One important task of growing up is to uncover and discover ourselves – uncovering our wounds to discover our true selves.
This process takes courage and support and can be very painful, not unlike giving birth. It is also rewarding in helping us to grieve our losses to completion and grow in self-esteem. We all yearn to be open, free and alive, real, whole and sane.
When our observations, feelings, reactions and creations have been repressed as children, we learn to cover and/or numb our real selves. Being ourselves becomes so risky that we develop false selves in order to survive.
As our false selves, we may hide and deny our feelings including long-held anger and deep sadness. We may pretend to be strong or happy when we are fearful and contracted. We may be distrusting, controlling or self-righteous, be critical, perfectionistic, aggressive or passive. We may avoid being nurtured or supported or we may have the tendency to withdraw and withhold easily.
Feeling loving, spontaneous, compassionate, accepting of self and others may be very hard. We may feel envious and critical instead. We have difficulties asserting ourselves, trusting our intuition or being vulnerable or self-nourishing. We may be so focused on what we think others want us to be that relationships become a strain. We can neither open up nor say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ fully due to our unconscious fear of being hurt, punished or rejected. Part of recovery is to discover ourselves and how we use ineffective ways of relating to ourselves and others.
When we have been neglected or mistreated by parents or caregivers who haven’t had their own needs met, we struggle to recognise what needs we have and to know how to meet them. Not getting our needs met feels painful, which adds to our experience that the world is not a safe place. When our needs have been rejected, it becomes hard for us to know what rights we have or to feel or understand our pain fully. We may also have developed a heightened tolerance for unkind, disrespectful and uncaring behaviour and lost a sense of feeling good about ourselves in the process.
When our feelings as children haven’t been respected, taken seriously and validated, we suffer a blow to our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth. With every blow we experience, we have a need to grieve. When our need to grieve hasn’t been supported, the un-grieved loss remains alive in our unconscious. Over time, unexpressed grief becomes distress and may be experienced as chronic anxiety, tension, fatigue, nervousness, sadness and resentment, confusion, guilt or shame.
Recovering and uncovering our true selves involves working through the pain of our grieving, which can be an exhausting process. When new grief triggers old grief, the experience can be overwhelming. Yet, telling our stories of our suffering, considering and describing how we feel and eventually experiencing our feelings as they come up without trying to change them, help us to work through the pain of our grief.
In recovery, it is healthy to become aware of and express our anger. The more we are hurt by the painful event we grieve, the more anger we generally have. Not everybody can hear or tolerate our anger, including our parents, caregivers or friends. Unless they have healed their own grief, they are unable to assist a safe and supportive healing and they are unlikely to understand. They may even reject our offering to risk ourselves and we may feel confused, hurt and powerless again. That’s why it is so important to find people that are safe, people that listen with attention and sympathy and don’t rush in to change our feelings by judging, advising, invalidating, distracting or rejecting.
We can become these people when we choose to share our own stories with one another and in doing that experience ourselves more fully and deeply. The connection that unfolds brings us home to our joyful, creative and powerful selves.
EDUCATING THE ADULT
When I feel small, frightened, lonely, powerless, like a child, I am in fact in a place of my “inner child”. We carry all different ages that we have lived through in us. Sometimes, we feel much younger than we actually are.
“Grow up!”, “Be strong!”, “Be tough!” may be messages that we once heard. Now, it is likely that we give those same messages to ourselves. We can put ourselves down and tell ourselves how we should be. Most of the time, we are probably not even aware of what we are doing to ourselves. We just feel like a child and are in a place of deep vulnerability which we have to hide since we lack safety and support.
One of my tasks in life was to ‘become a man’. Due to early messages by the men in my life, becoming a man was a mystery to me that I didn’t quite know how to go about, how to achieve it. Whenever I felt weak and meek, like a boy rather than a man, I would reject myself for that and compare myself unfavourably to other men.
Eventually, I discovered that I already was a man, that there was nothing to prove. The fact that also a boy lived inside of me did not take away my masculinity. In fact, this is true of all men. Now I believe there are basically 2 types of men, those who embrace their inner child and those who don’t. The ones that don’t embrace their inner child are the dangerous ones.
Inner children behave like outer children, the children we see around us. If they are neglected, told off, punished, they either play up and become naughty or they shrivel away like a plant that hasn’t been nourished. Children thrive when they are being given attention to, when they are considered and told how special they are.
Unfortunately, we pick up bad habits. One of them is to treat our own inner child according to the way that parents and other significant adults treated us when we were children. We learn from our role models, if we liked them or not.
As we grow up, we also develop an adult part to us. We learn to drive, hold a job, earn money, all the different things that adults do. Following bad examples, the adult is the part of us that tells us off, puts us down, criticises and pushes us. It creates the ‘self-talk’ where we give ourselves messages of how we should be and what we should do.
Now, I am wondering, if the main task of personal growth is not so much about maturing, about growing up, but more about educating our adult part. The inner child does just fine if given sufficient attention and love. It is the adult in us that creates the problems in our lives. Our inner child has no other option to rebel if treated badly or to take over when ignored.
How can I learn to develop an adult part that is kind to my inner child? How can I learn to love my vulnerabilities, my fears and sadness, my doubts and worries? How can I develop an excellent relationship with myself? How can I become my own best friend?
A way to educate our adult part is to listen to our inner child . Sometimes, the voice of our inner child might have been silenced. Then it is required to pay exquisite attention, to be encouraging and patient. The message of the inner child is always important, and we can learn very much from him/her.
I find it rewarding to engage in a dialogue in writing, where I write with both hands and use the less dominant hand to write on behalf of the child. If I relax and let come through what wants to come through uncensored, often I am surprised of the wisdom that my inner child holds.
My inner child is frank and honest, in touch with his feelings and willing to be himself. The adult part benefits from listening. It is a listening within.
Another way to educate the adult is to look for positive role models, to be open for inspiring stories that can open our hearts towards our inner children.
Copyright © 7/2004 by Rumijabu | Originally published in “Partners in Dialogue” July 2004