Rome wasn’t built in a day — I have been at this since 1996, 27 years. Keep going, get up, show up, be an agent for change
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katherine Sellery.
Katherine Sellery, CEO and Founder of Conscious Parenting Revolution, helps individuals minimize misunderstandings and melt-downs in order to communicate with more collaboration, cooperation, and consideration. As a creator of the “Guidance Approach to Parenting”, a program that applies conflict resolution skills to communicating more effectively with children, Katherine has positively influenced relationships for generations and brought about healing and reconciliation in families that were suffering from disconnection. For over 20 years, she has taught and coached thousands of parents, educators, social workers, and medical professionals in half a dozen countries through her popular workshops, coaching programs, TEDx talks, 250 page comprehensive training manual, and Ebook.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My family of origin story is very colorful and filled with highs and lows, losses and love. I do believe that we pick our family and I know that because I picked this one my destiny was/is to help families break through their family of origin dysfunctional patterns of communication and to set their children free from repeating transgenerational wounds and the need to fulfill their parents unrealized dreams.
I remember sitting in the backseat of my grandmother Gaga’s Buick in New Orleans as a little girl crying about how someone hurt my feelings and she would say, “Let’s put the gris-gris on um honey,” and I would snuggle up close to her and we would laugh and laugh, all the hurt would go away, a silly childhood spell? I assumed everybody had a Gaga that knew how to cast spells. Later, I realized the magic was in our relationship and it had the power to cure. Her empathy, feeling our connection, knowing she was there for me and cared, it was that and that was love and that made the hurt go away. She was my hero, bigger than life, a real Auntie Mame. I didn’t know it then, but I was to grow up and want to cast that same magic everywhere. I think it actually may be that easy.
My whole life my parents were my heroes. Loved and Adored them! As the years went by and I was working out some of my inner pain I realized there wasn’t only love, there was a lot of dysfunctional stuff going on too! Ha ha, I wonder how many other people have had this experience too. All the paradoxes. And part of the dysfunction was to keep up appearances that everything was perfect and to never tell anyone that there were any problems! That family code kept me silent from sharing a lot of the stuff that was going on for decades!
It was taboo to talk to mom and dad about anything that upset them or me, we weren’t really allowed to object, it felt like it was their way or the highway. No one scared me more than mom, and there was no one more important to me than mom either. Seems odd now how both of these could be true. Another paradox.
Mom had movie star good looks. I remember one of her childhood friends saying to me once that she was the “it” girl. She had “it” all. The talent, beauty, brains, style. I know I was enamored by her. Nancy said to me once, “you never let her out of your sight”. I would later learn about hypervigilance, attachment styles, codependency and being cathected. There was so much going on, so many different levels. Turns out there were a lot of spells being cast that were binding us. In fairness, no one was aware of these patterns or the murky ways we were being enmeshed. It wasn’t anyone’s “fault” and there isn’t anyone to “blame” and yet, harm was being done and it is/was necessary that it not be perpetuated and that the cycle stop. Turns out that this would be my life’s work.
Families are such a mixed bag. Love can thread through all of it and still the lies need to be addressed and responsibility taken so healing can happen. I’m not sure we got there before they died, then I learned you can get there even after they die. A therapist said to me once that she wasn’t a big fan of codependent anonymous (CA) because it pathologized the human condition. Took me a while to get what she meant. I got a lot of support from CA and it definitely helped me to make sense of the family, and, over the years I really do think she was right too. Both were true, another paradox.
We are a blended family (his/her/ours). That was a little unusual then. Women were not as likely to overcome the stigma, but mom found the strength to leave and divorced in the 1950’s with two young children (Melanie and Chris).
Dad had a daughter, Nancy, from his first marriage who was significantly older than me, in fact she and my mom weren’t that far apart in age. I think their relationship was strained a lot of the time because dad was trying to make up for having abandoned Nancy when she was a little girl, only to reunite after he married my mom (his third wife) and mom urged him to overcome his shame and make the effort to connect again with her.
