Sneak peek! From Fear to Love One Woman's Courageous Journey Through Trauma Recovery
Chapter Two: Inner Parent Inner Child
"Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves,
but of uncovering the name we have always had."
— Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond:
The Search for Our True Self
It's now February, 2010. By now, living in my midtown apartment, bright lights of nearby Main Street, frequent sirens and occasional gunshots form the norm of my sensory experience. After one particularly noisy night I learn of armed burglaries a couple of blocks north.
Determined to remain and adapt, trusting I will feel better with time, I go about my work/life/social routine. Having friends and family over for dinner, I observe their tension, I hear their unspoken concern that this is not a good place for me. And I stay. I make a point of watching funny movies, something to soften my ever-present emotional/mental anguish.
I continue my weekly appointments with Candy, trying to grasp how this therapy is going to work. In a typical session, we talk a bit, Candy comments on my breathing and points out other movements I make, things of which I am unaware. She often suggests that I sit still and observe where in my body I feel what we just talked about.
I sit still. I pay attention to what’s happening in my body. Blank. Nothing. I wait, patiently. Nothing. We talk some more, just a bit. She explains about NOTICING when my body wants to run or fight or just shut down, and allowing myself to complete my defensive responses. I'm thinking I never notice. I'm shut down.
At one point, I bring up the topic of what a bad child I was, providing details of my rebelliousness as I recall them. Candy corrects me, saying that when a child acts out, it is in response to something. That there are four types of responses, two of which remain with me:
· Anger, rebellion. This is good, it means I’m a survivor. I need not carry shame for this.
· Withdrawal. She says “it’s the quiet ones I worry about.”
I also continue working with my naturopath, who recommends a special compounded hormonal remedy to holistically help my body normalize the anxiety-induced processes. I agree and start that day with the new treatment, unaware that I'm going to have a paradoxical reaction.
That night at 2:00 a.m. I wake up in a state of extreme anxiety, with pounding heart. I become aware of the sound of a helicopter circling around the neighborhood. This goes on for fifteen minutes. On high alert, I barely sleep the rest of the night.
In the morning, I feel like I've been hit by a truck, both physically and emotionally. At work, I struggle through the morning's presentation (do you know just how much energy it takes to put on a show when you feel good? I run on fumes!). Afterward, able to leave work early, I call my naturopath for an urgent appointment. Her acupuncture treatment calms me, as she explains that the paradoxical reaction caused my adrenal glands to been ultra-activated. Fight! Flight! No wonder I felt both physically and emotionally drained.
I make a firm decision: I will not spend another night in that house.
Blessed with various options over the next month, I eventually land in the home of a friend who is not currently living in her house. There is not a word strong enough to convey the sense of comfort and safety I find there. In fact, when she shows me her bedroom with its deep warm colors, the words that pop unbidden out of my mouth are "Oh! What a comforting uterus to rest in!"
I move in with enough clothes for now, and rest, rest, rest. I take safe walks in the neighborhood. I breathe. I NOTICE my breathing. I continue working, I continue therapy.
And this is when Candy introduces me to the book Self Parenting.
First she observes that I have a very critical view of myself, meaning a critical parent within, based on my childhood experiences. She teaches me that although I did not receive the support and love I needed in my life, I could learn to support and love myself now. Oh, yeah… the little girl that is me. I remember her. So I also have an inner parent, and there is a way to retrain and reform the old patterns, the goal being to really get to know and love the little girl that is me. So she can feel safe and supported.
Now, if someone had told me this ten years ago, I would have disregarded it as rubbish. But I’m desperate. I’m in great pain, I don’t want to live this way, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.
It takes thirty days.
The first part of the book introduces the concept and theory of inner parent and inner child dynamics and dialogue. For example, feelings/emotions we experience are usually from the inner child. Judgment and criticism belong to the inner parent. The book then walks the reader from common miscommunication scenarios along the continuum to clear and loving communication. Which leads to real collaboration.
Here’s an example of how NOT to do it:
Not surprisingly, the end goal is for the inner parent to show love and support, to refrain from judging/shaming. And in turn, for the inner child to learn to trust the inner parent, knowing that she is completely and unconditionally loved. And safe. One really effective way of conveying care and love is for the parent to ALWAYS thank the child for whatever the child just said, without any judgement. This practice creates the most powerful shift within me.
Now the thirty-day exercise begin. Every day I sit down with my journal, write IP and IC across the top of the page, and a long line down the center. Then my inner parent and inner child dialogue in writing for thirty minutes, practicing the skills learned.
Here’s an example of how to do it right (FYI, I call my Inner Child LG for little girl):
After thirty days, I’ve met and started to fall in love with this amazing, sweet, innocent, bright girl. For her part, she is still hesitant, because she’s been terribly hurt. Yet she’s willing to continue, to give inner parent a chance.
We have a lot of growing to do, the two-in-one of us.
As we progressed, Annette was a good sport, willing to do this seemingly strange work. Though not easy at first, we slowly and steadily got out of the story (her mind) and into her body .
So many of my clients come to me stuck in freeze. Keep in mind, that doesn't mean that they are walking around frozen, zombie like. Annette had an important and high visibility job, good friends, strong faith, family etc. She was very involved in her life, strongly dedicated to finding her truth, and living a full embodied life. She longed hopefully that there would be some fun in it again, as there had been in the past.
Frozen people are alive; they are just not having that much fun. When we are frozen it looks and feels more like living our lives without very much happiness or joy because we are expending so much or our energy to try not to feel pain. When that happens, the receptors to joy are very much missing.
Annette was quite unaware of her trauma until a DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) in London told her "You are carrying an immense amount of unresolved grief." This very unawareness is part of the freeze story, for example people will say things like "I am fine!" "I don't remember much of my childhood". "I turned out OK". "I had a happy childhood." Etc.......
One thing I realized about Annette was that she had a very critical parent inside of her who was ready and available to come out and shame and blame her. So we worked on replacing the SHOULD, NEED TO and HAVE TO language with the word CHOICE (one of my favorite words). This would help to empower Annette to be in her life, in her body and to own her choices, good, bad or otherwise.
She was a quick study and up for the challenge.
I encouraged her to get the book Self Parenting by John Pollard and read and do the exercises at the back of the book. Pretty soon she was off to the races and learning how to be a loving parent to herself and how to be kind to her little girl. This progress was very important in the unfreezing department, because if she continued to have the critical parent inside of her, she would continue to "punch" herself with her words and wonder why she was hurting psychically all the time. It would keep her in shame and pain.
Through Self Parenting, published in 1987, John Pollard seems to have understood the principles that Peter Levine and many others have discovered throughout the last couple of decades through new research on the brain. The exercises in the back of the book are designed to give the adult lots of time (30 minutes a day) and a safe space (he asks you to do them in the same space every day if possible).
A few words about time and space: they are very important concepts with treating trauma and are topics I return to again and again. I believe we all want and need love and safety, and one of the roads to love and safety is time and space.
Let’s go back to our childhoods: what does any child want from their parents? To be told "I have all the time for you and I am right here with you." It's that simple. Yet so profound. If there's only one thing you can do for someone hurting, give them time and space. In her book Daring Greatly, Brenee Brown tells of one particular experience. She ends with "I don't know what to say right now… but I'm so glad you told me… and I'm here for you right now."