Healing the Younger Me

Last week I began Nate Postlethwait’s support community Healing the Younger You. A perfect companion for this healing forum has been Brene Brown’s HBO MAX show Atlas of the Heart.

I am realizing through both of these resources a lot about myself that I did not know. I am surprised and hopeful about these new discoveries. I have read so many books in an effort to help myself feel better. I spent two decades in the church trying to do what I believed would earn God’s love and approval of me. After experiencing abuse from a pastor who I went to for “counseling,” I saw a side of myself that I wished at the time I’d never seen. A side desperate for love and affection. A side that acted out in an effort to find relief. A side that I became deeply ashamed of. After I exposed this pastor’s abuse, I spent several years in counseling. My therapist had her work cut out for her. I was in so much shame and pain that when she told me I needed to grieve what I experienced as a child, I found it almost impossible. Still she helped me so much over the years. She faithfully listened, validated and affirmed me.

A few years on the other side of therapy, I still have much appreciation for all the ways my therapist’s presence helped me through healing from so much of the aftermath of abuse. She was right when she told me, “What you see, you will not unsee.” While I have experienced much frustration over not getting better faster, I have not gone back to the place that I was before and for this I am so grateful. However, I want to continue moving forward. I have come to realize that our healing journey never really ends. I believe every day is another opportunity to learn more about ourselves and what we need. One of the ways I am learning at this time in my life is by paying attention to my emotions. While I haven’t ignored my emotions up to this point, watching Brene’s show has helped me to understand that I haven’t been able to define them as well as I need to. I’m realizing when I can define what I am feeling accurately I am less likely to be overwhelmed by it. This ties to Nate’s study well. In Healing the Younger You, we are directed to pay attention to our feelings and ask ourselves how they are connected with a younger version of ourselves that may be needing our attention. It is normal for a child who experienced abuse to suppress emotions. When one lives in such a traumatic environment the only control a child has is of themselves. I suppressed my emotions, because I knew if I allowed them to come out I would suffer more as a result. My adopted father expected us to walk on eggshells around him. He couldn’t deal with his emotions or anyone else’s. When we don’t express our emotions we supress them and as a result bring pain on others. I want to break this cycle. The past ten years have been a journey of understanding the abuse I suffered from my parents and my pastor. In my understanding, I have been able to have compassion on myself which has saved my life more than anything else. But still my emotions at times feel out of control like when I am triggered by a situation or another person, or when I feel that I urge to fix someone else. I’m learning that these experiences are coming up as a result of my inner child longing to be heard.

While I still don’t like the idea even of grieving and suffering further, I especially don’t like the idea of continuing to experience the feelings of being overwhelmed by my nervous system, because I sense there is a threat. Somewhere inside there is still a younger version of me who is afraid that something bad is going to happen again. Rather than telling myself that I need to grieve, I feel it is more helpful to think about what my younger version needed. Through Nate’s exercises, I have imagined my adult self going back to the time when I was being abused and giving my inner child the love and validation that she needs. If I could have been an adult in my younger child’s life, I would have gotten myself out of that situation in anyway that I could have. I would have asked myself what I wanted. I imagined my younger self answering that she’d want a bird and a puppy and to go to the beach. All the things most children want. I would have allowed her to have what she wanted with no strings attached allowing her to enjoy and grow up in a loving nurturing environment. I feel a deep sense of loss that I couldn’t be there for her. That she tried to get the attention of adults in her life who were unwilling to see what was happening to her. Even as an adult no one knew how to help. Two pastors before didn’t know how to help me. I didn’t know of any good therapists and was scared to try. Because the church kept telling me they were all I needed, to seek help elsewhere felt like a lack of faith and something being wrong with me. So I finally found a pastor who listened. He saw my inner child and what she needed. He gave it initially but there were strings attached. He wanted something from me for his relief. The same thing my abusive father wanted. As I come to understand all of this, I am comforted by the realization that this is the grieving process, and I recognize it isn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

Is it any wonder my inner child went in a dark closet and swore to stay in there until someone came along who would hear her and want to help? I realize in Nate’s study that the person on the other side of the door can only be me. So I’m opening the door and listening to what my inner child is feeling. I’m going to give her all the time that she needs to come slowly out of the closet and to learn how to live. I will give her self compassion and understanding and the love she needed but didn’t receive. I will try to pay attention to the things that bring her pain and send her back to the closet. We will learn together how to live again.

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