Nancy’s childhood was long gone and most of it had occurred without him. Dad had struggled with alcoholism and a gambling addiction as a young man and Nancy’s mom had thrown him out when she was only 10 years old, she never saw him again until adulthood. Nan suffered greatly from this loss, he was her hero too. Dad was so charismatic. People can be so complicated. He was both the dark and the light. Another paradox.
Dad was born in 1915 into a rich industrialist family and mom in 1929.. She was a child of the Great Depression, and they had very little aside from her grandpa’s grocery store. My sister and brother from mom’s first marriage each had very different relationships with my dad, their step dad. Actually, we would all discover over time our relationships with each of our parents were all so different. So different in fact, that it is hard to believe that we are talking about the same people! For example, by the time dad married my mom he was sober and much older and a completely different father to me (the youngest of the 5).
When mom and dad met, dad was living under an assumed name running from the Vegas mob, having gambled and lost his second wife’s fortune (a marriage I would know nothing about until I was married, a marriage my father and I never discussed, he didn’t know I knew and I protected him from learning)!
My sister Heidi and I are a product of their union. There were different combinations of us living under the same roof over the years. The age differences between all of us affected that, but more than just the age differences was that dad and Chris were like oil and water and that dynamic would turn out to affect not only them, but all of us.
Suffice to say, mom and dad were complicated. Products of their times, yes. Unconscious of the dysfunctional familial patterns that shaped their behaviors, yes. Doing their best, yes. Was that good enough, no, definitely not. My entire Conscious Parenting Revolution movement is based on not letting it be okay to say, “but that’s how I was raised” as if that excuses the harm you are doing now. Not okay, not okay, not okay. We have to do better than just washing and repeating the same harmful patterns from one generation to the next. The consequences if we don’t are too heartbreaking and tragic.
There were lots of expectations around how we behaved as kids. We would get spanked for making a fuss, indulging our feelings, bickering with one another, essentially for triggering them. I remember dad would take his belt to Chris. It is horrifying to look back on that. I know it was also what happened to dad, too. In fact, my deep seated empathy and grief for Chris’s life is close to the surface and behind a lot of my motivation in forming the Conscious Parenting Revolution. That sadness extends to dad too.
I remember my mother saying stuff to us like, “What will the neighbors think?” as a way to get us to feel embarrassed or ashamed or worried about how we were behaving. As if the neighbors’ judgments were a good reason to change our behavior. We learned that objecting, or having another idea, was just wrong if it upset others. Children were not treated like people whose feelings and needs were just as important as adults. Far from it.
So, my mind was trained from infancy to be focused on imagining what other people were saying about us as a family, or of me. I learned how to scan the room and pick up on the slightest changes in people’s demeanor or facial expressions or body language and to adjust my behavior so that they were not uncomfortable. I learned “Don’t rock the boat” because my parents got triggered and upset when we did. I learned to put even total strangers’ feelings before my own, that would later cost me dearly. One of my TEDx talks delves into the ways that we make children susceptible to harm when we teach them to abandon themselves in deference to other people’s feelings at their expense.
Speaking truth to power is courageous under any circumstance, and it takes more courage to speak up than to stay silent. The truth is, it’s risky to challenge the powers that be, at any age, and they like it that way, they get to retain their power over us. It is especially true for children, the last marginalized community that no one is discussing in this way. My mission is to bring this marginalized community’s feelings and needs to light and to spare another generation from abandoning themselves in deference to the older people in the room. Some of those people’s intentions are not pure. Keeping children safe means empowering them from childhood to stay connected to their inner sense of self, to trust themselves and to have the strength to speak up.
For more on my family of origin, watch my TEDx talk on Surviving and Transcending Unconscious Parenting https://youtu.be/umVLtHhgI50
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
My favorite book as a little girl was Harriet the Spy and there are numerous examples where my love of sleuthing shows up in my life! But, it really is my lived experience that has given rise to my passion to bring about a Conscious Parenting Revolution. Both Melanie and Chris’s early deaths tipped the scales.
As I touched on above in the previous question, there were a lot of things going on in my family’s dynamics.
