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When a client comes to me with a desire to love themselves more, or perhaps to learn how to do so for the first time, and they express feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt, and intense self-judgement, I will ask, “Who didn’t love you the way you longed to be loved?”
This often opens up a door to a well of grief—the kind of grief we shove into the recesses of our hearts. This frozen energy is the foundation of what becomes our calcified “negative” beliefs about ourselves and what is possible from life.
The grief over the loss of what never was.
The loss of not having been loved the way we needed to be loved.
For whatever reason.
It doesn’t matter.
We may defend against this kind of grief with stories about why our parents couldn’t love us, what their circumstances were. I know I learned the pain and terror of my parents’ experiences and held them above my own for a long time. It became the reason I wasn’t allowed to really feel my own pain.
Our survival has us do this—to suppress our grief and fear if there is no one to hold it—to hold us and help us make sense of these big feelings. This becomes our shame. The grief of not having been loved and the fear of not being loved projected into present and future moments.
We learn the grooves of another’s suffering far more than our own, often at a quite early age. There’s an unconscious loyalty to matching this caregiver’s pain that keeps us in the pain of suffering.
Our nervous systems call this “love.”
There’s a fear that if we grieve for the loss of what never was, if we acknowledge the impact the atmosphere of our upbringing had on us, we will hurt someone’s feelings or offend the suffering of our caregivers.
We internalize this very dynamic and play it out over and over again in our adult relationships from partners, family, and friends, to healing circles, clients, to our authority figures and teachers, and, most importantly, within ourselves.
What frees us here is gaining the capacity to grieve for what never was.
This marries the truth of our spiritually intellectualized knowing that the unavailability of what we needed wasn’t a reflection of our own innate goodness as a human being.
If we don’t draw the truth down into the body so that it’s love can heal our hearts back open, we remain in the land of affirmations, gaslighting ourselves while feeling disconnected from love. And, in this current world of coaching and self-help, we’d also be led to believe that if the self-gaslighting isn’t snapping us out of our grief, there’s something wrong with us—that we aren’t “working hard enough.”
We may even get addicted to self-help, to finally finding that magic pill that will make it all better.
We look for someone or something to save us from ourselves.
We’ve become addicted to the process of trying to feel better, rather than simply entering the pain of healing that liberates us from our broken hearts.
This kind of grieving isn’t something we can necessarily do on our own.
It needs to feel safe to be seen, to be held, to be witnessed and validated. We need to learn how to navigate grief while allowing our nervous systems to heal enough to hold our grief process.
We can get trapped in a cycle of unending inner child work because we don’t realize we have also internalized the way we were parented, and often we can be using tools or practices to get our inner child to be the way we want them to be, to fit our ideal self, rather than fostering the attunement of a loving inner parent.
The loss of what never was may seem kind of nebulous, but it’s way more pervasive than we want to acknowledge.
The lack of love, emotional mirroring and holding, and the neglect of the soul life is loss that builds up over time and leaves us with so many symptoms we normalize as the pain of suffering. Anxiety, self-doubt, perfectionism, workaholism, codependent patterns that lead to addiction. To name a few.
This is the loss of our roots—of connection to the rootedness of our being, to a sense of belonging to the roots of our human ancestors.
If we didn’t feel loved, we will feel disconnected from our roots—a tragic thing that has been passed on for so long that truly deep roots reclamation may invite us into the grief of what never was before we can “figure out” anything else about where we come from.
Reclaiming our roots starts with being able to name these kinds of losses.
The kinds of losses of things that never happened.
Not grieving what never was leaves us defensively trying to compensate and even take from others what was not ours to take.
Not grieving what never was results in “negative beliefs” we can perpetually try to clear, but they aren’t going away because the soul marrow of our deepest selves knows that the grief is the gateway back home.
If we long to be free, to open our hearts, to feel natural, sustainable toward ourselves and life itself, we must, as a collective, discontinue needlessly normalizing the pain of suffering and make spaces to grieve what never was so we can make space for what will be.