When a child growing up is traumatized, often she has to hide the trauma and “act normal.” The wounded part gets split off and the pain or shame becomes a secret, even to the child herself. Sometimes actual memories, as of abuse, are suppressed or lost, while for other people it’s more like the feelings get lost somewhere. A part of the growing person gets stuck in a young place. Later, events that remind us of what happened to the suppressed part can trigger reactions that feel disproportionate to the circumstances—a good clue that young feelings are involved.
Getting in touch with our wounded inner children can be scary when it lets out feelings of fear, anger, pain, and sadness. The feelings seem huge because they’ve been bottled up like genies for all those years. But listening to the child-parts allows us to integrate more parts of ourselves over time.
In addition, we need to re-frame and re-order our worldview. While we were growing up, we had to accept our family’s view, more or less, including all the denial and distortion. Listening to the inner child and re-orienting our reality to include the knowledge of abuse is a huge, life-changing task.
I’ve also found that the joyful and free parts of my child-self got lost in the split. Those parts came back slowly when they saw it could be safe.
Getting in touch with our inner children is not always easy. Sometimes my inner child was afraid to speak up and she kind of hid from me. Also, at first it seemed that she just wanted to cry and cry. That’s natural. The parts of us that were split off at a young age had to go away for good reasons—abuse, fear, neglect, misunderstanding. These young parts were not allowed to express their overwhelming feelings, so they took the feelings away with them.
How do we soothe the inner child? When we invite these lost inner children back into our lives, we have to be ready for them to express a lot of distress. But what do we do then?
First of all, it’s a process and it won’t get done all at once. You need to learn how to parent your own particular inner children. They will teach you what they need as time goes on. You will have to be just as patient as if you had adopted a real child with a troubled background.
Second, you need to take those feelings extremely seriously. “Soothing” the child does not mean saying, “There, there, dear. It’s OK. Stop crying.” You may have heard voices like that in your past, but your job is to be a different kind of parent, one who really listens to the child’s feelings. So the first part of soothing is to hear the feelings. The child might not be able to tell you why she or he feels sad or angry or scared. Your job is to pay attention to the feelings.
If you can, find a safe a quiet place where you can literally sit down and listen. Let the feelings emerge. Accept all of them, even though it is painful. If you can’t bear all of it at once, tell the child that you will listen for ten minutes, or five, or two minutes. Then promise the child to make another time later to listen some more.
As the feelings emerge, focus on loving the child who is entrusting you with these valuable and vulnerable emotions. Tell the child that you are proud of her or him for coming forth. Sometimes you may feel completely overwhelmed and inside the feelings, like you are being the child. That’s OK. If you stay in that place, just notice what’s happening. See if you can detect any shift where you might feel a little more like a grownup holding the child. Ultimately, you need to be an adult, so you can care for the inner child.
Here are some ways to work with soothing the distressed inner child:
Value all those difficult child-feelings and validate them.
Let your body express the love you have for this child by holding a pillow or stuffed animal, rocking, humming, stroking, doing anything you’d do to comfort an actual child.
Trust your instincts on this. Let the child tell you what feels good to her or him.
Don’t let any critical voices tell you that it’s silly to rock and hum a lullaby. It’s not silly–it is valuable practice in loving yourself.
Remember, you will need to do this practice over and over as your inner child gradually learns to trust you.
Over time you will learn to be the caring parent that this child never had. You will share your future with the wonderful, free, and loving spirit that is your original inner child.
By Jane Rowan
By Jenise Harmon, LISW-S
Featured at GoodTherapy.org, February 23, 2015
Depression is a real illness with very real symptoms. It’s not something a person can ‘snap out of’. It’s a fine balance knowing how to help or in finding the right words to say. Communication can be difficult and feel awkward but a non-judgemental ear is priceless.
This article offers solid suggestions on how to communicate with those we care for who are suffering the effects of depression.
Harmon offers the following recommendations;
For the article in full, please select the following link;
Beauty as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary is qualities of being physically attractive and qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or the mind.