What I didn’t mention, yet, was that I learned that I could apparently make mom happier if I was an overachiever. In her mind (and mine at the time) that was a reflection on her and she could be proud of me, but that was really her being proud of herself (very screwed up way of thinking, but, I wouldn’t know that for years to come) for what a good job she had done raising us, in spite of all the other problems in the house with Chris and dad and to a much lesser extent the fights that she and Heidi were getting in.
I would need to live a lot of my life to finally know we disempower ourselves when we make others responsible for our happiness or our sadness. To finally learn that “no one makes us feel,” was revolutionary! All we ever do through our behavior is to catalyze each other. I think very few people understand that blaming others for what is catalyzed in them is completely inaccurate! Clarity around this one thing would have changed my whole life.
I recall thinking to myself that Heidi was a “problem child” because she would “make mom mad” and that Chris was “a screw up” because he was making mom and dad upset. Now, I think they were so much stronger than I was, to be able to continue to speak up and be a voice for themselves, I didn’t have that courage! I had coped very differently then they had. I abandoned myself and my inner feelings and needs and learned to focus on ‘making mom happy’ and figuring out what behaviors would trigger that in her. I was completely cathected and didn’t have any clue of it at the time. I wouldn’t catch a glimpse for many many years.
If there is one book to mention it would be Dr. Alice Miller’s book, The Drama of the Gifted Child. Although I would stumble upon it, I wouldn’t end up reading it for 20 years. I dragged it along with me for years. When the time would finally come that I could read it, It explained the dynamics with my mom and me and it shed light on everything. I am indebted to her and can say she is one of my heroes. Her life’s work shed light on all of my life.
My brother Chris would die by suicide when I was 16 years old, a junior in high school. He was 10 years older than me, married, divorced, with 2 little boys that he adored and living in New Orleans. When the call came dad approached me at the stables (dad passed his love for horses to me, we shared that in common) and asked me to help break the news to mom.
What he didn’t realize was how devastated I would be. I couldn’t help him to tell her. I couldn’t digest it myself. I would spend years carrying guilt that I hadn’t been there for him, for them (I only learned years later how inappropriate it was for him to ask me to carry this news to mom). Lines and boundaries had always been blurred. Codependent anonymous would teach me about how over responsibility is a trait of dysfunctional families.
I was down in the living room when he went upstairs to find her without me. To this day I can hear and feel her blood curdling screams on learning of Chris’ death, the vibrations echoed throughout the house and through my body. I don’t know if there is a greater heartbreak than the loss of a child.
As I look back on all of it, all of what I do now is for families to realize that parenting badly, unconsciously, impacts children deeply. My commitment is to bring the skills to parents that I believe could have saved Chris’ life. His death by suicide was in no small part a direct result of the family he grew up in. The harm that was done there sewed the seeds for later unhappiness.
As for me, at the time it gave rise to my desire to double down on achieving more awards so mom would feel okay about herself and that she was a good mom. I wanted to protect her from blaming herself. I was still focused on her, her feelings and wanting her to be okay with herself.
Gaga had cast another spell when I was young. I recall her saying in my presence to mom in her beautiful New Orleans accent, “she’s the one sweetheart, she’s the one that will take care of you.” And that is exactly what I was trying to do throughout my life.
In my quest to “make mom happy” I ran for student body president and won. I was chosen to represent my school at Girls State and then to represent my state at Girls Nation. I was on the debate team, we were the top 1st or 2nd in the state and I got a few university scholarships for debate. I was a part of the leadership team at Camp Cheley for student body presidents across the nation. I was going to be the first woman President of the United States. I took jobs at the state capitol for a state senator and someone else in the state House of Representatives. Later I would go to DC and work on the Hill as an intern.
The dye was cast. How could I have been so outwardly excellent and inwardly empty. Only decades later would I get a grasp on why praise and the quest for others approval is the route to low self esteem and why so many valedictorians die by suicide.
In college, I would learn about Semester at Sea from a bulletin board and desperately wanted to go. It would change my life, my path, my destiny. I went on the Fall 1980 voyage and because of it became enamored with China and started to study the language.
