carries over into adulthood. Or there was acute traumatic experience, maybe, that led to this kind of rift, or how you talked about avoiding feelings or kind of that break from the emotions.


And I’d love to just start with maybe a broader discussion about emotions, because I think, often, people think things like that we can’t control our emotions, or they just are what they are, or we try to fight them, and how this can create a kind of unhealthy cycle as well. So, maybe just kind of give us a primer on emotions and how we relate to them.


Margaret: Okay. Well, first of all, we divide our emotions into two different kinds. There’s the emotions of life, the painful feelings of life, the grief, the heartbreak, the helplessness over others, the loneliness when we wanna connect and no one’s around. These are natural feelings that, when we were growing up, if we didn’t have parents who knew how to manage these very deep feelings, we learned nothing about them. We learned no way to handle them, because they’re very big. Most people don’t handle them today. And so, then, we learned many ways to avoid these feelings. And the problem is, is that the ways that we learn to avoid these feelings create the other level of feelings, which we call the wounded feelings. This is anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, aloneness, emptiness, jealousy. We actually create these feelings with various forms of self-abandonment. And I can go through the four forms that I’ve looked at, that most people do. Would you like me to list those?


Katie: Yeah. Let’s talk about the ways people abandon themselves, and what that actually means, because I think this might be a new concept for people listening.


Margaret: That’s right. Okay. So, when we were little, and we had big feelings, we couldn’t manage them, and they’re in the body. And so, most of us learned to go up in our head, and to basically disconnect, disassociate from our body, from our feelings, so that we’re not even aware of what we feel. So often, I ask people, “Take some breath, go into your body. What are you feeling?” “Nothing. Numb.” Because they’ve learned to be in their head, which is what I did. When I started practicing Inner Bonding, I didn’t know what I felt. Thirty-seven years ago, I had spent all that time in my head. I was very tuned into other people’s feelings, but not at all to mine. So, that’s one way of avoiding our feelings and abandoning ourselves, staying up in our head.


Another way is that many of us have learned to judge ourselves. So many of us were judged as we were growing up, and we absorbed what we call Inner Bonding, the ego-wounded self of our parents or caregivers. The ways that they protected against their pain, and tried to control their feelings, or control us, we absorbed that. So, if they were judging themselves or judging us, then we’re doing that. We tend to treat ourselves either the way that our parents treated us, or the way they treated themselves. Many people say, “Oh, my parents were great. They were really loving to me.” But then I say, well, you know, “How did they treat themselves?” They say, oh, you know, my mother was, you know, she was a caretaker. Everybody walked all over her. She gave herself up all the time. She was always exhausted. My father worked too hard. He came home, he sat in front of the TV. He smoked cigarettes. He drank beer. So, there was a lot of self-abandonment going on with the parents, even if they were loving to the kids. So, we learn to do that.


And a third way is that we learn to numb out our feelings with various addictions. You know, if you look around, you know, there’s food, alcohol, drugs, there’s activities, there’s pornography for a lot of people, or sex or shopping or spending or overwork or television or the internet, the iPhone, video games, there are so many ways that people have learned to avoid responsibility for their feelings, avoid even feeling their feelings. You know, many people find themselves grazing in front of the refrigerator before they even know they have a feeling.


And then, the fourth way is that we make other people responsible for our feelings. And this is actually the major cause of relationship failure. It’s like if our feelings…if you think of your feelings as an inner child, instead of you wanting responsibility for that inner child, you’re handing that away to the other person, saying, “Here, I don’t wanna take care of myself. I don’t want responsibility for my feelings. I can’t make myself feel full and happy and worthy. It’s your job.” And this is what’s called codependency in relationships, where we’re making each other responsible for our feelings. And once we do that, then we have to try and control. And, of course, this is a disaster, because people either try and control overtly, with anger or blame or threats, or covertly, which is what I did, by giving themselves up and being a caretaker, and taking responsibility for everybody else, in the hopes that they’re gonna love you, which, of course, they don’t. They just keep taking and taking.


