Healing our Inner Child

One of the biggest challenges we face in our growth and development as adults is healing our childhood wounding.  That is, the traumatic impact of both emotional and psychological wounds we incur in childhood.  

This wounding is most often the result of our needs not being met by our parents.  Everyone that I work with has experienced this, as I have too. It is not because our parents were terrible parents, although some people’s parents were horrible.  It is that many of our parents are not perfect, they are people who were trying to work, raise children and have a life. They cannot focus all their attention on us 100% of the time.  They also had their own inner child wounds and at times they were parenting from that part of themselves, not their adult parts. The trauma I am talking about that we experienced as a result of this ranges from being criticised for not getting a great test score on a test at school, to being ignored, to in some cases, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Trauma expert, Dr Bessel van der Kolk, whom I have had the pleasure of being taught by, says in his book “The Body Keeps the Score”, ‘Trauma causes people to remain stuck in interpreting the present in light of an unchanging past’.

We develop strategies, habits and patterns of behaviour, that are often very reactive and they become our dominant approaches to cope and live our life.  Thus often repeated patterns of feedback are given, repeated incidences of relationships dynamics occurring are often a sign that you are operating from your inner child self.  Anything that gets you a bit fired up or ‘triggered’ is often a good sign that old programs maybe of shame, inadequacy, abandonment, betrayal or feeling unsafe are operating. These programs always have stories attached to them that allow us to feel in control of what is actually going on.  So much so, that we attract the same situations and act them out on a daily basis.

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When we are unaware of these child parts of ourselves running our life we are actually walking around projecting a shadow part of ourselves onto others. Our inner narrative might be ‘the bad person who did that to me’, ‘the bad luck responsible for our suffering’.  In some cases we get feedback in the workplace, giving us a sign of how others are experiencing this shadow part of ourselves - that we don’t see - and how it impacts on them. However, it can, when left unattended for a long period of time turn into symptoms, illness or disease; often in the case of repressed emotions that were not accepted as part of us as children.  For example, many people have an unhealthy relationship with their own anger and struggle to express it in a grounded way as it was deemed unacceptable when they were a small child. How many toddlers having a tantrum at two years old are sent to the ‘naughty corner’? What they are actually doing when they shake their body on the floor is trying to discharge the energetic charge of anger running through them.

Why do we need to do this inner child work?  I hear you ask. Well, often we don’t get a choice because we hit rock bottom.  Either in terms of poor health or relationship rupture. Often in midlife, our psyche gives us a chance to heal this wounding and face our pain to prepare ourselves for a vibrant ‘third act’ after we turn 50.  In her famous essay on Midlife, Brene Brown says it like this. ‘Midlife is when the Universe puts its hands on your shoulders and says “I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armour is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armour could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and loveable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short....”

Facing childhood wounding and working with relationships that will help you heal your relationship with your inner child might be some of the most challenging personal development work that you do but it will also be the most freeing and empowering.  

To heal your inner child, you need to bring that part of yourself to consciousness.  You do this by witnessing your inner world. That is, be able to observe when you are acting out one of your habits or patterns of behaviour.  Once you can do that, you work out what that behaviour is trying to gain for you; often love, safety and belonging. The next step is being able to parent yourself. This enables individuation and clear separation from the sensitive child part of you within you.  The third step is learning to put some strategies in place for self care so you can regulate your nervous system and then develop new strategies to cope and thrive in the world.

This work is freeing both to you and your family system.  It breaks cycles of family patterning that you have been carrying.  It creates the capacity for you to witness and observe your emotions and understand in an embodied way that you are not your emotions - you are just the experiencer of them.  It makes baring your emotions so much easier and gives you the ability to listen to them when they arise.


Doing the inner child work is tough.  You want to do it supported by a coach or therapist and with the support of those you love around you.  It will improve the quality of your relationships. It will open you up to different types of relationships and experiences in your life as you stop reacting and start creating the outcomes you want.  It will allow you to have a close relationship with your body and really learn to listen to it and the innate wisdom it has within it, by listening to your emotions and learning to be with them. You will learn to appreciate your shadow and move towards self-love and self- acceptance as you learn to love all the different parts of you, good and not so good.  Hopefully you learn to listen to your nervous system and really learn the meaning of ‘take care of yourself’; how to give yourself permission to rest, how to regulate yourself at a pace that is supportive of your need to recover. But most importantly, you will learn to love all the different child and adult parts of you that you discover and that you are a glorious, multi-dimensional being who is capable of living their best life and thriving in the world. 



I do inner child work in my coaching - if this is something would like to explore, come have a chat with me.