I moved to China in 1983 to teach English at Hangzhou University. If it hadn’t been for my older sister Melanie having melanoma that metastasized I’m not sure I would have returned to the USA, however, I wanted to be near her as she took on this life threatening illness. So, In 1985 I came back to the USA to be with her and at the same time, like a good over-achiever, I started law school. But, It was her passing at the end of my second year of law school that would knock me over, it’s also when I progressed and began to dance with the divine.
Grieving deeply from her passing, I could not focus on tax law or anything other than the existential questions of life. WHY, WHY, WHY? Chris’ death by suicide was 10 years earlier and although I had met that tragedy by doubling down on being an over achiever, the loss of Melanie was an unimaginable tragedy for our family and we all lost our bearings. At 38, with a young son of 10 years old, and a deeply committed husband, her bright light was gone.
To this day I don’t know how her “Course in Miracles” (CIM) book got into my car, but my interest in the bigger “what’s it all about Alfie?” questions consumed me and her CIM book was one of the ways I was getting a bigger perspective. I took a leave of absence from Law School, rented a cabin in the woods outside of Boulder in a town called Nederland (from a recognized Native American Medicine man incarnate in the body of a Jewish guy from NYC, who was invited to the Indian reservations in the summertime for months at a time) and did my version of chop wood, carry water. He was a student of Alan Watts too and had all of Alan’s books and audio recordings named Out of Our Mind in his cabin. To this day Alan and his works have had a big impact on me and continue to inform my thinking.
Both my parents tried to get me to go back to law school. I remember at a dinner with mom I said to her that I had done everything in my life to make her happy, all the awards, the achievements, the accolades, everything was to make her happy and I couldn’t do it anymore. She looked up and said to me, “oh my god, your brother Chris said the same thing to me”. It sent a chill down my spine. I realized that there was something unaddressed in her, something I couldn’t understand then, but that it had evoked out of me and Chris the same drive to abandon ourselves to make her happy. We quite literally lost ourselves in trying to make her whole. This one thing is another cornerstone of what and why I created the Conscious Parenting Revolution.
Looking back now, 37 years later, I see how the divine was getting me through all of it. I found a Course in Miracles group to study with and we met weekly. Someone in the group connected to the Emissaries of Divine Light (EDL) in Loveland, Colorado (they were edgy, had built a Buckminster Fuller chapel, and had been doing organic gardening already for 50 years. They were the oldest intentional community in the country, founded on the principles of a judeo-christian understanding with an emphasis on personal responsibility). We would go up there to a service. Martin Exeter, the spiritual focus of the group who lived in British Columbia and was in the House of Lords in England, happened to be there that day giving the talk. I nodded my head throughout. Everything he said resonated deeply. I had found a spiritual teacher who helped me make sense of all of it.
With my CIM group we took local EDL courses and then some of us decided to fly to EDL Glen Ivy Spa & Resort in Southern California to attend their 3 week course in the Art of Living. Marilyn Hanson picked us up at the airport and I would later learn that on returning she went down to the design studio and said to John Sellery, “I just met your future wife!”
After my 3 week class in the art of living had ended I wasn’t ready to leave, in fact, I would stay for another 8 months. Then one day I woke up and I was complete. I knew my time was done there. I had had a chance to find a bigger context, to heal from my loss, and I was heading back to Colorado. I missed John and reached back out to him after settling back in Denver. I thought I would finish my last year of law school, life had something else in mind.
Opportunities tied into China kept appearing and I couldn’t force law school to fit back into my life. I couldn’t escape that China and I are bound. John moved to Denver and we married, it was June 1989 (33 years and two precious children later, we’re still enjoying our union). I started a company trading old newspaper and cardboard (largest export in volume from the US) to China and backed by a Denver local Henry Strauss. Deals had me going back and forth to China and in the spring of 1989 some Chinese traders kept asking me to buy their non-ferrous metals (which I knew nothing about) and the people I had arbitrarily called in Omaha would call me back and hire me to open their offices in Hong Kong.
When I spoke to John about it he said, “yes, let’s go, I am an architect and there will always be work for me! Not to mention, I grew up on Chinese stories!” His dad was born in China in 1923. His grandfather was a doctor and he and his wife moved to Sichuan province as medical missionaries in the early 1900’s! Honestly, if I didn’t live it, I wouldn’t believe it!
