*Disclaimer: My position on certification is that it is not inherently bad, toxic, or harmful. The purpose and role of certification is to continue your education and growth as you serve your families and communities as a doula. Certification is NOT the gatekeeper of your worthiness and professionalism as a doula.*
Douladom is waking up to the toxicity in the Doula Training Industrial Complex (TIC). Maybe you are realizing some of your training was problematic, incomplete, or even oppressive. I believe douladom as a whole is caught in a cycle of abuse with training organizations that mirrors the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle. If you’ve started to notice your own dependence on your training organization coupled with confusing and harmful gaslighting, you might be feeling stuck and not sure where to go from here.
Recognizing the abuse in the relationship truly is the first step and is a really difficult one to make. So if this is where you’ve landed, pause and honor the courage and strength it required to get where you are at this moment. You are doing hard and painful work, but it leads to freedom and power for yourself and those you serve.
The next step is figuring out where you’re at in the cycle and gathering some tools and resources to break free. After you identify where you are in the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle with the Doula TIC, you will be able to better understand why you are struggling, what to expect next, and gain clarity on how to break free of the cycle.
Quick refresher on the Narcissistic Abuse CycleRelationships with narcissists follow a basic pattern broken into three different phases: idealize, devalue, and discard. [You can see an example of the entire cycle playing out in douladom broken down HERE]
IDEALIZE: The narcissist uses multiple tools to make you feel loved, valued, and ultimately dependent on them. This includes accelerated intimacy through “love bombing” while simultaneously planting seeds of self-doubt in you that will be exploited as the relationship progresses. While they shower you with compliments and make you feel special and loved, they are also working to make you feel like you need them.
DEVALUE: This phase is all about disorientation and eroding your ability to trust yourself. It can be extremely difficult to recognize the abuse for what it is in this phase because the narcissist has expertly made you feel not only special and important but dependent and enmeshed with them as well. This is where we begin to see gaslighting, criticism, and control tactics being used.
DISCARD: At this phase, the abusive behavior begins to escalate, especially when the narcissist experiences pushback on their behavior. Gaslighting, criticism, and control tactics intensify. The narcissist will blame the victim for their abuse, and eventually will discard their victim (either temporarily or permanently).
A key component of this system is that it is a cycle. It is ongoing and not necessarily linear. You may move in and out of these phases quickly or over long periods of time. But you can expect to be pulled back into the cycle repeatedly. The narcissist will criticize you and then shower you with affection. They will do something harmful and then apologize with grandiose — but ultimately empty — gestures.
Leaving a narcissistic relationship is extremely difficult because of this cyclical nature of abuse. It is effective and seductive. Once you have invested in the narrative the narcissist provides for you, it can feel impossible to see any other path.
I am here to help you see a different path and a way out. But first, let’s figure out where you might be in the cycle right now.
Where are you in the Cycle?
Idealize: The Honeymoon Phase
What is happening: If you’re in this phase you’re being courted by the Doula TIC. They use tactics like love bombing, breadcrumbing, and creating dependence to suck you initially or bring you back after things have escalated
What it looks/sounds like in douladom:
- Love bombing
Marketing that claims meeting your calling as a doula is easy work and you can make great money ONLY if you certify with a specific organization.
Certifying organizations partnering with hospital systems to get “their” doulas on an approved list.
Claiming the only way to be a good doula or to make “enough” money is to be certified by one specific organization (or at all).
What you may feel:
- You may feel really special or like the Doula TIC is speaking directly to you. Like you’ve been chosen by them.
- Everything feels intense and you feel a deep sense of loyalty that may not actually have been earned.
- You may begin to feel like you owe your doula work and business to the organization and that you couldn’t do what you have been called to do without them.
- You find yourself defending the organization and making excuses for behavior that others see (and you might secretly know) are problematic.
- You find that your beliefs about doula work have shifted from your original beliefs to be in alignment with the Doula TIC.
Devalue: The Building Tension Phase
What is happening: This phase in the cycle is really disorienting and can keep you stuck for a long time. The organizations have successfully led you to believe you are deeply dependent on them, but you might be noticing some disconnects from their original love bombing messages and what they are saying now. If you push back on this feeling, you are likely to be met with gaslighting, isolation, and criticism.
What this looks/sounds like in douladom:
Being told that as a doula you advocate for your clients by facilitating conversations, and then being told you cannot speak to medical providers.
