I’ve been recently really looking inward at my inner child and I flashed back on two trauma workshops I had done with my therapist.
In one, he placed my grandmother in “the Chair” and the other time he put my step father in “the Chair”. The chair was an empty chair that was placed in front of the “hot seat” where each of us individually (there were four to five of us in the room) sat in the hot seat to heal our childhood trauma. After each event, we would receive feedback from the group and our therapist about what they observed.
The first time I went through this experiential process, when I had my grandmother in the char, I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could never truly get my grandmother to listen. She would constantly deflect, avoid, turn things around, and then, make them about her. What was even more interesting, was that she had no idea what she was doing. It was a normalized, conditioned response to any critique or judgement that came her way.
The second time I did a trauma workshop we put my step-father in “the chair”. I made sure his seat was more than half way across the room from me; I did not feel safe with it any closer. What I noticed this time around was that not only did my step father not want to listen, the fact that he had to be there in the first place made resentment drip from his pores.
His body language was not oblivious, like my grandmother, but closed and guarded. It was as if he was trying to hold back this torrent of anger to keep him from leaping across the room and attacking me. I was so emotionally off, that my therapist brought this big Italian guy named Guido and his cousin, also named Guido, to stand as two body guards on either side of my father. At one point, when my father figured he was done with this exercise and proceeded to get up and walk out the door, my therapist had Guido and Guido go out and bring him back in. We weren’t finished. They each put one hand on each of his shoulders, forcing him back into the seat, and making him listen to what I had to say.
In both reenactments, I could never get my grandmother or step father to hear me, listen to me, or acknowledge my feelings. No remorse, no regret, no empathy whatsoever.
I also realize that these two were the primary figures in my mother’s life. I make up that she was also not heard or acknowledged. So, how could she truly parent me when she was most likely getting shut down by the people closest to her?
I clearly fit into the category of Childhood Emotional Neglect, where a parent fails to respond to a child’s emotional needs.
“Whereas mistreatment and abuse are parental acts, Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to act…The way you are treated emotionally by your parents, determines how you will treat yourself as an adult.”
The key is to become aware of how we were treated as a child, how we continue to repeat those same patterns, and give ourselves the tools we need to disrupt those patterns. It is then that we can learn to love and nurture the precious soul that resides inside of us.
It’s interesting to note how in life, when our energy focuses on one thing, our awareness about that expands and we become in tune to that particular wavelength. For instance, when you are looking to purchase a car and you chose one, all of a sudden there seems to be more of them on the road. I mean everywhere!
This has been my past couple of weeks. Everything I see and hear I relate to my inner child. I see his wounds and I see what he still needs to heal from the pain of the past.
I mean, I even started Love Your Inner Child by observing my roommate’s little boy and transferring his actions into trying to figure out what my own inner child needs and wants. The question coming back to, how can I better nurture and parent myself?
I talked about my inner child experience with Shamanic Breathwork a few days ago. I was excited that the day after I had already scheduled to meet with my therapist. What I hadn’t planned in our session the week before when he had asked if I wanted to do EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) was that by postponing it to the following week, I’d come in with some heavy processing that I wanted to continue.
Holding two alternately vibrating pods in my hand, I retell my Shamanic Breathwork experience. I talk more about my childhood. More about the pain of not being seen or heard. I relate to how that manifested in my marriage. In recovery. In life with others.
This was not a time where my therapist adds his insights, his thoughts, or challenges me. He sits, listens, and when I steer off, brings me back to the thoughts that need to be processed.
I don’t realize until afterwards that my shirt is drenched in sweat and tears. I didn’t realize how fast the time had gone by. I just know I feel drained and light at the same time. And that’s when I make the decision to process this work through my blog.
The Four S’s of Parenting
I received an email last week with a link to listen to Dan Siegal discussing the power of showing up for your kids. It was a hour-long live discussion that was incredibly informative. Not only did it talk about how you can show up for your kids, but what happens to us when our parents did not know how to show up for us. Furthermore, it goes into how we don’t learn to show up for ourselves if we were never modeled healthy attachments as a child.
I didn’t realize this until I just a minute ago as I was searching the internet, that this discussion was based on Dan Siegal’s new book that came out last month, The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired. Guess I need to add that to my reading list.
I had started following Dan Siegal six months ago when my therapist wanted me to learn about his Wheel of Awareness Meditation and about Mindsight, how to focus our awareness on ourselves, our thoughts, and our feelings. And it wasn’t until this discussion that I realized he also wrote the book titled Brainstorm, that explains the neuroscience behind an adolescent’s brain and Parenting From the Inside Out, a book our first couple therapist suggested we read almost 9 years ago when my ex and I first started our journey of recovery. In the later book, one learns how our childhood experiences shape the way we parent.
Presence, Parenting, and the Planet
~ Dan Siegel
The key points to showing up for your kids is the idea of four S’s, best explained in the Google Talk above. And without these four S’s present in a child’s developing life, the fallout from Emotional Neglect will negatively impact a person in adulthood.
“A child, starting from infancy on, needs to have their inner mental life attended to by the caregiver.”
“What’s the feeling when someone actually sees your emotions, or your memories, or what you’re thinking, or the meaning of something for you? It’s the feeling of being felt. You feel as if the other person really knows you. Not just that they are responding to your behavior, but are seeing your inner mental life of feelings and thoughts and things like that.”
“If I’m your child and I’m distressed, you’re going to do something. Not only see what’s going on with me, but now you are going to carry out an action that helps me feel calmer.”