Katie: Yeah, that last line is one I can resonate with, and one that I now am at least aware of. And I think it seems like there’s an element of this that awareness, and learning to have language, and, like, connecting to those feelings is at least a step, not the only step, but at least a step in undoing that. But I say I’m a recovering people-pleaser and manager, that I had internalized this idea that I’m not safe and loved unless everyone around me is happy and taken care of. And I think maybe other women can resonate with that a little bit. And the problem is we all, we only have so many resources within ourselves, and eventually, we will reach a point of burnout from doing that. And also, like you said, we can’t earn love in that way. But it does feel like we can, because of these childhood experiences. It seems obvious from the way you just explained that, that these things obviously would have a huge impact on how we exist in relationships and how we exist as parents, which is a big one for a lot of people listening. But walk us through maybe some of the things you see related specifically to maybe primary relationships and parenting.


Margaret: Yeah. So, of course, once we give ourselves up that much, or try and control with anger and blame, we never get what we want. Now, with me, for example, I did that for so many years, until I got very depleted, and then I got very ill. And that’s, unfortunately, one of the consequences that I see with many of the women I work with, that they’ve given up, and given themselves up, until they get very ill. And fortunately, that’s when Inner Bonding came in for me. And I started to realize… Because I had been eating well for…I started eating well…I started eating all organic when I was 22 years old. But when I got ill, I was 45 years old. I’d been fairly healthy, but I would’ve died. If Inner Bonding hadn’t come in, I was getting so sick that if I didn’t start to take care of myself, I would’ve died.


But, and this is the challenge for people, when you’ve been a caretaker all your life, and I was taking care of my husband, my children, my parents, my clients, everybody, when you’ve been doing that… And I did it really well. I mean, I was Mother Earth. I was a really good caretaker. When you stop doing that, everybody’s mad at you. Nobody likes it when you start to take care of yourself, except those people who are really your friends. And that’s how you find out who loves you. But I was terrified to start to take care of myself, because I was terrified to find out that those people who said they loved me really didn’t. And so, I had to make a couple of decisions, and this may be very important, for the people who are listening. I had to decide that I was willing to be hurt. Because if you’re not willing to be hurt, you’re gonna go on trying to control.


And the second is that I was willing to lose everybody else, but I was no longer willing to lose me, because I knew if I did, I would die. Well, unfortunately, everything I was afraid of happened. I lost my 30-year marriage, two of my three children were mad at me, and my parents disowned me. It was the hardest time of my life. But, very quickly, I got my health back. I started to feel joy, even in the midst of all that, for probably the first time in my whole life, and my work really took off at that point. So, looking back, yeah, it was really hard, but I would do it all over again, because it gave me back so much, to learn to take care of myself. And it made me realize that there was no way my marriage was gonna work. Many people say, “Well, how do you know when to leave a marriage?” And I say, “Take care of yourself, learn to love yourself, and see what happens.” Either it’s gonna get a lot better or it’s gonna get a lot worse.


Now, this totally applies to parenting. I so wish I knew how to love myself when I had little kids, because I did the same thing with them. I gave myself up. And what happens when you do that is that kids either become very entitled. You know, somebody’s supposed to take care of them, I’m so important, and they become very entitled, or they also become caretakers. So they go to one end of the co-dependent system or the other. They become very demanding, or they give themselves up. We don’t want this for our kids. We want them to learn to take responsibility for themselves. And the best way to teach them that is to role model it. And so, I tell parents half of good parenting is to be there for your kids, and the other half is to role model being there for yourself, so that they see what it’s like to take personal responsibility for your own health, your own happiness, and your own well-being.


Katie: Yeah. I’ve definitely seen that as a mom. It’s like kids listen to some of what we say, but they notice much more of what we do. And even just small examples of, if I want for us to all clean the house, I could tell them, “Let’s all clean the house,” but if I just get up and start cleaning, it’s much more likely that they’re gonna join in. Or if I sit at the kitchen table and start drawing, very often, several of my kids will come join me, versus if I was just like, “You should draw a picture.” And that modeling is so powerful, and especially in relationships, and realizing that, exactly to your point, we can tell them all these things and try to teach them lessons verbally, but the ones that we model are gonna be so much more powerful.