A further exploration from the same dictionary defines beauty as the quality or aggregate qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit-loveliness.
It has taken me many years to understand and change my view of beauty. We live in a world that defines beauty outwardly and measures beauty by standards that are untrue and unreasonable to achieve. Our world rewards outward beauty, yet the outward beauty and the rewards therein are false.
Coming from a background of horrific childhood abuse and neglect I believed I was the least of any beauty or rather ugliest of all on earth. These ideas I held were solidified with words, being called ugly and unlovable, solidified with actions of rejection, violence and rape, betrayal and isolation.
The effect of my ugliness was reinforced above all by my rejection and hatred for me causing me to connect with others who would in turn pour out the same contempt that was also found inside them.
I no longer believe I am ugly and I no longer believe that the world is an ugly place full of deception, greed, selfishness and hate. But how did I come to change what I saw as beauty? I wish the answer to that question was simple, that I pressed the “easy” button and it was done; but that is not true and not how understanding beauty transpired in me.
I first saw beauty in a bird at the age of seven; can’t remember what kind of bird only that the bird was small and had a broken wing. When I saw the bird hurting, I was also hurting and I simply wanted to help the bird so I picked it up, brought it home, found a small box and made a safe place for it to heal. I fed the tiny bird bits of bread soaked in milk and even tried to gather worms for it, which it did not eat. I visited the bird and talked to it everyday telling the bird its wing would heal and it would fly again.
Two weeks later it did. Looking, sounding and moving its wings better, I carefully carried the bird and returned it to the place I found it. I opened my hands and the bird flew out of them. It was the first beautiful experience of my life.
This story is a picture of this site, isurvive and in this site I have found the most brilliant of all beauty ever seen or experienced on earth.
isurvive is like the box, a safe place to heal. isurvive is like me; people who are wounded and who understand woundedness and its effects; feeding, sheltering, encouraging and strengthening each other. isurvive is people who know ugliness, hatred, violence, abuse and neglect sharing voices and experiences, wisdom and knowledge, trials and successes, laughter and tears. isurvive is a picture of loveliness and beauty.
The bird and I were two different species in my story, we did not speak the same language, did not look the same , behave the same, we didn’t know the same things or experience the world in exactly the same way, yet underneath all of that we were connected by what we did share; woundedness and love, both universal languages.
Herein is the beauty of isurvive, the aggregate qualities in people joined by woundedness and love sharing and caring for each other. On the outside we the people of isurvive would not know each other if we passed on the street, nor would we share the burdens of our hearts and minds to strangers that we meet.
Yet here in our box, our safe place to heal, we are free.
Free to ask, free to receive. Free to speak our truth, free to show our woundedness and ugliness. In our box we are unbound by judgement of outward appearance or reward. We come from different places, speak different languages, have different beliefs, different cultures, different religions; yet we are bound together by what we share, the universal language of pain, suffering, fear, shame, guilt and isolation.
It took me many years to accept that my actions towards the small bird were beautiful and that in my actions, I was beautiful. My understanding of my beauty started as a small seed, a seed of hope that the bird would fly again and that I could help him do it.
In our box of isurvive we are free to see the inward beauty of others and in so doing we become free to accept the beauty in ourselves, the beauty in the world. Out of our shared experience of voices and stories we see pictures of healing, pictures of caring, and pictures of hope. We are beauty personified, limited only by our own imaginations, sowing seeds of acceptance, understanding, caring, support, wisdom and love.
In unison we lack no good thing and as we share and learn from each other, feed and comfort each other, shelter and support each other; our combined voices, experiences and stories are a resounding song of victory bringing pleasure to the senses, the mind, body and spirit. Our song is a universal song which can be heard throughout the world-loveliness. The beauty of isurvive.
This article helps us understand how to stop repeating those unhelpful behaviour patterns that many of us established in childhood years.
