The Courage it Takes to Love

Every child deserves to be loved and grow up in a nurturing environment where all of their physical and emotional needs are met. Unfortunately, too many children grow up experiencing major deficiencies. No parent loves their children perfectly. I believe most parents do the best that they know how based on what they have been given. As a parent, I have learned the most from my mistakes and during those times when the realization came that what I said or did caused my children to be hurt, confused or scared. I heard a therapist say once that no parent sets out to screw up their children’s lives and I believe that. So if you are a parent reading this today, I encourage you to give yourself much grace and compassion. This doesn’t mean you are minimizing the need to make changes. This means that you are not listening to the shameful voices that are usually behind the behaviors that bring pain to others.

I am currently participating in the course Healing the Younger You taught by Nate Postlethwait. This course has been extremely helpful in my own continual healing process from CPTSD. It has given me insight into how to give the younger parts of my inner self who experienced neglect and abuse more understanding and compassion. It has also helped me to understand how much courage it takes to allow ourselves to experience love after having grown up in an environment where we received toxicity instead of love.

While I believe that most parents don’t set out to screw up their children’s lives, there are some parents who are so toxic that they bring tremendous harm to their children and make it exceedingly difficult for them to survive. In Nate’s course, I have heard stories from other survivors just like me who grew up into adults struggling to live their lives with complex post traumatic disorder.

Today, I want to write about how much courage it takes to allow love into our lives after having received toxicity that was labeled as love. The very fact that we are still seeking love after toxicity tells me how powerful a force it is that it is able to break through and let us know that we deserve it and that our children deserve it.

The very fact that we are still seeking love after toxicity tells me how powerful a force it is that it is able to break through and let us know that we deserve it and that our children deserve it.

I have learned listening to other CPTSD survivors share during Nate’s course, that there is an especially deep longing in survivors who are parents to receive a love that they can pass down to their children, instead of toxicity. I was especially moved by a young mother holding an infant telling us how she wanted things to be better for her baby. I wondered what a difference it would have made if my own parents had done the work it takes to begin healing?

I have lived with regret for a long time after having been poisoned by toxicity. I had no idea how the lack of boundaries with abusive family members was making it impossible to love in a healthy way. Love requires time and energy. Toxicity does, too.

Love requires time and energy. Toxicity does, too.

Looking back on my life I realize how much energy I gave to keeping toxic family members happy. Energy that I needed. Energy that my children needed. Sadly, the cycle didn’t end with the realization that my family was toxic, rather I left one toxic environment and became a part of another one in a church.

Part of the restorative work in Healing the Younger You has been around paying attention to the younger parts of me that are still trying to get my attention in my present life. Those parts of me that are sad, lonely and afraid of being harmed again. Those parts of me that are easy to cast aside, because I don’t think I have the energy to deal with her because of other things that seem more important. However, I am beginning to understand if I don’t take the time to pay attention to her pain that she won’t stop trying to get my attention. Whenever something happens that reminds me of previous trauma, she will get the attention of the parts of my brain that trigger a response from my nervous system.

There is much conversation in the workplace, social media, churches, etc. around keeping the past in the past and moving on with our lives. Those of us who are not able to compartmentalize in those ways are often looked upon as weak, stuck in being a victim, or as having an unwillingness to forgive.

Thankfully, the stigma around mental health issues is improving with more awareness, education and research, but it is still very much there putting pressure on survivors to be hard on themselves for not being better sooner. This post is about taking the pressure off and learning how to love ourselves better wherever we are in the healing process, even if it is just now becoming aware that there are parts of ourselves that need our attention.

This post is about taking the pressure off and learning how to love ourselves better wherever we are in the healing process, even if it is just now becoming aware that there are parts of ourselves that need our attention.

Our bodies signal us like the dashboard on our cars. If we ignore the check engine light, we will most likely wind up broken down on the side of the road. If we pay attention to the signal and call a mechanic, we might spare ourselves a lot of expense. Lately, I have been experiencing dizziness and fatigue. After doing some research, I realized that my new expresso machine might be the issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, our bodies can begin to respond in negative ways if we consume too much caffeine. It is recommended that we do not consume over 400 mg of caffeine in a day and in one of my extra strong expresso drinks there was over 300! Combine this with my two other cups of coffee a day, and I am up to close to 600 mg. Is it any wonder that my body was sending signals to cut back on the joe?! The wonderful thing about our bodies is that they are designed to let us know when something is wrong. When we don’t pay attention or are unaware of what these signals mean we will suffer as a result. Today, I am paying attention to my caffeine intake even though it means I won’t get to enjoy the spurt of energy I receive from an extra strong cup, but it also means I won’t be dizzy and fatigued in the hours following. It might also prevent me from more serious issues that can develop from too much caffeine. Our mental health works in the same ways to signal our attention. No matter how much stigma there is around mental health issues, it doesn’t change the fact that our bodies pay attention when we are hurting and send signals to us to pay attention and make the hurting stop. Because our bodies do not forget trauma and “keeps the score” to protect us from being harmed again, it is important for us to honor our responses and offer them a nurturing response that will bring relief. The courage it takes to love comes when we begin to pay attention to what our bodies are crying out to recieve and offer it to ourselves.

The courage it takes to love comes when we begin to pay attention to what our bodies are crying out to recieve and offer it to ourselves.

There is a vivid picture in my mind of a younger version of myself sitting inside a church with deep shame in her heart. She never wanted things to turn out like they had. She had been seeking relief when she asked the pastor for help. She had wanted to know if the love Jesus talked about really existed. What she had found in that church was the same toxicity and trauma bond she had been seeking desperately to escape. She had convinced herself that maybe this was the only kind of love people were capable of giving. But why did it feel so heavy when Jesus said He would lighten our load? She had ignored the warning signals for too long. She kept believing that things would change. But they didn’t change, just like her (adopted) father’s toxicity didn’t change. She didn’t know that day that making the decision to walk away from that pastor was the most loving thing that she could do for herself and her children. She didn’t understand that she was finally learning to pay attention to what her body was telling her and make a choice that would save her life. She felt a deep sense of shame, because she still believed that it was somehow all her fault.

The paragraph above is about a part of myself that I had kept tucked away inside of my mind, because of the overwhelming shame that comes when I think about all that I did hoping to find love. But doing this work around healing the younger version of me has enabled me to look at myself with a different set of eyes. When the shame comes, I remind myself that I deserved love and not the toxicity that I got. Every child deserves to be loved and know that they matter. It had been the pastor’s job to be a true representation of Jesus and tell me this. It wasn’t my fault that the only love he knew how to give was toxic.

It wasn’t my fault that the only love he knew how to give was toxic.

A good pastor, counselor, coach or doctor will always provide us with care that enables us to learn how to pay attention to ourselves to discover what we need. A toxic family, culture, and religion taught me that I wasn’t capable of giving myself the love I deserved. I believed that I needed a man to lead me to it. But I realize today as an adult with CPTSD, that I can learn to give myself the love and compassion that I need by embracing the younger versions of myself and giving them a voice to speak into my life.

Catherine of Genoa cried out in the streets, “My deepest me is God!” Her words hit home with me. I am learning that when I am able to reconnect with the hurting parts of myself and give them the compassion that they are asking for that I experience the relief Jesus promised.

I don’t think we can possibly understand how much courage it takes to love after having received toxicity. Whenever we take steps towards loving ourselves in the ways that we deserve we need to celebrate! I believe Jesus rejoices whenever we do, because He IS the deepest part of ourselves telling us we deserve love.

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