And that said, I loved that you called out needing to be willing to be hurt, because I think many of us have protective mechanisms from childhood, that it feels too scary. So we won’t let ourselves be hurt. And we certainly have this innate human fear of loss. So the idea of losing another person is terrifying to the human psyche. And I think those are big steps. I think also, for women, maybe there’s a friction point that it feels selfish to take care of ourselves, or to love ourselves, and especially for moms and caretakers. So, can we touch on that a little bit?


Margaret: Yeah. So, people have a skewed definition of selfish. People think that selfishness is somehow taking care of yourself. But selfishness is when you expect somebody else to do it for you. Selfishness is when you don’t care about the effect your behavior has on others. Part of loving yourself means that you care about the effect that your behavior has. It’s not about, “Oh, I’m just gonna take care of me and I don’t care about you.” That’s not loving to ourselves. Our soul, our essence, our true self is love, and we’ll never feel good when we don’t care about others. And so, one of the least selfish things we can do in life is to learn to take responsibility for our own happiness and our own well-being. You know, I’ve talked to so many people who would’ve given anything if their parents had taken care of themselves and been happy.


I think about my mother, who was always miserable. I would’ve given anything if she would’ve role modeled making herself happy, because I had no idea how to do that from her role modeling. Now, she gave herself up a lot, and she was really controlling in a lot of ways. That didn’t help me. That didn’t help me learn to take responsibility for myself. So, it’s the least selfish thing we can do. Imagine if we had a planet where everyone was taking responsibility for their health, their happiness, their well-being. We would have a planet of deep caring, of deep compassion, because part of taking care of yourself is learning to be compassionate rather than judgmental. And when you learn to do that, you extend that out to others. And so, we would have a very loving and kind and caring planet. As it is, we don’t, in a lot of ways, because of people trying to control. They’re coming from their ego-wounded self. They wanna control getting love. And this is a really important thing.


Well, they want love, they want power, they’re coming from greed. That’s selfishness. There’s a huge difference between trying to have control over getting love, which is where many people are when they get into a relationship, and with their kids, they wanna get love, and being able to share love. We cannot share love if we don’t have love inside, if we’re not filled up with love. And we don’t get filled up with love from others. We get filled up with love from being able to tap into a higher source of love, a spiritual source of love. And those people that know how to do that, they’re full of love, and they’re full of joy. But when people have not learned how to do that, they come from an emptiness, and then they pull on other people to take care of them. And then if those people don’t take care of them, they call those people selfish, which is really a projection of their own selfishness and self-abandonment.


Katie: That’s such an important point. And to your point about the motherhood connection, and it sounds like the story of your own mother, that was a thing I realized very much the hard way as a mom, was that if I’m in this place of constant, just, outflow toward everyone else and taking care of everyone else, and never modeling the reverse, or taking care of myself, it actually creates a dynamic in which my kids emotionally feel a need to take care of me, and that starts that caretaking cycle.


And I’m a firm believer of, like, our kids are not there to be our therapist, certainly. We’re there to be emotionally there for them, and to model the skills, but they should never feel like they have to be the emotional support for me as the adult. And so, that was a pattern I became very aware of. And I also love that you mentioned that that has to start inside. I’ve used the analogy of often from these childhood wounds, we can have what feels like a black hole inside of us. And we can shovel everything into it, trying to fill it with addictions, or, often, with relationships, and tell someone else, like, “I need you to fill this hole inside of me.” But it only ever gets filled by building that scaffolding from the inside out. And then we have the capacity to receive love within that, without it just being a bottomless vacuum that can never actually be full.


So, that leads me to the question, how does a person begin to take responsibility for their own happiness? Because I think this is such a huge concept. And I hear from people in my own life, and in my readers and listeners, who say things like, I’ll post a quote about happiness, and I’ll get a response like, “Well, that’s great for you, but I could never be happy again, because I lost a child,” or, “I could never be happy again, because I was assaulted.” And not to take away from those being very difficult things, but I think it’s important to separate that we do have sovereignty over our happiness. So, let’s talk about how do we begin that process of taking responsibility?