I traveled on business in China with my new employer as the protests at Tiān’ānmén Square’s “Gate of Heavenly Peace” were building momentum. No one imagined it would result in the massacre that occurred in June. The tragedy had my firm wondering if ‘business as usual’ would happen again, so they postponed our move to the Fall. What we didn’t know is that we would still be in HK 34 years later. Our kids are 3rd culture kids, both born and raised there. John’s architectural practice is based there with offices all over China and now the world. The Conscious Parenting Revolution would be born there too.
Turns out I have spent my life dancing and co-creating with the divine. I look back on Melanie’s passing and realize that she didn’t just give me the Course in Miracles, with her passing came the crack and the space for the divine to whisk me down the river on its own journey for me. It also gave me John and our wonderful life together.
Our son was born in 1994 and by 1996 I knew we needed help with our parenting. We were deer in headlights. We found whatever parenting education courses HK had to offer and not only were they helping me with my parenting, they also helped with my own understanding of myself because of how I was parented. I was hooked and I knew this was my path, my passion and my destiny! It all came together.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think the funniest mistake I made was my failure, when I first started as a parenting coach, to realize that at some point, my clients were going to shift from working on the dynamics with their kids, to working on the dynamics with their spouses!! At about week 4 or 5 of the training, it becomes all about their spouse!
What I learned from this is that who we are with anyone, is who we are with everyone! There is a negative view of children and that makes us more judgmental than compassionate when viewing children’s behavioral mistakes, however, the dance of anger and defiance can emerge with people of any age. So can the 3R’s! Once clients begin to shift their way of being with their kids and things improve, then, the dynamics with their partners come up to be addressed.
This is when I realized the whole family and all the generations need support. It’s about everyone.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book and movement?
I remember my mom saying, “it’s always the mothers fault”. She was so pained by this idea it was her fault it made it too hard to even look at the role she played, albeit unconsciously. I’d like to shift the narrative to, “it’s no one’s fault and yet harm is/was done.”
Rumi, the famous Persian poet said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
The Conscious Parenting Revolution is that movement that moves beyond fault, and blame to a field where everyone goes to uplevel their skills and heal themselves so they aren’t unconsciously passing down the ‘sins of the father’ to the next generation.
I am to make a significant social impact with my Amazon #1 best selling book, 7 Strategies to Keep Your Relationship With Your Kids From Hitting The Boiling Point that people can download at freeparentingbook.com.
Also with the core training in the 90 Day Parenting Reset for all parents to master their communication with their kids and learn effective problem solving. Included in that is our 250 page workbook on the Guidance Approach to Parenting.
As well as support for graduates from the 90 Day Parenting Reset who can continue to receive ongoing support in Maintenance to Mastery (MTM).
I am getting the message out through my 3 TEDx talks:
(1) Surviving and Transcending Unconscious Parenting https://youtu.be/umVLtHhgI50
(2) The Rebellion is Here — We Created It, We Can Solve It https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecTCP-qy-zs&t=6s
(3) From overriding my inner knowing to trusting myself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_HrR9oVgnk&t=4s
In addition, this conversation must be extended beyond families to include all the stakeholders in the business community, mental health care professionals, educators, politicians, spiritual leaders, together with families and youth! The National Mental Health and Fitness Summit I spearheaded in the summer of 2019 did this by bringing all of these stakeholders together, breaking down the silos for collaboration to arise. The event culminated in the largest in person meditation in US history in Denver’s City Park.
My TEDx The Rebellion is Here — We Created It, We Can Solve It delves into all the easy the 3Rs are showing up in our schools and society and how the principles behind a Conscious Parenting Revolution is about conscious communication, conscious living, creating the peace in ourselves that extends to peace in the world https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecTCP-qy-zs&t=6s
Unfortunately, 8 months later the world shut down due to COVID and my plans to collaborate with USC in LA to bring the next summit wouldn’t materialize. It’s time to pick this up again. My vision is to see these summits happening across the nation.
