taking my feelings to tea: Hurt

A good friend of mine recently moved away to live in another city. Though no longer neighbors, she and I are struggling with similar issues and have been talking on the phone quite a lot lately. She loves her new home, community and her family, but often feels very alone in her new surroundings. This is the parallel in our lives right now. We are both surrounded by people who love us, and yet the feeling of being alone shows up irrationally and unexpectedly on a regular basis like an annoying and unwanted acquaintance. Today we hashed out our similar histories once again. Part of the reason we feel alone is because we do not have a solid relationship with our selves. We both spent our childhoods looking outside of our self to make sure that everyone around us and in our families was OK. Taking on the emotional needs of others was our daily chore the way the daughters in other families might have done the dishes or folded the laundry without being asked. We are finding, in our 50’s that it is difficult, after a lifetime of caretaking and looking outward, to refocus our gaze inward. It is difficult to hear and listen to the long ignored and now very quiet inner voice of our own needs and desires.  No one ever showed us how to do this, and we do not know how to begin.

The other day my friend asked me what a good mother is. She wanted to understand how to become a good mother to herself, having never had a personal experience of a good mother. We talked about examples that we have seen of good mothering. We each have witnessed moments of patience, kindness, love, connection, and understanding. My friend has seen mothers accepting and loving their children for who they are. She has read fictional accounts of good mothers. She has seen them portrayed in movies. She knows what a good mother is when she sees one but has no idea how it feels on the inside to be one. Her deeper question is about how we heal the wounded child inside of our self by becoming the mother we need, while simultaneously forgiving our real mother and letting go of the our feelings of resentment and anger.

She knows that she needs to stop being the mother she had to the child within, and begin to be the mother she has always needed and still needs now. She knows that it is not too late.  She knows that it is necessary. The theory behind self-care and healing the child within is familiar and easy to talk about, but she has no idea how to actually do it. There are dozens of books. We have the theory, the current literature, and all of the scholarly discussions down cold, but reading the theory and translating it into an authentic experience is not easy.  How do we give our self or our children the deep emotional experience of attunement if we have never experienced it ourselves? How do we quiet our inner critical voice, give our self attention, or  learn how to be soothing, patient, loving and understanding without a living role model?

The only route I know is through therapy. There are other ways to heal and address the needs of the injured child within, but this is the only one I have experienced. You go to therapy or into analysis and if you are open to it, and if you find a therapist who is a good match, and who has already done this work themselves, and is also capable of guiding you through the process, it is possible at any age to have a direct experience of being seen, heard, and loved for exactly who you are. It is an intricate, long, and difficult process that, like any complicated recipe, needs the exact ingredients at the right time. When I first entered into this relationship with a therapist I felt a huge skittish wild horse rise up inside of me. I often felt it rearing, and screaming, and pawning the air between us in the office. It was a long time before it could settle down enough to hear soothing words and allow its neck to be stroked. It took longer still for its eyes and breath to soften and loose the look and feeling of apprehension and fear. My wild horse self had little faith or trust and was not going to submit to such radical inner change without a fight. The experience of finally being truly met as an adult satisfies some of the longing for what we missed and will never have as children.  A tiny piece of us is repaired and a huge gaping hole inside of us begins to be filled up. The therapy only gets us started.  It is up to us to continue to fill up the hole inside.

Like all new parents, we have to learn to listen to our inner child and care for it through trial and error. Some days are better then others. Some days I am still the parent who is too busy to pay attention that I grew up with, and on other days I am the present and available parent that I need. It is painful to see parents who are clearly stretched too thin channeling their day’s frustration towards their child’s misstep.  We too often treat our inner child the same way. None of us get through childhood without, scraped knees, and bruises. Few of us have the experience of being seen, embraced and welcomed into this world for who we are. Learning to be a good parent or a good mother without ever having experienced one is not easy and it is not fair. I still do not really have an answer to my friend’s deep question about how to be a good mother to our children or our child within. I only know the first few ingredients: patience, kindness, forgiveness, love, and that if at first you don’t succeed – try, try, again.

1 comment to Childishness

  • Amy

    The road is long, but you are on the path and that is a good place to start. When you have a moment, we can compare notes. I have been reflecting on motherhood (my mother in particular) as well.

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