“Family-of-origin influences certainly seem destined to last a lifetime as we repeatedly fall easily into old family patterns,” writes Claudia Black. Whether we’re aware of them or not, repetitive habits and customs can shape our lives and influence our relationships. “These old patterns may just feel comfortingly familiar,” says Black.
There are ways of altering these patterns and the destinies we subconsciously create for ourselves, however. The article goes on to outline 4 key areas we need to address in order to make some positive changes:
In order to move on from the past, we have to acknowledge it and connect it to what is happening in the present. Only then may we develop empathy and self-compassion. Change requires us to learn new skills and abandon belief systems we’ve long held—beliefs which may be self-defeating or holding us back from creating new patterns.For the article in full please go here. (http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/4-steps-vital-to-releasing-old-family-patterns-082214)
by Christine Cissy White
“If I was dissociating, I wouldn’t feel so anxious,” she said.
“Or you might – but you just wouldn’t know it,” I replied.
We laughed the PTSD laugh.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever said that out loud,” she said.
“But I know exactly what you mean,” I said.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have shorthand with someone recovering from developmental trauma.
We were going to meet to talk writing and life but a panic attack took precedence. She called to cancel, apologized as though her panic was an insult to me. It wasn’t.
I was impressed that she didn’t make up a lie. I’m not sure if I would have been so honest. Coping well and seeming calm during tornadoes can be a trademark, a personality trait I dangle like long earrings. It’s difficult to give up because the perks for being accomplished, productive and together pay off big. However, it’s impossible to be a robot and an emotionally healthy human.
In order to be emotionally available and responsive to others, it turns out I have to be emotionally present and responsive to myself.
This is not good news. I recoil a little inside. The spilling of actual emotions is as appealing as snot from the nose or pus from a cut. My own habit is to greet my own feelings with the same, “What do you want?” that I got in childhood.
When I’m post-traumatically stressed out, my self-hate is high and self-acceptance low. In this state, I’m surprised my feelings are defiant enough to show up when I thought they were shamed out of existence. Nope, they had just waited for me to get centered.
This is not the reward I had in mind when I started mindfulness practice. Healing and emotional health require staying present at least some of the time. Staying present is a challenge for a seasoned yogi staring at sunsets and sunflowers.sunflower 4 For those who were helpless as a child, staying present with violence and violation at the hands of relatives during the development of the nervous system, is a hard sell.
As a child, I learned to air lift out of my body and hover at the brain, play dead or pretend to become one with the table, ceiling or door. This didn’t feel like a spiritual shedding of form, a healthy detaching of ego or a glimpse into knowing we are all one.
It felt like a terrifying denial of experience. And now, when I sit to be present in the present, all of those old sensations are stored in the stillness. Doesn’t that seem mean?
I am learning to accept this part of healing. Not the suffering needlessly. I don’t want to do that. But the part where I struggle to figure out how to let the guards down and risk letting others in.
It would be a lie to say I approach my path with openhearted equanimity.
Often, I look for a back-up plan.
When triggered, I do battle with thoughts such as these: Can’t someone do this for me? How old I will be when I can do this with more grace and ease, less forgetting and effort? Can I have a better love life without exploring Daddy issues again?
Inside, I rage and war.
Clearly, my life would be easier if X wasn’t a jerk, if Y was more helpful and Z never happened in the first place.
No, this is a fantasy of the supportive extended family or the perfect lover. Those are the illusions you cling to and others have their favorites.
Don’t minimize abuse and violence. That keeps people from making change. Social change doesn’t happen because people get a crisis of conscience.
It’s called breaking the system because it requires work and effort. It’s not supposed to be easy.
It goes on and on and on.
I’m beyond sick of it – I’m sick of being sick of the process.
I’ve been an adult longer than I was a child. Can’t I circle new drains or upgrade the scenery on this old track? So far, guided imagery before bed is the only thing I can do to stop rumination, dwelling and obsessing. I recommend it.
However, some practices require regular exercise to keep off the emotional pounds even though I want to do it once and be done?