Margaret: Well, this is actually the Inner Bonding process, and so I’m gonna go through a brief description. So, the first step is that you have to be willing to feel your feelings. You have to take the journey from your head to your heart and soul, because that’s where your feelings are. And you have to recognize that your feelings have very, very important information. Your wounded feelings, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, are letting you know that you’re abandoning yourself in some way. And, these deeper, painful feelings of life, the heartbreak, the grief, the helplessness over others, the loneliness, are letting you know something about what’s going on with other people, or with a situation. But you need that information in order to be able to take care of your feelings. Nobody’s gonna do it for you. So you need to be willing to feel the feelings, and in step one of Inner Bonding, you learn to get into your body, and you decide you want responsibility for whatever the feelings are.


Then, you go into your heart. You breathe into your heart. And in Inner Bonding, there’s only two intentions possible. One is the intention to learn about loving yourself, and sharing your love. And the other is the intention to protect against pain, with various forms of controlling, self-abandoning behavior. Now, obviously, if that’s your intention, nothing’s gonna change. And so, in step two, we consciously choose the intention to learn about loving ourselves. And we teach people how to open to their higher self, which is their source of love and truth and wisdom. And so, in step two, we’re opening to whatever that is, and we’re just inviting the love and the compassion and the truth and the wisdom and the strength of our higher self into our heart. And this is what creates what we call the loving adult. We have to be a loving adult if we’re going to learn. We can’t learn from this lower part of our brain, the left amygdala here, which is just coming from fear, fight, or flight. We can’t learn from there. We have to be in our higher brain, in our loving adult.


And then, in step three, we are exploring. Like, let’s say I go in and I’m feeling guilty, which is a common feeling for women. And so, I would say, well, how am I treating you? What am I telling you? What am I doing or not doing that’s making you feel guilty? And if my inner child, my inner self, trusts me enough, which happens over time, she’s gonna say, “Well, you’re judging me. You’re telling me I’m not good enough. You’re telling me that I didn’t do it right. You’re telling me I’m being selfish. You’re telling me I should have done something else with this person, or I said it wrong, or I did it wrong. You’re putting all this pressure on me. I gotta do it right.” Well, that’s gonna create guilt and shame and anxiety and depression, all these feelings that people are trying so hard to avoid.


And then we go a little deeper, and we go into that fight or flight mechanism that’s in our lower left brain. This is the part of us that has all of our fears and false beliefs. And we’re asking something like, “There must be a good reason that you’re judging us. What do you hope to gain by judging?” So, if we’ve done the process enough, where we’re open to accessing that, that wounded part might say, “Well, if I judge you enough, you’ll do it right. And if you do it right, then we’ll have control over how people feel about us and how they treat us, and whether or not they love us.” And so, this is a huge, false belief that many people have, that if they judge themselves, they’ll get themselves to act right, do things right, and then they’ll have control over others, which is a big false belief. We don’t have that control.


But this is a way to start to unearth those limiting beliefs that we may be acting from without knowing it. And once we understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and where we got it, we can look back and say, “Oh, yeah. I learned that when I was five,” or whatever.


Then in step four, we again go to our higher self, and we’re asking two questions. “What is the truth about any false beliefs,” and “What is loving to me?” Those are the two questions. Now, let me say something about accessing spirit. Because it’s actually a lot easier than people think, but it’s about frequency. Our bodies are fairly dense, and we can see each other. If we operated like a hummingbird’s wings, going so fast, we wouldn’t see each other. Well, that’s how spirit operates. And so, in order to access that, we have to raise our frequency. And it takes two things. It took me a long time to learn these two secrets. And one is our intention to learn. Our intention to learn raises our…our intention to learn about love. It’s very specific, about loving ourselves, and then eventually sharing our love with others. And the other is about the frequency of our body. Now, if people are eating junk food, they’re eating sugar, they’re eating processed food, factory farm food, all the stuff on the inside shelves at supermarkets, the body can’t handle that. And so, the body goes into a low frequency. It numbs you out.


I mean, you know. It wrecks the microbiome, the toxins go up into the brain. It just, you know, it wreaks havoc. So, it makes it very hard, even if you’re open to learning, to access your higher guidance if you’re not eating well. But, if you are, if you’re eating well, and you’re truly open to learning, it actually is very easy. And this was one of my goals for a long time. I wanted at-will divine connection, which I now have, which is amazing, to have that guidance all the time, to know that you’re never alone. I’m always asking, “What’s loving to me now? What’s in my highest good now? What’s in the highest good of all right now?” And getting the guidance. So, in step four, we’re asking those questions. “What’s true? What’s loving to me?”