Boundaries......clear boundaries will set you free

Boundaries are a great container for love and growth in relationships. I love that I have very clear boundaries and part of that means putting my own needs first with self-care. If I don’t look after myself, how can I have the energy to meet my family’s needs? How can I create a safe, deep and nurturing space for clients that I coach?

So what are boundaries? Simply put, what is ok and what is not ok for you. Boundaries are flexible, we are constantly reviewing, inquiring and negotiating them as we learn and grow the skills we need to navigate the world. They are changing all the time as we change.

Our parents help us enforce them for the first 7-8 years of our lives because we are not resourced to deal with life yet. As we learn new skills to navigate life, we learn to be able to express them. In Pre-school, children are taught language to set their boundaries when they learn to say 'Stop it I don't like it”, when faced with behaviour they are not ok with. They are learning to express their Yes and No.

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When someone has low boundaries they get stepped on a lot because they often do not know what their ‘No’ is, that is, what is not ok for them.  They can also rub others the wrong way by not being aware of others’ boundaries. People with really high and rigid boundaries often struggle to let others in.  They create distance between themselves and others, often to feel safe, which does not allow others to get to know the real them.

Most of the interpersonal conflict experienced by people I've coached over the years has involved boundary violations. Often without people really understanding what was going on.

How can we think constructively about boundaries?

Boundary setting is an expression of self-love and community care.  It creates healthy relationship dynamics because we are being honest about our needs.  When we honour our own needs, we are bringing our whole self to a relationship.

When we hide what we need, we pretend to be something that we are not, we are performing. When other people set boundaries with you, don’t make it about you and what you need.  Thank them for setting their own boundaries. You might not like what they say or you may not be able to meet their needs but thank them for telling you what they need. All you need to say is, ‘Thankyou for telling me what you need”.

There is a misconception that boundaries are created to keep us small, marginalise us, push us into a corner or keep us from being free.  That is not boundary setting, that is controlling behaviour. There is a huge difference between someone expressing a boundary to protect their sacred space and someone trying to exert control over your space. One is someone protecting their own wellbeing whilst the other is someone who is trying to fill their own desires with dominance over another.

A boundary is as much about what you are saying yes to as it is what you are saying no to. To quote the fabulous writer Elizabeth Gilbert. “Within you sacred space can be your time, your creativity, your loved ones, your privacy, your recovery, your values, your mental health, your joy, your heart and your soul”.

How do we get better with boundaries?

We get super clear on our desires. Many people can tell me what they don't want. But most often they struggle to tell me what they do want in their life. We bring boundaries to life when we can express our desires. When you express your desire and someone honours your boundary, thank them. Praise them. You could say “Thank you so much for……it made me feel…..”.

We work on learning to express and feel our emotions in an embodied way. When we learn to express our emotions in a grounded way, we get comfortable listening to their messages and we learn skills to self-regulate our nervous system.  This in turn helps us work through if we are ok or not ok in a situation. If we are working from a neural network that is an adult part of us, rather than one developed in childhood which is an outdated part of us, we get clarity on what our true Yes and No is.

When someone communicates with you how they like to be touched or not touched, treated or spoken to, they are expressing their boundaries. Try not to see this as a rejection of you. It is ok if they don’t want to engage with you in the way you want to engage. It is not a measure of your worthiness as a person. It is just their boundaries being expressed. Thank them for telling you.

Finally, we work through what our purpose in life is. This is a big existential question but so linked to desire and emotional expression. When we are clear about what our bigger picture is, what we want, how that makes us feel, we experience a sense of love and freedom inside. Then we are content to just 'be'. 

This is not short term work, it is ongoing, forever.

It is the lifelong adventure of learning.



The Birth of the Inner Mother

For much of my professional career I’ve worked in transition.  Firstly organisational contexts where there was large scale change that impacted on culture, then in the development of leaders within organisations and now as a coach.  Ultimately this is all about learning and with that comes change. 

Women experience many archetypal transitions as we go through our life.  One of the most well known in popular culture is maiden to mother. Becoming a mother is a hugely transformational experience for most women.  They birth their own inner mother, their inner creatrix is born. It is an incredibly expansive time for women as they discover a part of themselves that they never knew existed.  It reaches to the core of their identity. Having a small baby to look after brings you out of a more self-serving, even self-centred behaviour that you may have exhibited previously because all of a sudden you have someone other than yourself to think about and look after.

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But it is not only women who have children who can experience this.  I have witnessed many women birth this aspect of themselves in the creation of passion projects.  Whether it be launching a new business, a not for profit or creative work. The inner mother is often birthed in this scenario, when the way through to completion is through un-chartered territory.

