Reflections on Reflections: Healing my Codependent Relationship with my Career in Teaching
Y’all ever have those dreams where you’re dating that ex once again - but this time around it’s a fantasy of how everything turns into a happily ever after? A couple weeks ago I had one of those dreams about my most toxic ex ever: my career in teaching - which lasted 7 years and ended in June of 2020. In this healing year of “professional singledom” and unemployment I came to a sobering awareness of how I was in a codependent relationship with my career in teaching. This dream encouraged deep self reflection which eventually led to some healing revelations that I’ll share in this article.
In my dream I chose to enter the classroom again and it was a fantasy of how I hoped it would actually be: 16 students, first graders, plus I had looped with them! And I was going into my (fictional) 3rd year at a school I only lasted at for 2 years. But...I was exactly who I am now - with all of this healing and awareness under my belt - the most energetically, spiritually empowered and aligned version of myself. I was a more rested, stronger and better educator than I’d ever been.
And I realized this dream was just my ego's wishful thinking. Wanting to recreate the past and "fix" what I had "failed" at. Just wanting to do well within the system/matrix and be validated by it. It's like dating emotionally unavailable partners and recreating the harmful patterns I witnessed as a child but gaslighting myself into believing that this time it'll be different.
But tbh, I entered the teaching profession to save and fix others - namely, the kids - when subconsciously I was actually trying to save my inner child - an epiphany I was only able to reach once I had left the classroom. I was reenacting a core childhood wound in the workplace - needing to perform and produce excellence to be seen, validated, and affirmed as worthy. But no matter how much heart, spirit, and truth I poured into my kids and classroom I wasn’t fully seen, let alone appreciated, by my bosses. And I resented my bosses and colleagues for that - and honestly this is a theme across ALL types of relationships - resenting folks for not seeing, feeling, affirming, or loving me in the deep, soulful, authentic ways I needed.
I was so deeply hurt and affected whenever folks at work couldn’t reflect back my genius, beauty, spirit, and divinity. My sense of self and worthiness was deeply linked to how others saw me, what they thought about me, and what they were able to reflect back to me. I looked to my friends, lovers, family, colleagues, bosses and institutions to understand, see, and believe who I was. I gave my sense of self and power over to them. But what I didn’t know then was that most - if not all - of them could never fully see me and reflect back my genius/beauty/spirit/divinity because their internal windows were smashed - as were mine.
We all experience life through these invisible glass filters - we see through them like windows and others see a one-way mirror when they look at us. If our parents went through hella trauma, then they’re most likely raising us with their own cracked windows so they can’t see our genius/beauty/spirit/divinity. So when we look at them we see cracked mirrors and can’t see our owngenius/beauty/spirit/divinity reflected back to us. In more extreme cases our parents may even throw rocks at our windows and we go through life perceiving others and ourselves through cracked windows. To the point where this way of perception becomes normal.
Until we get sick of this harmful and distorted way of perceiving. And we cross paths with folks whose windows are intact, shiny AF, and are constantly windexed, LOL. We see them and feel awe and then catch a glimpse of our self in their shiny windexed mirror and see bits of our own genius/beauty/spirit/divinity reflected back to us. We may not believe what we see at first - and it may take repetition - seeing our genius/beauty/spirit/divinity reflected back over and over again until we can start to accept and believe our power.
We eventually learn how to repair, replace, and clean our own windows and mirrors and we learn how to see ourselves in our own window’s reflection. We learn how to mirror ourselves. We learn to really look at ourselves. To SEE and FEEL ourselves. Not from a place of ego but we start to see ourselves the way Spirit sees us because Spirit dwells within all of us and Spirit sees nothing but our genius/beauty/spirit/divinity. When we start to see our own genius/beauty/spirit/divinity it’s powerful and awe-inspiring AF. We eventually stop looking into other people’s windows and mirrors to see, understand, appreciate, affirm, and love ourselves.
So these days when I feel triggered that I’m not being seen or affirmed by those I care about - I know not to internalize it. It takes some time and practice to soothe and transmute my sadness, anger, frustration, judgment and righteousness - but I can hold my upset inner child through that tantrum - and hold up our own mirror and give that love, affirmation, and worthiness directly to her. And I get to a place of understanding that the other person’s inability to show up for me in the deep ways I need is not a reflection of my unworthiness - their actions are merely a reflection of where they’re at - and I can extend some compassion for them as well.
This healing journey asked me to take responsibility for operating from a mindset that allowed other people’s perceptions of me to inform how I felt about myself. I was so afflicted by the incongruence I felt between how I perceived myself and what others reflected back to me. And though I had been processing my codependent patterns within my romantic relationships for a few years, I only recently noticed how those patterns trickled over into my professional experiences as well. While I have learned to take responsibility for navigating my professional experiences through my own cracked windows, I deeply long for the day when the predominantly white teaching force can learn to do the same. Because in addition to our own personal wounds, our social locations/identities (intersections of race, age, gender, sexuality, institutional hierarchy, etc) greatly influence our ability to perceive other people’s genius, beauty, spirit, and divinity. And if there’s any profession in dire need of doing this healing work, it’s the teaching profession.