So, like, if I’m saying, “Oh, well, if I do everything right, I can have control over people how they treat me,” my guidance would say, “No, you don’t. Nobody has control over how you feel about others, and you have no control over how they feel about you.” And so, you know, then starting to learn about the truth about the false beliefs. And then, “What’s loving to me?” And that could be so many different things. It might just be picking up a dollar stuffed animal and holding that inner child, saying, “I’m here. You’re not alone. I’m gonna start listening to you. I’m gonna learn how to take care of you.” It might be all kinds of things. It might be speaking up with somebody. It might be changing jobs. It might be going back to school. It might be eating better, getting some exercise, sleeping more, going to bed early. It could be so many things. And of course, it’s different things at different times. It’s never one thing.


And I’m asking all day, “Okay, you know, I finished this. Now what’s in my highest good?” And I immediately get the answer of what I need to be doing, which is, oh, it’s such a great way to live, to have that higher guidance, who loves you and knows what’s best for you.


And then in step five, you take the action that you’ve been guided to take. And then in step six, you go back in and see how you feel. And if you feel relief inside, like, from the guilt or the shame or the anger or the depression or whatever, you know that you’ve taken a loving action. So, this is a pathway, a six-step pathway, that if people learn it and practice it, will always work for them. There’s no way that it doesn’t work, unless they don’t do it.


Katie: I love how tangible that is. And so many great points you just made, but the idea of, like, guilt and shame and these feelings that we find, I feel like, with the right mindset, those actually become amazing teachers because they show you the source of some of these things. But often, I see it’s easy to get stuck in the pattern of identifying with those emotions. And I see people do this in physical health as well. Like, people will say, “I have Hashimoto’s,” or, “I am depressed.” And I always say to people be very careful the words you put after the words, “I am,” because they become part of your identity. And so, I try to reframe, like, “I am healing from Hashimoto’s.” “I am recovering rapidly from depression.” Like, change how you speak to yourself. That’s the most important speaking we can do.


And I love that you brought up that point about our human desire to control how other people feel about us. I think even if we’re aware of this, this is one that’s easy to fall into. And certainly having an online platform, for me, has been a wonderful teacher in learning to detach from that, because, for a lot of years, I was getting inputs from people on the internet, and people on the internet can say some hurtful things.


And I would find myself kind of distorting myself to try to find love from these people. And I had to learn how to detach from that. And I think it is a lifelong process. I love that you brought up that question, how can I love myself best? Because ironically, a question I’ve always had in my mind in relationships with people, when I’m talking to anyone, especially my children, is, how can I love this person best right now? And I’ve realized in some of this inner work that I wasn’t turning that question to myself. And I think maybe this is a common experience for a lot of people.


Margaret: That’s right. That’s exactly right. Because they don’t know how. See, I didn’t know how. I had been a traditional psychotherapist for 17 years, and I was not happy with the results of my own therapy, and I had a ton of my own therapy, and working with my clients. And that’s when I started to pray for a process that would really work. And that’s when I met Dr. Erika Chopich, she’s the co-creator of Inner Bonding, and spirit brought it in. She had half the process, I had half the process. Spirit put it together. That was 37 years ago, and I’ve been practicing it ever since. And it’s amazing. But, like you said, when I first started doing this, I got a lot of criticism. “Oh, oh, it’s just pop psychology,” you know. “You gotta do this traditionally.” You know, “You think this is…” But now, 37 years later, it’s worldwide. And people are seeing how very, very powerful and life-changing this is, not only for their own health and well-being, but for their children, their relationships, everything.


Katie: And on that note, I would love to talk maybe some more examples about how this plays out in primary relationships, especially, and maybe some of the patterns you’ve seen over the years of how people try to control each other. Because certainly, I hear from a lot of people who have had challenges in relationships over the last couple of years, with the intensity of everything going on in the world. So, what are some of the ways this plays out?


