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I’m not lovable. I’m not worthy. I’m not important.
These are some of the false beliefs we have created about ourselves in childhood, in response to events or other people’s behavior that caused us pain.
Most people are unaware of their traumas.
Trauma is an experience that causes distress and warps our sense of worthiness. It goes far beyond the experiences that we normally consider traumatic, such as wars or sexual abuse; it also includes things that we might consider ordinary.
It’s a trauma to be born in a medical facility today. It’s a trauma to feel intense jealousy that cannot be resolved when we have many siblings. It’s a trauma to have our feelings invalidated when we are sad, and are told “Chin up!,” “Get a grip,” or that there are other people who have it worse. It’s a trauma to maintain family secrets and be lied to. Silent treatment is also traumatic.
These are traumas that all of us experience and yet we don’t consider them traumas. Many people who come to me for help with relationships, or health issues, or loss of direction in life, when asked about their childhood say that they had a good one.
Ten years ago I’d have said that I had a happy childhood, too. I considered myself a reasonably well-adjusted individual. I was aware that there were certain significant events that transpired, but I believed that children are resilient, and—because I was succeeding by societal standards—I felt that I was doing well.
I also believed that because my parents stayed together that it provided all the stability that we needed as children. As a result, I have learned that lying, cheating, denying what I’ve witnessed, avoiding difficult conversations, and keeping secrets has sadly become a “normal” part of family life. Today I know that the way unhappy parents treat themselves, each other, and their children models and perpetuates dysfunction, and has dramatic implications on their children’s mental health and levels of well-being, well into adulthood.
There is a specific mechanism with which every child copes with their environment. We internalize our caregivers’ angry or critical voices as a way to self-police, to remain within the lines of what is permitted. This is how we try to control the environment in which we otherwise feel helpless. We do this in order to prevent conflict with people on whom we depend for survival, and to minimize further humiliation.
By the time we leave our parents’ house, we have internalized all the dysfunctional patterns. And now we have a vigilant inner voice that does all the punishing and criticizing.
It is these internalized critical voices and unconscious limiting beliefs about our value that later keep us in fear of change and block us from embracing opportunities for growth and creative self-expression. We continue using the same coping mechanisms that helped us survive in childhood, except they do not serve us in adulthood. The fact that we continue navigating life from the point of view of dependent and helpless children in need of protection and saving, explains all the relating problems we have when we try to form our own families, and arguably many of our health issues as well.
So when we go home for the holidays, we return to the environment in which a lot of our original wounding took place. We often fall right back into our habitual patterns of behavior, which activate painful emotions, dormant in our cellular memory. The unconscious wounds get triggered and we often start feeling exactly as we did when we were children.
A disproportionately strong emotional reaction in response to someone’s words or actions usually means we are reacting to something in our past. Any emotional outburst usually is not dealing with the situation at hand, but is a reference to a suppressed, unprocessed, and unhealed wound.
In childhood, when a strong emotion would flood our nervous system, we would get overwhelmed, because we did not have the resources to process it. So the ego would step in to defend by creating a story—deflecting, blaming, judging—anything to avoid the overwhelming feeling by dissociating from the experience. This is why many adults are unable to remain in the present moment and make sense of their feelings. We are afraid to have difficult conversations, need outside help to make decisions, have a negative self-concept, and get defensive: because we never learned how to process complicated feelings and step into our agency to make choices in life. We numb and escape through addictions, while giving our power away by relying on outside authorities to tell us what to do.
It is tempting to believe that this pain we carry within us—dormant, but quick to wake up and get reactivated by a perceived slight in our direction—is caused by others. We either blame people from our past (like parents, caregivers, ex-lovers) or people who trigger us in the present for our pain.
I also used to blame my parents, my partner, really anyone whose words or behavior caused me to feel the emotions that I did not enjoy.
Until I understood that my parents (and partner, teachers, friends) were also victims who blamed others, and were raised by victims who blamed others. Most of the people whom I have confronted, about the pain I felt they’ve caused me in the past, were either in denial of the event or its impact, or perceived it as something completely different.
I learned that in most cases what caused me pain had nothing to do with me. Whatever “harm” spilled out on me from people in my life had everything to do with their own inner pain and trauma. It had nothing to do with my “deserving” it, nor was it a reflection of my worthiness or my “goodness.” I understood that my parents were completely unconscious about the harm they were causing, trying—as most parents do—to show up the best they could. Most parents really love their children but are stuck in the prison of their own conditioned take on life, blindly reenacting the patterns and coping strategies from their own childhood.
I have learned that the pain I carry and my reactions are my own. They come from my attachment to certain perceptions and thoughts, on feelings of unworthiness, and beliefs about my value that I’ve formed as a child in response to what has transpired long ago.
Most of us have experienced some form of abandonment, neglect, rejection, or abuse in the past. It created a lot of pain inside us and caused us to form false beliefs about ourselves, beliefs that made us feel unlovable and unworthy.
So now we think that in order for us to heal we need others to acknowledge the harm done to us. We crave their apology, recognition of responsibility, and validation. The fact is, expecting healing to come from the outside keeps us stuck in a disempowered victim mode.
In many cases we will not be able to get that satisfaction or the healing love we crave from the people who harmed us in the past. Some of those people are no longer alive, or there is no more contact, or they are simply unable to meet us where we need them to.
Blaming others for our emotional pain prevents us from fully healing.
Accepting our experiences and making peace with the past does not mean we now think that the harm done to us was okay. It simply means we are now ready to move past it, learn from it, and conclude that it was not our fault.
Becoming aware of our patterns, beliefs, and our internal experience is the first step. We need to understand where our wounds come from and our triggers lead us toward those wounds. The more we practice paying attention to our emotional signals, the more healing will take place.
When we become conscious to what triggers us, we gain insight as to why it triggers us. When we feel hurt, for example, our ego tells us the story that someone is not considerate of our feelings or is trying to hurt us on purpose. As we grow, however, we come to understand that although it may feel that way, it is not necessarily the truth.
Our pain becomes a sign that there is still healing to be done within. The work toward healing is of and for our self.
Once we leave home and live on our own, our parents are no longer “the problem.” The parents within are: those voices of our parents (or teachers or ex-lovers or friends) that we’ve internalized.
Our unaddressed father/mother wounds affect not only our romantic relationships, but the way we show up at work or how we run our businesses. Our issues around self-worth dictate whether we feel deserving of, or open to, receiving love as well as money.
Traumas, wounds, limiting beliefs, fears, and anxieties that we carry in us affect every aspect of our lives. When we are used to blaming others for our pain, complicated feelings, and uncomfortable reactions, it is difficult to accept our own role in contributing to that pain. The truth is, our pain is caused by the thoughts that come from the beliefs that we are holding on to.
It becomes a journey of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-compassion: the realization that we are no longer the helpless and innocent children we were when our traumas occurred. This process frees us to step into our own power from now on. When we no longer live in fear of anyone brushing up against our wounds, we don’t give other people the power to affect our psycho-emotional state or destabilize us at their whim.
When we take personal responsibility for our feelings and lovingly care for ourselves, we can free ourselves to find peace once and for all.
Happy and healing holidays to all!
Contact me for a free introductory session to learn how to heal your inner child.