Finally, we are also working hard, together with Larry Namer, Founder of E! TV, to bring a Conscious Parenting TV show to the airways so we can reach a much larger audience and make the best parenting skills available to everyone easily!
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
It is a story about how I got to be the mediator between my 80 year old Dad and my 5 year old daughter Pia.
We were back in the USA at my parents house and I had asked dad if he would watch Pia while I ran an errand and he said he would. When I got back she was in her room crying and confused and dad was “teaching her a lesson” for having been “disrespectful” of her grandpa.
When I asked her why she was sent to her room she really didn’t know what she had done wrong. She said she was finishing her painting and grandpa blew up at her for being disrespectful that she hadn’t come the first time he called her for lunch.
Dad said she was “disrespectful” because he had made lunch and she didn’t come when he called her. I asked him if he would let me mediate between he and Pia and he said he would.
I sat between them and turned to dad and said, “So, dad you felt like Pia was disrespectful when she didn’t come for lunch?” and he said, “yes, she ignored me.”
Then I turned to Pia and said, “Pia, you felt hurt when grandpa yelled at you and sent you to your room because you were just finishing your painting and then you were going to go to lunch?”
And she said, “yes!” and started to cry again.
Then I looked at both of them and said, “seems like you two had a misunderstanding” and I got up and left them.
A few hours later dad came to me and he said, “it’s a better way, honey, it’s a better way.”
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
In 1974 I was 13 years old, and alone in my Mother’s store. A man in his mid 30s rushed in, pushed me into the back room and molested me. I said nothing, to anyone, for 40 years.
In 1977 I was 16 years old, it was the year my brother died by suicide. A teacher at my school, the well-regarded football coach, took a particular interest in helping me through this tragic time. I thought he was very kind so when he invited me to his house I didn’t hesitate to go, but felt quite differently when I arrived and his wife wasn’t home. As he led me to his basement “to show me something”, I remember thinking about not wanting to upset him. He raped me, and again, I said nothing.
In 1982 I was 21 years old, and studying political science in university. A professor invited me over to his home to talk about the Cold War. I’ve always been fascinated with the Cold War. When I arrived, I was horrified to realize that my professor never wanted to discuss history, but had something else on his mind. Again, I said nothing.
My most frightening realization was that nobody needed to put their hand over my mouth, I had been silenced long ago in childhood. Without even knowing it my parents were passing down to us the same straightjacket that had bound them, “children are to be seen and not heard,” and “children are to be obedient, compliant, and do what they’re told!” Children raised in this way don’t even know they are entitled to object.
It may be easier to teach our children to simply be obedient and compliant, but it comes at a cost. I learned to silence myself, to ignore my inner suspicions and fears, to betray myself and my inner knowing in service to “not rocking the boat” and upsetting the adults around me. This inner silencing was engrained by “loving” caregivers who themselves were trained not to speak up and to do as they were told and be obedient and compliant. They too had learned to take care of other people’s feelings, needs and expectations over their own under the guise of politeness.
As Dr. Alice Miller explains so clearly in her book, cathected adults will unconsciously cathect their child. Their craving to be seen, heard and understood from their perspective (which never happened to them as children) is then imposed on their offspring. The requirement of the child is to mirror back to them their perspective in order for these adult children to, at last, be seen, heard and understood from their perspective. Something denied them as children they now deny their own child, and so the pattern repeats itself.
The cathected child’s entire orientation is toward gauging those in the outer world’s feelings and responses. In order to protect themselves from the anger, explosion, disappointment and authoritarian discipline, they learn to disconnect from their own feelings and needs in service to outer harmony. It is an annihilation of the self, and the reward for self-betrayal is favor and praise.
The child’s heightened attunement to what is activated in others, as if they had caused it. With the added layer of these adults’ lack of responsibility for being the stewards of their own feelings and needs whilst falsely blaming the ‘catalysts’ as if they were the cause of their outbursts, make a child’s attunement with their own sense of Self woefully impossible. Children become overly-responsible, trapped in a matrix so insidious and overarching as to affect every aspect of their lives.