Margaret: So, there’s basically two forms of control. There’s overt and covert. So, overt control is, like, anger, blame, threats, violence. It’s an overt, that people are demanding that you change, that you take care of them, that you give them what they want. Then there’s the more covert forms of control, like, we’ve been talking about. Giving yourself up, caretaking, people-pleasing. There’s, like, resisting, you know, saying you’re gonna do something and then not doing it, or withdrawing, shutting down, is a major form of control. And so, in relationships, I mean, I’ve been working now with relationships for 53 years. And what I see most often in codependent relationships is that one person is overtly controlling, that is, they get angry, and the other person is covertly controlling. By the time they’re in trouble, that person is no longer giving themselves up. They gave themselves up for a long time, they got resentful, and now they’re shut down. They’re resistant, or they’re withdrawn. They’re shut down.


And the shut-down person says, “Well, I wouldn’t shut down if that one didn’t get angry.” And the angry one says, “Well, I wouldn’t get angry if that one didn’t shut down.” You see, and they’re both right, and they’re both wrong, because it did not start in the relationship. They brought these ways of control with them. They learned them in their families. We adopt these ways of control quite early. I adopted being a good girl, being a people pleaser, being a caretaker, very early in my life. And then, of course, I married somebody who was overtly controlling, was angry and blaming. Well, of course, I could blame him, you know, which I did, you know, until I started to realize this is a system, between us. But we come in with this. We come in with this baggage. We all do.


Because, you know, like, if I think about my parents, I never saw them actually opening to learning and resolving conflict in ways where they cared about themselves and each other. I saw them getting angry, and shutting down, and blaming, and judging. I never saw them sit down and say, “Huh, I’m feeling anxious. I wonder how I’m treating myself that’s causing this?” It was always, “Well, if I’m anxious, it’s somebody else’s fault. Somebody else is causing this for me.” And so, that was the role modeling that most of us had. And so, of course, we bring this into our relationships, and we play it out. But our relationships are a wonderful arena for healing all this, for healing these underlying fears of rejection, fears of engulfment, fears of losing the other, and losing yourself. These are the bottom-line fears that most people have.


And you’re not gonna heal these outside of a relationship. You’re gonna heal them in a relationship, if you open to learning. But not if your primary intention is to control, and avoid being controlled, going into resistance, and all of these forms of control that we’re talking about. So, it’s really miraculous of what happens when two people open to learning about themselves. But even if one doesn’t, you know, it’s a system. So, if one person stops their end of the system… See, that’s what I did. I stopped my end of the system. That gives you information. That’s why I said, it either gets better or it gets worse. But very often, if one person comes to me, and they deal with their end of the system, then the system has to change. And so often, the other person says, “I like what’s happening. What are you doing?” And then they’ll start to do their work.


So I encourage people, focus on yourself. Don’t wait for your partner. You know, don’t say, “Well, I’ll do it if you do it.” Just, you know, see this as an opportunity for you to do your inner work, and be prepared for what’s gonna happen. Most of the people that I work with, their relationships get better and better. Sometimes, the other person, like in my situation, really is not willing to change the system. And then, you know, if it’s not tolerable to you, the relationship might end.


Katie: Yeah. I think that’s an important point, and it ties into that being willing to lose, which feels very scary. But, like, realizing we only have ability and responsibility for our contribution to that system. And also having it as an idea of a system takes it away from the idea that, of a person or an action on each other being good or bad. It’s the system that we’ve co-created. Let’s look at that. And it makes sense that you could create turmoil if you suddenly change a system that’s existed for a long time. And I hear from a lot of women, since sharing my trauma story, who, when they start doing trauma work, it stirs up all kinds of stuff in their relationships. For sure. And so, I’m glad that you bring that up to be prepared for.


And I also know, I think this is a lifelong journey, but from the part of the journey I’m in, that freedom that comes when we take complete responsibility for our own emotions, because, ironically, we outsource that to other people from this myth of control. And ironically, the control actually comes in the things we actually do have autonomy and control over, which is our own emotions and reactions. And we’re able to create that change we were hoping to create by controlling others when we change ourselves. And I think your approach so brilliantly ties in… I love aspects of stoicism for instance, and I love reading Marcus Aurelius and Viktor Frankl. And I think people can read these and hear these concepts, and think, “Okay, that’s great. Like, I should focus on the things I can control, and etc., etc., but how do I actually do that?”


