I was recently working with a client- a strong, big, man. You would never imagine that anyone could physically do him harm. He’s the kind of guy you would ask to walk you to your car if the streetlight was out in a sketchy neighborhood. But, as we were working together, he showed me what happened to him as a little boy. And that child? That child was hurt badly. That child was beaten, emotionally and physically. That little boy was powerless against the harm one of the people who is supposed to love him the most- his father – inflicted upon him. I have sat with it for days; the juxtaposition of the strong man sitting in the chair, superimposed on the small boy he once was.
It made me think about all the layers we hold within us. As you get older, it can be so easy to be dismissive of all you endured in your younger years. So easy to forget that some of those things happened to you when you were a very small child. Not the you of today, the strong man who can stop 90% of the people coming at you in their tracks. Or the strong woman who knows her worth and can no longer be emotionally manipulated. But that child you once were? The five year old? That version of you didn’t have the strength you have now. To that child, Father was a giant- you couldn’t have stopped the abuse no matter how hard you tried. To that child, Mother knew best- and if she said “You are worthless“, it must be true.
It is so easy to think that because you are now an adult and have outgrown your children’s clothing, you should also have simply outgrown your childhood established fears, pain, and programming. It took me a long time to fully acknowledge that the emotional torment I felt from my childhood was real, valid, and something that needed attention. I hid from it for so long- wanting to avoid the misery and shame, not just of the original trauma, but also because shouldn’t I just be over it already? It happened years ago, why am I still crying about it? A lot of talk therapy and time helped me become really good at rationalizing the entire experience. From a logical place, I could explain how, while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, my childhood was useful because it turned me into a strong woman; showed me my own invincibility; gave me a depth of understanding and character I may never have otherwise developed. I understood why my parents were they way they were. But even after I was able to get to that point, I was still in pain. I wasn’t totally over it. Self destructive patterns were still holding me back. Why?
Because there was a disconnect between the rational understanding and the deep emotional wound. My brain had accepted, but my heart was still hurting. That was the part I hid from and refused to connect with- the feelings. I had some deeply entrenched programming that told me emotions are not to be trusted, acknowledged, or dealt with. They should instead be shoved far down deep into the crevices of my soul. Somewhat difficult to know how to handle them with that sort of training. But as Esther Perel says, “Where there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to seek.” My real healing began the day I finally allowed myself to feel all the feelings. The hurt, the anger, the shame, the guilt, the sorrow, the rejection, the abandonment, the longing. I spent ten days straight crying my eyes out during my yoga teacher training in 2016 and it was the catharsis and pivot point I had long needed. That was when I finally acknowledged that there was still a small child in me, desperate for the unconditional love of my parents. I finally brought her out into the open instead of tucking her away, ignorant, and then ignoring, the truth that you can not heal what you hide.
If you truly want to heal, you must allow yourself to feel.
Often, the ways in which you learn to deal (or avoid dealing) with painful experiences tend to become so second nature that you forget that they are even coping mechanisms. Food. Alcohol. Addiction in other forms. Avoidance. Maybe it’s how you shut people out of your heart, stop yourself from pursuing your dreams, or throw yourself into proving your worthiness through doing rather than from knowing that you are worthy of love even if those dishes don’t get done, that work project waits until Monday, or you don’t bake the perfect cake for every single one of your children’s birthdays. And often, so many coping mechanisms are put into place for one purpose- to help us numb or avoid our feelings.
And that makes a lot of sense, because who wants to feel pain? No one, especially when it feels like once you start to allow the emotions to flow, the hurting will never stop. Where do you even begin? Think about the layers of your life you willingly revisit and the ones you run away from. What makes it so easy to go back to some years, and so hard to think of others? Odds are, it’s because of the joyous or difficult emotions attached. What is it you’re hiding from?
I want to point out that, depending on how many skeletons you have in your closet, you may not want to do this process alone. Self introspection and revisiting difficult parts of your past can be exceptionally difficult. It is always best done with a trusted friend, a family member, a mentor, or a therapist. During my ten days of crying I had three women who stood by my side, hugged me whenever I needed it, and provided a truly safe space for me to be vulnerable. During the days that followed, I met with my Ayurvedic and spiritual mentor who helped me navigate some intensely rough waters. The inner development process is not meant to be done alone. I encourage you to tread lightly and hold someone’s hand, but DO go there. Do ask yourself which part of you do you love the most? Which part of you do you love the least? Why? Whose voice is saying “You are so amazing!”; whose is saying “You don’t belong and never will.” Did that programming get established when you were 15? 10? 5? a baby? Why does the age matter? Do this…
Imagine a five year old little girl or boy happily making something out of PlayDoh. They giddily walk over to their parent to show them their awesome creation. The parent smacks it out of their hand, telling them how stupid it is and yells at them to clean up the mess. They don’t move fast enough, so the parent shoves them down. The child curls up on the floor, clutching their smooshed PlayDoh, wondering what they did that was so wrong; knowing that they are the problem, that there must be something wrong with them to keep upsetting their parent so much.
When you see that happen in your minds eye, what do you feel? What do you think? Is it the dismissive rejection that bothers you the most, or the physical violence? Both are damaging. Most importantly- switch the image so that the child is now 20. How does it change your reaction? Age matters. The level of hurt a 20 year old would feel is completely different from a 5 year old. Could the parent even have the strength to push down the 20 year old? Either physically OR emotionally?
Remember this when you think of your own past. Remember that some of what you experienced may have occurred when you were a small child instead of the grown adult you are today. You were only able to process it as completely as that undeveloped, child brain was able to at that age. This doesn’t just pertain to abuse- it could be any difficult situation like being in a car accident, moving away from family and friends, or the loss of a parent. Glennon Doyle says “You are a nesting doll of every age you’ve ever been.” So what would you say to that little child in that moment? If you could swoop in and send the parent away and tell the child what they need to hear, what would it be? What would you say to yourself as a child? What did you most need to hear? How would you coach yourself through the hurt? Give to yourself now what was withheld from you then.
I would alter Esther Perel’s quote by one word and say…
When there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to escape.
I suggest this exercise because with awareness comes power- the power to feel, the power to heal, the power to step away from everything that’s holding you back, and the power to step into a life far from the tree from which you fell.
Love & Light,