Often these kids grow up to be perfectionist, self-critical, high performers whose motivation is to get their caregiver to be happy! They are then tortured, as no amount of accolades will satisfy their deepest desire to “make their caregiver happy”. What they never learned was that the game was rigged from the beginning and that no one can be burdened with making anyone else happy, it really is an inside job.
As I had my children, I wanted to set them free from this cycle. However, in order to do so, I needed to set myself free first. I needed to shed “the curse of the family of origin,” to rise up and parent my inner child with the presence I could now offer, to heal. I didn’t always have the courage, however, once I could face seeing those that had imprinted these patterns without needing to protect them, I was finally free. Much like stockholm syndrome, it is an intricate layer to be shed, that one that has us protecting those doing the harm. One of my TEDx talks addresses: From overriding my inner knowing to trusting myself | Katherine Winter-Sellery | TEDxGEM
I recall a painful and honest conversation with my daughter when she was 16 when I said to her, “Pia, if I had had this conversation with my mom when I was your age, it would have changed my life.”
I was so thankful that all the healing, processing, transformation I had done to free myself would also free her and her brother from the need to rinse and repeat these same dysfunctional patterns.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Yes. One of my clients that signed up for my 90 day parenting reset program a few years ago joined after her daughter had attempted suicide. Their relationship was strained and mom was aching and in pain, so worried about her daughter.
She was not aware that the way she had been communicating with her daughter for a long time, in her mind parenting her with good advice and pointers, was received by her daughter as “I’m a screw up, I am never good enough, mom is disappointed in me.”
Over the 90 day parenting reset she was able to absorb all training materials, learn how to express her concerns and listen to her without the roadblocks and the hidden messages that she didn’t even know she had embedded in her earlier communications.
They healed their relationship, learned how to speak to one another so they each felt seen, heard and understood from their perspective. They are close now and all the hurt was able to be moved.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
75% of disruptive behaviors are reactions to power being used over someone when adults treat the presenting problem as if it is the issue and fail to realize that it is in fact the symptom.
- Early intervention — Get to the front side of situations — adopting a preventative model in schools, homes, institutions, across the board to identify behaviors kids and even adults use to broadcast that they are in distress and having trouble finding ways to meet their needs and potentially are going to act out of their pain and hurt surrounding people around them.
- Teach skills to these people that are signaling and support them in meeting their underlying unmet needs so they can feel better. Teach them how to stay centered and to be the observers of their experiences without getting confused and identifying that they are their feelings (e.g. shifting from I am sad, I am mad, I am bad, etc. to saying instead, “something in me is sad, mad, bad.” Children/adults need to learn how to “get bigger than what’s bugging them” and to stay with this expanded sense of self. To be self-in-presence so they can be with big feelings that arise, to turn toward them with interested curiosity, but not merged with them, or overcome by them, or to lose themselves in them and then to act out from that place.
- Shift the onlookers focus from our experience of being around someone falling apart to having empathy for the one falling apart.
Yes, we want our children to be happy and healthy. We want them to be comfortable in their own skin, to have the strength of character to make the right decisions, and the courage to speak up and to actualize their enormous potential.
By virtue of being children, children respond in childish ways. Imagine them as new drivers who have learners permits. They are quite literally just developing the skills to manage their feelings and needs and disappointments. Oftentimes their responses and solutions to meeting their needs are almost guaranteed not to do that! But, as they are falling apart (often in socially unacceptable ways), adults tend to focus on their experience of it, on how they feel, rather than imagining what it is like for the child that is falling apart!
Adults then justify punishing children on the basis that they are responsible for the adults feeling embarrassed (as if anyone is responsible for anyone else’s feelings), and we start right then and there teaching children the lie that other people make us feel and other people are responsible for our feelings. Victim — blame consciousness passed down to another generation! Passing the baton from one generation of people who blame others for how they feel to another generation who learn to blame others for their feelings. It is time everyone became responsible for their own feelings!
Not only that, we know from the research that 75% of all childhood behavioral disruptions arise from power over discipline and give rise to retaliation, rebellion and resistance (the 3R’s). But since the 3Rs are the direct consequence of adults’ use of rewards and punishments to demand children stop their “bad behavior’, ‘or else this is what I will do to you,’ it seems we can avoid all of it by shifting to a more constructive response to the presenting problems!
