As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the great pleasure of interviewing Karen C.L. Anderson.
Karen C.L. Anderson, a best-selling author, master-certified life coach, and champion for mothers and daughters who struggle in their relationship with each other. Her books, The Peaceful Daughter’s Guide To Separating From A Difficult Motherand Difficult Mothers, Adult Daughters: A Guide For Separation, Liberation & Inspiration, have sold over 150,000 copies.
Ms. Anderson writes honestly and candidly about her own life, as well, and a personal essay she wrote about an experience she had with her husband’s ex-wife just prior to her death, was recently featured at OprahMag.com.
She also offers classes and workshops for women who wish to reclaim time, energy, and freedom by setting healthy, effective boundaries without guilt and anxiety.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
There are two things I’ve known about myself for as long as I can remember: #1 I didn’t want to have children, and #2 I wanted to be a writer.
My parents worried that I’d end up as a “starving artist” so when I went to college, I majored in Communications Arts, with a concentration in journalism, and a dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. That dream came true, but not in the way I imagined. I ended up spending the first 20 years of my career as a plastics industry trade magazine reporter and editor (and yes, I did travel overseas to cover developments and innovations in the industry).
In 2003, the magazine I was Editor-in-Chief for was sold to another publisher that didn’t want me. It was an identity rattling time because although I identified as a writer, all I had ever written about was the plastics industry and that career was over.
From there I spent several years freelancing and embarked on a personal journey that would lead me to places I never imagined.
You’d think, having wanted to be a writer from a young age, that I’d have piles of journals and diaries, but no, the only year I kept a diary regularly was in 1977, when I was 15. It wasn’t until 2009, when I started a blog, that I started writing consistently for myself,to explore my inner landscape.
On a more personal level, some of the events that shaped that inner landscape include my parents’ divorce when I was two, their subsequent re-marriages (to other people), growing up in a sometimes violent alcoholic family, the addition of a brother by adoption and two half-siblings. I did most of my growing up in Newtown, CT.
I am married and live on Southeastern Connecticut shoreline.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life?
I don’t think there’s been a day of my life (since learning to read) that I haven’t read for pleasure and for escape. Most of the books I read more than once as a child inspired me, especially Charlotte’s Web and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.
In my 20s and 30s, John Irving’s novels served, not so much as inspiration to take action, but to accept myself as I am (and that journey continues today). Wally Lamb’s novels, particularly She’s Come Undone, served a similar purpose.
In my 40s, the books that inspired me include Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; by Toni Morrison, The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells.
What some of these books have in common is a main character (usually an adult daughter) who is able to see her mother in a more nuanced way and understand the forces that shaped her mother, which then leads her to see herself in the same way.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is an epic example that takes readers to the heart of the pain that an adult daughter experiences at the hands of a troubled mother, but even more than that, it points to the generational evolvement that must happen in order for healing to take place. Main character and adult daughter Sidda allows herself to be cracked open by her mother’s suffering, and to feel compassion for her mother, and, ultimately herself.
I am currently reading (and very much loving) Black Is The Body: Stories From My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine, by Emily Bernard.
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world?
It was during my life coaching training (in 2012) that all my personal mother “stuff” came to the surface. It’s not that I hadn’t been aware of it before, but rather that I hadn’t taken responsibility for it. The process I went through was so personally liberating that I couldn’t keep it to myself. I initially created a group coaching program and it went on to become The Peaceful Daughter’s Guide To Separating From A Difficult Mother.
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
Initially I simply wanted to offer women a way to separate from their mothers (emotionally) in a clean and healthy way. And when I say “separate” I don’t mean “have no relationship with” unless that is truly the best choice for them. It simply means to know where your mother ends and you begin. To know yourself as an autonomous woman with your own thoughts, feelings, values, and preferences. To no longer live in reaction to your mother.
The more I did my own work and the more I read and researched, the more I saw the connection between the micro (one mother/one daughter struggling) and the macro (internalized misogyny and the pain of living one’s life as a woman in cultures and societies that do not value women and girls equally, an attitude that is too often passed down from mother to daughter).
So while on the surface it may seem like a niche issue, this work gets to the heart of self-actualization, gender equality, and intersectional feminism.
I am not the only person on the planet who is working to shift these dynamics (both micro and macro) so the impact I hope to make with my book is to add to the movement through the lens of individual mother-daughter relationships and our collective maternal lineage.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement?
The moment that stands out most is when I was nominated for the 92nd St. Y’s Extraordinary Women Award (in 2017). I didn’t win, but as they say, it was a huge honor to be considered. It showed me that my work is so much bigger than one daughter and one mother.