I often coach women in leadership roles when they come back to a role either from parental leave or major sabbatical and they have experienced the birth of their inner mother.  The expansiveness they embody, the implicit understanding that they are fundamentally different beings than before they left, is front of mind and acted out in how they navigate the world now.  However, often what they experience is ‘oh you are back thank goodness, we need you back to how you were before’. Sometimes it is explicitly stated and sometimes it is implied. Either way it causes massive internal tension for almost everyone subject to it.  For most people, when you have had a transformational experience, you don’t want to go back to being the old version of yourself again. Sometimes the individual puts the pressure on themselves to be the old version of themselves, to be dynamic, on top of everything and in control.  Other times it comes externally, I have heard remarks over the years of ‘she’s lost it’. My response is often actually I think she might have ‘found it’.

When nurtured appropriately, the inner mother has an expanded capacity for listening, for inquiry, for connecting and caring for others, for guiding and developing others, for working collaboratively with others and co-creating solutions.  I’m always puzzled as to why you would not want someone to show this aspect of themselves; these new skills and talents they have. These capacities are the backbone for healthy relating. It is often what I end up working on with individuals on as a coach.

As they continue to grow, learn and transition toward midlife, many women start to awaken to the true essence of who they are.  This shows up in many different ways. Often it is an increase in confidence and a decreased concern for what others think; maybe she is more confrontational.  Or she may be rebelling against patriarchal constraints, the ‘glass ceiling’, pushing back when her boundaries are infringed upon now. Challenging issues at work, like lack of wage parity or inadequate childcare. Most of this is healthy behaviour of course depending on delivery of the message. It is showing a concern for often bigger societal issues at play, bigger systemic problems to be solved. The purpose is often about nurturing of society. Many women at this stage become very purpose driven in their interests and where they channel their energy. Again this new emergent purpose driven self is often criticised or disregarded.

Ladies there are many rites of passage we go through; these are only two.  There is nothing wrong with you, as humans we have the capacity to keep learning, growing and changing forever.  Embrace learning, embrace your body changing, embrace the wisdom in your body, embrace your expanded view of the world. Revel in it.


If you would like to read more about female archetypes and the different passages we grow through I can recommend ‘The Women’s Wheel of Life’ by Elizabeth Davis.



Resilience

There is a lot of talk about resilience now and I see many workplaces putting effort into helping people understand how to be more resilient.  It is generally around play to your strengths and it is pretty cognitive in its focus. That is, a very logical, rational approach to being resilient.  In my experience as a coach when most people struggle with resilience it is their emotions and feelings that they have, that they are struggling to deal with.  Those emotions they are experiencing are either disconnected and unconscious so not being expressed, or, they are so intolerable they will do anything to avoid feeling them. I’m not just talking about the yuck emotions like guilt, disgust, anger, shame.  I’m talking about exalted emotions to; joy, ecstasy, love.

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I’ve done a lot of training in working with trauma somatically in the last two years and it has really expanded my view of resilience. For me resilience is growing our ability to be able to be with all our emotions and experiences in life and that includes discomfort, feeling weak, struggling and being challenged.  It is being able to tolerate and embrace positive experiences like connection, amazement, joy and love. It is being able to let yourself feel your emotions in your body and be totally aware of where you are feeling them.  So my focus is on helping people I coach, little by little, be able to have experiences where they may feel weakness or vulnerability or be filled up with joy and be with it in their heart, their body and their mind. Without trying to make it right or wrong.  Just experience it and be with it. So it is in learning to be with anything and everything, whether it feels like it is a good or bad experience, that builds our resilience.

Just like the tree in this picture above, that is thousands of years old, it has weathered, severe heat, storms, floods, insects and animals all over it, viruses, humans creating buildings in the middle of the place that it lives, we learn to be with the experience as it has and keep on growing and learning.  When we are able to be with everything that we experience, we become less reactive, experience a greater sense of safety in our body, we make more considered decisions, we act in greater alignment with what is right and true for us. We are able to pay attention to what might be going on for others under the surface and act from a place of compassion when they may be struggling.

How do we do this?  Our emotions are energy they want to move through our body.  So learning to be with them and experience them in a grounded way, not repressing or over-dramatising them.  Using our breath or movement to help them move through our body and experiencing what is on the other side of them.  We have a common misconception that mindfulness has to be stillness and quiet. This is a very masculine view of mindfulness; growing consciousness through stillness.  We can use techniques like breathwork, somatic movement (yoga and pilates), dance, to work with the energy of our emotions and really connect into the felt sense of them in our body.  Journalling is a great technique to articulate what you are feeling and for those people I coach who hate writing I encourage speaking into a voice recorder app just to get it all out.  There are so many tools and strategies you have to work with. The key is going slowly taking small steps as you push the boundaries slowly of what you can tolerate and be with.