Finding a place of safety when we feel unsafe : some reflections on recovery and the inner critic

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I wrote this post some time ago and I am not sure why the critic wouldn’t let me post it:

I have not been fully aware of how unsafe I feel in the world a lot of the time until fairly recently.  The fear has been buried deep down in me and probably manifesting bodily within me for many years.

My body work therapy is letting me know how many of my feelings have been buried and how much fear I have felt in actually feeling them.  Scared of how others would react, fearing I would be abandoned (and I know this fear rests on pain from the past where this really did happen to me), fearing I would then be alone for the rest of my life.

However I do know now that a far greater loneliness comes from denying my true feelings and needs, sacrificing myself in order to gain love and belong.  So I am now aware that a huge part of my recovery is finding the courage and strength to feel the fear and act despite the fear.  Holding my little girl’s hand and my own hand, not allowing the sabotaging critic to undo what is actually healthy for me.

In his book on Complex PTSD, Pete Walker devotes a lot of attention to the task of “shrinking the inner critic” which he sees as one of the most central tasks of recovery. Lately I have noticed how often the issue of the critic has been appearing in my posts.

When it comes to grieving our early pain and losses and admitting our denied vulnerability, the inner critic can be hostile and oppositional to the process of us fully feeling our feelings.  Many of us may have been shamed for sadness, had that sadness minimised or been told to feel differently.  But the truth is feelings don’t lie, they are there as guides and function to connect us to inward truth, if we deny or shame ourselves for sadness or any other genuine feeling how can we heal, be ourselves and grow beyond old restrictions?

If feeling and being vulnerable felt unsafe as a child, as we recover we hit inward prohibitions against feeling and our trauma recovery is blocked.  Healing involves creating a safe place inside where we can feel the truth and finding safe others to grieve with.  This is self compassion.  In order to recover it is so essential that we understand our emotional past.  We don’t have to relive that past indefinitely although this is what will happen until we make our trauma history conscious.

Even though our past may have been unsafe we can learn about this and create a place of safety today.  Most definately we need not shame ourselves for feeling and being sensitive.  Trauma hurts and there is hurt experienced in the healing as we release past grief but it is a healing hurt that will resolve if we are not re-shamed for feeling it..

When this process is effectively supported the tension of our trauma charge relaxes us, there may be an enormous discharge of pent up energy but that energy of emotion is released and we begin to feel calmer.  Validation calms us, saying “yes” to and accepting the pain of our experience calms us, being believed and affirmed calms us.  All of these responses help us to create a place of safety where we can safely  ‘stay’ and find home even when in turmoil or faced by a wave of emotion instead of taking flight or fighting.

There may be a time to fight for what is healthy though.  If we are shamed we may need to fight or at least walk away from abuse, for our inner child can only feel safe if we take the steps to love and protect him or her.  For as we grow and begin to take responsibility we realise we can find the resources within and without to heal and grow and feel safe in the world.

We need a strong voice to stand up to the inner critics and his admonishments to not be real or strong or vulnerable.  In truth our inner work and commitment to it scares the inner critic half to death, is it any wonder he or she begins to put up such a fight when we really get down to the important work.    The fear of the critic manifests in how loud that voice becomes and we need all our resources to deal with it.

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