And I think your system is what gives the tangible steps how, on the practical ways to do it, which is so helpful. And the question that keeps coming to my mind, we’ve talked about inner child, and also how these things very obviously relate to our parenting and our children. But for those of us who are, as adults, are repatterning our own inner child, do you have any guidance for, other than, of course, working on ourselves, ways that we can, in maybe our language and our modeling, be better parents, to help our kids have some of these, maybe the words for their emotions, or the, not lose those connections with their emotions early on, so maybe we can break the pattern, and our kids aren’t having to do so much work when they’re adults to undo the damage?


Margaret: Yeah. But, you know, again, it’s about the role modeling. They will learn what you do. I mean, it’s great, many people have taught their kids Inner Bonding. In fact, I had one woman I was working with, and she had a 7-year-old and 9-year-old, sons, and they said they wanted to come to their next session. And she had been teaching them Inner Bonding, and they came in and I said, “Why did you wanna come?” And they said, “My mother isn’t doing Inner Bonding. She is not taking responsibility for her feelings.” So they had already absorbed… I mean, children learn it really easily. Even kids as young as two and a half can learn to start to take care of their own feelings, if they understand that, if they understand that they have these feelings, and understand how to take responsibility for learning from them.


Now, you mentioned trauma. I wanna say something about trauma. Because I work with a lot of people who have been deeply traumatized. The trauma therapies are great, like emotional freedom technique and somatic experiencing and EMDR, they’re great. But, people don’t heal deeply unless they’re also learning to love themselves, because, if they don’t, they’re retraumatizing themselves by treating themselves the ways that they were treated. And this is something that I see over and over, where people with trauma come to me. “Well, I’ve done, you know, this many years of EMDR, and I’ve done this, and I’ve done that, and I still have so much trauma.” Well, then I look at how they’re treating themselves. Well, of course, they do. They’re retraumatizing themselves over and over again. So, it’s essential to learn to love yourself if you wanna heal from trauma and not pass that down to your kids, because when people are traumatized, and they’re not taking responsibility for it, those kids absorb that. You know, kids absorb everything from us. And so, it’s so important for people to learn to take responsibility for that.


Katie: I’m so glad you brought that up. And I think it’s that idea that we can break that pattern, that cycle, when we do it, and that, just to reiterate, because I do think it’s an important point, that it’s not selfish. It’s actually one of the most loving things we can do, is to spend the time to do our own inner work, and to break that pattern.


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I also love the languaging you use. I pay a lot of attention to languaging, and how even in the words you’re saying, there’s that tone of being very aware of your own language and of self-love in how your words are coming across. And I think, as mothers, especially, there is power, of course, in our modeling and our tone and our words, in the words that we teach our children to say, because they learn their own inner voice often from the voice we give to them. I love your questions, like, things like, “What’s true?” “What’s loving to me?” We can give our kids those questions.


Margaret: That’s right. We can give them. That’s right. But it’s also the role modeling. Like, if you’re being compassionate towards yourself, you’re gonna find it very easy to be compassionate towards your children, which they will absorb and learn to be compassionate towards themselves, rather than judgmental. And that’s huge. If they learn not to judge themselves, if they learn to be compassionate towards their feelings, and learn from them, that’s huge for them.


Katie: Absolutely. And the idea, as well, of that we can experience feelings, and just feel them without resisting them, I think is a big concept. I feel like that plays out often in parenting. When children experience certain emotions, we try to talk them out of those emotions, or tell them that those emotions aren’t valid. I’ve heard from many adults who are trying to unlearn, like, if they were angry, being told basically it wasn’t okay to be angry, or it wasn’t okay to be sad, or it wasn’t okay to be loud, or don’t cry, don’t yell, don’t… And so, it makes me aware as a parent of trying not to create those patterns, both in modeling in myself, but also making sure my kids hear me say that those emotions are valid, and helping them have a word for the specific emotions, especially in young children, often, that out-of-control feeling comes from experiencing big emotions, which is natural, and not having the words or the tools to experience them.