Being labeled a “rogue” doula if you do things “outside of your scope.”
Being policed by other doulas whenever you talk about advocating for your client
What you may feel:
- Devalued or even punished by the Doula TIC (especially other doulas in that community) if you attempt to call out unacceptable behavior, or for not being complacent or obedient.
- You may begin to experience anxiety, fear, self-doubt, or confusion about what you’re “supposed” to be doing as a doula. You don’t want to be ostracised by your organization or doula community.
- You may even experience “cognitive dissonance,” and disconnection from your intuition as a doula.
- Maybe you put a ton of effort into pleasing your organization and doula community to make sure you are a “good” doula.
- You might feel like you’re walking on eggshells and afraid to ask questions that don’t align with what your organization explicitly or implicitly expects.
Discard: The Escalation Phase
What is happening: At this point in the cycle you have pushed back on the abuser and are being punished and discarded or forced into submission if you continue the relationship. This is accomplished through coercion, betrayal, and blaming.
What this looks/sounds like in douladom:
Threatening to revoke certification if don’t follow a “scope of practice” (even though you are not regulated as a doula and are not a medical provider that has a scope of practice)
Throwing trainers under the bus when an organization receives push back on what is being taught (and is included in their curriculums) to certifying doulas.
Being told that doulas aren’t being permitted in hospitals because “rogue” doulas didn’t “stay in their lane” and ruined it for everyone else.
What you may feel:
- Punished for responding to abusive/problematic behaviors, policies, or rhetoric.
- You may find yourself apologizing for your own emotional response to the abuse and assuming the blame and responsibility
- The need to “fix” your relationship with your organization or community after being discarded or ostracized.
- You begin to modify the way you behave and serve as a doula in an attempt to return to the “honeymoon” phase with your organization/community.
- You may feel like you’ve abandoned your original purpose and mission so you can protect your certification.
- You might become a victim of or participate in horizontal violence where doulas are policing each other and trying to keep each other “in-check” in order to stay in the good-graces of your organization.
Tools to help you break freeNow you have a better understanding of where you are in the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle with the Doula TIC. This is a powerful, but potentially scary and vulnerable place to be, especially if you aren’t sure what to do next. I’m going to list some actionable steps you can take right now, some books and support resources, and some doula-specific tools to help you break free from this cycle and step back into your authentic power as a doula.
Tips for right now
- Identify where you are from the list above
- Spend 30 minutes journaling about how you felt after reading this blog
- Ask yourself what your gut/intuition is telling you to do next
- Repeat the first three steps if needed until you feel you have a good grasp on where you are right now, and what you need
- Find a community of other trusted doulas where you can start to unpack this
- Reach out to a therapist/provider if you feel like you might be struggling with narcissistic abuse in other areas of your life or you need additional support processing what comes up here for you
Resources to dig deeper
Below are a list of books, websites, and other resources to help you understand and process narcissistic abuse in general:
- Narcissist Abuse Support
- Gaslighting: The Narcissist’s Favorite Tool of Manipulation
- You Can Thrive After Narcissistic Abuse: The #1 System for Recovering from Toxic Relationships
- Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself
Next steps as a doula
If you’re ready to start unpacking your complex relationship with the Doula TIC (and the MIC) I have created multiple ways to help meet you where you are and become the advocate doula you are called to be:
You will walk away from this workshop with the confidence in your doula role, a new thinking in doula work and skills in understanding how to approach the birth team in preparing for advocacy.
- Understanding the advocate doula role
- The oppression myth
- Learning about yourself in doula advocacy
- Identifying explicit/implicit bias
- Understanding perspective while communicating
- Virtual options will be available for LEVEL 1 in 2022!
- One-on-One Mentoring
If you need more intensive support, One-one-One mentoring might be a great option. I will help you reflect on past births to build a map of growth for future births.
This is a new mentoring membership and community I am working on behind the scenes right now where you can come together with other doulas to heal, learn, and expand your skills as an advocate doula.
- Coming soon – sign up [HERE] to get early access and updates!
I believe douladom is at the precipice of change. Doulas like you are recognizing the disconnect in how they want to show up and how they feel they are “allowed” to show up for their clients and their communities. You have to know your own power so that your clients can emerge from birth as whole, empowered, and non-traumatized. You must do the hard work for yourself before you can truly answer your calling and purpose as a doula for your birthing clients and families.