Complex PTSD or developmental trauma isn’t only about calming the nervous system, it’s about undoing the damage of what was learned in toxic family dynamics. Healing is about discovering how to nurture ourselves when violence, neglect and confusion were slathered on us as children.
I have resentment and resistance.
In fact, feeling burdened, exhausted and martyred can be the itchy wool coat of memory. I say it’s uncomfortable, yet, like an old photo album I keep picking it up. It’s how I learned how to be, a default setting I return to when stressed. I say I would love to feel the cool air lift my arm hairs yet I don’t disrobe.
Seeing a pattern does not mean knowing how to change. Knowing action needs to be taken doesn’t mean there are no false starts.
What I have learned recently, is how much better I feel in community. One of the best ways to create an internal shift comes from connecting with others. Yesterday, it was in the laughter shared with a woman with a panic attack talking about how hard it can be to notice, feel and respond to our own emotions. When she shared missing the competent feeling that accompanies numbness I understood and related even though we know the excruciating agony of being emotionally blunted makes it worth the effort. 010
We may have joked about bringing back numbness but we wouldn’t really go back in time. The relief came in understanding one another.
The process of healing, waking up and breaking the cycle is slow and sometimes agonizing. I hesitate to write that for survivors early in the process because so much improves and it’s not always grueling. However, people wouldn’t smoke, drink, stay in unhappy relationships and repeat the cycle if change was easy.
Luckily, we can sustain one another and learn to care for ourselves. Talking, which is all I did with one woman yesterday, made me feel as though I could breathe more easily though not one thing was removed from my to do list. Sharing openly and honestly was medicinal. It was free, didn’t require an expert or an appointment. Yet, I was transformed.
Before we spoke, I was mad at myself for not achieving more. I was a magnifying glass glued to the negative. My brain was a sink full of dirty dishes.
“The only abuser left in your life,” a yoga teacher said to me in a private session, “is you.” You need to parent yourself the way you wish you had been parenting. Criticism, judgment and neglect are not nurturing is what she implied.
Ouch, is what I thought and I worried a bit about who would keep me in line if I got all soft and slouchy.
Now, at midlife, when I see someone being honest about their needs, I’m envious not judgmental. People have symptoms. They can linger for a long time. So what? Who cares? That’s just how it is. I don’t think any less of them. Not at all.
Can I be this way with myself?
With another survivor, I could speak about how exhausting it is to keep getting on the hamster wheel and how hard to get off. We could appreciate our extreme efforts and point out how no new ground is being covered.
It she had not risked being authentic and vulnerable, letting down walls and defenses, I might have never made it to my yoga mat later in the day. Her bravery supported my practice! My relating made her feel less anxious. For those of us who never experienced healthy interdependence this is transforming. We get to practice, however clumsily, with one another and healing happens at lightning speed.
Most days, survivors of childhood abuse are high-functioning warriors building and rebuilding lives and selves. On those days, there is no shortage of people to talk with, relate to and bond with. On those days, it’s easy to be with ourselves.
It is the day we feel tipped over inside by trauma that we need one another most. We need people who get it, who can say, about the same orange, “It’s juicy, tangy, messy and sweet.” It’s a sensory, tactile knowing as opposed to some abstract, “Life can be hard,” comment which doesn’t help.
In yoga, during balance poses, teachers suggest finding a focal point to hold the gaze. Doing so, helps us steady ourselves. Action and rushing in to prevent tumbling aren’t necessary. Rescue won’t help someone learn to get more balanced. Being still and providing focus can.
This is the work of adult survivors. This is the unglamorous healing of developmental trauma. We do not obsess on the cause of our wounds but focus on ways to more fully inhabit the present.
We offer one another acts of caring. We validate, bear witness and can admit how clumsy we feel with the business of being human.
We can allow each other the safety we didn’t have as children to explore and experiment with our developing sense of self. We didn’t have this experience as children.
But we aren’t children any more.
These must be the gifts of practice and healing. More and more, for entire seconds or moments, I remember more, forget less and stay present.
Christine Cissy White lives with her daughter on the coast of Massachussets in the USA.