The Unexpected Ways Family Issues Are Affecting Your Entire Life
The Backstory: Last month Iyanla worked with Noreen to uncover the real problem lurking beneath the surface of the fight she had with her brothers five years ago. Ostensibly, the battle centered on where Noreen's elderly mother, who'd been living in Jamaica, should spend her remaining years. When her mom returned to England—where several of her children live—with the assistance of one of Noreen's nieces, Noreen felt deeply betrayed. She lashed out at her siblings so intensely that she's had little contact with them since. After talking with Noreen, Iyanla put her on a 40-day fast: Make no attempts to reach out to her brothers or talk to anyone else about the situation. She also had to journal daily, responding to prompts Iyanla selected just for her (like "I remember feeling powerless when..." and "The greatest awareness that I have had about myself is..."). Now, with the work done, Noreen checks in with her coach:
Iyanla Vanzant: Welcome back! It's been a while. How are you? Tell me what's happening.
Noreen Sumpter: I've had a good—well, I shouldn't say "good." "Good" is an understatement. I've had a great experience doing the exercises. It wasn't easy. They have had an impact on practically every area of my life. I've discovered power where I thought I had none—including in my romantic life. I was in a relationship with a man and I realized, Oh my God, this relationship is very similar to the one I had with my brothers and my father.
IV: How so?
NS: The last time we talked, you said there must have been a breakdown in the family long before our big argument. And what I've realized is that my family wasn't one that really talked. We discussed fun things, but we didn't communicate about how we felt or if we were upset. We never allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. On the other hand, there was a lot of teasing when you didn't do something someone else wanted you to do. And if I were crying, they'd say, "What are you crying for?" I learned to hold in my feelings, my disappointments. And in the relationship I just mentioned, I had the opportunity to finally express myself fully to the man I was dating. I gave him the chance to do the same, but he wasn't able to be as vulnerable with me.
IV: What I hear you saying is that through the work you've done, you've come to the awareness that you grew up having your feelings dismissed. What did that teach you about your feelings, your emotions, your authentic self-expression?
NS: I learned that if I showed emotion, I would be ridiculed.
IV: That's right. What I also hear you saying is that you chose a partner who didn't express emotion or feelings, and therefore you felt safe from being ridiculed for your own. So now that you have that awareness, what is the healing you've experienced?
NS: When it was clear he couldn't open himself up to me, I knew I had a choice: stay and suffer, or end the relationship. He truly understood why I had to leave, to honor myself and my needs. I acknowledged him for doing the best he could, and I acknowledged myself for doing the best I could. We actually thanked each other. It was an incredibly amicable breakup.
IV: I want to go back for a moment and remind you that we set a clear intention for your 40 days: "It is my deepest, most sincere and heartfelt intention to experience healing, a sense of wholeness within myself that will extend to all my relationships and interactions within the world." You had the opportunity to observe yourself, honor yourself, express yourself, and then make a choice about how to move forward. So you took the appropriate steps to realign, restructure, readjust and awaken your mind, your heart and your being. Good work!
NS: I also honored your request not to talk about the past during these 40 days. I caught myself three times and thought, Whoops! Let me honor myself and not do this. Words have power. It's one thing to say "I want my family back." It's another to complain and go on about it. If that's the kind of negative energy I'm sending out, that's all I'll get back.
IV: Now, I recall that you felt like your mother should have stayed in Jamaica and your feeling that this wish wasn't respected by some of your siblings. The first time we spoke, you were very upset about this. What are you aware of now that you weren't aware of before?
NS: I didn't fully understand the magnitude of what was happening. I was just caught up in the upset. I reverted back to being that small girl who was afraid of being attacked. In my mind I thought, Let me get them first before they get me. I killed them off, but in the process I killed off myself.
IV: That's excellent awareness. In fact, it's the kind of awareness that will help you heal the rift in your family.
Next Month: Will Noreen finally reconnect with her brothers? In their last session, Iyanla and Noreen wrap up their powerful work together.
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Iyanla Vanzant is the host of OWN's Iyanla, Fix My Life and author of Peace from Broken Pieces.