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
The positive things I heard and continue to hear are usually a combination of “thank you for helping me” and “thank you for sharing yourself so honestly.” I also hear a lot of “Wow, you make me think about things in ways I hadn’t considered.” One of my favorite comments: “You turn on lights bulbs I didn’t even know were in the light sockets.”
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book?
It might sound cliché, but really, the most fulfilling experiences are the ones when a woman shares what she’s been able to achieve in her relationship(s) as a result of having read my book(s) and she sees the impact of having done the work on her own children. So often women say they want to “break the cycle” but either don’t know how, or do so “in reaction” rather than with consideration and discernment.
Along with this is simply seeing how doing my own work ripples out into all the relationships I have.
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
When you write something that challenges the status quo, you’re going to hear about it from people who don’t like it. I sometimes hear from mothers who accuse me of “preying” on their daughters and turning their daughters against them.
I also hear from some daughters who believe I don’t go far enough in promoting “no-contact” with mentally ill or narcissistic mothers. They believe I trying to make them “forgive and forget.” I had one woman tell me I was condescending.
My message to anyone who reads my book is this: no matter what you choose to do in regards to your relationship, do it in a way that you are able to like and respect yourself and your reasons.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
When a book sparks change in one person, that change then ripples out and touches others. I think the books that do this best (and they don’t have to be non-fiction or even self-help books) have several qualities in common: they hold a mirror up to the reader and reflect self-knowledge, they show us that we’re not alone, they increase our capacity for empathy, they challenge us in a way that doesn’t have us turning away, and they provide us with the example that the change we seek is possible.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?
Devotion: I write every day, I read every day, I stay true to my voice, I believe in myself, I practice my craft, and I communicate regularly with those who follow me (via my weekly newsletter and social media).
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career?
With my first book, which is basically an edited version of my original blog on self-acceptance and body image, I found myself obsessed with the reviews on Amazon. The first time I got a one-star review I was devastated.
When The Peaceful Daughter’s Guide came out, and it got a lot more attention, I knew, logically, that not everyone would love it. But then I found myself checking the rankings and comments on Amazon, thinking that I was seeing it as “information.” It wasn’t just the time I was spending doing this, but the energy with which I was doing it, that showed me how emotionally invested I was in the opinions of others.
I write my best when I am motivated by my devotion, not what other people think, positive or negative. I no longer read reviews, no matter how many stars, because they are none of my business.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book?
1. Be willing to take a well-defined stand: Movements need to be clear in order to attract followers! The stand I have taken is that in order to achieve gender and racial equality in the world, adult daughters who have/had difficult relationships with their mothers need to be empowered so they can take responsibility for their lives rather than giving that power away. In so doing, their own children (if they have them) will know what it looks like in action. And if they don’t have children, they will still be modeling this powerful dynamic for whoever they interact with.
2. Be willing to be unpopular/disliked/uncomfortable: There will be people who don’t like your movement because it feels threatening to them. I am willing to risk criticism and feeling uncomfortable because I believe the results are worth it. It’s an investment in the future.
3. Don’t wait until you know more: This was a hard one for me because I believed that I needed to know it all before I could put myself out there. I am so glad I didn’t wait, even though I’ve modified some of the things I used to believe. A beginner’s mind is a powerful mind.
4. Be willing to share your “stage”: Chances are there are others who are doing similar work and their voices will bring diversity and wholeness to your movement. You’re not doing it alone. Share your resources!
5. Be willing to be vulnerable and share your powerful story: Your powerful story is the bedrock upon which your movement is built. I define “story” as all the things you tell yourself, about yourself, in regards to all the things that have happened in your life. When you are standing on your story (instead letting your story standing on you) and able to share it in a powerful way, you are a role model for those who join your movement. Powerful stories don’t resist or deny or hide a painful past, they simply reflect how you’ve grown and healed. A good example of that is the essay I recently wrote for Oprah Magazine: How I Made Amends With My Husband’s Dying Ex-Wife.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next?
Difficult mother-daughter relationships are often a reflection of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. I join others who are advocating and modeling a shift in our collective awareness away using shame and fear to lead and parent, away from unhealthy codependence, and towards radical self-responsibility and healthy interdependence. This is a movement that is already in progress and it needs more people to step up and do their part in the ways that make sense to them. For me, it’s telling my stories and shining a light on difficult mother-daughter relationships and other adult daughters to the same.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.
Original post here!