Margaret: Well, and for so many of them, their parents don’t know how to just be there and create a container. They don’t know how to help the child regulate their feelings, because they’re not regulating their own feelings. And so, the more we learn to show up as a loving adult, and regulate our feelings, the more we can just hold the child, and they’re gonna get some of that regulation just by being with us, when we’ve learned to do that for ourselves.


Katie: That’s huge. Absolutely. I think, as a mom, I recognized that pattern in myself early, as often, when a child was having an out-of-control emotion, it was retriggering my own out-of-control emotion, and then it was escalating. And if we can be that presence of just love for them, and not judge their emotions, so they don’t learn to judge their emotions, and that the messaging and the feeling they get from us is, “I love you unconditionally,”


Margaret: Yeah. Let me say something about anger, because this is big. I grew up with a lot of anger. My mother was a narcissistic rageaholic. And so, I thought, when I had kids, it’s okay to be angry. And one day, I was angry at my son, who was two and a half, and I was yelling at him, and he looked up at me with big eyes, and tears rolling down his cheeks. And he said, “Mommy, when you yell at me, I feel like I’m going to die.” And I started crying, and I went in my room, and I made a decision I was never gonna yell again. But, that took work. And what I eventually realized, that anger at another is a projection about some way we’re not taking care of ourselves. That my inner child was angry at me, because I wasn’t taking care of myself. And then I was projecting it out onto my kids. And that’s not loving to them. And it wasn’t loving to me. And I eventually learned to embrace my anger, like any other feeling, and learn how I was abandoning myself in the face of that.


Katie: That is so, so powerful. I love that. Anger at another is a projection of some way we’re not taking care of ourselves. I have a feeling I’m gonna write that on my wall, as a reminder. And I feel like I could talk to you all day. I think this is such an important issue, and I hope that maybe we can do a round two when we get questions from this episode, because I’m a firm believer of my mission in life is to support moms, because I firmly believe when we help moms, we help the whole world. And that women and moms are such a powerful force of nature, and that we can break so many patterns when we start with moms.


So, on that note, I’m guessing people listening have probably deeply resonated with different things that you’ve said, and hopefully are willing to start this process, because there is so much freedom in it, and so much beauty in the relationships that come and change when we can take responsibility for our own emotions. Where’s the best jumping-in point for people? I know you’ve written several books, and you have a lot of work around this. I’ll put links in the show notes, but where’s the best place to start?


Margaret: So, people can go to innerbonding.com. They can take our free Inner Bonding course. It’s a seven-day course, and that’s a great place for them to start. And I can send you a link for a free ebook, the “4 Mistakes that Block Self-Love & Relationships.” And that’s also a great place to start.


Katie: Wonderful. Well, those links will all be at wellnessmama.fm. For any of you who are listening while driving or exercising, you can find everything we’ve talked about there. I know you also have a lot of work around this. I’ll make sure your books are linked, and your website, and different things you’ve written about this. But speaking of books, I love to ask that besides your own, if there are a book or a number of books that have profoundly impacted your life? And if so, what they are and why?


Margaret: Well, it’s interesting that you mentioned one of them, which is Viktor Frankl. “Man’s Search for Meaning” has been one of my guiding lights, because this man, in a concentration camp, was able to stay focused on what was loving, no matter what. That, to me, has been truly amazing. And I keep that in mind. I also have had a couple of mentors, but people would not know of them, that, their books have been profound for me, but that book has been amazing.


Katie: And any parting advice for our listeners today, that could relate to something we’ve talked about or be entirely unrelated?


Margaret: You know, you mentioned emotional freedom, and this is such an important point, is that people can move beyond emotional dependency into emotional freedom. Anybody can. And into the joy of that, and into the being able to share love, rather than trying to get love, if they decide that their highest priority is to learn to love themselves. That’s what they need to decide. When they decide that, they will learn how to do that, and they will attain emotional freedom.


Katie: So beautiful. And, like I said, I would love to do a round two one day. I hope that people will jump in and that we’ll get lots of great questions. But I’m so grateful for your time today, and your many years of work on this topic that I think it’s really, truly making a difference in the world. So grateful that you were here. Thank you.


Margaret: Well, thank you so much, Katie.


Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama Podcast.”


If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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