The arbitrary demands of obedience and compliance give rise to even more disconnection, to more of the 3Rs. When people have highly autonomous kids they tend to use even more power to “make them behave,” and then these children prove they they would rather spend the rest of their lives in their rooms than be compliant! Power over will just NEVER work with these kids.
The 3Rs and the cycle of anger and defiance is in full swing.
If we abandon these ineffective practices and adopt more effective responses and model these, then we focus on teaching a process language of feelings and needs and we eliminate 75% of the disruptive behaviors because we stop causing them!!
It’s what Gaga taught me as a child, “it was her empathy, feeling our connection, knowing she was there for me and cared, it was that and that was love and that made the hurt go away”.
If we just used this formula, then all the pain would dissipate and with that calm state of mind shifts in behavior can come naturally.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
When I was a young student leader I was motivated to be in positions of power and leadership to “make mom proud”. My self esteem then was based on an “external locus of causality” so it was really all about what other people (the neighbors, teachers, etc) thought about me and to derive my feeling good about myself from that. How could it have been anything else given my family of origin, that is how they had trained me.
My work to heal all these dysfunctional patterns inside me has freed me up to step into leadership roles from a totally different mindset now.
Now, leadership is taking action because it is the right thing to do and has nothing to do with what other people think about me. I am finally free. Free to make a difference because there is an opportunity to relieve suffering and to bring about health.
When leaders see a problem, they step up and address it. To lead is to model the behaviors that you would like to see more of, volunteer time, energy, and life force to tackle it, not shirking responsibility to others or pretending personal contribution and sacrifices don’t need to be made.
I served on several notable boards over the years including HK Chairwoman, the Girl Scouts of America, HK Chair for the Cub Scouts of America, BOD / Executive Committee of the American Club in HK, Chairwoman, Founder of the National Mental Health and Mental Fitness Summit, with the primary mission to change the landscape, dialogue and policies around mental health.
My personal goal is to provide solutions, tools and preventative non-violent transformations to enforce safety in our communities. My theory of change is focused on healing transgenerational dysfunction, due to personal experiences from childhood to motherhood.
I remember when I chaired the Girl Scouts of America in HK we became the largest service organization over the years of my leadership. I recall one of the other volunteers saying to me, “Katherine, you probably know less about the Girl Scouts than any of us, but it doesn’t affect your leadership because you inspire us, delegate to us and empower us to take action.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
- Rome wasn’t built in a day — I have been at this since 1996, 27 years. Keep going, get up, show up, be an agent for change
- It’s not always about the numbers, even helping just one family heal their families dynamics matters
- One child that feels seen, heard and understood from their perspective can change their trajectory, prevent a school shooting, can save lives.
- It’s hard alone, creating alliances with like minded parties is necessary
- Create a board of directors who guide and keep the movement headed forward
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
See me beautiful
Look for the best in me
It’s what I really am
And all I want to be
It may take some time
It may be hard to find
But see me beautiful
See me beautiful
Each and every day
Could you take a chance
Could you find a way
To see me shining through
In everything I do
And see me beautiful
© 1986 Smilin’ Atcha Music, Inc.
Written by Red and Kathy Grammer
Someone once said that children need our compassion the most when they appear to deserve it the least. These lyrics were often sung and used by Marshall Rosenberg the founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communications. I keep them in my heart at all times and I share them with my classes every time. I wish when my father was taking his belt to my brother Chris he had known how to do this, and I wish when my did was a boy someone had extended this same compassion to him too. Whenever I get caught up in the insanity of wanting to punish presenting problems I say this to myself.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Yes please, Melinda Gates! I have maybe 25 or possibly 30 years left to shift the paradigm and her NGO is aligned with the mission
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Download my ebook for free, 7 Strategies to Keep Your Relationship With Your Kids from Hitting the Boiling Point, by going to freeparentingbook.com
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katherine-sellery
Facebook Private group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/consciousparentingrevolution
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/consciousparentingrevolution/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!