So, I go from a state of distress, which can be in the form of chaotic explosions or rigid shutting down…[these] are ways that children can be out of equilibrium and in a state of distress. And you notice that and now you behave in such a way that I feel better.”
“What I learn as your child is that I can be in a state of distress, but with your guidance early on in my childhood, I learn I can feel better. What happens is I take those experiences and I actually change the structure of my brain. And I build in the circuitries of what’s called self-regulation based on relational experiences.“
“Relationships are a form of experiences and they change the structures of our brains…these relationships are important for what I call integration in the brain, the way different parts of the brain are linked.
“The whole attachment system is designed to protect the child. And if we didn’t have it, because as mammals, we come out pretty immature. As humans we are the most immature of all infants. And so, we need the protection of our caregiver.”
“There’s two kinds of safety in this S. One is that we are protected from harm. The other is, that we as the parents, are not the source of terror.”
“Unfortunately, somewhere between 5-15% of the non-clinical US population, has an experience with a caregiver where the caregiver is terrifying them. Now, you may say, of course that happens with abuse or neglect. That’s true. But when there’s not abuse and neglect, if someone comes home and is raging in the other room, that’s terrifying for a child. If a parent comes home and gets drunk, and in that altered state is terrifying, that’s terrifying for a child.”
“If you have the experience of being seen, the experience of being soothed, and the experience of being safe, on a reliable basis, and when there are ruptures to those three S’s, and they’re repaired…
“There’s no such thing as perfect parenting. Even though we’re making a list of all these S’s, the fact is there’s no such thing as perfect parenting.”
“If I say the word ‘repair’, it’s a very effective thing, because we are too hard on ourselves as parents. We think there’s supposed to be something perfect, like there’s a science for it. Even me, as someone who studies this stuff, and does research in it, you’d think I’m doing it right. But the reason all my parenting books I write, or my colleges and I both write, and how we each do it, we flub up. Because there’s no such thing as perfect parents.”
“At least if we know the general direction of where we’re going, and when we veer off of that because we’re having a bad day, we’re tired, and we miss the opportunity to connect or soothe. When we realize that, we can make a repair. And a repair involves recognizing what we’ve done, taking a deep breath and being kind to ourselves, and you know, that was a mistake, and I need to go back and make a reconnection, cause I didn’t see my child, I didn’t soothe my child, or my child wasn’t safe.”
“If I can make a repair when there are ruptures, and for the most part I try and offer these three S’s on a reliable basis, I get the fourth S, which is called security. Secure attachment is kind of like a vaccination. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s a vaccination that supports the development of resilience.“
“Other things can happen; temperament, accidents, infections. All sorts of things can happen to the brain so that a child getting older, through adolescence especially, can have a hard time. But all the research shows, that children who have a secure attachment are the most likely to have resilience through the rocky period of adolescence and then into adulthood.”
Dan goes on to explain how some colleges have done research for 40 years. They’ve watched how these relationships as kids affect how resilient they are today as a 40-year-old adult. “It’s understandable because these relationships are shaping the structure of that child’s brain in a way that forms a foundation, like of a building, and the building, if the foundation is strong, will be strong no matter what kind of storms happen.”
Integrate your Adult with your Inner Child
As I was taking notes about Dan Siegel’s discussion, I realized the journey I’ve been on and how intertwined it has become. I’ve mentioned numerous times that I had originally started this blog to gather a group of people together to help one another heal their marriages. Through writing I changed “together” to mean integrating our adult with our inner child.
Integration is the core of Dan Siegel’s Interpersonal Neurobiology field of study.
“Defined as the linkage of differentiated components of a system, integration is viewed as the core mechanism in the cultivation of well-being. In an individual’s mind, integration involves the linkage of separate aspects of mental processes to each other, such as thought with feeling, bodily sensation with logic. In a relationship, integration entails each person’s being respected for his or her autonomy and differentiated self, while at the same time being linked to others in empathic communication.”
My intention now is not so much to save relationships, but to help others save themselves. For it is only when we can truly parent and nurture ourselves, that we can learn how to relate and build true connection with others.
Review the 4 S’s as they relate to your inner child:
- How often do you truly SEE yourself? Do you accept your emotions, your memories, or what you’re thinking? Are you only seeing how you respond to something, or are you seeing your own inner child’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions?
- How often do you SOOTHE yourself? Are you critical and judgmental? Or do you accept all of you, the good and the bad? What do you do to comfort your inner child that’s struggling? Do you have an emergency plan in place to care for yourself when things go astray?
- Do you keep yourself SAFE? Do you place boundaries around people and things that are harmful to you? Are you addicted to something that you must work on to keep you from hurting yourself or others? Once again, are you critical and judgmental towards yourself? When we listen and believe our own negative self-talk, we create an unsafe environment inside our own minds.
- In addition to providing the first three S’s, do we give ourselves the freedom to be human and make mistakes? Do we provide SECURITY by repairing, within ourselves, the times we fail? Do we repair and reconnect with our inner child?
It’s never too late to work on changing the structure of our brains. We can change the negative childhood beliefs that haunt us in adulthood.
Changing lifelong habits does take a lot of work. It can be done!
Like going to the gym increases muscle mass, energy, and a healthier body, learning self-love gives you a sense of security, confidence, and perseverance to handle what life brings your way. When we are more grounded with ourselves, we become more connected and grounded with the people around us.
WE are important.
Take a step in your continued growth. Make emotional IQ a top priority.
Love the beautiful soul that you are.
We all can Rise from the Ashes.
Together We Can Heal